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Studying Cybersecurity - Where Should You Start?

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By: Hugh Shepherd

November 9, 2021


Cybersecurity is a broad and dynamic industry. Unlike some industries or disciplines where the rate of change in its approaches and methodologies is relatively static, in cybersecurity (and technology), what you learned in school is probably already obsolete. The pace of change in cybersecurity and technology, in general, necessitates dedication to continuous learning and professional development by its practitioners.

With these challenges in mind, where does one begin studying cybersecurity? How can one create a sustainable approach to studying cybersecurity that will support continuous learning and development? Provided below are a few tips and tricks that may help address these concerns.

Tips to Get Started

Here is a list of ten conventional tips for getting started studying cybersecurity:

1. Identify Interest– Cybersecurity is composed of numerous different disciplines. The term cybersecurity can cover penetration testing, incident response, network security, physical security, social engineering, policy development, and many more areas. After getting a general idea of these different disciplines, select one (or two at the most) areas that seem the most interesting, then do a deep dive into learning this area and become a subject matter expert.

2. Identify Objective– Determine what is the desired outcome from studying cybersecurity. Is it getting a new job? Is it advancing in your current role or gaining practical hands-on technical skills? Etc. Once a learner has identified an objective, make that the goal for achievement. Furthermore, several goals that fit into specific time frames can be made. For example, short-term goals (ranging from a day to several weeks) can consist of completing practice exam questions, reviewing notes, finishing reading a chapter, etc. Mid-range goals of 3-6 months can consist of finishing an exam prep boot camp, completing a career path training program, passing a certification exam, etc. Long-term goals ranging from 1-2+ years can consist of completing a degree program, obtaining a promotion, getting a new job, etc. Again, these time frames are subjective and will vary on an individual basis.

Another suggestion is to use the SMART Goals technique to make actionable goals:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable)
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
  • Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, etc.)

Conducting an Internet search on the term “SMART Goals” will provide numerous additional sources of useful info on this topic to help develop SMART goals.

3. Take Action and Start Studying– An individual decides when to start studying. Most people have the power and free will to choose, so stop procrastinating, making excuses, and putting it off, and do like the famous Nike slogan and “Just do it.” Sign up for that networking class, create that account for that online training platform, or buy that cybersecurity fundamentals book (and read it!). Everyone must start somewhere, so why not begin that cybersecurity journey today? No excuses!

4. Discipline and Consistency- Develop the discipline to study consistently even when not feeling motivated. When the time comes to start studying (and other things), many people struggle with maintaining personal accountability and responsibility. Joining a study group or having an accountability partner may help overcome this challenge.

5. Finding the Time– Dedicating time to make studying a habit. Depending on the individual’s situation and/or preference, finding the time to study may involve getting up early, staying up late, dedicating a day per week, and/or blocking off an hour or two a day to study.

6. Be Methodical- Studying should be done in a thought-out and methodical manner instead of taking a haphazard approach. Create a study plan or action plan to follow. If a learner is pursuing a particular certification, download the exam blueprint and use it as a guide. By doing so, learners can stay focused and organized; this provides a sense of accomplishment as learners progress through their plan.

7. Build a Foundation– Having a goal of becoming a CISO is great, but if one can barely spell “I.T.” (Ha…that is a joke), this will be difficult and frustrating to achieve and likely end in failure. So, instead of going from 0-to-100 quickly, pace yourself and build a solid foundation by learning the basics. The basics mean the “blocking and tackling” of cybersecurity (e.g., networking, cyber hygiene, CIA triad, computer science course, etc.). A learner can achieve this by earning entry-level certification(s); consider the so-called “CompTIA Holy Trinity” of A+, Network+, and Security+.

So, if one is a complete novice in cybersecurity and/or information technology (IT), instead of jumping ahead to a training course like Advanced Cyber Threat Intelligence, consider taking something at the beginner level like Introduction to IT & Cybersecurity.

8. Get Hands-on Training– Sometimes, the best way to learn something is by doing it. This is true when it comes to cybersecurity. Many practice labs are available to allow students to get hands-on with the tools discussed in training courses. Also, many online training platforms offer skill assessments that enable students to test their skills in cybersecurity and many other IT fundamentals skills. Another option is to build a personal home lab training environment. No matter which option one may choose, the main thing to remember is to use it…practice, practice, practice!

