Cybersecurity is one of the most pressing issues affecting businesses and consumers. Year after year statistics regarding cyberattacks, malware, ransomware, data theft, fraud, and identity theft are becoming increasingly daunting. Alongside the explosion in online crime, people are increasingly interested in learning more about protecting themselves and their businesses.
If you want to improve your knowledge of cybersecurity – or want to educate your employees to improve your business’s security and preparedness against cyberattacks – this guide can help. Even if you’re considering a career in cybersecurity and don’t know where to begin, an online cybersecurity course is a great place to start.
With so many online cybersecurity courses available, it’s hard to know which one to pick. Each course has different teaching tools, prerequisites, and syllabuses, and each is suitable for a different level of competence. Prices for online security courses also create considerations. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the top seven online cybersecurity courses.
We will describe each course later. For now, you can use the quick list below to get an idea of the best cybersecurity courses available for learning things like identifying and managing security risks, implementing controls to reduce exposure to cyberattacks, and constructing a network that provides the most resilience should the worst happen.
Best Cyber Security Courses Online:
- StationX VIP Membership: Gives you unlimited access to a huge range of cyber security courses including ethical hacking, penetration testing, and much more. Caters to all levels and great value for money.
- Coursera Introduction to Cyber Security Specialization: Four entry-level courses to help you on your way to a career in cyber security.
- SANS Cyber Aces Online: Courses cover security fundamentals around networking, operating systems, and system admin.
- edX Essentials of Cybersecurity: Good option for those looking for a university-accredited course.
- Heimdal Cyber Security for Beginners: A course geared more towards the general user who wants to increase their understanding of cyber security.
- Cybrary Introduction to IT and Cybersecurity: Covers network engineering, system administration, forensics, and penetration testing.
- Harvard Cybersecurity: Managing Risk in the Information Age: Cyber security course covering attack types, risks, and mitigation strategies alongside compliance and legal issues. Not cheap at £2,800.
We based our course selections on the following criteria:
- Offers value for money
- Doesn’t require much, if any, previous knowledge of cybersecurity
- Offers practical advice that can be applied at home, business, or cybersecurity career
- Operates entirely online with no travel required
- Provides you with some type of certification upon completion
Best cyber security course online for beginners
Here’s our list of the best online cybersecurity courses for beginners:
StationX offers almost 100 courses related to cybersecurity, including those teaching ethical hacking, penetration testing, networking, security coding, digital forensics, and incident response. It even has courses centered around passing top security certifications and preparing for examinations.
The StationX VIP Membership gives you unlimited access to all courses, many of which have racked up thousands of great reviews. Considering each course normally costs $90–$2,000 by itself, the discounted fee of $149 (usually $1,199) per year for access to all courses is well worth it. You can stream and download lectures and access them from mobile or desktop. You’ll learn at your own speed and receive a certificate of completion for each course.
For beginners, we suggest starting with The Complete Cyber Security Course! which includes four volumes with classes taught by cybersecurity expert and StationX CEO, Nathan House. These are the modules in this course:
- Hackers Exposed: Learn to stop hackers, block tracking, and prevent government surveillance.
- Network Security: Find out about network security, wifi security and hackers, firewalls, password managers, and more.
- Anonymous Browsing: Discover the world of anonymous browsing including hiding IP addresses, Tor, and VPNs.
- End Point Protection: Learn about antivirus software, malware, encryption, and application control.
Once you’re through that, you can continue browsing and see what captures your interest next. By purchasing the membership, you have continued access to new training courses that are being added all the time. Courses are presented by top security experts, so you know you’re getting the best of the best training.
All-in-all, this is a training toolbox that can serve you well as you embark on a career in the industry. Since it’s updated regularly, you can use it to stay on top of advances in cybersecurity and propel yourself further in your career.
Even if you’re not pursuing a career in the field, this might still be a good fit. Because you can tailor your learning, this membership is suitable for someone looking to take control of cybersecurity within their own company, or even someone who is simply interested in learning more about the field.
BEST CYBERSECURITY COURSES:StationX is our #1 choice for beginners. StationX VIP Membership provides unlimited access to all content including courses focused on passing top security certifications.
The way Coursera works is by grouping multiple courses into a “specialization.” You can take all courses within a specialization or choose specific ones. Each specialization includes a hands-on project which you’ll have to complete in order to earn a certificate.
The Introduction to Cyber Security specialization includes four courses:
- Introduction to Cyber Attacks: Provides a basic understanding of threats and vulnerabilities, and an overview of how cyberattacks are carried out.
- Cyber Attack Countermeasures: Teaches the basics of cyber defense and cryptography, including authentication solutions and public-key cryptography.
- Real-Time Cyber Threat Detection and Mitigation: Discusses real-time cybersecurity techniques and how to detect and prevent common attacks.
