The Best Online Courses in Cyber Security
Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative sectors in the country, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 40% employment increase through 2022, or a talent gap of about 2 million infosec professionals.
The reasons are fairly obvious: malware and ransomeware attacks, massive data breaches, and privacy concerns are in the news every day, and experts don’t see the trend ending soon.
If you’re a tech novice, it’s crucial to understand cybersecurity basics both for personal use and business activities. If you’re an IT or IS professional, it’s more important than ever to brush up or expand your cybersecurity skill set.
Below, we’ve organized the best online courses in cybersecurity into five main categories:
- Mobile Applications Security
- Virtualization Security
- Malware Analysis
- Network Security
- Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing
The sixth section features a selection of additional general coursework.
All courses vary from beginner — students with zero experience in IT or cybersecurity – to expert level, and include free options as well as paid enrollment plans to earn certification. To help provide context, each category also includes relevant background information, industry statistics, and salary and employment trends, which hopefully steer students in the right direction.
As a final note, most of these are standalone MOOCs or individual courses with a MOOC specialization. If you’re interested in a more in-depth program, check out our page explaining how to earn a degree through MOOCs, or look over our rankings of the best online degrees in areas like Information Systems and Computer Science.
Mobile Applications Security
As mobile traffic continues to grow, mobile app security is a critical concern, both within the cybersecurity community and the general public. How do we know that the data we carry around in our pockets is secure? Are smartphones and tablets protecting our information or increasing vulnerability to hacks, cyber crime, and unwanted data collection? The magnitude of the problem can’t be overstated:
- Mobile app downloads are expected to increase 130 precent by 2021, from 149 billion to 343 billion
- By 2020, mobile apps are forecast to generate about $189 billion in revenues, compared to $70 billion in 2015
- In the United States, adults now spend more time on mobile devices (51 percent) than desktops and laptops (42 percent)
In short, the combination of mobile’s popularity, and the business opportunities that popularity represents, makes it a prime cyber target. But that’s only part of the story. Equally important is how people use mobile. For Android and Apple iOS users, the most popular apps are Facebook, YouTube, FB Messenger, Google Search, Google Maps, Instagram, and Snapchat. Among millennials, Amazon and Gmail top the “must-have” app list. Users entrust private data and information on each of these, but recent research by NowSecure suggests some alarming trends:
- Over 80 percent of Android users have been found to use a version that was two or more years old
- 35 percent of mobile communications are unencrypted
- Business apps are 3 times more likely to leak log-in credentials than the average app
- Social media apps are 3 times more likely to expose users’ passwords
- Twenty-five percent of all mobile apps have at least one high-risk security flaw; fifty percent of mobile apps with 5-10 million downloads have a security flaw
Mobile may be big — and getting bigger — but so are its security risks.
Employment Stats for Mobile Application Security
The mobile space encompasses a wide range of potential careers.
The most popular positions are on the application and software development side, which include programming and security responsibilities. In fact, CNN recently ranked Mobile App Developer the best job in American, factoring data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale, and quality of life ratings. Median pay is $97k, with experienced developers earning up to $130k, and jobs are expected to grow at least 19% over the next decade.
Best Courses in Mobile Application Security
- Networking and Security in iOS Applications: For intermediate iOS developers, learn how to interact with web services securely, securely deploy apps to the App Store and beta users, and use Core Data for data security.
- University of California, Irvine: Don Patterson, Associate Professor; Sam Kaufman, Partner at Gradient
- Android App Development Specialization: A five-part specialization that reviews Java for Android, core Android app components, engineering maintainable Android apps, and more for beginner and intermediate developers.
- Vanderbilt University
- Cybersecurity and Mobility: Aimed for current cybersecurity professionals interested in transitioning to a managerial role, with an emphasis on the intersection of business strategy and IT infrastructure.
- University System of Georgia: Dr. Humayun Zafar, Associate Professor of Information Security and Assurance
SDX Central defines security virtualization as:
“The shift of security functions from dedicated hardware appliances to software that can be easily moved between commodity hardware or run in the cloud.”
In other words, if all our technologies are increasingly online, our securities need to be, too. A fixed border is meaningless in a virtual world without borders. Security virtualization is designed to adapt to the challenges this world presents, creating a highly nuanced, adaptive system.
