How To Learn Cybersecurity: Free Guide To Learn On Your Own

How To Learn Cybersecurity
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Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting digital systems, networks, and data from unauthorized access, attacks, or damage. It is a vital skill for anyone who works with information technology, as cyber threats are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated. But how do you learn about cybersecurity?

What are the best ways to acquire the knowledge and skills you need to stay safe and secure online? In this article, we will explore some of the options and resources you can use to learn about cybersecurity, whether you are a beginner, an intermediate, or an advanced learner.

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the protection of internet-connected systems such as hardware, software, and data from cyber threats. The practice is used by individuals and enterprises to protect against unauthorized access to data centers and other computerized systems.

A strong cybersecurity strategy can provide a good security posture against malicious attacks designed to access, alter, delete, destroy or extort an organization’s or user’s systems and sensitive data.

Cybersecurity is also instrumental in preventing attacks that aim to disable or disrupt a system’s or device’s operations.

With an increasing number of users, devices, and programs in the modern enterprise, combined with the increased deluge of data — much of which is sensitive or confidential — the importance of cybersecurity continues to grow. The growing volume and sophistication of cyber attackers and attack techniques compound the problem even further.

What are the elements of cybersecurity and how does it work?

The cybersecurity field can be broken down into several different sections, the coordination of which within the organization is crucial to the success of a cybersecurity program.

These sections include the following:

  • Application security
  • Cloud Security
  • Critical infrastructure security
  • Disaster recovery/business continuity planning
  • End-user education
  • Information or data security
  • Network security
  • Operational security
  • Physical security

Maintaining cybersecurity in a constantly evolving threat landscape is a challenge for all organizations. Traditional reactive approaches, in which resources were put toward protecting systems against the biggest known threats, while lesser-known threats were undefended, are no longer a sufficient tactic.

To keep up with changing security risks, a more proactive and adaptive approach is necessary. Several key cybersecurity advisory organizations offer guidance. For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recommends adopting continuous monitoring and real-time assessments as part of a risk assessment framework to defend against known and unknown threats.

How to learn cybersecurity on your own

Build a foundation with an introductory course

By taking a course in cybersecurity, you’ll not only build foundational skills in a structured learning environment, but you’ll also get to experience what cybersecurity is all about firsthand. Use this as an opportunity to see for yourself whether a career in information security could be a good match for your unique goals and interests.

An introductory cybersecurity course might cover topics like:

  • Cybersecurity tools and attack vectors
  • Security compliance and industry standards
  • Operating system, network, and data security
  • Incident response
  • Penetration testing
  • Cyber threat intelligence

Start with a broad overview, and you’ll have a better idea of what skills you already have, what area of cybersecurity you might want to work in, and what skills you need to build to get there. 

Evaluate your passion for technology

There’s a difference between difficult and challenging. Learning cybersecurity can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be difficult, especially if you’re passionate about technology. Nurture a curiosity for the technologies you’re working with, and you might find that challenging skills become easier. 

Sometimes just the act of learning is enough to build enthusiasm about a topic. If you’re someone who thrives off the enthusiasm of others, getting involved in a community of other security professionals could also help.

Maybe after taking a course or two, you’ll discover that your passions lie elsewhere. That’s okay too. Cybersecurity can be an exciting, challenging, and well-paying profession, but it’s not for everyone.

Online courses

One of the most convenient and accessible ways to learn about cybersecurity is to take online courses. Many platforms and providers offer courses on various aspects of cybersecurity, such as fundamentals, ethical hacking, cryptography, network security, malware analysis, and more.

Some of the benefits of online courses are that you can learn at your own pace, choose the topics that interest you, and get feedback and certification. However, the drawbacks are that you may need to pay for some courses, you may not have direct interaction with instructors or peers, and you may need to supplement your learning with other sources.

Books and blogs

Another way to learn cybersecurity is to read books and blogs that cover the topic.

Books and blogs can provide you with in-depth information, insights, and perspectives on cybersecurity, as well as practical tips and examples. Some of the advantages of books and blogs are that you can access a wide range of opinions and experiences, that you can find specific and detailed information, and that you can read them anytime and anywhere.

Some of the disadvantages are that you may need to filter out unreliable or outdated information. You may also not have the opportunity to practice or apply what you learn, and you may need to update your knowledge regularly.

Podcasts and videos

You can also learn about cybersecurity by listening to podcasts and watching videos that discuss the topic. These can offer you a lively and engaging way to learn about cybersecurity, as well as a chance to hear from experts and practitioners in the field.

The benefits are that you can learn from different formats and styles, and you can keep up with the latest trends and news. You can also learn while doing other activities.

However, the drawbacks are that you may have limited control over the content and quality, and you may not have the option to interact or ask questions. You may also need to complement your learning with other materials.

Learn a little every day

Building cybersecurity skills doesn’t have to mean dropping everything for a degree or full-time boot camp. A little time each day can lead to big results.

