Free Online Cybersecurity Courses (MOOCs)

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MOOCs (massive open online courses) are booming in popularity. They are offered by universities, taught by faculty, and freely available to anyone interested in cybersecurity.

We take a look at the program basics and course descriptions. Those familiar with the MOOC structure can skip ahead to our annotated list of online cybersecurity courses.

MOOCs in a Nutshell

How Do MOOCs Work?

MOOCs are offered online throughout the calendar year. Check the university’s schedule. Many have fixed starting dates.

  • Format: Video lectures are usually pre-recorded. Instructors also interact with students in virtual forums, live chats and during virtual office hours.
  • Time Commitment: Like many online courses, these free online cybersecurity courses take 6-10 weeks. Overall, you can expect to devote 3-6 hours per week to each course.
  • Assessment: There are no fixed rules on assessment. It could be peer-to-peer reviews and interactive class discussions. It might also be hands-on projects and a final exam. Many cybersecurity MOOCs incorporate programming labs and regular quizzes to test comprehension.

Make no mistake, MOOCs are real courses requiring real effort. Approximately 10% of students who start MOOCs go on to finish them.

Which Course Do I Pick?

Cybersecurity MOOCs vary in scope and level of experience required.

Some, like The Open University’s Introduction to Cybersecurity and the University of Michigan’s Securing Digital Democracy, suit students of all levels.

Others, like the University of Washington’s Designing and Executing Information Security Strategies and the University of Maryland’s multi-course Cybersecurity Specialization, dive into topics like cryptography, software and hardware security.

You don’t need to enroll in an undergraduate or graduate program to take one of these free online cybersecurity courses. However, you may need certain skills (e.g., knowledge of programming and discrete probability theory) to complete assignments.

Are MOOCs Really Free?

Yes. For many universities, MOOCs are basically teaser courses with strong instructors and solid content. Because MOOCs are free and self-directed, learners do not receive college credit for them. In some cases, students can obtain a certificate of completion, but usually for an extra fee.

MOOCs aim to get students excited about the subject, familiar with the format, and interested in the university’s fee-based programs.

What About Cybersecurity Bootcamps? Should You Pursue a Degree in Cybersecurity?

Top Online Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Building an Information Risk Management Toolkit

Provider: University of Washington
Instructor: Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Research Associate Professor, Information School, University of Washington
Duration: 10 weeks
Workload: 4-6 hours per week
Register: www.coursera.org/course/inforisk

Topics Covered

If you’re looking for an introductory free online cybersecurity course in risk management, check out this offering. This course explores a variety of structured, risk management approaches to inform cybersecurity decision-making.

Students learn about:

  • Developing and maintaining risk assessments and risk management plans
  • Regulatory and legal compliance issues
  • Creating a control framework to mitigate risks
  • Risk transfer
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery planning

The University of Washington also offers a more rigorous (and fee-based) version of this course online.

Cryptography

Provider: University of Maryland
Instructor: Jonathan Katz, Director, Maryland Cybersecurity Center, University of Maryland, College Park
Duration: 7 weeks
Workload: 3-5 hours per week
Register: www.coursera.org/course/cryptography

Topics Covered

This is the third course in the University of Maryland’s cybersecurity specialization. The course covers foundations and practical applications of modern cryptography. Students learn about defining security, hardness assumptions, and the security of complicated constructions based on low-level primitives.

Topics include:

  • Principles of modern cryptography
  • Classical encryption schemes
  • Private-key encryption
  • Message authentication
  • Hash functions
  • The public-key “revolution”
  • Public-key encryption
  • Digital signatures

By the end of the course, learners have a firm grasp of cryptographic primitives in wide use today. Students also understand how to combine these to develop modern protocols for secure communication.

Prerequisites

This course serves students majoring in either computer science or mathematics. Prior education in discrete mathematics and basic probability is expected. Prior exposure to algorithms is helpful but not necessary. Participants should be familiar with programming in a C-like language and mathematical maturity.

Cryptography I

Provider: Stanford University
Instructor: Dan Boneh, Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University
Duration: 6 weeks
Workload: 5-7 hours per week
Register: www.coursera.org/course/crypto

Topics Covered

This is the first of two cryptography MOOCs offered by Stanford University. In cryptography I, students:

  • Analyze the inner workings of cryptographic primitives and discover the correct ways to use them
  • Reason about the security of cryptographic constructions and apply your knowledge to real-world applications

The course splits into two halves. During the first half, learners examine deployed protocols and analyze mistakes in existing systems.

