Overview of cyber security training ONLINE

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Online training for a cyber security career isn't limited only to traditional degree programs. Although a cyber security degree can be incredibly useful for breaking into the field, there are several other avenues you can take to learn the trade and gain the skills necessary to be a competent security professional. This is especially true for people who want to switch to a cyber security career and may have a degree in another subject.

"That combination of certificate programs, certifications, bootcamps, formal education—all of that tapestry weaves into what I call a development journey of a cyber security professional," said Stephanie Benoit-Kurtz, lead cyber security faculty at the University of Phoenix's College of Business and Information Technology.

Even before virtual learning took off in 2020 due to the global pandemic, many cyber security careers were conducted remotely. Completing your training online, therefore, is common in the field and can even offer some unique advantages that in-person learning lacks. As time goes on, Benoit-Kurtz said that she thinks online cyber security learning will continue to grow in quality and quantity.

No matter where you are in your career, take a look at what kind of cyber security online training programs are out there so that you can take the next step towards your future in information security.

Who is online cyber security training best suited for?

Unless you are someone who really thrives on face-to-face interactions or struggles with the autonomy of online learning, online cyber security programs can be a great fit for just about anyone interested in a cyber security career.

"Different people have different learning styles, and there are some learners that prefer to learn in a classroom environment versus an online environment. But the depth of distance has kind of died, even pre-COVID, in that cyber security roles really can exist anywhere," Benoit-Kurtz said.

Some groups, in particular, may find that online cyber security courses are best for them:

Working professionals:
People who are already working may struggle to find traditional, in-person degree programs that can accommodate their work schedule. Self-paced and/or part-time online training is often designed with this in mind. 
Career changers:
Career changers, like working professionals, may still be working and transitioning out of their old job, which can make taking traditional cyber security classes difficult. In addition, people who have established careers in other fields may already have a degree and therefore don't want to invest the time and money into another. Online training, especially bootcamps, can be a fantastic alternative for this group.
Military veterans:
Veterans are great candidates for cyber security careers because they may already be familiar with information security and general security protocols. However, going back to school for a traditional degree may not appeal to veterans who have already invested a lot of their time into a military career. Thankfully, the GI Bill can be used to fund most alternative education or job training programs, such as online cyber security training.
Individuals with scheduling constraints:
Any other individuals who require more flexibility due to various scheduling constraints may find the solution in online training programs. This could include stay-at-home parents, students and more.

"It's not just for people entering the field, but for people that are already in the field and people that are looking to make a change from an existing career that they have, maybe in business or in finance or healthcare and are looking to move into cyber security," Benoit-Kurtz said. "Those online programs provide them that option of being able to make that transition elegantly."

Types of online cyber security training

So just what kind of online training is out there? Online degrees are only one piece of the educational puzzle. There are several other types of training programs out there, each with their own requirements and goals, including bootcamps, certificate programs, certifications and more.


Cyber security bootcamps are distilled learning programs that are designed to teach students the knowledge and skills needed for an entry-level role in cyber security. Unlike college degrees which require taking classes in a broad range of subjects outside of your major, bootcamps only teach the topics you need to know for the profession at hand.

They typically take anywhere between three to nine months to complete, and as a result, usually cost less than a college degree. Cyber security bootcamps cover a range of security topics, so you won't be pigeon-holed into one career track. Although you may find that most bootcamps are offered online, there are plenty of in-person or hybrid bootcamps available as well.

Certificate programs

Truth be told, certificate programs and bootcamps can be incredibly similar. They are both concentrated learning programs designed to directly prepare students for an entry-level role in whatever field they teach. Given their similarities, calling a program a bootcamp versus a certificate program may not actually tell you much about it.

It's always a good idea, therefore, to look at an individual program's prerequisites, learning outcomes, schedule, cost and more to find out if it can meet your professional needs, rather than rely on name alone. One of the main differences between certificate programs and bootcamps is that certificate programs tend to take longer to complete, usually about a year.

Certificate programs are offered by academic providers, professional organizations/associations, private companies and even by the government. They can be offered online, in-person or in a hybrid learning format. As the name implies, certificate programs award you with a professional certificate upon completion. Suppose the program is offered by an academic institution. In that case, you may be able to apply the credits from your certificate towards an cyber associate or bachelor's degree in cyber security at a later time.

