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Learn hardening with online courses and programs

Protecting your computer system and data from online threats is important, and systems hardening can reduce vulnerability. Learn hardening techniques with online courses delivered through edX.

What is hardening?

Systems hardening is a method of protecting a computer system against attacks perpetrated by cybercriminals. The goal of this process is to reduce security risk by eliminating potential attack vectors and minimizing the system’s attack surface.Footnote 1

At its core, the hardening definition details a process designed to prevent attacks by patching vulnerabilities and turning off nonessential services.Footnote 2 This involves deleting or disabling needless applications, permissions, ports, user accounts, and other features so that attackers have fewer opportunities to access a system’s sensitive information. 

While systems hardening involves securing a computer system’s software, it also requires securing firmware and other system elements to reduce vulnerabilities and a potential compromise of the entire systems’ infrastructure.Footnote 3 Hardening is essential throughout the entire technology lifecycle, helping companies prevent cyber attacks and protect their network.

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How to use hardening techniques

The five types of hardening that help secure critical elements of a computer system include:Footnote 4

1. Server hardening: This refers to reducing the “attack surface” of a server. This includes protecting the functions, ports, data, and permissions on a server. Techniques include disabling USB ports when a system turns on, regularly updating or patching server software, and creating strong passwords for all users. 

2. Application hardening: Software application hardening refers to users or organizations adding or upgrading security measures on all of their network’s programs and applications. This may include web browsers, word processors, and spreadsheet programs. 

3. Operating system hardening: Through operating system hardening, you can secure the operating systems of endpoint devices, like computers and mobile devices, within a network. Techniques include installing or updating patches and reducing the number of people with authorization to a company’s operating system. 

4. Database hardening: This refers to securing digital databases. Techniques include disabling functions that aren’t needed, encrypting database resources, and reducing user privileges. 

5. Network hardening: Network hardening is the process of securing communication channels and systems between servers, endpoint devices, and other technologies operating on a shared network.

It’s important to keep in mind that the types of system hardening are broad enough to be universal and translate well across different server and computer systems configurations.Footnote 5 Each category needs to be taken into consideration to ensure system hardening is performed successfully. 

Hardening tutorial curriculum 

Hardening is a key stop on your road to securing servers. There are numerous online courses that introduce learners to the hardening framework. Hardening is also included in many cybersecurity courses, as it’s considered to be a foundational cybersecurity concept. 

A typical hardening beginner course introduces the systems that can be hardened and explains how security baselines are used to define normal network conditions. From there, learners may explore the steps used to harden systems. 

Interested in learning more about hardening? edX offers a wide variety of learning options that range from cybersecurity boot camps to full degree programs, such as a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Explore the many learning paths available and find the right one for you.

Jobs that use system hardening 

As new cyber threats have emerged, cybersecurity has become a priority for both the information technology and business sectors. Because the technical details of information technology can be overwhelming to business owners and C-level executives, companies need professionals with an understanding of advanced security protocols and system hardening standards. These roles can include:

  • Security analyst: Security analysts help protect a company’s network and sensitive information from unauthorized users. They’re responsible for leading efforts to counter security breaches and reduce the likelihood of future security incidents. 

  • Cybersecurity engineer: These professionals are responsible for safeguarding sensitive data from hackers and other cybercriminals by planning, implementing, managing, and upgrading security measures. 

  • Information security analyst: These professionals design and implement security systems that protect a company’s computer networks from cyber attacks. They also work with other security professionals to perform tests and uncover network vulnerabilities.

If cybersecurity is a field that appeals to you, the ability to perform hardening techniques will be critical as you pursue professional positions. But, it is important to note that learning systems hardening on its own does not mean you have the skills required for the jobs listed above. Some roles may call for knowledge of additional cybersecurity concepts or have educational requirements. Research potential positions you would like to pursue as you decide how to build the skills and knowledge you need. And whether you want to enroll in a more specialized boot camp or a full bachelor’s degree program or master's degree program, you can start your learning journey today with edX.

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