Our lives are becoming more connected. With that comes the risk of a cyber attack. As such, this is a rapidly growing field. That makes it an excellent career choice.
Cyber security is the process by which systems are protected from attack. These systems include networks, devices, and programs.
There are many different careers in this field. You can be a security director for a business. These workers help to protect computer systems from attack.
You can be a cyber security incident responder as well. These workers assist in recovering information after a cyber security threat.
You can also be a security architect. Security architects design secure systems for clients.
Whatever career path you choose, a great place to begin training is with an online cyber security course.
Cyber security courses are offered in many different forms. You can take a class from a college or university online. Many websites also offer cyber security classes. This makes cyber security training online an easy way to learn the basics.
The question is, what are the best cyber security courses? More to the point, what are the best cyber security courses online?
We’ve conducted research to find cyber security training for beginners. These courses represent good value. We’ve ranked the ten best online courses for cyber security using the methodology described below.
Methodology to Determine the Best Online Courses for Cyber Security
Before you enroll in a cyber security for beginners course, you need to be sure it’s a good value.
Value goes beyond affordability. You should also consider the flexibility of the course as a measure of value.
For example, let’s say you have a very strict schedule and can only study at certain times. In that case, the more flexible the course is, the better. In some cases, you might a self-paced course. This allows you to study a lot when time allows. You can also study less when your schedule gets busy.
Course ratings are also an important factor. A class that has a proven track record with previous students is likely to provide you with a positive experience too.
Our methodology includes the following measures:
- Course Ratings
By evaluating cyber security courses on these three criteria, we can develop a clearer picture of each course’s value. The resulting course profile offers you a glimpse at what the course offers. You’ll also learn how much it costs, the course format, ratings, and more.
To better understand these criteria, let’s examine each one in more detail.
When you’re looking for cyber security training for beginners, you probably don’t want to spend a lot of money.
The cost of college-level courses skyrocketing. That makes finding affordable, high-quality cyber security courses a little difficult.
However, we have researched for you! We’ve found many free cyber security courses online that offer superb value. There are also many fee-based courses on our list. All are low-cost and represent excellent value.
Since affordability is the most important measure, we’ve given free courses the most weight. The affordability ranking for each course is determined as follows:
- Free: 6 points
- Under $10: 5 points
- $11-20: 4 points
- $21-30: 3 points
- $31-40: 2 points
- $41 and above: 1 point
As noted earlier, flexibility is an important measure. When evaluating an online course, you want something that works with your schedule.
Online courses are often more flexible than on-campus courses. This makes cyber security training online an excellent option for busy students.
Most, but not all courses in our rankings are self-paced. Don’t let that deter you from courses that have specific due dates. You will find that most teachers are more than willing to work with you if you need more time for an assignment.
When considering online cyber security training for beginners, look at the requirements of the class.
For example, you might have to complete a capstone project at the end. These projects can be extremely time consuming. However, they offer a chance to learn about cyber security in detail.
Likewise, some classes require daily participation. For example, you might be asked to make posts to a class forum online. While this isn’t a time-consuming task, it requires you to be active in the class each day.
These are important things to consider when thinking about how flexible a class will be. We’ve taken these factors into account in our ranking methodology and ranked each class as follow:
- Highly flexible: 2 points
- Moderate flexibility: 1 point
- Low flexibility: 0 points
How previous students rate courses is an important factor too.
If a course has high ratings, it’s reasonable to assume the class is worthwhile. But if a class has poor ratings, you might think twice about enrolling.
It’s necessary to go beyond the ranking numbers though. For example, a class might have a 4 out of 5-star rating. But if you look at the comments, you might find that the people that gave the class a low ranking did so because they got a poor grade.
In other words, take course ratings with a grain of salt. They can be informative, but they are a more subjective measure than the other two criteria in our methodology. What’s more, some courses have no ratings at all. This doesn’t mean the course isn’t worth your time. Instead, you’ll need to rely more on the affordability and flexibility of the class to decide if it’s right for you.
This criterion is scored as follows:
- 5 stars: 5 points
- 4.5+ stars: 4 points
- 4+ stars: 3 points
- 3.5+ stars: 2 points
- 3.4 stars and below: 1 point
- No ratings: 0 points
Ranking the Best Online Courses for College Credit
#10: Introduction to Cybersecurity Tools & Cyber Attacks
Coursera and IBM provide this course. The primary focus of the class is to understand the types of cyber attacks. You also learn about the motivations people have for hacking into networks.
