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Explore cybersecurity courses and certificates

Many organizations have been victims of cybersecurity breaches. Cybersecurity specialists play a critical role in protecting against these attacks. Learn how to become a cybersecurity specialist with online cybersecurity courses offered through edX.

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is a subset of information technology associated with safeguarding computer systems and information. Why is cybersecurity important? There are many types of cybersecurity threats, including theft, hacking, viruses, and more. The computer security field has grown as more devices become internet-enabled and more services are moved online.

Cyberattacks may result in stolen credit card information, personal details, and other sensitive data. Security breaches typically occur when organizations’ and companies’ data centers are compromised. They can impact banks, retail stores, online websites, and anywhere else consumers use their digital information. Hackers also use fraudulent emails and social media to access sensitive data from end-users. IT and cybersecurity experts are responsible for assessing security risks in order to better protect customers. 

Companies that collect and store private information employ cyber safety and security measures to prevent the loss of data or disruption of business, and the availability of cybersecurity jobs is tied to this need. These roles may be specific to a division of cybersecurity, such as application security, network security, cloud security, and mobile security. Additionally, cybersecurity specialists may participate in defensive security practices, while others may focus on testing through activities such as “white hat” hacking.

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Common types of cybersecurity threats

Information can be compromised through a variety of tactics. Examples of common cyberthreats include:1

  • Malware: Short for “malicious software,” malware variants include worms, viruses, trojans, and spyware. These types of software can give cyberattackers unauthorized access to data or cause damage to a computer system. 

  • Ransomware: Ransomware is another type of malware that can lock down computer systems with the threat to destroy or compromise sensitive data unless a ransom is paid to the cyberattacker. 

  • Phishing: Phishing is a tactic that attempts to trick users into providing sensitive information, such as their username and password to an account, credit card number, or personal information. This type of scam sends messages from seemingly legitimate organizations asking for the information they intend to steal for their use. 

  • Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks: These types of cyberattacks attempt to crash a server, network, or website by overloading it with traffic. DDoS attacks typically use multiple coordinated systems to achieve the goal of overwhelming the system. 

Online cybersecurity course curriculum

Cybersecurity course curricula will vary based on the type of program, level of learning, and other factors. For example, an introductory course that focuses on cybersecurity fundamentals may cover: 

  • Network and system administration basics, such as data integrity, confidentiality, and availability. 

  • Protections that cybersecurity professionals use to secure network infrastructures, monitor threats, and implement security solutions. 

  • The different branches of cybersecurity, including application security, network and infrastructure security, and digital forensics and incident response. 

Cybersecurity analyst certification courses and cybersecurity boot camps can also provide a more in-depth focus on cybersecurity tools and best practices for aspiring professionals, including how to perform digital forensic analysis, risk analysis, and vulnerability assessments in enterprise environments.

Cybersecurity training for beginners

For those who are interested in exploring cybersecurity careers, it can be helpful to take an introductory class to see if cybersecurity is a good fit. There are many low-cost or free cybersecurity courses online that cover cybersecurity fundamentals, how to start a career in cybersecurity, and more. Introductory classes may cover different areas of cybersecurity, such as secure software development, network security, and cloud security. These courses provide an overview on important cybersecurity terms, how security design works, industry standards and principles, and different models for security.

 Cybersecurity jobs

There are many types of cybersecurity jobs that play unique roles in keeping computer systems secure. One example is the position of information security analyst. 

Responsibilities for this role can include:2

  • Monitoring an organization’s networks for security breaches.

  • Using tools such as firewalls and data encryption programs to protect private information.

  • Checking for potential cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities.

  • Researching the latest IT security trends.

  • Developing security standards and best practices for their organization.

Other cybersecurity careers include:  

  • Cybersecurity architects, who lead the process of planning, designing, testing, and implementing an organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure.3

  • Cybersecurity engineers, who aid the cybersecurity team in planning, implementing, and monitoring an organization’s security systems.4

  • Cyber strategy consultants, who assess an organization’s computer systems to identify potential vulnerabilities and provide solutions that can be implemented to address those issues. 

  • Solutions implementation engineers, who assist the cybersecurity team with overall technical design and testing to maintain a business’s security systems. 

How to become a cybersecurity specialist online

There are multiple education paths an individual can take to learn cybersecurity, from short cybersecurity tutorials and boot camps, to traditional degree programs. Some cybersecurity jobs may require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree related to computer information technology. Other cybersecurity careers may be open to individuals who have completed a cybersecurity boot camp program. Cybersecurity certifications can also be earned through online programs.