Cyber security is a hot topic these days. Everyone knows someone who's been hacked on social media and nearly everyone has had their information compromised by security breaches at credit card or reporting companies, and others. It's also a matter of great concern for business and government. In fact, cyber security is one of the top paying, most in-demand fields. However, there are more jobs than candidates right now. You can become a member of the cyber security workforce by delving into a free, online course. Whether you only want to get the basics with which to protect yourself or if you are eager to become an ethical hacker, you can start learning today, online, for free.
What Are Cyber Security MOOCs?
First off, MOOC is an acronym that translates to massive open online course. These courses are free and available to anyone with the motivation to learn new skills. There are courses available across a wide range of topics. You can study a range of programming languages, operating systems such as Linux, software packages, and even cyber security.
Cyber security MOOCs are a hot topic, as you might imagine. They enable you to study current topics in computer security via a flexible, online platform. Often, students can interact with others in the course, and the instructor as well. This interactivity yields a great collaborative learning environment that is beneficial to all.
Not every MOOC is free, however. There are some outlets that do charge for their courses, but you can often find a good deal and pay under $20 for a course that is thorough and which you can refer back to for as long as you need. These courses are often updated, as well, so your initial investment will pay off more over time.
How are They Different Than Normal Online Courses?
MOOCs differ from other online courses in that you can sign up for any course you want at any time you want. Most require neither lab fees nor textbooks. Certain outside materials may be helpful, but many courses offer free access to pdfs or even software for you to use during the class. Courses might recommend certain texts that the course designer has found useful, but you are not bound to using those books.
Unlike standard online courses, there is no set class size. There may be hundreds of students in the course at any one time. However, they might not all be active all the time. Some may even sign up for a MOOC and never become active at all. On the other hand, some MOOC students are very engaged and can collaborate with you in learning about cyber security.
Finally, many MOOCs are offered for free. You might have the option of purchasing a certificate of completion, if you desire, but otherwise you can audit these MOOCs with no charge.
Which MOOCs are Considered Legitimate?
With so many options out there, it's hard to know which MOOCs are worth your time. While the free MOOCs don't present much of a financial risk, you don't want to pay money, even $20, for a course that won't help you become a cyber security professional. The best option is to find MOOCs through a college, university, or even an industry association.
When your MOOC is offered by an institution, you can be assured that the instructors and the courses have been approved by computer science or cyber security experts. These courses might lead to a certificate of some sort. Certificates always look great on a resume but note that some require ongoing learning to keep them current.
There are other MOOCs that don't have such affiliations. You can still learn a lot through these platforms, but it's important to do some research prior to investing your time or money. Learn what you can about the instructor. If the courses are offered by means of videos, be sure to see a few samples. Sometimes the sound or video quality is not agreeable, and sometimes an instructors accent or other vocal characteristics are difficult to understand. Finally, review the course syllabus to see that it covers the topics you need to succeed.
How They Work
MOOCs work by offering training courses online to a wide range of students. They seldom require any previous coursework or degrees and are often free or at least very affordable. They are often designed as asynchronous courses that you can start anytime. The material comes in a variety of forms, but many platforms deliver pre-recorded video lectures or other prepared material that you study in anticipation of an exam, or to add to your body of knowledge. Since anyone from any corner of the world can sign up, you may be able to interact with a wide range of students from varied backgrounds. This facilitates collaborative learning on a scale that has never been so easily accessible before.
Are MOOCs All Free?
Not all MOOCs are free, but most are relatively affordable. You are most likely to pay for courses or programs that result in a certificate after completion. Some programs offer courses for a reduced cost and then charge an extra fee for an optional certificate. These certificates can come from colleges, universities, or industry associations. However, sometimes the platform itself offers the certificate. If you are asked to pay a fee and are unfamiliar with the platform, be sure to do diligent research.
What Are MOOC Completion Rates?
It's easy to start and never complete a MOOC. In fact, only 5% of MOOC students complete their courses. However, the upside of this is that the courses are usually very inexpensive, and often free. Further, if you are able to discipline yourself to completing a MOOC, you are suddenly in an elite community of MOOC-finishers. If you can show a potential employer that you've completed multiple cyber security MOOCs, they are bound to be impressed by your follow-through if nothing else. After all, employers love seeing self-motivated, engaged employees.
Using MOOCs for Auditing
MOOCs are an excellent choice if you are a senior in high school or anyone interested in higher education. If you're unsure of what to major in, MOOCs offer a window into a wide range of fields. They offer an opportunity to dabble in subjects you think you'd like to pursue, allowing you to decide if you like the subject matter before you start paying a significant amount for your education. There's no need to waste valuable money and time on college courses that aren’t a good fit for you.
MOOCs can also be a great addition or supplement to your learning. For instance, if you are majoring in computer science, but your school doesn't offer much in the way of cyber security coursework, you can fill in that gap in your skillset on your own time. You might also take a MOOC as a way to get a jump on your next term's courses. For instance, you could take a course on penetration testing while on winter break and then have an edge when your next cyber security course starts in January. MOOCs are an entry point to help get you some education in the field of cybersecurity, but a MOOC will not replace the benefits of getting a cybersecurity degree.