As a basic course, you’ll learn key terms in cyber security. You also gain an understanding of simple networking concepts.
Additionally, you’ll learn about the following topics:
- Cyber security organizations
- Cyber security tools
- Cyber security jobs
This is the first course in a series of classes called IT Fundamentals for Cybersecurity Specialization. If you have no experience in this field, this is an excellent first class to take.
By the course’s end, you’ll have the knowledge and skills needed to pursue other classes in cyber security. By completing this class, you are also eligible to earn an IBM digital badge. The badge indicates that you’ve successfully completed this course.
Affordability: Enrollment is free. A small fee (usually around $50) may be required. Other costs may be incurred if you pursue the specialization, which requires a subscription. Subscriptions are usually between $39-$89 per month. Learn more about Coursera pricing. This class is scored as a paid course.
Flexibility: Highly flexible. The course is self-paced. You can immediately begin this course upon enrollment. You can set your own deadlines and reschedule deadlines as needed.
Course Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (based on 339 ratings)
#9: Computer Forensics
This course is offered by edX. It is part of edX’s Cybersecurity MicroMasters Program. The purpose of the MicroMasters program is to help prepare students for careers in the cyber security field.
This focus of this course is on how to investigate computer crimes. Computer forensics experts are tasked with finding evidence that can be used to convict criminals in a court of law.
In addition to getting an introduction to computer forensics, you will also learn about:
- Investigative procedures
- Forensics tools
- File recovery processes
This course also offers instruction on how to write forensics reports. You’ll learn how to review and critique them as well. You will do this after conducting a mock investigation on different computer systems.
This is a free course. However, you have to pay a fee to get a certificate. Also, note that you must complete the Cybersecurity Fundamentals course from edX before enrolling in this one.
Affordability: Free. A $150 fee applies if you want a verified certificate.
Flexibility: Moderately flexible. This is an instructor-paced course with weekly assignments. It is also a long course with eight weeks of work.
Course Rating: None
#8: Cybersecurity Fundamentals
This free cyber security for beginners class is offered by edX. It is a broad review of computer security.
The main area of study is on cyber security concepts. This includes tools used to prevent hacks. It also includes a review of emerging issues in cyber security.
Specific topics you will learn about include:
- Basic networking
- The fundamentals of network administration
- Ethical issues in cyber security
This course also provides an overview of basic cryptography concepts.
This is one of the courses edX offers as part of their Cybersecurity MicroMasters Program. It is a prerequisite for edX’s Computer Forensics course.
Affordability: Free. A $150 fee applies if you want a verified certificate.
Flexibility: Moderately flexible. This is not a self-paced course. There are weekly assignments and deadlines. The course requires 10-12 hours of work each week for eight weeks.
Course Rating: None
#7: Network Security
Udacity provides this free class. It is an intermediate course. You will get an introduction to computer security. Network security is also discussed.
The purpose of this class is to evaluate digital security issues. There is a focus on security research. You’ll also be introduced to concepts in cryptography. Systems security is another primary topic.
Likewise, you can expect to learn about:
- Security modeling
- Key management
- Intrusion detection
Since this is a survey course, you learn about many different topics. This is just an introduction, though. Many topics are explored, but not very in-depth.
This class offers many learning resources. It is also taught by cyber security professionals. Your learning can benefit from interactive quizzes. There is also an online student community.
Flexibility: Highly flexible. This course is offered completely online. Course materials are immediately available. Learning is also self-paced.
Course Rating: None
#6: Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities
This free class is offered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The course explores current trends in cyber security. More specifically, you’ll learn about vulnerabilities in Industrial Control Systems (ICSs). You’ll also learn about the steps that can be taken to protect systems from attack.
By the end of this class, you will be able to:
- Identify vulnerabilities in Industrial Control Systems
- Describe the causes of vulnerabilities
- Explain how the Department of Homeland Security works to prevent cyber attacks
It is recommended that you complete the ICS Cybersecurity Risk course before you complete this one. This is not a requirement, though.
After completing this course, you can get a certificate of completion. It can also be used for getting Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) if your job requires them.
Flexibility: Highly flexible. This course is self-paced. It’s also very short (about two hours to complete).
Course Rating: None
#5: Cybersecurity Risk
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security developed this class. It is for beginner cyber security students. People already working in this field might use this class as a quick refresher.