Certifications and certification prep courses

Accruing certifications is incredibly important in the field of cyber security and IT at large. Earning a cyber security certification—not to be confused with a certificate program—validates that you possess certain technical knowledge and skills.

Most cyber security and/or IT certifications are earned by passing an exam. Often, the organizations that issue these certifications have courses and/or interactive online simulations that students can take to prepare themselves for the exam. These are not usually required to take the exam but function similarly to other online learning programs. They are typically self-paced, meaning you can study on your own time and don't need to tune in to any live lectures or assignments.

Individual online courses

This group of programs essentially includes anything that has not already been mentioned. Lots of providers offer individual online courses that teach a particular topic or skill. These are not usually eligible for college credit—most simply award you a certificate of completion at the end. Coursera and Udemy are two popular examples of providers that offer these kinds of skills-based courses. Courses may be taught/designed by college professors, industry experts or professional companies (Google, for example, offers many online training courses for IT professionals).

Synchronous vs. asynchronous learning

There are even more variations within each of the above types of online training. One of those variations is whether the training is done synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous cyber training is done at the same time as other students and the instructor(s), such as a live lecture that must be attended virtually.

Asynchronous cyber courses do not have this kind of time restraint. Instead, students study and learn at their own pace. These kinds of programs often include pre-recorded lectures, online learning modules and quizzes which the student can watch or complete on their own time.

"In an [asynchronous] online program, I am allowed to go through all of the content very quickly that I already have knowledge for, and get past those milestones faster, to accelerate into the content that I really need to focus on which brings more value to me from a learning perspective," Benoit-Kurtz said.

Full-time vs. part-time

Most synchronous learning programs, particularly bootcamps, have a full-time or part-time option. Full-time programs usually take place during workdays, Monday through Friday, for a total of 30 to 40 hours per week. Part-time programs typically happen in the evenings and/or on weekends, and usually only take up about 20 hours per week or less. Because of this, they take longer to finish.

Full-time or part-time options are not really available for self-paced, asynchronous courses since they don't require you be logged on at a certain time.

Benefits of learning cyber security online

As online learning rose dramatically in the last few years, many people discovered that it has some unique advantages that can, in some ways, make it an even better experience than in-person learning.

Whether it's a bootcamp or other online course, virtual learning has many unique benefits that are worth taking note of:

Flexibility and convenience:
Many online programs have self-paced and/or part-time options. This can accommodate a working student's schedule and allow them to learn on their own time. Even full-time online programs have the convenience of not having to leave home, which can still be very helpful for some.  
Because bootcamps and other concentrated courses take less time to complete than degrees means they are typically less expensive, and therefore may be more accessible than a traditional college degree.
Access to expert instructors:
Many online cyber security training programs are run by leading industry professionals with years of experience in their specialty.
Hands-on experience:
Just because you are taking an online course doesn't mean you have to sacrifice a quality education and hands-on learning. Many online cyber security programs are built to include lots of hands-on learning opportunities through labs, simulations and more.
Career advancement:
Completing an online cyber security course and adding more credentials to your resume could lead to promotions and a higher salary for those already in the field, but online programs are meant for people at the beginning of their career, too. In fact, the majority of cyber security bootcamps are designed for people with none or very little prior experience, meaning an online program may be just what they need to get their foot in the door and land that first job.

"What the online programs bring that a physical location does not is the online programs provide flexibility so that I have a much bigger option of different types of courses, bootcamps and certification programs that I potentially can't get in my own home market," Benoit-Kurtz said.

"The other piece is a lot of them are asynchronous, which means they can happen at any point in time, so I can still have a full-time job and take that certification course, or take that training on my time, on my own schedule, at my own pace. And that pace piece is super important because when you're in a ground program, where you're physically in a classroom, you're at the pace of whatever the instructor is running at, and potentially what the lowest common denominator is of the individuals that are in those courses."

Online cyber security training curriculum

What you'll actually learn in an online cyber security training program varies between program types as well as individual programs themselves. Any reputable program has their curriculum openly displayed for prospective students on their website so that you can understand exactly what topics it covers and the skills you're meant to acquire.  