School-Provided Online Courses
Since the advent of MOOCs, the question has been where these courses would be housed and how they'd be administered. Some schools offer MOOCs through their own platforms, but others use third party services to distribute them. Several universities including UC Berkeley, MIT, and Harvard, are offering MOOCs through edX. Coursera is another platform that serves as a common conduit for independent institutions.
Below you’ll find some others:
- ASU – Earned Admission
This program is for prospective students who may not yet have the required GPA or other credentials to enter ASU as a full student. Through Earned Admission, students can take college courses and prove that they are up to the challenges that college offers.
- MIT Open Courseware
MIT was one of the first institutions to begin offering course materials online for free. Their courses are now available through their proprietary platform, Open Courseware, and you can also take MIT courses through edX.
- Stanford University
This lauded California institution offers free cyber security videos to anyone interested in the subject. Their free offerings also currently include insights into cryptocurrency and other issues in computer science. If you are interested in the field or need to get up to speed for a company meeting, this is a great place to get started. Stanford also offers a wide range of interesting MOOCs through Coursera.
- Kennesaw State University
KSU offers its students and faculty the exciting opportunity to become acquainted with cyber security. This MOOC is free but only if you have a NetID from the university. Though the materials are offered for free, you can opt to pay an additional $49 for a certificate of completion.
This is a repository for many institutions to share their MOOC offerings. EdX provides a platform for schools such as UC Berkeley, Harvard, Davidson College, McGill University, and the University of Chicago. Currently you will find cyber security courses offered from University of Washington, Microsoft, and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Online Platforms for free Courses
This platform is geared specifically for students who seek a career in cyber security. They tier their courses according to skill level, starting with beginner and moving up to the advanced/leadership tier. They also have paths laid out so that you can focus on your goals with the guidance of a mentor.
Udemy charges nominal fees for its courses, but you then have access to every lecture or downloadable document for a lifetime. They offer a wide range of individual courses and in-depth boot-camps to get you prepared for a career in cyber security. They also offer a free introductory course in cyber security that will be handy for anyone who is online.
- Future Learn
This platform offers courses for free, but with the option to pay for to increased access and a certificate of completion. They offer a full curriculum in cyber security, including the option to pursue either an undergraduate cyber security degree or an MBA in Cyber Security Management. Any IT professional can sign up and sharpen their cyber security skills and knowledge today.
Coursera is a platform that hosts courses from a wide range of institutions. They currently offer cyber security coursework from IBM, University of Maryland, New York University, and University of Georgia, among many others. Coursera also offers the ability for you to complete an entire degree, professional certificate, or simply browse your favorite interests.
Coursera offers classes from specific schools:
- Cryptography I
Coursera offers this Stanford University course so that you can get a start on building protection for your computer systems. If you work hard you can complete the whole course in as few as 29 hours. This might be a great way to gain more than mere familiarity prior to taking your university's course on the same subject.
This cryptography course is offered through the University of Maryland and it covers number theory, cryptography, and public-key cryptography. The course is popular with security engineers, IT managers, and Chief Technology Officers, among others. Amazingly, the free-to-enroll course is taught by a full professor from U of M's Cyber Security Center. You also have an option to purchase a certificate of completion.
- Cryptography II
Once you pass Stanford's Cryptography I course, you can move on to advance your knowledge and skills in this field. The course is free-to-enroll and even comes with a free textbook. If you take this course, you will find yourself engaging with a top professor in the field as well as a student body from all corners of the IT field.
- Cryptography I
This platform offers a swath of computer science courses, including a brilliant introduction to cyber security: Cyber Security Foundations. The course takes almost 40 hours to complete, but by the time you are done you'll have a firm grasp on the issues involved in the field including cryptography, penetration testing, common threats, and the cyber security job market.
- Class Central
You can take courses pertinent to cyber security from Stanford, Leuven University, and the Open University, among others. You can start delving headlong into cyber security with courses that cover programming in Python, network security, privacy law, and data analytics, among others.
- Open Security Training
If you are looking for a wide variety of cyber security courses to work through, this is the perfect platform for you. You can study malware, cryptology, Windows-specific issues, intrusion detection, and more. Their courses are tiered to start you off with beginner level topics and then build into highly advanced work that will help you launch your new career.
- Sans Cyber Aces Online
SANS goal is to increase the number of well-trained cyber security professionals in the marketplace. They see the need for every enterprise to button-up its approach to security, both for its own good and that of the wider population. The Cyber Aces program offers courses for free, organizes cyber security events, and can even help you find a job.
- Heimdal Security
The good people at Heimdal offer a free, 5-week course that will help you secure your personal online world. Their free course is delivered in 20 lessons that are delivered via email every two days. It teaches you how to protect yourself, your family, and your colleagues from cyber-attacks, including viruses and malware.
The National Initiative for Cyber Security Careers and Studies offers more than three thousand courses designed to help build a workforce of cyber security experts. Since everyone is connected via the Internet, it is of vital importance that every corner of the network be secured by a trained professional. Through Federal Virtual Training Environment (FedVTE), you can find over 800 hours’ worth of free cyber security training.
- US Department of Homeland Security
If you want to learn about cyber security, who better to teach you than the Department of Homeland Security? Their Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) operates a Virtual Learning Portal (VLP) that offers free instruction on cyber security. Currently, you can take 11 courses for free on their e-learning platform.