Physical security devices are typically inserted on the perimeter of a network to provide protection, enabling access to the network by authenticated users. In a virtual environment, networks, workloads, and virtual machines are consistently being set up, torn down, and moved around inside a data center or network, shifting the focus of the security needs. In addition, because multiple virtual networks can operate across the same underlying physical infrastructure, security must address each layer of virtualization.
Virtualization poses a particular risk to businesses and organizations, which have migrated to cloud computing.
- In 2017, the public cloud computing market was predicted to be worth around $130 billion
- Through 2021, public IT cloud services are projected to grow 16-21 percent per year
- The global Platform-as-a-Service market is expected to total nearly $48 billion in 2026
- The global Software-as-a-Service market earned $102 billion in 2017
- In 2018, the amount of cloud data center IP traffic is expected to reach 10.6 zettabytes
Security concerns are real — and perhaps warranted.
- Only 23% of organizations completely trust public clouds to keep their data secure
- 60% of engineering firms say that a lack of security skills is slowing down their cloud adoption plans
- 83% of organizations are actively using containers, which hold more data than virtual machines but also expose more risk
- The average enterprise experiences over 23 cloud-related threats per month
- Of 20,000 cloud services in use, only 1 in 10 of providers follow industry best practice, including encrypting data at rest
Employment Stats for Virtualization Security
The most common virtualization roles are on the engineering and architecture side, particularly in cloud infrastructure.
Cloud computing, in general, is a good space to be working: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 560,000 new computer and IT jobs, cloud jobs are a point of emphasis. Cloud Infrastructure Architects earn a median salary of $113k, with the highest-paid pulling in $172k on Payscale. Meanwhile, according to Glassdoor, the average Cloud Infrastructure Engineer makes $85k a year, with the upper-tier earning $120k.
If you’re interested in an in-depth breakdown, Forbes has a helpful list of the top-paying cloud computing jobs. (Key takeaway: certifications are a good way to increase salary potential; for our purposes, that would include the the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification.)
Best Courses in Virtualization Security
- Cloud Computing Specialization: The most comprehensive cloud computing module on Coursera, this six-part series covers core distributed systems concepts used inside clouds, followed by cloud applications (including virtualization) and cloud networking.
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Software Defined Networking: Learn how software defined networking, a major component of virtualization, is changing the way communications networks are managed, maintained, and secured.
- Princeton University: Dr. Nick Feamster, Professor
- Virtualization Management: A 20-hour training course designed to teach intermediate students how to effectively implement, manage and maintain a virtual computing environment for several business applications.
Malware ranks among cybersecurity’s oldest bugbears. And while anti-malware developers have certainly beefed up security measures since the early days of the internet, threats continue to pop up that are increasingly well-disguised and more destructive than ever. Given the amount of information stored and transferred online across the world, vulnerability is also at an all-time high, and the fallout of a serious attack could be devastating. In fact, it already has been.
- In 2017, software update supply chain attacks were up 200 percent, and mobile malware variants were up 54 percent
- A company is hit with ransomware every 40 seconds, 71% of companies targeted by ransomware attacks have been infected
- The 2017 WannaCry attack infected over 400,000 machines, even though cyber professionals knew about the ransomware 91 days before to the attack, and a vulnerability patch had been available for 59 days
- Petya ransomeware spread to at least 65 countries shortly after WannaCry, demanding $300 in bitcoin from victims, while the closely-related “Not Petya” malware disguised itself as ransomware and caused catastrophic hard drive damage
Some solutions come down to common sense practices in the workplace and at home: strengthening passwords, avoiding suspicious links and email attachments, etc. But it’s clear that threats are evolving, and a few do’s and don’t aren’t a long-term fix. As a report from Barkly shows, even businesses that implement multiple layers of “protection” are routinely compromised:
- Four out of five companies say they have security protections that address the four primary stages of the attack cycle — delivery, pre-execution, runtime, and post-damage — but . . .
- For nearly half of surveyed organizations, security designed to prevent malware delivery was bypassed. Twenty-five percent suffered an attack that bypassed all security solutions. And if we break the report down further . . .
- From April 2016-17, malware was delivered to 47% of surveyed organizations, executed at 37%, caused damage at 25% and caused irreversible damage at 14%
What’s clear is that purely quantitative solutions aren’t effective. We need better qualitative solutions — and that starts at the personnel level.
