· Alex · security  · 13 min read

How to Get Into Cybersecurity

Key steps for getting into cybersecurity, hard and soft skills, cybersecurity subdomains and experience

Key steps for getting into cybersecurity, hard and soft skills, cybersecurity subdomains and experience

How to Get Into Cyber Security

As we become more and more reliant on technology, the importance of protecting our data, privacy, and digital assets grows exponentially. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, and even cryptocurrencies, ensuring the security of our digital lives is no longer a luxury—it’s a necessity.

Demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals

The good news is that there’s never been a better time to jump into the cybersecurity field. As the number of cyber threats grows, so does the demand for skilled professionals who can tackle these challenges head-on. It’s no surprise that the cybersecurity job market is booming, with millions of unfilled positions worldwide. And with an average salary that’s significantly higher than most other IT roles, it’s not just a rewarding career—it’s a lucrative one, too. So, if you’re ready to embark on an exciting, high-demand career that’s packed with opportunities for growth and development, you’re in the right place.

Understanding Cybersecurity

Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what cybersecurity actually is and some of the key concepts you’ll need to be familiar with.

Definition of cybersecurity

In simple terms, cybersecurity is the practice of protecting computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks, and data from digital attacks, damage, or unauthorized access. It’s an interdisciplinary field that combines elements of computer science, information technology, and even psychology to create a solid defense against the ever-evolving world of cyber threats.

Key concepts and terminologies

As you dive deeper into cybersecurity, you’ll come across a ton of jargon and terminology that might seem a bit overwhelming at first. But don’t worry! We’ve got you covered with some key concepts you’ll need to know:

  1. Vulnerability: A weakness in a system or network that can be exploited by an attacker to gain unauthorized access or perform malicious actions.
  2. Threat: A potential event or action that could cause harm to a system or network.
  3. Risk: The likelihood that a threat will exploit a vulnerability, resulting in negative consequences for the system or network.
  4. Attack surface: The collection of points where an attacker can attempt to enter or extract data from a system or network.
  5. Incident response: The process of detecting, analyzing, and responding to security incidents to minimize their impact and prevent future occurrences.
  6. Penetration testing: A proactive method for assessing the security of a system or network by simulating real-world attacks to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

Types of cybersecurity threats and attacks

Now that we’ve covered some key concepts, let’s take a look at some common types of cybersecurity threats and attacks you’ll encounter as a professional in the field:

  1. Malware: Malicious software designed to infect and damage systems, steal data, or disrupt operations. Examples include viruses, worms, ransomware, and Trojans.
  2. Phishing: A social engineering attack that uses deceptive emails, websites, or messages to trick users into revealing sensitive information or installing malware.
  3. Denial-of-service (DoS) and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks: Attacks that aim to overwhelm a system or network with traffic, making it inaccessible to legitimate users.
  4. Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack: An attack where the attacker intercepts and potentially alters communication between two parties without their knowledge.
  5. Zero-day exploit: An attack that takes advantage of a previously unknown vulnerability in a system or software before it can be patched or fixed.
  6. Insider threat: A security risk that originates from within an organization, such as a disgruntled employee or contractor with access to sensitive information.
  7. Advanced persistent threat (APT): A long-term, highly targeted cyber attack carried out by sophisticated threat actors, often for espionage or data exfiltration purposes.

Assessing Your Skills and Interests

Before you start building your career, it’s important to take a step back and assess your current skills and interests. This will help you make informed decisions about the educational and professional paths that are right for you.

Analyzing your current skill set

First things first, let’s talk about where you’re starting from. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What’s your background in IT, computer science, or a related field? Do you have any prior experience or education that could serve as a foundation for your cybersecurity career?
  2. Are you familiar with basic programming languages like Python, Java, or C++? How about scripting languages like Bash or PowerShell?
  3. Do you have any experience with networking, operating systems, or system administration?

Don’t worry if you’re lacking in some areas or feel like you’re starting from scratch. The cybersecurity field is broad and diverse, and there’s plenty of room for newcomers with varying levels of expertise. The important thing is to be honest about your current skills so you can identify the areas where you need to grow and learn.

Identifying your interests within cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is a vast field with numerous subdomains and specializations. It’s essential to identify the areas that genuinely interest you so you can focus your efforts and find your niche. Here are a few popular cybersecurity domains to consider:

  1. Network security: Focuses on protecting an organization’s network infrastructure and devices from threats and vulnerabilities.
  2. Application security: Deals with ensuring the security of software applications from attacks and vulnerabilities throughout their lifecycle. Want to learn more about this area? See my in depth guide on becoming an Application Security Engineer.
  3. Cloud security: Addresses the unique security challenges associated with cloud computing, including data protection, access control, and compliance.
  4. Incident response: Involves detecting, analyzing, and responding to security incidents to minimize their impact and prevent future occurrences.
  5. Ethical hacking or penetration testing: Entails simulating real-world attacks to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in a system or network.
  6. Security operations: Encompasses the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of maintaining and monitoring an organization’s security posture.
  7. Cybersecurity policy and compliance: Involves developing, implementing, and enforcing security policies and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations and standards.