Unless it's clearly specified in their program title, most bootcamps and certificate programs cover a wide range of foundational cyber security topics. Most bootcamps, in particular, are meant for beginners with none or very little prior knowledge, so they begin with the basics and work their way up in difficulty and specificity. Some of the topics or classes that are commonly included in a bootcamp or certificate program include:  

  • Network security
  • Operating systems
  • Programming basics
  • Ethical hacking
  • Cryptography
  • Security assessment and testing
  • Digital forensics
  • Job and/or certification preparation
  • Capstone/final project

Individual courses that are not part of a longer program cover specific topics or skills, so the possibilities are practically endless. In addition to any of the above topics, you can also find individual courses on skills in:

  • Cloud security
  • Individual programming languages such as Java, Python and more
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Penetration testing
  • Blockchain
  • Business analysis

Online information security training providers

There are several different types of remote cyber security training providers. Each of them provides a unique learning experience. By exploring how these providers differ, you can make a more informed decision about which types of programs is best for you.

Academic institutions: Although traditional degree programs are the bread butter of colleges and universities, many academic institutions also offer online bootcamps and certificate programs. These shorter, more concentrated learning programs are usually aimed at working adults who are looking to make a career change or add some more credentials to their professional resume.

Government programs: The United States government is making an effort to grow the cyber security workforce to meet current and future demands. The National Security Agency, for example, currently offers over 15 development programs for cyber security and computer science professionals. Most programs are three years long and culminate in participants receiving a full-time job offer at the NSA, provided they complete the course successfully.

Professional associations: Many organizations for cyber security and IT/IS professionals like ISACA and CompTIA offer various certifications and/or certificate programs to add to your resume. In most cases, certifications are earned by passing an exam. It's common for applicants to need a certain amount of relevant work experience in order to sit for a given exam, but this is not always the case. On top of issuing professional certifications themselves, some of these providers have online learning courses that you can take to prepare yourself for an exam. It's not usually required that you participate in these courses, but they are available if you want a little extra training or if you have some knowledge gaps to fill.

Private companies: Cyber security bootcamps and other online courses are also available through private companies and training academies. Flatiron School, Springboard, Fullstack Academy and Coding Dojo are just a few examples of popular bootcamp providers. Then there are companies like Coursera and Udemy which have a library of courses on numerous subjects. These courses may be facilitated by universities, other companies, or public subject matter experts that have designed their own courses.

Where can an online security program take you?

What you put into your cyber security education is what you get out. In other words, your path can be formed by the choices you make in your professional development journey, including the types of online cyber security training you opt for. It's unlikely you'll choose just one—in fact, Benoit-Kurtz said it's imperative that you continue to learn new skills to keep up with new developments in the industry, especially one that evolves as quickly as cyber security does.

"You really do need to be a lifetime learner. And you need to map out what your development journey looks like," Benoit-Kurtz said. "It's not one and done."

With that in mind, online cyber security training can take you practically anywhere. It all depends on the various skills you hone through the mixture of programs you choose to pursue. Most bootcamps, certificate programs and the like teach students lots of skills that can be applied to numerous different positions within the field. If you put in the time and effort, you have an excellent chance of reaping the rewards: Benoit-Kurtz said that there is a substantial demand for competent cyber security professionals which organizations are searching for to fill their open positions.

"Right now, CyberSeek is saying there are over 600,000 cyber security openings in the U.S. today. And when we look at that metric, we're only at about a 69% ability to fill those positions. Three in ten positions will go unfilled."

Entry-level cyber security jobs

Cyber security analyst: Security analysts perform a wide range of cyber security duties. These duties center around developing, implementing, testing and maintaining the digital security of the company or organization you work for.
Incident responder: These cyber security professionals respond to security incidents or cyber security attacks. They aim to contain and eliminate the threat and determine how to prevent future incidents.
Quality assurance tester: QA testers test out various technologies, such as a website, app or software, to make sure they meet specific requirements. Their goal is to find bugs and other flaws in the product that can be remedied prior to release.