Employment Stats for Malware Analysis
Anti-malware and ransomware career tracks vary depending on interests.
For instance, a Malware Analyst is a “a highly specialized reverse-engineer, programmer and detective,” according to Malwarebytes, an industry leader in security. In this role, you’ll examine, identify, and study the nature of viruses, worms, bots, rootkits, and more to predict and prevent attacks before they happen. In other words, it’s a first-line-of-defense job. Average salary in the US is $75,000, but experienced analysts can earn six-figures.
Other tracks might include research-intensive roles, forensics, penetration testing, vulnerability, and other engineering and architecture positions. Bottom line: malware expertise will qualify you for numerous jobs in cybersecurity.
Best Courses in Malware Analysis
- IT Security: Defense against the digital dark arts: Designed for beginners interested in entry-level IT support, Google’s course is a general survey, including studies in anti-malware protection, network security, AAA security, firewalls, and encryption
- Intro to Malware Analysis and Reverse Engineering: A short introduction (for advanced students) in which you’ll learn a range of skills, from how to perform dynamic and static analysis on all major files types, to debugging and disassembling malicious binaries
- Malicious Software and its Underground Economy: Two Sides to Every Story: A six-lecture course focusing on traditional and mobile malware, the security threats they pose, cutting-edge analysis and detection techniques, and malware’s lucrative black market
- University of London: Dr Lorenzo Cavallaro, Reader (Associate Professor)
For a brief definition of this cybersecurity specialization, we turn to Cisco:
Network security is any activity designed to protect the usability and integrity of your network and data. It includes both hardware and software technologies. Effective network security manages access to the network. It targets a variety of threats and stops them from entering or spreading on your network.
From there, they outline the various types of network security, including:
- Access Control: Who is allowed on a network
- Behavioral analytics: Detects security threats through abnormal network behavior
- Intrusion prevention systems: Scans network traffic to actively block attacks
- Network segmentation: Classifies network traffic to make security enforcement easier
- Virtual Private Network: Allows remote-access and provides end-to-end encryption on a network
The list goes on. Point being, network security accounts for a significant portion of cybersecurity initiatives, particularly considering current trends in malware evolution, IoT growth, AI and machine learning, SD-WAN, cloud security, and IPv6 traffic.
For instance, depending on who you ask, the number of connected devices and things will reach between 6.6 and 30 billion by 2020. At that point, 1 million new devices will go online every hour. But are we ready? That kind of exponential growth is nearly impossible to manage, and security weaknesses are already showing. Many IoT devices lack back security functions, and botnets are a growing concern.
Of course, IoT is just one example among many in network security’s catalogue of responsibilities.
Employment Stats for Network Security
Unsurprisingly, job prospects are high.
The median annual salary for Network Security Engineers is about $85k, but experienced professionals can earn up to $120k. (Analyst and specialist roles are entry-level positions.) Depending on your interests, engineering can lead to a variety of career tracks. On the one hand, you can pursue top-tier technical jobs, including as a Security Architect or IS Engineer, or opt to follow a managerial route, e.g, IS Manager, Director, or Chief Information Security Officer. Either way, salaries run well into the six-figure range.
Best Courses in Network Security
- Cisco Networking Basics Specialization: This five-part specialization is great for IT beginners, small business owners, and anyone interested in the basics of data transmission and how small computer networks are created. Learners will also be introduced to Cisco IOS® software, one of the more popular programs in the field.
- Cisco Networking Academy
- Fundamentals of Computer Network Security Specialization: Designed for IT professionals looking to advance their careers, this four-part specialization is a comprehensive survey covering Crypto API, hacking and patching applications, configuring firewall and IDS for secure networked systems, and more.
- University of Colorado: Edward Chow, Professor
- Network Security: For a longer, more in-depth study, check out Georgia Tech’s course, part of the school’s much lauded online MSCS program. Topics include authentication, security protocol design and analysis, security modeling, key management, intrusion detection, DDOS detection and mitigation, architecture/operating systems security, and other emerging topics.
- Georgia Institute of Technology: Instructors Wenke Lee and Catherine Gamboa
Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing
The cruel irony of cybersecurity is that it’s hard to know all your vulnerabilities until they’ve been exposed. A bit like confirming your garage door lock is broken after you’ve been robbed. But what if you could confirm security weaknesses without placing your data at risk?
