The Ultimate How-to Guide to Getting Started in Cybersecurity
We have embraced technology as a powerful driver of new businesses, economic growth, global communication, and innovation for everything in our lives. But with every new addition to the digital system, from cloud servers to personal laptops and every single IoT device, we don’t just add to the beautiful interconnectedness of our world. We also provide hackers with one more point of access to our data.
Cybersecurity professionals dedicate their careers to securing and protecting internet-connected systems, hardware, and software from cyber threats. Cybercrime threatens our privacy and sensitive data, and that’s why we need strong information security infrastructure to shield our digital world from external threats.
Because of the rapid pace at which new technology is created, the demand for cybersecurity professionals is increasing across every industry. However, we are not educating and training enough skilled professionals to satisfy that demand—hence creating an enormous skills gap in the job market.
Cybersecurity in Practice
Long before the internet, technological advances were not just shaping our way of life but defining entire historical eras. From the invention of the printing press to intercontinental sailing, new technologies transformed how we shared goods and ideas.
But however powerful and revolutionary, those technologies weren’t part of an interconnected system. Pirates could attack and destroy one ship, but the armada remained unaffected. Instead, with the internet, one hacker has the power to attack and destroy multiple computers, servers, or whole systems with just one piece of malware.
We gave that one pirate ship the ability to destroy an entire armada with a single cannonball, so now we need more complex defenses to avoid that from happening.
The Private Sector
Right now, your private information can be found in all kinds of applications and platforms. For example, your credit card information is saved in rideshare applications or food delivery services. Your health and biometric data is stored in smartwatches and fitness apps. Your private pictures are stockpiled in digital format on cloud servers.
We trust the companies that create these applications to shield our data and keep it secure, and many businesses have made cybersecurity an absolute priority. According to some projections, companies will spend over $1 trillion on digital security, globally, through 2021.
The Public Sector
What about our public institutions and all their sensitive, classified, and private data? Governments are also investing a lot of money into their own cybersecurity workforce. And after all the hacking attempts during recent national elections, that is hardly surprising.
Yet, cybersecurity experts keep warning us that, given enough time and money, almost anything can be hacked. Cybersecurity impacts everything from financial institutions to politics, media, diplomacy, private life, and so much more. Machines and artificial intelligence influence public opinion through complex disinformation and misinformation campaigns.
- Payment systems don’t leak sensitive financial information
- Online platforms, websites, streaming apps, and all forms of information sharing stay secure
- Businesses can store proprietary documents in virtual servers without the risk of them becoming compromised
- Private medical records stay between you and your doctor
While cybersecurity strategies are vital to maintaining our way of life, creating and implementing those security systems requires skilled professionals who can stay up-to-date with the latest innovations in malware, ransomware, DoS attacks, and other kinds of cyber threats.
“The global cybersecurity market will be worth $300B by 2024, according to Global Insights.”Forbes
What Does a Cybersecurity Professional Do?
When considering a career in cybersecurity, it’s important to understand the different positions currently in demand. The industry is generally divided between defensive and offensive cybersecurity roles.
Offensive cybersecurity tactics test the efficiency and resilience of an organization’s systems. Also known as ethical hackers, these professionals mimic the activities and techniques of cybercriminals to determine if their client’s network can withstand a particular type of attack, or if there are vulnerabilities in the system.
Some examples of Red Team jobs include:
- Penetration Tester
- Offensive Cybersecurity Analyst
- Cybersecurity Crime Investigator
- Ethical Hacker
- Vulnerability Assessment Analyst
On the other hand, professionals who specialize in defensive cybersecurity ensure that no one without authorization can access the network. They set up the cybersecurity architecture of an organization based on its specific risk profile, and make sure all systems remain secure at all times.
Some examples of Blue Team jobs include:
- Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst
- Information Security Researcher
- NOC (Network Operations Center) Technician
- Network Security Administrator
- Digital Forensics Examiner
Organizations often employ a mix of offensive and defensive cybersecurity specialists to ensure maximum protection. The two teams often work together to run advanced simulation scenarios to identify vulnerabilities and determine how to improve operations.
Rendering systems and infrastructures secure at scale requires a lot of manpower across the cybersecurity spectrum, and as an aspiring cybersecurity professional, that is good news for you! It means that the tasks you perform are so varied that you’ll be able to use the full range of your skills, no matter what you decide to specialize in.
Is Cybersecurity Right for Me?
Contrary to popular belief, people who work in tech are not mathematical prodigies. Not usually, anyway. Most tech professionals come from a variety of backgrounds and hold a wide range of skills including technical and non-technical competencies. Whatever your level of experience and unique background, some of the skills you already have are likely to translate well into a fulfilling career working with cutting-edge technology.
Cybersecurity might not seem like a classically “creative” job, but the ability to build unique solutions from scratch and to think outside the box are in demand now more than ever in the tech field. In fact, creativity tops the list of soft skills companies need most. Cybersecurity in particular often requires deep creative thinking to outpace and outsmart hackers.
Other soft skills and traits that cybersecurity professionals possess include:
- Strong attention to detail
- Quickly adopting new tech
- Well-rounded communication
- Flexibility to learn and improve
- Critical thinking
- Ability to collaborate with others
The cybersecurity sector is so vast that anyone can find the right specialization to fit in. Because it’s such a dynamic and diverse industry, opportunities for growth and advancements abound, and you are likely to never get bored as you discover and embrace new tools and platforms.