- Enterprise and Infrastructure Security: Introduces more advanced topics such as enterprise compliance frameworks and issues in blockchain and mobile security.
This set of courses goes beyond the basics, so is less suitable for home users looking to boost their cybersecurity knowledge and more for business owners or would-be cybersecurity professionals. The suggested time frame is nine hours per week for two months.
You can take many individual Coursera courses for free. However, to complete a specialization and its corresponding hands-on project to get a certificate, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee. Specializations come with a seven-day free trial after which they cost between $39 and $79 per month for each specialization. This means the quicker you get through the courses and projects, the less you have to pay.
SANS Cyber Aces Online courses are offered for free by the SANS Institute, which you’ve no doubt heard of if you’re in any way interested in cybersecurity. This organization is highly regarded in the field of information security and has been conducting research and education programs for three decades.
The institute runs in-person training events across the globe, but these typically cost thousands of dollars a pop. As such, to get some free online training from these guys is a treat. That being said, the current offerings are limited with just one course being available. But if you’re just looking for a taster, it could be ideal.
The course teaches the fundamentals of cybersecurity, covering the following:
- Operating Systems: Focusing on command line usage, this module teaches concepts and commands in Linux and advanced use of Windows.
- Networking: This covers the fundamentals of computer attacks and corresponding defense from a network point of view. You’ll find out about the protocols used in each OSI layer, in particular, the networking layer.
- System Administration: The final module teaches administrative functions in popular scripting environments.
You can opt to take courses with or without quizzes, which are presented in a multiple-choice format and test knowledge and understanding of each module.
This course is geared toward a prospective cybersecurity professional or members of the general public. The SANS Institute hopes that by offering courses like this for free, people will be better educated on cybersecurity, and it will ultimately “help strengthen the security of our nation.”
edX is a great resource for accredited university courses. These courses are designed by various universities themselves and come with verified certificates. However, they do come at a cost. The Professional Certificate in Essentials of Cybersecurity is offered by the University of Washington (UWashingtonX) and costs $716.40 (usually $796).
The suggested duration for the whole program (which includes four introductory courses) is 2–5 hours per week for 6 months.
Included courses are:
- Introduction to Cybersecurity: Answers questions about and provides literacy in the field of cybersecurity.
- Cybersecurity: The CISO’s View: Delves into cybersecurity operations and in particular what a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) does within a company.
- Building a Cybersecurity Toolkit: Teaches the skills needed to become a cybersecurity professional.
- Finding Your Cybersecurity Career Path: Discusses the various career paths you could follow and helps you decide which is the right fit for you.
Each course separately costs $199, so you save around $80 by buying the bundle. As you can see, the flow of this program is tailored to someone who is thinking of pursuing a career in the cybersecurity field.
Once you’ve completed this one, if you’re looking for something more advanced, the MicroMasters® Program in Cybersecurity might be of interest. It’s fairly pricey at $1,436, but the length and scope of this course are no doubt worth it. It’s run by the highly-regarded Rochester Institute of Technology and is aimed at learners looking to launch their cybersecurity career.
Heimdal Security is a reputable firm providing technologies and intelligence in the fight against cybercrime. This organization is offering its handy Cyber Security for Beginners course free of charge. While many of the courses on this list are aimed at prospective cybersecurity professionals, this one is targeted more toward a general user looking to bump up their home cybersecurity.
This course is paced for you as lessons are delivered to your inbox every two days. Over the course of 20 lessons, you’ll learn:
- Cybersecurity basics such as vocabulary and setting up a security system
- Tools and tactics that can shield you from malware
- How to make your system less vulnerable to cyber threats
- Ways to keep your kids and other loved ones safe online
- How to explore the web safely (including email and social media)
- Security skills such as knowledge of how attacks work and how to avoid and deal with them
A few example lesson titles are “No more technical gibberish! Master basic security terms in 20 minutes,” “Share. Tweet. Protect. Repeat. – social media, the safe way,” and “What your kids & parents need to learn about cyber security.” You can see that this really is geared toward the home user and will be less relevant for someone looking to pursue a career in cybersecurity.
If you’re debating a career in cybersecurity and thinking about which route to take, this course could be a good fit for you. Designed to help you make a decision between the main areas of cybersecurity, it covers four of the primary disciplines in a modular format than spans just over four hours worth of videos.
You’ll learn about system administration, network engineering, incident response and forensics, and penetration testing.
Many Cybrary courses are free and if you like this course, there are plenty more to choose from. You can search their library based on course type and difficulty level. All courses are presented in video format, so are great for visual learners.
Note that once you’re in, there’s a fairly aggressive upsell to the Pro version of Cybrary, which gives you access to additional courses and other perks such as career pathway guidance and a mentor. This costs $39 per month, which is pricey, but if you’re interested in any of the additional features (like certification prep), you might find this worthwhile.
This Harvard course is split up into eight modules to be tackled over as many weeks. It should require an estimated 8–11 hours per week. By the end of this course, you’ll be able to develop a cyber risk mitigation strategy for your business or that of a client. You’ll also have knowledge of the legal and compliance processes that accompany cyberattacks.
You’ll learn about the various types of cyberattacks threatening businesses and which systems are at the highest risk of attack, as well as the importance of a holistic approach to cybersecurity. Modules include Identifying the threats of an organization (module 2), Understanding your technology (module 5), and Cyber risk and the law (module 6), among others.
Upon completion of this course, you’ll walk away with a certification for Advances in Learning from Harvard University’s Office of the Vice President. As expected, a course of this caliber does come with a hefty price tag. Currently, you’ll need to pay $2,900 to register. If you’re not on a tight budget, this piece of paper might be worth it, but for many, it’s simply inaccessible.
Why take a cybersecurity course?
Cybercrime is a growing problem that’s becoming an inherent part of our everyday lives. Almost everyone now uses the web in some way, shape, or form at home, at work, and on the go. Even the relatively few who shy away from technology still have to deal with companies for which cybercrime is a real potential threat.
As such, it has become more of a basic requirement for people to make themselves aware of the risks that are out there and what they can do to protect themselves. Here are the three main reasons for taking a cybersecurity course:
- To protect yourself and your family. It’s easy to plead ignorance and say that we should leave things to the experts, but think of it this way: we leave it to the police to catch thieves, but that doesn’t mean we make a habit of leaving our front doors unlocked or leaving our keys in the car. The fight against cybercrime needs to be a group effort, and educating yourself on threats and how to mitigate them is a great place to start.
- To protect your business. Businesses, large and small, are at risk of falling behind when it comes to cybersecurity. All too often business-owners only decide to step up their game when it’s too late and they’ve already suffered losses. DDoS attacks, data breaches, phishing schemes, and more can trigger major monetary losses and a lot of stress. Taking a cybersecurity course can help you be proactive in beefing up your business’ cybersecurity before it’s too late.
- To pursue a cybersecurity career. If you’re passionate about cybersecurity and think you’d like to pursue a career in the field, you’re in luck.
- It’s predicted that by 2025, there will be 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings . This industry is expected to grow from $175 billion in 2015 to $1.75 trillion in 2025. Taking a cybersecurity course for beginners can help you decide if this really is your calling, and if so, which discipline you’d like to specialize in. E-learning courses are low cost, and with suitable qualifications can open up the potential to a high-paid career in cybersecurity.
Tips for pursuing a cybersecurity career
Do you think a cybersecurity career could be right for you? Below we’ve put together our top 4 tips to help any beginner launch a cybersecurity career.
Here are some tips to help you get started in cybersecurity:
- Explore different areas of cybersecurity: There are so many directions a career in cybersecurity can take so it’s a good idea to explore all options and not narrow things down too quickly. Many of the above courses are inexpensive or free so you could complete multiple programs as part of your exploration.
- Practice as much as you can: To truly prepare for a cybersecurity career, you need to put your skills into practice. Many courses will include hands-on projects, but there are also lots of events, competitions, and other programs you can use to perfect your skills. For example, capture the flag events, hackathons, and bug bounties can all provide fun ways to put your knowledge into practice. Internships also offer excellent opportunities for honing your skills and might be a solid option if you’re struggling to gain the experience you need to break into a fulltime role.
- Join networking groups: The cybersecurity field is bursting with networks and forums comprised of like-minded individuals. Participants share knowledge and can help each other further their careers.
- Find a mentor: Another benefit of networking groups is you may be able to find yourself a great mentor. A mentor can be incredibly helpful as you navigate your cybersecurity career as someone to share ideas with and help guide you through key career decisions.
Is a cybersecurity career well paid?
Yes! In addition to being a highly important technical skill to know about, cybersecurity is an excellent field to move into if you want to be compensated well for your time. Not only are cybersecurity experts highly sought after – they also take home well above-average earnings.
According to the latest statistics, Company Information Security Officers in America earn an average of $145,667 annually. In New York City, those earnings are even higher, coming in at around $177,000 per year. Needless to say, this makes cybersecurity a fantastic industry to move into.
How long will it take to learn basic cybersecurity skills?
On average it will take between six months and two years to learn about cybersecurity. If only a basic understanding is needed, a six-month course may suffice.
That said, if you intend to make cyber security your new career, you may find it necessary to enroll in a course that teaches advanced cybersecurity – including the practical skills and knowledge needed to carry out penetration testing and to be able to effectively set up secure networks and security systems.
Some of the longest cybersecurity courses available may take up to 5 years to complete. However, these will leave you with the skills you need to enter the workplace and start earning the big bucks!