In the second half, students discuss public-key techniques that allow two or more parties to thwart eavesdroppers with a shared secret key. They cover relevant number theory, public-key encryption and basic key-exchange.

View a preview of the course.

Assessment

Quizzes, written homework and programming labs.

Prerequisites

Some programming background is helpful. Instructors distribute starter code and point learners to relevant online resources. Some knowledge of discrete probability is also useful.

Cryptography II

Provider: Stanford University
Instructor: Dan Boneh, Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University
Duration: 6 weeks
Workload: 6-8 hours per week
Register: www.coursera.org/course/crypto2

Topics Covered

A sequel to cryptography I, cryptography II digs into the workings of public-key systems and cryptographic protocols. The weekly workload is heavier, and the topics are more challenging.

Students explore:

  • Constructions for digital signatures and their applications
  • Protocols for user authentication and zero-knowledge protocols
  • Privacy applications supporting anonymous credentials and private database look-up

The course finishes with an exploration of advanced topics such a multi-party computation and elliptic curve cryptography.

Assessment

Quizzes, written homework, programming labs and a mandatory final exam.

Prerequisites

Firm knowledge of the topics covered in cryptography I and a basic understanding of discrete probability theory.

Cybersecurity and CISSP

Provider: Kennesaw State University
Register: mooc.kennesaw.edu/courses/cybersecurity.php

Topics Covered

KSU offers an introductory course on the field of cybersecurity and the components of the CISSP. This class suits students and working professionals alike.

Materials address the core principles of IT security, including:

  • Governance and risk management
  • Compliance
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery
  • Cryptography
  • Software development security
  • Access control
  • Network security
  • Security architecture
  • Security operations
  • Physical and environmental security

Learners engage with industry experts, practice evaluating their environmental awareness, and participate in knowledge assessments.

Designing and Executing Information Security Strategies

Provider: University of Washington
Instructor: Mike Simon, Chief Technical Officer, Creation Logic, University of Washington
Duration: 10 weeks
Workload: 4-6 hours work per week
Register: www.coursera.org/course/infosec

Topics Covered

This hands-on course allows learners to integrate and apply their cybersecurity knowledge.

Students work through real-world problems formulated by the practitioner community. Learners must design and execute information assurance strategies to solve these problems.

The syllabus includes:

  • Selection and application of controls
  • Construction of security policies
  • Understanding and application of regulatory requirements
  • Understanding and application of business constraints
  • Communication of risk to non-information assurance professionals
  • Identification and remediation of new threats
  • Analysis and performance of incident response
  • Communication of information assurance principles and concepts

Students learn to assess the nature of security risk, compare and apply several models for security risk assessment, and facilitate a risk assessment process. Learners can also incorporate their assessment into an IT security plan.

Assessment

The assessment entails:

  • Class explanations of good and bad examples from news and public sources
  • Reading and peer discussions of information assurance events
  • Peer-reviewed case analyses.

Prerequisites

Students should have a cybersecurity background. This should involve a basic understanding of system vulnerabilities, potential threats, security and privacy policies, organizational governance and risk management frameworks.

Foundations of Cybersecurity

Provider: Springboard
Instructor: John Nord
Duration: Course content is open and always available to participants
Workload: 37 hours
Register: https://www.springboard.com/resources/learning-paths/cybersecurity-foundations/

Topics Covered

Springboard’s free course provides a strong cybersecurity foundation for anyone interested in the field. This resource best suits those interested in making a career change or looking to brush up on their cyber skills. After completing the course, students should have a better understanding of the different types of cyber attacks, how to stay safe online, and the job market for cybersecurity professionals.

The self-paced course is organized around four key sections:

  1. An introduction to cybersecurity
  2. Security fundamentals
  3. Securing devices
  4. Intermediate and advanced cybersecurity fundamentals

Materials

All learning materials are free and available online.

Hardware Security

Provider: University of Maryland
Instructor: Gang Qu, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park
Duration: 6 weeks
Workload: 3-5 hours per week
Register: www.coursera.org/course/hardwaresec

Topics Covered

This is the fourth course in the University of Maryland’s cybersecurity specialization. It examines cybersecurity from a hardware perspective.