Ethical hackers and penetration testers do just that: break into an organization’s network, and then return the keys, identifying risk areas and providing detailed steps to increase security. In other words, exploit to protect.
Employment Stats for Ethical Hackers and Pentesters
The “white hat” job is market is hot. Tech Republic ranks pentesters as the #1 most in-demand job in the industry, and ethical hackers aren’t far behind. Pay is nice, too. According to Infosec Institute, ethical hackers earn $70-90k, while pen testers earn $80-100k. Certified professionals, either by CEH or LPT, each make around $90k.
What’s the difference between the two titles? Ethical hacking generally encompasses a broader set of responsibilities, while pentesters are a specialized subset of professionals that focus exclusively on penetrating systems and accessing data in a target environment. As for the pay disparity, the latter typically function as outside consultants, meaning they can leverage higher pay and work on contract. (Quora has a good breakdown: in sum, pentesters are paid for the effort; ethical hackers “get rewarded for the bugs they find, not for the time they spend hunting.”)
Regardless, more lucrative jobs are available to both, including as a Senior Ethical Hacker, Senior Penetration Tester, Security Architect Security Manager, CISO, and Security Director.
Best Courses in Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing
- Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking: This 20-hour courses includes lessons in Intrusion Detection, Policy Creation, Social Engineering, DDoS Attacks, Buffer Overflows and Virus Creation.
- The Complete Ethical Hacking Course: Beginner to Advanced: With over 240,000 students enrolled, this course features 24.5 hours of on-demand video, 5 Supplemental Resources, and a rigorous curriculum that prepares you to work in Windows, Mac, and Linux environments.
- Learn Wi-Fi Password Penetration Testing: A specialized course that covers WEP encryption, WPA/WPA2 weaknesses, how to exploit the WPS feature, word list attacks, and more.
Assorted Coursework for Security Analysts, Cybercrime Professionals, and Business Leaders
- Introduction to Cyber Security: This four-course specialization serves as an excellent intro survey for aspiring infosec professionals and general learners, with lessons on cyber attacks, cyber defense, real-time cyber security techniques, and enterprise and infrastructure security. Interviews with industry partners add real-world context.
- New York University: Dr. Edward G. Amoroso, Research Professor, NYU, and CEO, TAG Cyber LLC
- Cybersecurity: Developing a Program for Your Business Specialization: Designed for companies, government agencies, and not-for-profit organizations, lessons cover a wide range of subjects, from cybersecurity and the internet of things to cybersecurity and human behavior. Complete the full 18-week specialization, or enroll in individual courses (e.g., Cybersecurity and Mobility, listed above.)
- University System of Georgia
- Homeland Security and Cybersecurity Specialization: More of a policy survey than a training module, students will examine current strategies to safeguard the United States against cyber attack. Courses include Homeland Security & Cybersecurity Connection, Cybersecurity Policy for Water and Electricity Infrastructures, Cybersecurity Policy for Aviation and Internet Infrastructures, and Homeland Security and Cybersecurity Future.
- University of Colorado: Richard White, Assistant Research Professor
- Applied Cryptography Specialization: This specialization is one of the most comprehensive crypto courses available online, including lessons on information theory, symmetric cryptography, asymmetric cryptography and key management, and has functions, among other topics. For intermediates with some related experience.
- University of Colorado: Sang-Yoon Chang, Assistant Professor
- Information System Threats, Attacks & Defenses: An interdisciplinary introductory course covering a broad range of cyber issues, including malware, cryptography, virtual private networks, firewalls, and more. Offered in conjuction with the National Cyber Security Programme and certified by APMG International.
- The Open University: Arosha K. Bandara
- Digital Forensics: An introductory survey to computer forensics and investigation, in which students learn how to gather, analyze, and present digital evidence in business and legal environments.
- The Open University
- Finding your Cybersecurity Career Path: Confused about which cybersecurity career to pursue? This courses covers thirty-two potential career paths in cybersecurity, how to evaluate you job compatibility, and more. Once students complete a self-assessment, they’ll determine the next steps necessary, including training options and skill requirements.
- University of Washington: Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Director, Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity