The good news is that if you want to learn more about cybersecurity, there has never been a better time to find courses and material online then there is now. With proliferation of these online cybersecurity courses comes a great opportunity to build a customized cybersecurity education — all without even having to leave home.
In this guide
This guide acts like an index of some of the most popular cybersecurity classes online available today. These classes represent a blend of introductory and advanced courses as well as a mixture of cybersecurity theory and more tactical courses such as certification preparation.
In this guide you will find some of the most popular cybersecurity online courses from today’s best online education platforms.
Online cybersecurity courses: Are they a good fit?
The answer will always be yes. The reason? Online cybersecurity classes can be beneficial at all phases of your cybersecurity career.
If you are just starting out, or if you are still in school and considering a cybersecurity degree, then some of these publicly available cybersecurity courses might help gain a better understanding about what cybersecurity is, what some of the big challenges facing the cybersecurity field look like, and how to best position yourself within the profession.
For working professionals, these courses can act like tools for helping to transition into cybersecurity. There are also a number of cybersecurity courses online that can help people working in information security prepare for and take the next career step.
In addition to the courses outlined below, if you are a working professional, you might also be interested in our cybersecurity certification resources.
Key considerations when deciding between online cybersecurity courses
Overall benefit: The first question you need to answer is why you are taking an online cybersecurity course? Is it out of curiosity, or for career advancement? Do you want to learn new skills, or just try to stay current on the latest trends? Understanding what you are trying to get out of taking online cybersecurity classes will help answer some of the following questions, all of which get to the heart of your overall level of investment.
Cost: There is a wide cost spectrum when it comes to online cybersecurity courses. Some are completely free, and others might cost hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. Having a budget in mind will help make some easy decisions about which courses to pursue now and which ones to save for later.
Time commitment: Some of the courses outlined below can be tackled in a short time frame, while others involve a longer commitment lasting weeks or even months.
Scheduling: Some of these courses are available on a rolling basis, which pretty much means they are on-demand and you can start them whenever you like. Others follow a more traditional academic calendar and have set beginning and end times. Depending on your needs and goals, the scheduling and availability component could play an important decision-making role.
Verification: Another way to think about this is, “what do I get out of this?” Linking back to question one in this list, you really need to be clear about your goals at the onset. If you are taking online cybersecurity courses for fun, or just out of curiosity or interest in the topic, then you don’t really need any kind of certificate or letter of completion.
Top online cybersecurity courses
Cybersecurity is an in-demand, fast-growing field with a need for qualified employees, offering high median salaries, job opportunities in a variety of sectors, and a challenging, fast-paced work environment.
There are a few ways to think about the kinds of opportunities emerging in cybersecurity including looking at the kind of role played within an organization.
Offensive security refers to penetration testing with a focused scope on finding security vulnerabilities, flaws risks, and unreliable environments. An offensive security practitioner normally follows a systematic approach to evaluate the wellbeing of both network, applications, and system endpoints.
Offensive cybersecurity usually starts with the reconnaissance and footprinting phase, which involves collecting information about target sites; the information sometimes can be cached or collected through OSINT, Google Dorks or Shodan.
The next phase is discovery and mapping out network, which involves detecting service over ports, outdated modules and collecting network IP range; probing and scanning using tools and techniques to build intelligence against target sites. It helps in this stage to build plan attacks and watch for system behaviours against servers or misconfigured defenses. In addition, security researchers could use open source tools and commercials one such as BurpSuite Pro or nmap for port probing and network. Another known tool is metasploit which contains known vulnerabilities and exploits against OS/ servers or web applications and KaliLinux, which is considered the Swiss knife of all hacker tools. With the collected information, hands-on attacks take place and deliver exploits against target systems and cause the system to disclose unintended information.
The results normally are shared in a form of report with head departments and their technical engineers to better understand the impact and ways to provide protection against threat agents. The penetration testing normally is used to fulfill NIST 800-171 regulatory compliances and other attestations especially if the system handles sensitive data such as HIPAA or PCI DSS related data.
Writing automated scripts is in high demand, because this skill is needed for tweaking, customizing, or outright developing your own tools. Creating customized tools is an important part of automating the daily routine of today’s information security professional. Creating scripts allows security professionals to achieve more value in less time.