Mid-level cyber security jobs

Cryptographer or cryptanalyst: Cryptographers create encryption codes, while cryptanalysts break them. Many people in one of these roles do both, but some specialize in one versus the other.
Computer systems analyst: With their combination of technical expertise and business analysis skills, systems analysts evaluate computer systems to determine if they are meeting the needs of the organization using them. They then make recommendations on possible upgrades and may be in charge of implementing those upgrades themselves.
Penetration tester: Pen testers and vulnerability assessors simulate attacks on an organization's security system to try to identify and weed out any flaws or weaknesses.

Senior-level cyber security jobs

Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): These senior-level professionals oversee all aspects of an organization's cyber security systems and manage the cyber security employees.
Security director: Directors are typically just below CISOs in the cyber security hierarchy, or they may be the cyber security leader if it's a smaller organization. Security Director duties include managing teams, heading investigations and creating security protocols.

Choosing the right online cyber security training program

How do you begin to determine which online cyber security training programs are right for you? This depends a lot on the individual. You'll need to take stock of your own professional goals, prior education and experience, budget and time constraints in order to start narrowing in on what kind of training is best for you, right now.

"For individuals that are [already] inside of IT and looking to make the jump into cyber security, where's their knowledge in IT today? And where's the gap?" Benoit-Kurtz said. "For example, if you want to go into the networking side of cyber security—so you want to become a certified ethical hacker or you want to go into network defense—then from that gap analysis, you really want to look at where's your network knowledge and then what are the certificate programs, bootcamps and the degree programs that will help you get that knowledge and the hands-on toolset applicability to be considered as an entry-level in that area."

Once you assess where your knowledge gaps are, you should have a good idea of what kind of courses you're looking for. After that, you may want to consider the following factors when choosing an online cyber security training program:

Reputation and reviews:
What have other students that have taken this training said about it? Does the provider have a good reputation for quality education programs?
Program length and intensity:
How much time are you willing to commit to your learning? Is a six-month bootcamp or a yearlong certificate program feasible for you? Or is a self-paced course what you would prefer?
Instructor quality:
Who teaches the training? Are they industry professionals with relevant experience? Do they offer mentorship or one-on-one support if needed?
Curricular relevance:
After completing this program, will you walk away with actual hands-on skills and tools that you can bring to a cyber security role?
Career services and support:
Does the provider offer any career guidance to help you find jobs after completing their program? Is this guidance even necessary for you?
Cost and return on investment:
How much can you afford to pay for your education? Does that figure change if you take into account the return on investment you may receive as a result of your education?

Once you do participate in a training program, Benoit-Kurtz said that it's important that you take note of the skills and tools you're learning so that you can emphasize the actual knowledge you've acquired.

"It's great to have a certification show that you can test, but it's another thing to have the skillset with tools where you can actually make a difference day one when you show up in an environment," Benoit-Kurt said. "As I look at entry-level folks that have made career changes, one of the first questions I ask them is, 'You have a certificate or this certification or you've gone through this degree program, but explain to me what are your experiences and the tools that you've used in a cyber security environment and labs that you've worked through. And then have a conversation about how you use those to help build a layered defense strategy inside of those programs.'"

Ready to start your cyber security online training?

The choices that cyber security professionals have for online training are practically endless. Between bootcamps, certificate programs, certifications and other online courses, online training programs can expand your skillset and provide you with valuable credentials for your career. Many leading professionals in the field believe that online learning is here to stay.

The choices that cyber security professionals have for online training are practically endless.

"I think that the online training for cyber security is going to improve in quality, accelerate in available types of content and accelerate in the type and quality of labs that are available for students, whether it be in certificate programs, certification programs or degree programs," Benoit-Kurtz said.

"I really do think that the days of on-ground courses for cyber security in general, are probably limited. I'm not saying that it's going to completely go away, but I think because of the nature of these courses—the nature of the curriculum being lab driven, being experiential and understanding how things occur in environments and then how to remediate them—over time it's going to just accelerate the offering of courses and the quality of the courses."

Start browsing online training programs today using our search features to take the next step in your cyber security education.

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Updated: July 20, 2023

kendall upton

Written and reported by:

Kendall Upton

Staff Writer

With professional insights from:

Stephanie Benoit-Kurtz, lead program faculty

College of Business and Information Technology, University of Phoenix

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