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In this article, we outline how you can learn cybersecurity on your own. We also have an article that explains the expected cost of different cybersecurity training options here, as well as an article on proven strategies to learn cybersecurity.

Some people that want to learn cyber security are in a tough spot.  They want to learn cyber security, but perhaps don’t have the money or the time availability to take formal college classes.  Perhaps their work schedule is too demanding, or their work shifts change too often to make it possible for them to attend classes regularly.  Or maybe they don’t have transportation. There are many reasons why someone would be unable to learn cyber security in a formal, classroom setting.  It this is you, don’t let it stop you from learning cyber security.   There is a way to learn cyber security on your own, from home.  Here’s how to do it.

How can you learn cyber security on your own?  To learn cyber security from home, determine specifically what you want to learn, locate learning resources and create a learning plan.  Then study that material in a systematic way on a daily basis. Supplement your study with hands on experience and labs that you can do from home.

If that last paragraph scared you or took the wind out of your sails, don’t worry.  I’m going to lay out below exactly how anyone can do exactly what I’ve described and learn cyber security on their own.  In fact, if you follow the formula below as described, with consistency and discipline, you can gain a working knowledge of cyber security in as little as a year and become one of the most knowledgeable cyber security people around in three years.  The time is going to pass by anyway, so if you’re serious, read on to see exactly how to learn cyber security on your own.

Understand the limitations of learning cyber security on your own

Before you gear up and plan on conquering the cyber security world by learning on your own, you really need to be aware of the limitations you’re going to face by choosing the path of learning from home.  

Limitation #1:  Limited access to equipment.  Keep in mind that compared to other people who are taking college classes in cyber security or those actually working in the field, you’ll be at a disadvantage in that you’re probably going to have limited access to equipment and technology.  Colleges invest tens of thousands of dollars on equipment for their students, and by learning from home, you just won’t have the same access. It doesn’t mean you can’t learn, it just is a factor you’ll need to work around.

Limitation #2:  No mentorship from an instructor.  Since you’re learning on your own, you’re going to be on your own.  Most instructors are professional, knowledgeable and more than willing to answer questions from their students.  As an on-your-own learner, keep in mind that you won’t have easy access to an expert when you get stuck.

Limitation #3:  You have to find your own curriculum.  College courses and programs are structured and vetted.  If you’re learning on your own, you’ll need to figure out what you need to  learn and in what order.

Now that we’ve covered the challenges you’ll face and what you’re up against, let’s dive in to how to get started learning cyber security from home.

Learn Cyber Security On Your Own:  How To Get Started

Our first phase of learning cyber security on our own is to determine what we want to learn and in what order.  Don’t skip past this phase. Understand that one minute of planning your study track here will save you at least ten minutes of time later, since you’ll be on the right track and more efficient with your time.

Step #1:  Determine what you want to learn.  The cyber security field is very broad with lots of specialties, and those are changing and evolving all the time.  Your first step in learning cyber security on your own is to narrow down what you think you may want to focus on. You have the ability to change your mind later or pivot, but it does help if you can focus down on an area that you think may be of interest to you.  Ask yourself if you want to focus on programming, penetration testing, network security, forensics, or some other area. Deciding now will help determine your best path.

If you’re not sure what those domains listed above mean, one way to learn more about them to make a better decision is to do your own due diligence.  Research what these jobs are and what they entail. Look at job postings to get an idea of what the job does and see if you can find people doing the job that you can talk to in order to learn more.

Step #2:  Find quality resources.  Now that you have an idea of what you want to do, identify free or low cost resources that you can use to start learning.  There are many cyber security learning systems available online, including O’Reilly’s Safari, Cybrary and Pluralsight. Udemy has a number of courses, and your local library should have quite a few books available.  Make sure any content you choose, especially books, are recently published and no more than three years old. Steer away from platforms that do not monitor quality, such as YouTube. While YouTube is a great platform, there is no quality control and you can easily get information that is incorrect.

Step #3:  Determine what to learn first.  You can’t learn it all overnight, and some topics require a good bit of background to grasp.  Look at some of the content and try to find material that is on your level. There are plenty of online courses that would be a good starting point.  They often have titles such as Intro to Cybersecurity, Cybersecurity Essentials, or something similar. Don’t fall into the trap of planning too far ahead or jumping ahead or jumping around.

The Learn On Your Own Cyber Security Study Plan

Now that you know what you want to learn and have your material picked out, it’s time to start studying.  Following these steps will guarantee your success in learning cyber security.

Study Strategy #1:  Focus on one thing at a time.  Cyber security is an intensive, and sometimes difficult topic.  You will have the most success when you focus on one topic to learn at a time and go deep on that topic until you have a thorough understanding.  Be sure to review your topic and master what you’re learning before moving on, so much so that you should be able to explain it or teach it to someone else.  Keep in mind that cyber security is foundational and builds on prior knowledge, so you need to make sure you focus until you’ve masted what you’re working on now.  It’s a good idea to use multiple resources, but use them all to reinforce the same topic.

Study Strategy #2:  Read one hour every morning.  A great strategy that guarantees success is to create the daily habit of reading.  It’s been said that if you read an hour a day in your chosen field you will be an expert in three years and world class in five.  At this point, you already know what you want to study and that you need to focus. Now dedicate to reading one hour every day, preferably in the morning, so that you make it the priority that it needs to be.

Study Strategy #3:  Listen to audiobooks whenever possible.  I had one person tell me that he didn’t have time to learn cyber security because he worked too much.  His schedule was crazy. After talking to him I learned that he is in a vehicle three or more hours a day, driving from customer to customer, and driving from work to home.  

This is prime time where you are awake, aware, and not doing anything else productive.  Stop listening to music or talking on the phone and listen to cyber security audio courses.  The ones mentioned above will play on apps on your phone, and they will play with the screen off.  Listen to the audio of the video courses you find. This will get you more in the groove and let you hear more of the language of cyber security.  The person I just mentioned – he has 15 hours available each week to listen to cyber security audio books, but doesn’t think he has any time to learn.

Use any free time you have while driving, doing housework or anything else mindless to listen to audio.

Study Strategy #4:  Turn off the TV. Most people spend too much time watching TV.  Take an honest and accurate assessment of how much time you waste on television, or any other mindless screen watching, and cut that in half.  Use the half that you just saved to study cyber security.

Study Strategy #5:  Learn hands on.  As you get moving with your cyber security study, you’re going to need to acquire equipment and software as needed.  A laptop is a must. Learn how to install VMs and ISOs. Download free tools like Wireshark and work with them. Practice on the real technology as much as you can.  Complete labs as you study along with your learning resources. If you purchase hardware, such as practice switches, firewalls or routers, keep in mind that much of this equipment is available in used condition online with a warranty for very little investment.  It will be worth the investment.

Related Questions

Can I learn cyber security for free?  There are many free resources available online and through local library systems that can provide a great deal of cyber security information.  At some point in any learning path, investing in additional knowledge will probably become necessary.

How long does it take to learn cyber security?  With regular study, most people will need to spend two years or more to fully understand and be able to apply basic cyber security concepts.  This amount of time also depends on the background of the person and how in depth they want to learn cyber security.

About the author 

Matt Day

Matt Day is a cybersecurity professional with over twenty years of experience in the IT, cybersecurity and technology training fields. He has a degree in Computer Information Science and CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, Server+, CySA+, and Cisco CCNA certifications. Matt is the author of the courses CCNA Troubleshooting Mastery and Cybersecurity Career Launch, and the book CCENT Troubleshooting Guide.