Start by setting aside 15 minutes each day to focus on cybersecurity. Plan out your learning time, and try to make it the same time every day. 

Besides setting aside a consistent time to learn, it’s also a good idea to plan what you want to accomplish in each session. Be specific (for example “watch two lecture videos,” “take Lesson 3 quiz,” or “read Chapter Four”).

Online communities and events

Another way to learn about cybersecurity is to join online communities and events that focus on the topic. Online communities and events can provide you with a network of peers and mentors who can support your learning, as well as a platform to share your ideas and questions.

The advantages of online communities and events are that you can learn from diverse and experienced people, and you can also participate in discussions and challenges. You also get access to valuable resources and opportunities. Disadvantages are the need to invest time and effort to build relationships and the fact that you may encounter conflicts or misinformation. You may also need to follow certain rules and norms.

Hands-on projects and labs

Learning is incomplete without doing, and hands-on projects and labs simulate real-world scenarios and problems. They can help you to apply and test your knowledge and skills, as well as to discover and solve new challenges.

Some of the benefits include learning by doing and experimenting, and you get to develop your creativity and critical thinking. You can also showcase your achievements and portfolio.

However, you need to have some prior knowledge and tools, and you may face difficulties or frustrations. You may also need to seek guidance or feedback.

Become an ethical hacker

In cybersecurity, one way to get firsthand experience using the tools and techniques of the trade is to practice ethical hacking. 

The EC-Council, provider of the popular Certified Ethical Hacker certification, defines ethical hacking as “the process of detecting vulnerabilities in an application, system, or organization’s infrastructure that an attacker can use to exploit an individual or organization.” 

In other words, ethical hacking is a legal authorization to break into a computer system, network, application, or database.

Several free websites allow you to develop your cybersecurity skill set through legal, gamified experiences. Try these to get started:

As you continue to build skills, you might look into bug bounty programs, where companies offer cash bonuses to independent security researchers who find and report security flaws. This not only allows you to test your skills in the real world but also creates opportunities to network with other security professionals.

You can find a list of bounties on sites like Bugcrowd and HackerOne

Apply to companies that provide training

Cybersecurity threats and technologies are always changing. Successful cybersecurity professionals are often lifetime learners, evolving their own skills as the threat landscape evolves. 

As you look toward getting a job in cybersecurity, consider companies that invest in ongoing training. This could not only save you money but also personal time. When ongoing training is part of your role, it could be at the company’s expense and on work time.

This is a good thing to ask when it’s your turn to ask questions during an interview, as it can demonstrate your willingness to learn.

Top cybersecurity challenges

Cybersecurity is continually challenged by hackers, data loss, privacy, risk management and changing cybersecurity strategies. The number of cyberattacks is not expected to decrease shortly. Moreover, increased entry points for attacks, such as with the arrival of the Internet of Things (IoT), and the growing attack surface increase the need to secure networks and devices.

Major challenges that must be continuously addressed include evolving threats, the data deluge, cybersecurity awareness training, the workforce shortage and skills gap, and supply chain and third-party risks.

Evolving threats

One of the most problematic elements of cybersecurity is the evolving nature of security risks. As new technologies emerge, and as technology is used in new or different ways, new attack avenues are developed. Keeping up with these frequent changes and advances in attacks, as well as updating practices to protect against them, can be challenging.

Issues include ensuring all elements of cybersecurity are continually updated to protect against potential vulnerabilities. This can be especially difficult for smaller organizations without adequate staff or in-house resources.

Data deluge

Additionally, organizations can gather a lot of potential data on individuals who use one or more of their services. With more data being collected, the likelihood of a cyber criminal who wants to steal personally identifiable information (PII) is another concern.

For example, an organization that stores PII in the cloud may be subject to a ransomware attack. Organizations should do what they can to prevent a cloud breach.

Cybersecurity awareness training

Cybersecurity programs should also address end-user education. Employees may accidentally bring threats and vulnerabilities into the workplace on their laptops or mobile devices. Likewise, they may act insecurely — for example, clicking links or downloading attachments from phishing emails.

Regular security awareness training will help employees do their part in keeping their company safe from cyber threats.

Workforce shortage and skills gap

Another cybersecurity challenge is a shortage of qualified cybersecurity personnel. As the amount of data collected and used by businesses grows, the need for cybersecurity staff to analyze, manage and respond to incidents also increases. (ISC)2 estimated the workplace gap between needed cybersecurity jobs and security professionals at 3.4 million.

Supply chain attacks and third-party risks

Organizations can do their best to maintain security, but if the partners, suppliers and third-party vendors that access their networks don’t act securely, all that effort is for naught. Software- and hardware-based supply chain attacks are becoming increasingly difficult security challenges to contend with.

Organizations must address third-party risk in the supply chain and reduce software supply issues, for example by using software bills of materials.


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