6 completely online cybersecurity certificates for those looking to break into the field

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Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for information security analysts is projected to grow 32% in the next eight years—a significantly higher pace than other occupations. 

Much of this has to do with emerging tech such as AI, which has led to more frequent and sophisticated cyberattacks. In its 2024 Global Cybersecurity Outlook report, the World Economic Forum found that while most leaders believe gaps in cybersecurity should be addressed immediately, 78% reported that they don’t have the skills and talent in-house to meet this need. 

In other words, cybersecurity experts have more opportunities at their disposal than ever before, and can command significant salaries and job benefits as a result. (In 2022, the BLS reported, information security analysts made on average $112,000 a year.)

One of the best ways to break into this increasingly in-demand field is through online certifications. They’re often more affordable and require less commitment than a master’s degree or Ph.D., but they still provide entry-level professionals and career changers with the crucial skills they’ll need to land a job and succeed.

They also help candidates differentiate themselves from the pack when every tech resume tends to look the same, says Ryan Orsi, head of AWS’s Cloud Foundations team, which partners with some of the largest software and service organizations in the world on issues such as cloud security, data protection, ransomware prevention and readiness, and disaster recovery.

Perhaps most importantly, he notes, certifications allow you to stay ahead of the curve in an industry that’s constantly changing. “The methods to detect an attack and the types of attacks are completely evolving every second of every day,” says Orsi. “It’s one of the most important industries to be in to have continuous learning,” he adds.

If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve compiled some of the top cybersecurity certifications out there that not only cover all the important fundamentals, but also offer various career services and job placement upon completion. Some of these online programs allow you to study on your own time, be it after work or on the weekends, while others offer constraints that will keep learners who like structure on task.

1. Google Cybersecurity Certificate

Cost: $49 per month with a Coursera membership after a 7-day free trial (financial aid options are available)

Length: 8 courses/171 hours

Structure: Self-paced

Google’s cybersecurity certificate program touts that it can be completed within six months by committing just seven hours a week. Upon finishing, graduates earn an employer-recognized certificate, as well as access to job search resources such as resume review, interview prep, and one-on-one coaching — and 150+ U.S. organizations within Google’s Employer Consortium. It also aims to prepare students for the CompTIA Security+ exam, a well-respected certification and common job qualification in cybersecurity postings, according to Orsi.

During the course, learners will gain knowledge from cybersecurity experts at Google around security ethics and threat identification and response, and apply tools and languages crucial to the field, such as Linux, SQL, and Python, to simulations of real-world scenarios. They’ll then be put to the test through practice assessments and activities, and leave with a portfolio of work to showcase their new skills to potential employers. 

The program hopes to set professionals up for roles including cybersecurity analyst, security analyst, security operations center (SOC) analyst, information security analyst, IT security analyst, and cyber defense analyst. Since it was launched last year, the course has enrolled more than 377,000 students and received a 4.8-star rating with 16,000+ reviews.

2. UPenn’s Cybersecurity Boot Camp

Cost: $13,995 (payment plans available)

Length: 6 months/24 weeks, 9 hours a week

Structure: Live instruction

Penn’s Cybersecurity Boot Camp, which launched in collaboration with online learning platform edX in 2019, starts with the fundamentals of risk analysis, governance, and compliance before diving into hands-on work within network architecture and security, Linux and Windows systems administration, and the Incident Response framework. 

The course ends with a final project meant to prepare students for certification exams including the CompTIA Security+, Network+, Linux+, Server+, Cloud+, and certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).

Upon completion, students receive a certificate of completion and can utilize Penn’s robust career services, which include unlimited resume and LinkedIn assistance, a job board of 260+ employer partners, tailored coaching, and career events.

Penn’s online offerings have a strong reputation for placing tech talent: Its website says its Coding Boot Camp, launched a year prior to its cybersecurity program, has more than 200 graduates who have gone on to work at companies like Amazon, Accenture, and Citigroup.

3. IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate

Cost: $49 per month with a Coursera membership after a 7-day free trial (financial aid options are available)

Length: 8 courses/130 hours

Structure: Self-paced

Able to be completed in four to eight months, depending on how much time you commit a week, this cybersecurity training is backed by IBM’s decades of expertise in hardware, software, and cloud solutions. The program was launched in 2020 as a response to COVID-19’s impact on the job market, and now boasts a 4.6 rating on Coursera with 180,000+ current and former students and 11,000 reviews.

The IBM Cybersecurity Certificate is aimed at placing professionals in entry-level roles such as junior cybersecurity analyst. It covers cyberattack best practices, common frameworks such as CIA Triad, and IBM-specific tools including QRadar, MaaS360, and IBM Guardium. 

Through its modules, students are eligible to receive various digital badges, and when they successfully complete the final assessment earn a certification and perks including free access to IBM’s People and Soft Skills Specialization training and personalized feedback on their resume and LinkedIn profile. Students can also earn up to 10 college credits and up to four ECTS credits with participating colleges and universities with this certificate.