Organizations that are serious about security have needs for skilled tool builders. There is a huge demand for people who can understand a security problem and then rapidly develop a prototype code to attack or defend against it and fully weaponized, for example, writing a backdoor script that uses Exception Handling, Sockets, Process execution, and encryption provides an initial foothold in a target environment.
The backdoor will include features such as a port scanner to find an open outbound port, techniques for evading antivirus software and network monitoring, and the ability to embed payload from tools such as Metasploit or scapy for writing network traffic packets. There are many online resources to learn and it requires discipline and commitment to become proficient:
Pentesting labs is an online course at your own pace designed to help improve security pentesting skills; it has various levels of labs and domain of attacks such as SQL injection (SQLi), XSS, and escalation of privileges.
Hack The Box is a digital lab designed to immerse yourself with real world environments to perform pentesting. If you completed 48 labs, you’re ready for the OSCP certification exam. One of the best online guides for passing this certificate can be found here.
Offensive security provides an online self-paced course designed to become proficient in ethical hacking. The course requires some fundamental skills such as OWASP top ten of web vulnerabilities and attacks. Linux and Windows terminal commands.
Bug bounty programs is a platform designed for organizations who are interested in evaluating their security posture. Ethical hackers/pentesters and security researchers access the bounty-paying organization’s target sites under safe harbor agreement to perform advance testing. After looking for weaknesses, the security researcher or ethical hack presents a proof of concept report of the found vulnerability so the organization can reproduce the attack and retest it after applying the patch, and then receives a bounty which could range from $100s to over $20,000 depending on the severity of the vulnerability.
Refers to security controls dedicated to withstand or deter aggression or attack as to avoid risk, danger, or cybercrime threats like espionage, sabotage, or attack. It can be a reactive or proactive security measure to minimize the likelihood for possible loss of the data. Here is a good online course that offers defensive security online classes from an organization fittingly called Defensive Security.
There are several phases of defensive security, and so there are also several directions that online trainings can take:
Detection and monitoring
Detection and monitoring defensive security is just like it sounds. The practice refers to a systematic approach for identifying and tracking threats such as malware beaconing outbound and spear phishing attack mechanisms. This process involves tracking the activities of users and hackers second-by-second on the system you are analyzing through in-depth timeline and super-timeline analysis and how does the attacker acquire legitimate credentials — including domain administrator rights — even in a locked-down environment. There are tools and techniques which involve analysis and detection such as Snort, Zeek/Bro and other open source tools such as tcpdump and wireshark. The data are ingested for enrichment to provide data dashboards and visualization to capture metrics for reporting purposes such as using collected data to perform effective remediation across the entire enterprise. There are many course and online materials you can start with to learn security detection and monitoring techniques including:
Cybrary: Cybrary is an online platform that provides a number of free online training courses suitable for entry-level cybersecurity all the way through seasoned professionals with courses, virtual labs, and practice tests all in one spot and taught at just the right time, you can stay focused on your career development. The organization also provides mentoring programs to connect with dedicated mentors for career tips and advice.
SANS: SANS provides intensive, immersion training designed to help you and your staff master the practical steps necessary for defending systems and networks against the most dangerous threats — the ones being actively exploited. The courses are full of important and immediately useful techniques that you can put to work as soon as you return to your job. They were developed through a consensus process involving hundreds of administrators, security managers, and information security professionals, and address both security fundamentals and awareness, and the in-depth technical aspects of the most crucial areas of IT security.
Incident response and threat hunting
Incident response training helps security professionals do a deeper analysis to understand the meaning behind security-related incidents. An incident is any event that has a negative impact on the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an organization’s assets. Incident response (IR) is a reactive measure and it’s made of several steps. The first step of the incident response (IR) is vulnerability detection using tools such as Qualys, which is a platform designed to run a proactive vulnerability assessment for endpoints and web applications. Qualys offers free training and certifications that teaches individuals steps to run the tools and features and generate reports.
Another good tool is Rapid7-Nexpose, which provides a vulnerability assessment tool called Nexpose. Rapid7 offers hands-on training sessions This two-day interactive class covers advanced topics for extending and analyzing the wealth of data the product provides. Next step is response, which involves evaluating the nature of the vulnerability and determining the severity level based on risk appetite. The next step is mitigation, which involves reduction of the vulnerability by applying compensating controls and reducing the risk to acceptable level.