Recognizing the importance of continuous learning

One of the most exciting (and challenging) aspects of the cybersecurity field is its ever-changing nature. Cyber threats and technologies are constantly evolving, which means that as a cybersecurity professional, you’ll need to commit to a mindset of continuous learning. Staying up-to-date with the latest trends, best practices, and emerging technologies is crucial for staying ahead of the game. This means attending conferences, taking online courses, reading industry publications, and participating in relevant forums and communities. Keep in mind that learning doesn’t stop once you’ve landed your dream job—your long-term success in the field will depend on your ability to adapt, grow, and stay informed.

Educational Pathways and Certifications

Now that you’ve got a better understanding of your skills and interests, it’s time to explore the educational pathways available to you. Building a strong foundation in cybersecurity typically involves a combination of formal education, certifications, and hands-on experience.

Formal education options

Degree programs (associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral)

Pursuing a degree in cybersecurity or a related field can provide you with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed to succeed in the industry. Degree programs range from associate to doctoral levels, with each level offering a different depth of understanding and specialization.

Specialized courses and boot camps

In addition to traditional degree programs, there are specialized courses and boot camps that offer focused, intensive training in specific areas of cybersecurity. These programs can be an excellent option for individuals looking to build their skills quickly or make a career transition. Examples include coding boot camps, network security courses, or even ethical hacking workshops.

Certifications play a significant role in the cybersecurity field, as they demonstrate your expertise in specific domains and technologies. Here are some popular certifications to consider as you build your cybersecurity skillset:

  1. CompTIA Security+: An entry-level certification that covers fundamental cybersecurity concepts, such as network security, threat management, and risk mitigation.
  2. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): A globally recognized certification for experienced security practitioners, covering topics like access control, cryptography, and security architecture.
  3. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM): A certification for experienced security managers, emphasizing the design, implementation, and management of enterprise-level security programs.
  4. OSWE, GPEN & GWAPT: These are Web Security Certifications useful for auditing web applications.
  5. OSCP and OSEP: Entry (OSCP) and advanced (OSEP) offensive security certifications focused on auditing networks and systems.

Importance of hands-on experience and internships

While formal education and certifications are essential, there’s no substitute for hands-on experience. Internships and co-op programs provide valuable opportunities to apply your knowledge in real-world settings and build your professional network. In addition, participating in cybersecurity competitions, like capture the flag (CTF) events, can help you hone your skills and gain practical experience in a fun and competitive environment. As you navigate your educational options, remember to strike a balance between theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience. This combination will not only make you a more attractive candidate to potential employers but also better prepare you for the exciting challenges that await in the world of cybersecurity.

Developing Technical Skills

To thrive in the cybersecurity field, you’ll need to develop a solid set of technical skills. These skills not only enable you to better understand and address the challenges you’ll face daily but also help you stay competitive in the job market.

Programming languages

While you don’t need to be a programming expert to succeed in cybersecurity, having a basic understanding of common programming languages can be invaluable. Familiarity with languages like Python, Java, C++, and scripting languages like Bash or PowerShell can help you automate tasks, analyze data, and even develop custom tools for your security needs. Consider taking online courses, participating in coding challenges, or working on personal projects to build your programming skills. The more comfortable you are with programming, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle complex cybersecurity problems.

Networking fundamentals

Cybersecurity and networking go hand in hand. A strong grasp of networking fundamentals is crucial for understanding how data flows across systems and networks, as well as identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities. Key networking concepts to master include:

  1. Network architecture and design
  2. Network protocols (e.g., TCP/IP, HTTP, HTTPS, DNS)
  3. Routing and switching
  4. Firewall configuration and management
  5. Intrusion detection and prevention systems

Consider pursuing certifications like CompTIA Network+ or Cisco CCNA to demonstrate your networking expertise and boost your employability.

Operating systems and system administration

As a cybersecurity professional, you’ll often work with various operating systems, such as Windows, Linux, or macOS. Understanding the inner workings of these systems and knowing how to administer them is essential for securing and maintaining a safe digital environment. Focus on learning about:

  1. File systems and access controls
  2. User and group management
  3. Security settings and configurations
  4. Patch management and system updates
  5. Log analysis and monitoring

Cloud computing and virtualization

With the growing adoption of cloud computing and virtualization technologies, it’s important to understand the unique security challenges they present. Familiarize yourself with popular cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Learn about:

  1. Cloud security best practices
  2. Data protection and encryption in the cloud
  3. Identity and access management
  4. Compliance and regulatory requirements

Additionally, get hands-on experience with virtualization technologies such as VMware or Hyper-V, as they’re commonly used in both on-premises and cloud environments.