The vast majority of successful cybersecurity professionals didn’t actually start their careers in this field. For one thing, cybersecurity is a relatively new discipline that grew out of necessity right at the same time that the Internet was invented. For another, computer science in higher education includes a vast range of specializations that prioritize theoretical learning, whereas excellence in cybersecurity requires extensive practical training.
The good news is that cybersecurity professionals are needed across many different sectors, so whatever industry you have experience in, you can leverage your expertise to pivot into cybersecurity and become incredibly successful. If you’re wondering how that’s possible, think of it this way: cybersecurity isn't just about understanding networks and systems. It's about understanding the people who use them, how a particular organization operates, how a whole industry organizes its systems and data on a fundamental, analog level.
From ride-share drivers to school teachers, from 17 to 68 years old, cybersecurity is an industry that’s enticing and accessible to people of all backgrounds. All you need to get started is the right training, hands-on practice, and an understanding of how cybersecurity and penetration testing is provided as a professional service.
Qualified cybersecurity professionals are rare and sought after by employers regardless of their age or prior professional background. Getting trained and certified in the field gives you the power to take control of your career and move forward professionally without worrying about being phased out.
How to Break Into the Field
If your life trajectory didn’t include a traditional 4-year college degree, don’t worry: in today’s cybersecurity job market, you can enter the industry without a computer science degree. Tech giants like Google, Apple, and IBM no longer require candidates to have a degree from a college or university. There are plenty of industry-trusted certifications you can pursue that future employers will value as concrete proof of your expertise.
How fast you can land a position in this field ultimately depends on your unique background and current skills.
Do You Come From a Nontechnical Background?
There are no prerequisites to begin your journey into cybersecurity. While the learning curve might seem steep, rest assured that many cybersecurity professionals, and technology professionals in general, have stood where you stand today. Your journey into the field will be shaped by factors like your time constraints, financial abilities, and learning style.
If you want to determine whether a career in cybersecurity is right for you, you can try the following:
- Download or Purchase an Introductory Guide: take an old-school approach and learn about the field by diving into cybersecurity fundamentals texts. If you are generally very disciplined and methodical, self-teaching might be incredibly effective for you. When deciding what texts to start with, make sure to select options that have the most up-to-date information, as the cybersecurity industry evolves incredibly quickly.
- Subscribe to a Cybersecurity Education Service or Channel: YouTube, Udemy, and Coursera are great places to find free video guides that explain cybersecurity topics. This approach can help you round out any self-taught concepts, but is unlikely to follow exactly what you might be learning in textbooks. Nevertheless, consuming video content can introduce you to fundamentals as well as more advanced aspects of the field in an easily digestible way.
- Enroll in the UNLV Cybersecurity Bootcamp Introductory Course: UNLV offers a fantastic online, part-time cybersecurity program that features a stand-alone Introductory Course. In about a month, you’ll learn the fundamentals of cybersecurity directly from experts working in the field. Every class is delivered live, and you’ll participate in practical simulations to reinforce what you learned in class—plus, you’ll start building a network of like-minded cybersecurity professionals.
Do You Come From a Technical Background?
Great! Many of the skills you have built are probably transferable to the cybersecurity field. If you are coming from the world of IT, software engineering, data analytics, or coding, you can easily pivot into cybersecurity roles by sitting for industry-specific exams.
You’ll need to figure out which certifications are needed for the type of jobs you’d like, and then you can decide the best course of action depending on your familiarity with the certification curriculum.
- Purchase an Advanced Guide: most certification exams sell accompanying textbooks and practice guides that cover the materials they will be testing you on. Again, if you have the right amount of discipline and commitment, studying by yourself can be an easy and cost-effective way to ace these exams. If you struggle, however, or if some of the concepts seem too complex, consider hiring a tutor or joining a study group to connect self-taught materials to an in-depth comprehension.
- Join the Workforce and Learn on the Job: pretty much the definition of “learn by doing.” If you’re not comfortable leaving your current job, you can speak to your manager about being assigned to projects that might involve collaborating on cybersecurity initiatives. This is unlikely to teach you everything you need for your certifications, but it will give you a deeper overall understanding of cybersecurity and make you more comfortable studying it.
- Signup for a Cybersecurity Bootcamp or Certificate-Prep Course: programs like the UNLV Cybersecurity Bootcamp can teach you advanced topics in cybersecurity and also offer certification-prep classes that cover the exact topics for globally recognized certification exams. The Cybersecurity Bootcamp at UNLV gives learners hands-on experience through cyber labs and real-world simulations. Designed by industry-leading cybersecurity professionals, the program ultimately provides each learner with the comprehensive knowledge and training necessary to pursue a career in cybersecurity.
Taking the Next Step
We hope that this quick guide has given you a comprehensive lay of the land when it comes to cybersecurity and all the career opportunities it holds. What’s the best way to move forward from here? Only you can answer that question.
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There is no doubt in our mind that the UNLV Cybersecurity Bootcamp is the best way to prepare you for a thriving future career in cybersecurity. From our regularly updated curriculum to our expert instructors to our excellent career services team, you’ll be signing up for much more than some classes: you’ll enter a brand new world where everyone around you is committed to your training and future career success.
Where you go from here it’s up to you. What’s your next move?