In some cases, responders take steps to mitigate the incident, but without letting the attacker know that the attack has been detected. This allows security personnel to monitor the attacker’s activities and determine the scope of the attack. After that step, reporting and recovery takes place to submit the fact finding and report to the management. Next step is remediation, which involves an attempt to identify what allowed it to occur, and then implement methods to prevent it from happening again. This includes performing a root cause analysis. The last step is lessons learned to improve detection methods or help prevent a repeated incident.
SANS offers GCIH certification for individuals who are interested in learning incident response and handling. The course provides information about cyber threat hunting, which is a proactive measure and digs deep into finding malicious actors in a target environment that have slipped past your initial endpoint security defenses. An attacker can remain stealthily in a network for months as they quietly collect data, look for confidential material, or obtain login credentials that will allow them to move laterally across the environment. The process of cyber threat hunting involves three steps: a trigger, an investigation and a resolution. SANS also offers threat hunting training.
Security compliance and risk assessment
Security compliance and risk assessment is a set of procedures that helps to identify, assess, and implement the risks in your organization to make sure that controls are in place. Risk assessment can be found in government, financial services, healthcare, and many industries who handle sensitive data perform a proactive measure to evaluate their defenses and security coverage.
This assessment gives you the whole risks that exist in your organization and provides you with how critical each issue is. Knowing where to start when enhancing your security allows you to maximize your IT budget and resources, saving you money and time. SANS offers A Practical Introduction to Cyber Security Risk Management and a list of security compliance and policies
If you have ever tried to adjust your privacy settings in a mobile/web app or a social media site, or tried to figure out how to exercise privacy choices on a website, chances are you encountered a privacy interface.
Privacy security sets forth standards for the collection, processing, transfer, deletion and other use of personal data, including in the context of organization operations, clinical research, use and deployment of facial recognition and other sensors, web and mobile device tracking, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and analytics, among others. Privacy standards are intended to reflect best practices. As privacy laws and principles evolve over time, these standards will be revised and updated accordingly. In time, these standards are intended to become requirements codified. Some of the standards are about data anonymization, need to know, giving the right to remove user’s data or the choice to enable or disable cookies. In order to further learn more about privacy, there are online guides explaining standards and definitions such as GDPR, CCPA, and privacy engineering and risk management.
Cloud security refers to the technologies, policies, controls, and services that protect cloud data, applications, and infrastructure from threats. AWS, GCP, and MS Azure are top cloud services used by many businesses.
Cloud computing has become an attractive target for hackers as they find misconfigurations, poor security defenses, and lack of protecting Key Secrets (KS), applying appropriate Identity Access Management (IAM) policies and trigger points for abnormal behaviours. There are many cloud security training that provide fundamentals for securing cloud-based solutions:
Cloud Academy: This service is a platform designed to help individuals who are interested in obtaining certifications and hands-on labs on the following cloud services including on Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and many other cloud providers in the market. The courses cover security, identity and access Management (IAM), cloud administration and architecture of cloud services.
Udemy for cloud Azure and AWS: This course covers relevant topics securing covering computing infrastructure on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. The course also provides info about how to integrate security services with cloud-base applications. SANS Cloud Security provides many courses including cloud security courses which involve AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. SANS training will equip you with the latest in cloud focused penetration testing techniques and teach you how to assess cloud environments such as cloud based microservices, in-memory data stores, serverless functions, Kubernetes meshes, and containers, as well as identifying and testing in cloud-first and cloud-native applications. You will also learn specific tactics for penetration testing in Azure and AWS, particularly important given that Amazon Web Services and Microsoft account for more than half of the market. It’s one thing to assess and secure a datacenter, but it takes a specialized skill-set to truly assess and report on the risk that an organization faces if their cloud services are left insecure. You also learn how to implement over 20 DevSecOps Security Controls for building, testing, deploying, and monitoring cloud infrastructure and services. Immersive hand-on labs ensure students not only understand theory, but how to configure and implement each security control.
Finding the right online cybersecurity course
This guide is just the beginning, and it just scratches the surface in terms of what is available for cybersecurity professionals. But hopefully, it illustrates the point that there are a number of really high quality courses and training available online from reputable cybersecurity organizations.