Encryption and cryptography

Encryption and cryptography are fundamental to securing data and maintaining privacy in the digital world. As a cybersecurity professional, you’ll need to understand the principles of encryption and be familiar with common cryptographic algorithms and protocols. Focus on learning about:

  1. Symmetric and asymmetric encryption
  2. Hash functions
  3. Digital signatures
  4. Key management and distribution
  5. Public key infrastructure (PKI)

By developing your technical skills in these areas, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle the challenges that come with a career in cybersecurity.

Cultivating Soft Skills

While technical skills are critical to success in cybersecurity, it’s essential not to overlook the importance of soft skills. These skills play a vital role in how you interact with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders, as well as your ability to navigate the complexities of cybersecurity challenges.

Communication and teamwork

In the world of cybersecurity, clear and effective communication is crucial. You’ll often need to explain complex technical concepts to non-technical audiences, collaborate with cross-functional teams, and report security findings to stakeholders. To improve your communication and teamwork skills, consider:

  1. Practicing active listening
  2. Developing your presentation and public speaking abilities
  3. Building empathy and understanding diverse perspectives

Problem-solving and critical thinking

Cybersecurity professionals are constantly faced with complex problems that require creative and analytical solutions. Cultivating your problem-solving and critical thinking skills will enable you to identify vulnerabilities, assess risks, and develop effective strategies to mitigate threats.

Time management and organization

With a never-ending stream of new threats and a rapidly changing landscape, cybersecurity professionals need to be highly organized and efficient with their time. Effective time management and organizational skills will help you prioritize tasks, meet deadlines, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Adaptability and resilience

The cybersecurity field is always evolving, and professionals must be prepared to adapt to new challenges and technologies. Developing adaptability and resilience will help you stay nimble in the face of change and bounce back from setbacks.

Ethics and legal compliance are of paramount importance in cybersecurity. Professionals must navigate a complex landscape of regulations and ethical dilemmas while protecting sensitive data and maintaining privacy. To ensure you’re well-versed in ethical and legal considerations:

  1. Familiarize yourself with relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards
  2. Engage in discussions and debates about ethical challenges in cybersecurity
  3. Adhere to a professional code of conduct and maintain high ethical standards in your work

Gaining Practical Experience

To truly excel in cybersecurity, it’s essential to complement your education and certifications with hands-on experience. Practical experience not only helps you develop and refine your skills but also demonstrates your passion and commitment to potential employers.

Volunteering for open-source projects

Contributing to open-source cybersecurity projects is a great way to gain practical experience while giving back to the community. By participating in these projects, you’ll have the opportunity to work with experienced professionals, learn new techniques, and build a track record of your contributions.

Participating in cybersecurity competitions and capture the flag (CTF) events

Cybersecurity competitions and CTF events provide an engaging and challenging environment where you can apply your skills, learn from peers, and gain valuable experience. These events typically involve solving security-related puzzles or simulating real-world attack and defense scenarios.

Contributing to security research and publications

Sharing your research and insights through blogs, articles, or conference presentations can help establish you as a knowledgeable and passionate professional in the cybersecurity field. This can be an excellent opportunity to explore emerging trends, analyze new threats, or even develop novel solutions to existing challenges.

D. Creating a portfolio of projects

Building a portfolio of personal projects is a powerful way to showcase your skills, creativity, and passion for cybersecurity. Your portfolio might include:

  1. Security tools or scripts you’ve developed
  2. Vulnerability assessments or penetration tests you’ve conducted
  3. Research papers or presentations on cybersecurity topics
  4. Write-ups or walkthroughs of CTF challenges you’ve solved


As we wrap up this comprehensive guide on how to get into cybersecurity, let’s take a moment to recap the key steps we’ve covered and offer some words of encouragement for your journey ahead.

Recap of key steps for getting into cybersecurity

  1. Understand the importance of cybersecurity in today’s digital world and the demand for skilled professionals.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of cybersecurity, including key concepts, terminologies, and types of threats.
  3. Assess your current skills and interests, identify areas for growth, and commit to continuous learning.
  4. Explore educational pathways, certifications, and the value of hands-on experience and internships.
  5. Develop essential technical skills in programming, networking, system administration, cloud computing, and cryptography.
  6. Cultivate soft skills like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, and ethical awareness.
  7. Network with industry professionals and build your online presence through social media platforms and industry events.
  8. Gain practical experience by volunteering for open-source projects, participating in competitions, contributing to research, and creating a portfolio.

Embarking on a career in cybersecurity can be challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Stay committed to your goals, keep learning, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance along the way. Remember, the cybersecurity community is filled with supportive professionals who are eager to share their knowledge and expertise.

About the Author:


Application Security Engineer and Red-Teamer. Over 15 years of experience in Application Security, Software Engineering and Offensive Security. OSCE3 & OSCP Certified. CTF nerd.

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