9. Give back– Another way to start studying cybersecurity is to give back to the community by volunteering and/or mentoring others interested in the industry. Volunteering can include anything from helping configure a firewall for the Wi-Fi at a local community group, assisting on projects for an industry association, or mentoring young cybersecurity enthusiasts in a youth organization. Getting involved in these activities will provide motivation and a reason to study cybersecurity; you will become more knowledgeable and provide positive benefits of giving back.

10. Stay Engaged and Stay Current– Cybersecurity is a fast-moving industry. To be successful, one must know the latest threats, technological advances, and industry trends. To meet this challenge, get involved in cybersecurity-related online community groups, join an industry group, attend infosec events, and follow the news on the latest incidents and threats.

BONUS TIPS- In addition to the more conventional study tips previously mentioned, below are five additional “Bonus” tips on how to get started studying cybersecurity. These tips may be considered on the more non-conventional or even quirky side of things. Nevertheless, if something (that is Legal and Safe) can positively benefit one’s ability to study and retain information, why not consider it? Again, these tips may not be for everyone, but some people may find them useful.

1. Identify Your Learning Style– People learn differently. Some people are visual learners, while others are tactile learners. Various learning styles include Visual (Learning by seeing), Auditory (Hearing), Kinesthetic (Learning by doing), Tactile (Hands-on, similar to Kinesthetic).

2. Listening to Music– There is proven research showing that listening to music while studying can be beneficial. Studies have shown improvements in focus, concentration, motivation, and long-term memory. Some types of music that may be conducive to studying include binaural beats, Lo-fi (low fidelity), jazz, meditative chants, lounge music, study music, trap beats, etc. The musical options are pretty much endless depending on individual preferences. Please note individuals who have certain medical conditions should use caution when making musical choices and always consult with a medical professional first.

3. Take a Break/Get Some Exercise– All work and no play leads to burnout, so take time off occasionally to recharge. Go outside to get some sun and enjoy the fresh air. Studies have shown exposure to sunlight may increase hormones conducive to improving mood, feeling calm, and more focused. Learners can do numerous activities during a study break, such as spending a few minutes with family and friends, taking a power nap, meditating, doing yoga, or getting some exercise (e.g., running, walking, calisthenics, etc.).

4. Do something with your hands– Studies have shown that working with your hands can provide positive benefits and help stimulate the brain. Performing tasks such as drawing, painting, sculpting, wood carving, sewing, playing an instrument, and even gardening can help relieve stress, improve concentration, and promote calmness.

5. Read something non-technical– Exercise the non-technical regions of your brain by reading fiction, history, finance, economics, or a subject that is not cybersecurity / IT related. As stated in an ABC News report from 2014, Reading is a very complex task that requires several different brain regions to work together; this potentially boosts mental capacity and creativity.

Bottom line

Choosing to start studying cybersecurity is a great decision. Cybersecurity is a multi-faceted, high-growth industry that offers opportunities for a rewarding career. Even if you do not work in cybersecurity, studying cybersecurity to gain some basic knowledge on the topic is a smart move in general.

However, the fast-paced and ever-changing nature of cybersecurity can make learning it extremely challenging. There are unlimited resources available; do not get overwhelmed by doing too much. Avoid burnout by embracing the fact that learning cybersecurity is a continuous process; conducive to life-long learners. Seek a balance by selecting a curriculum that mixes both theory and practical application of cybersecurity. And finally, on your path to cybersecurity excellence, find your interest, love what you do, and enjoy the ride.

Reference Sources:

5 Reasons Everyone Should Have a Hobby Academic Success at Carolina Accountability Strategies Developing Personal Accountability - Taking Responsibility to Get Ahead Goal Setting Goal-Setting Theory of Motivation How Reading a Novel Can Improve the Brain The Importance of Study Breaks No Excuses: Being Accountable for Your Own Success Short-Term vs. Long-Term Goals: 5 Differences Between Each SMART Goals - How to Make Your Goals Achievable What Are the Benefits of Sunlight? Working with Your Hands Is Good for Your Brain

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