4. The SANS Institute’s SEC275: Foundations: Computers, Technology, and Security

Cost: $3,020, or $3,400 with GFACT Certification

Length: 4 modules/120–140 hours, on average

Structure: Self-paced, available for 4 months

The SANS Institute was launched in 1989 to provide cybersecurity practitioners and aspiring security experts with the tools they need to safeguard today’s tech organizations, and is now the world’s largest cybersecurity research and training organization. It was founded by Alan Paller, a pioneer in the field who served as co-chair of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity task force and was a member of the NASA Advisory Council.

This foundational course, catering to those who are new to cybersecurity, was created by the institute’s chief technology and innovation officer. It begins with an overview of topics such as data storage and representation, logic and data manipulation, and cloud computing, then delves into more complex areas like Linux commands and navigation, the inner workings of search engines and servers, and programming in Python and C. Finally, it covers common security terminology and disciplines such as digital forensics, offensive security, and risk management. 

When completed, the course prepares learners for the GIAC Foundational Cybersecurity Technologies (GFACT) practitioner certification, which is a common qualification in many cybersecurity job postings. Because it’s self-paced, students are able to take the lectures and its subsequent practice labs and quizzes as many times as they’d like to master their skills.

5. Microsoft Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate

Cost: $49 per month with a Coursera membership after a 7-day free trial (financial aid options available)

Length: 9 courses/187 hours

Structure: Self-paced

Much like Google and IBM’s cybersecurity certifications through Coursera, Microsoft’s is aimed at cybersecurity newbies, with a focus on navigating the Microsoft Azure environment—one of the most popular cloud computing platforms out there with 95% of Fortune 500 companies using it, according to the company. 

After an introduction to operating systems, cloud computing, and the world of cyberthreats, students will get to know the features and capabilities of Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) and MS Defender, and apply that knowledge to tasks such as creating a penetration test plan and protecting against malware or phishing attacks. 

At the end, they’ll practice what they’ve learned through a capstone project and mock exam to prepare for the Microsoft SC-900 exam (available for students of this course at a 50% discount), which certifies professionals in Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals and can be used in a resume or LinkedIn profile. Coursera also offers graduates career support, including mock interview prep and job search guides.

While fairly new, having launched in 2023, the program already has 45,000 students enrolled and a 4.8-star rating with 761 reviews.

6. Fullstack Academy’s Cybersecurity Analytics Bootcamp

Cost: $14,995 (payment plans available)

Length: 7 units/12 weeks full-time or 24 weeks part-time

Structure: Live instruction

Founded in 2013, Fullstack Academy is one of the oldest online training providers for beginners in tech. With options for both learners who want to commit to cybersecurity full-time and those who want to study it on the side, the boot camp weeds through the basics of security before covering asset and inventory management with Linux, encoding and encryption, programming with Python, red team/blue team approach, and other crucial topics. 

Alongside its lectures and team projects, Fullstack offers its students access to an alumni network and Career Success Team that it says has helped place graduates in jobs at major companies like the Center for Internet Security, the IRS, and Accenture.

While Fullstack’s cybersecurity bootcamp does offer its own certification, it also touts that it prepares students for industry-recognized certification exams provided by AWS and CompTIA.

How to make the most of your certification and break into cybersecurity

Beyond signing up for a certification, experts provided their best tips for getting the most out of your online education to land a prestigious job in cybersecurity:

Don’t discount soft skills: When vetting candidates for cybersecurity roles, Orsi favors those with strong soft skills as well as hard skills, noting that a lot can be taught on the job. “If they’re a naturally curious person and they’re very diligent in how they break down problems into smaller pieces and work themselves to a logical way to solve that problem, that is the fundamental qualification,” he says. 

Kris Lovejoy, a global security and resilience leader at Kyndryl, a spin-off company of IBM focused on IT infrastructure services, adds that creativity, collaboration and people skills, and the ability to multitask are also essential qualities for cybersecurity experts.

Go to events: Conferences, panels, and industry-specific events, such as RSA Conference, Black Hat, and AWS re:Inforce, are a great way to get to know the field and where it’s headed, says Orsi. They can also provide opportunities to network your way into a job.

Define your outcome: Lovejoy says what you want to get out of a certification matters more than what it offers. “If the outcome you want is a job or a promotion or more exposure, then look for that outcome and require the vendor to prove to you that they’ve helped others achieve it,” she says, adding that you can often uncover this through reading testimonials and reviews.

Pick the program that best suits your professional as well as personal needs: It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the options out there for learning about cybersecurity. Lovejoy notes that only you know what you need — and can manage financially and emotionally — in your career. 

“If you’re a mom at home with small kids and you can’t go into a certification program, then do it online. If you can afford to go into a certification and get some more hands-on [experience], that’s fantastic,” she says, adding: “It has to be a reputable organization, but it has to work within the context of your life and your ambitions.”

Both Orsi and Lovejoy agree that if you choose a path in cybersecurity, you won’t be bored. “It’s going to be one of the most rewarding [jobs], just from a personal satisfaction that you’re helping make the world a better place,” says Orsi. “When you’re in this industry, you’re truly helping companies operate better.”

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