The focus of this class is on cyber risk. This includes how risk is defined. It also includes how risks impact cyber security. You’ll look at factors that increase the risk of cyber threats as well.
Learning topics for this class include:
- Cyber security strategies
- Cyber attack countermeasures
- Technical factors that increase cyber risk
This is a quick course – just one hour. But it is packed with valuable information. You can count this course toward Continuing Education Credits (CEUs). You can also get a certificate of completion.
Flexibility: Highly flexible. You can learn at your own pace and the course is just one hour in length.
Course Rating: None
#4: The Complete Cyber Security Course: Hackers Exposed!
This beginner to advanced course is offered by Udemy. It is the first course in a sequence of cyber security classes.
The focus of this cyber security course is to learn the fundamentals of cyber security. This includes:
- Cyber security threats
Additionally, you will learn how organizations like the FBI and NSA track and prevent hacks from occurring.
All major network platforms are covered in this course. That includes MacOS, Linux, and Windows 7, 8, and 10.
By the end of the course, you will have built a practical set of skills that enable you to recognize and defeat online threats. Upon the successful completion of the class, you get a certificate.
Affordability: $14.99 (at the time of writing)
Flexibility: Highly flexible. You get lifetime access to the course. This makes learning at your own pace very easy. There are also many online resources to help you in your learning.
Course Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (based on 23,862 ratings)
#3: The Absolute Beginners Guide to Cyber Security 2020 – Part 1
This best-selling course from Udemy covers the basics of cyber security. It is the first part of a beginner series.
A major focus of this class is on fundamental terminology. You’ll explore what firewalls, malware, and encryption are. You’ll also learn about biometrics.
Additionally, you can expect to gain skills related to:
- Recognizing how malware impacts computer systems
- Understanding how hacks occur
- Understanding various authentication methods
You do not need any cyber security or IT experience for this class. You will learn the basics that will help you continue your learning in this field.
This class includes several hours of on-demand video. There are also four articles to help you broaden your understanding.
At the conclusion of the course, you get a certificate of completion.
Affordability: $15.99 (at the time of writing)
Flexibility: Highly flexible. This course is available on mobile devices and TVs. There is lifetime access to the course so you can keep coming back to it to refresh your learning.
Course Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (based on 6,474 ratings)
#2: Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking
Cybrary, which has one of the largest online collections of cyber security courses, offers this class. The focus of this course is on learning how to protect networks from attack.
This is done by learning how to become an ethical hacker. Using the skills you learn in this class, you will exploit network vulnerabilities. You’ll then report on those issues and help figure out ways to fix them.
Primary topics of study include:
- Virus creation
- Intrusion detection
- DDoS Attacks
By the end of this course, you will possess the tools needed to create vulnerability prevention protocols for businesses and organizations.
This is an intermediate-level course that requires about 24 hours of total coursework. The class is broken into 19 smaller modules for easier studying.
Affordability: Free. A monthly fee may apply, however. Monthly fees start at $33.25 per month.
Flexibility: Moderately flexible. This course is very long and time-consuming. However, it is self-paced and many support materials are available to help you learn.
Course Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars
#1: Computer Networking – Digital Network Security
This is a free course offered by Alison. It is an introductory course that centers on network security.
One of the first things you’ll learn in this class is network architecture. Specifically, you’ll dive into the protocols used to make modern computer networks as secure as possible.
You’ll also learn about:
- Firewalls and security
- Proxy servers
- Custom RRAS configurations
This is a short course. It requires just 1-2 hours of work. That makes it an ideal introductory course for busy learners. There is a final assessment that helps you gauge how well you’ve learned the material. You also get a certificate upon the successful completion of the class.
Flexibility: Highly flexible. You can work at your own pace. The course is also available on mobile devices for on-the-go-learning. The short length of the course also makes for very flexible learning.
Course Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars
Frequently Asked Questions
Is cyber security hard to learn?
Cyber security is about average in terms of difficulty. For example, it’s more complex than subjects like the humanities. But it is less difficult than courses in physical science.
Most cyber security courses require some reading and writing. It’s not an excessive amount. This means that you’ll spend more time working on research. Research can be difficult and time-consuming. Having a lesser research requirement makes this a topic that’s easier to learn.
Cyber security courses require some math and science. It’s usually only basic levels of both. If you aren’t very good at math or science, you can still study cyber security without feeling completely lost. By contrast, computer science courses often require calculus, which is far more difficult.
Many cyber security courses online require you to do lab projects. But unlike in courses like chemistry or biology, these lab courses don’t require research. Additionally, they are usually task-based and relate directly to the topics you’re studying. As such, cyber security lab work is less intensive and easier to complete.
If you’re a novice in this field, you’ll find many beginner-level courses. These classes assume you have little or no cyber security background. This makes learning about cyber security a much easier task. With no complex topics to worry about, you can instead begin to learn the basics quickly. This helps you develop an understanding of what cyber security is at a much faster pace.
This being the case, cyber security is a very open topic that even complete novices can master. But it’s important to note that cyber security changes very quickly. This means that you will have to refresh your learning to stay up to date.
Can I teach myself cyber security?
Learning cyber security can definitely be done on your own.
As noted in the previous question and answer, cyber security is a topic that is about average in terms of difficulty. This means that you don’t need experience to become a cyber security worker.
What you do need is the drive to learn. Learning on your own can be extremely difficult. But if you’re committed to the process and you stay on top of your studies, you can learn a great deal from online cyber security classes.
A good rule of thumb is to find ways to standardize how you learn. For example, you might set aside time each day to learn about cyber security. This might be in the form of taking one of the classes we’ve ranked. It might be reading a few articles on cyber security. Perhaps you watch YouTube tutorials about specific cyber security topics.
You don’t need to have a specific time for your learning, either. Simply committing yourself to 30 minutes or an hour a day to learn new topics or skills will be a great help.
If you need more guidance, look for cyber security courses that have more structure to them. For example, rather than taking a self-paced course, try to find an instructor-paced course with specific deadlines. Some people learn better when there is more structure, and that’s okay!
Some cyber security training for beginners also has online communities. You can interact with the teacher, other students, or both. This can be a valuable asset because you can ask questions if you’re confused. You can also build relationships with other learners. Doing so can be beneficial for studying and learning from others.
Is a degree required for jobs in cyber security?
No. Not all jobs in this field require a degree. In fact, many beginner positions don’t require a degree at all.
There are also a lot of cyber security jobs available. More jobs are expected to be available in the coming years. With so many jobs to fill, many employers are offering jobs to people that do not have a degree. In some cases, people without much experience are finding great jobs in cyber security.
But, if you don’t have a degree, consider getting a certification.
Getting a certification in cyber security is a big bonus. With a certification, you can show that you have specific skills. These skills make you very attractive to employers. This is because protecting data is critically important. Businesses will pay top dollar to qualified applicants to help them protect that data.
There are many different certifications you can pursue. Some of these are relatively easy to get. Others require more work. Either way, a certification can only help you get a cyber security job.
Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) – This certification is for people that develop and manage security systems. It is offered by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA).
Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) – This certification is a mid-level certificate. It is for workers that specialize in information security. It is administered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC2).
Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) – Cyber security workers with the CEH credential are trained in methods for preventing cyber attacks. Part of their training is learning how to find and exploit vulnerabilities in networks. They must then fix the problems before real hackers exploit them. This certification is offered by the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council).
This is not a complete list of all the cyber security certifications you can get. But this should give you a good idea of what’s available.
Can I learn cyber security for free?
There are many free resources if you want to learn more about cyber security. In fact, most of the courses in our rankings are free to enroll.
Most free cyber security resources are online. However, you might find continuing education or community education courses in your area that are free.
It’s important not to associate price with quality. For example, some people believe that free courses can’t offer the same breadth and depth of learning as a paid course. This just isn’t the case.
Just because a cyber security class is free doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of benefits to provide. Additionally, just because a course is expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it is a better course.
What skills are needed for a job in cyber security?
Workers in this field need several hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are those that are specific to cyber security. Soft skills are more general. In many cases, soft skills are more like aptitudes or personal traits that come in handy.
For example, soft skills needed for cyber security include high attention to detail. Often, cyber security workers are looking for a needle in a haystack. This makes having a keen eye for detail very important. Without it, finding problems and detecting security breaches can be hard.
Other soft skills that are needed for jobs in cyber security include:
- Creative problem-solving skills
- Advanced analytical skills
- Excellent communication skills
- The ability to work as a member of a team
- The ability to work in high-stress situations
- The ability to explain technical topics simply
Hard skills include those related to computer science. For example, it’s helpful for cyber security workers to know about major computer operating systems. This includes Windows, Linux, and MacOS.
Additional hard skills for cyber security jobs include:
- Knowledge of computer networking
- Proficiency in scripting languages
- Understanding of information management
- Fundamental knowledge of computer science
What are jobs in cyber security?
Cyber security workers have many tasks. They also have many job titles. They all try to do one thing though. That is to protect online data.
As mentioned before, cyber security jobs are growing fast. They are also expanding to new fields. This means you can find many kinds of jobs in cyber security.
Here are a few examples:
Cyber Security Specialist – This job involves protecting computer systems. These workers also update security measures. They monitor security systems as well. This is one of the most common jobs in this field of work. You will find these positions in many types of businesses and organizations.
Cyber Security Crime Investigator – These workers examine cyber attacks. They try to find the flaws that allowed the attack. They also make suggestions about how to improve computer systems. This is done to help prevent future cyber attacks.
Software Security Engineer – Software security engineers are responsible for assessing security risks. They often develop software to prevent hacks. They also identify weak parts of software to help prevent attacks.
Chief Information Security Officer – This is usually a management position. It involves developing security programs. These workers also manage the implementation of security programs. Usually, the chief information security officer also manages a team of IT workers.
Cyber Security Penetration Tester – All networks have weaknesses. Workers in this field are asked to find those soft spots. A penetration tester’s work is never done. They constantly probe networks. They also make reports about what problems exist and how to resolve them.
What is the salary for jobs in cyber security?
The salary for cyber security jobs varies a lot. As with most other professions, several factors influence how much money you make.
Your level of experience has a big influence on the salary you make. If you have a decade of experience, you can expect to make more money than someone with one year of experience.
For example, an entry-level worker with less than one year of experience can expect to make an average of $61,000 per year. But a worker with 20 or more years of experience is more likely to make an average of more than $117,000 per year.
Jobs in management offer higher pay than entry-level jobs. They often have better benefits than entry-level jobs as well.
Your level of education also matters when it comes to your potential income. You don’t have to have a college degree to work in this field. But having a degree usually means getting paid more. Having a certification in cyber security often means higher pay too.
Certain specializations in cyber security might get you a higher salary. For example, if you specialize in cyber security forensics, you could potentially earn more money than someone without a specialty.
Where you work has an impact on salary as well. Large companies, organizations, and government agencies tend to pay more than small businesses. Larger organizations typically have much more digital information to secure than a small company. With so much work to do, they offer more pay to cyber security workers.
The geographic location of your job also impacts your salary. For example, cyber security workers in New York City enjoy incomes nearly 17 percent higher than average. By contrast, cyber security workers in San Antonio, Texas, are paid 10 percent less than the national average.
The average pay for all cyber security jobs is $75,808 according to PayScale. Taking the differences outlined above into account, the pay range extends from a low of $51,000 to a high of $117,000 per year.
What is a career like in cyber security?
Many people think cyber security workers spend their days in a dark office in front of a computer. This is not completely true.
Some positions in this field require workers to conduct investigations. This can take you to many different settings. You might visit various businesses. You could be part of a search warrant on a hacker’s home. You could even travel overseas.
In most cases, jobs in cyber security don’t follow a typical 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule. Instead, work in this field is highly unpredictable. This is because it involves reacting to emerging threats as they develop.
For example, if an organization comes under attack from hackers, you might work overnight to resolve the issue. Additionally, you and your team might work around the clock for several days to “mop up” cyber threat issues. This might include:
- Closing down network access
- Finding and removing threats
- Repairing damage to networks
- Making progress reports to business owners
- Informing customers of data breaches
Much of a cyber security worker’s time is spent at a desk, though. Common tasks include:
Investigating threats – Cyber security is all about investigating threats. You must also identify new and emerging threats. This includes viruses and malware. You must also investigate ransomware attacks.
Identifying ways to minimize threats – Cyber security workers are responsible for protecting digital data. That means finding ways to counteract cyber threats. This is done to prevent hacks.
Identifying vulnerabilities – Workers in this field must be able to find soft spots in computers. They must also identify problems in software and networks. The goal is to identify problems and fix them before hackers can exploit them.
The specific tasks you must carry out vary depending on your job title. However, the duties listed above are all pretty common for jobs in this field.
What is certain is that there are layers of tasks. This includes duties related to detection of threats, prevention of threats, and developing strategies for protecting against cyber threats.
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