Students learn about:

  • Hardware’s transformation from an enabler to an enforcer role in security systems
  • Weaknesses in current hardware design flow
  • Fundamentals of digital logic design
  • Sources of security vulnerabilities
  • Basic principles and practical methods of design for security and trust
  • Physical attacks (including side-channel attacks) and countermeasures
  • New hardware security primitives for building secure systems

At the end of the course, learners understand the vulnerabilities in current digital system design flow and the source of physical attacks. They should also have the tools and skills to build secure and trusted hardware.

Prerequisites

Course participants should be junior-level undergraduates studying computer science, computer engineering, or electrical engineering. Basic skills in programming, digital logic design, and computer organization are highly recommended.

Information Security and Risk Management in Context

Provider: University of Washington
Instructor: Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Research Associate Professor, Information School, University of Washington
Duration: 10 weeks
Workload: 4-6 hours per week
Register: www.coursera.org/course/inforiskman

Topics Covered

Targeted toward professionals with a stake in information security, this course explores the tools and techniques for securing and defending information systems. Students learn to:

  • Analyze internal and external threats to prevent information attacks
  • Protect cloud computing information
  • Solve real-world security problems
  • Establish and oversee information security programs

Leading experts share proven practices in areas like mobile workforce safety, security metrics, electronic evidence oversight, and coping with e-crime and e-discovery. Over 10 weeks, students discuss issues such as:

  • Information security strategies and individual privacy
  • Legal security implications
  • Medical health record confidentiality and integrity

Introduction to Cybersecurity

Provider: National Cybersecurity Institute at Excelsior College
Instructor: Gary M. Jackson, President and CEO of ANBECO, LLC
Duration: 8 weeks
Workload: Unspecified
Register: www.canvas.net/browse/excelsiorc/courses/intro-to-cybersecurity-1

Topics Covered

In addition to providing a broad overview of cybersecurity, this course introduces learners to issues surrounding cybersecurity standards and law. They learn about:

  • Common cyberattacks
  • Techniques for identifying, detecting and defending against cybersecurity threats
  • Concepts surrounding personal, physical, network, web and wireless security
  • Foundation principles for more advanced study

Prerequisites

This course is intended for educators and professionals.

Introduction to Cybersecurity

Provider: Future Learn / The Open University
Instructor: Cory Doctorow, Visiting Professor, The Open University
Duration: 8 weeks
Workload: 3 hours per week
Register: www.futurelearn.com/courses/introduction-to-cyber-security

Topics Covered

This course serves students of all levels. Learners should understand the basics of cybersecurity and receive guidance on protecting their digital information. Over eight weeks, students:

  • Navigate their online safety in the context of the wider world
  • Recognize common cybersecurity threats, including malware, viruses and trojans
  • Explore concepts of network security, cryptography, identity theft and risk management

The Open University developed this course with support from the UK Government’s National Cybersecurity Program.

MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT provides a free online library of selected course materials used to teach MIT undergraduate and graduate courses. Available cybersecurity course materials may be outdated.

Public Privacy: Cybersecurity and Human Rights

Provider: iversity
Instructor: Anja Mihar, Associate Professor, The Hague Institute for Global Justice
Register: iversity.org/en/courses/public-privacy-cyber-security-and-human-rights

Topics Covered

This course focuses on the intersection of cybersecurity, the internet, and international human rights. Through lectures, stakeholder interviews, and a variety of assessments, students explore:

  • How human rights are used in the debate about public privacy
  • What part individual, societal, political, and governmental actors have to play
  • Conflicts and issues surrounding cybersecurity and human rights

The course splits into two parts. The first gives an overview of the current state of human rights regimes, their efforts to protect freedom rights, and the place of private security.

The second part delves into the evolution of human rights and violation and protection mechanisms in the era of internet technology.

Assessment

Quizzes, peer-to-peer review and participation in interactive discussion forums.

SANS Cyber Aces Online

Provider: The SANS Institute
Instructor: Unspecified
Duration: Course content is open and always available to participants
Workload: Self-directed
Register: www.cyberaces.org/

Topics Covered

This introductory class, developed by The Sans Institute, lays the groundwork for core concepts in cybersecurity. To reflect changes in technology, the course material is updated regularly.

The course is separated into three modules:

  1. Operating Systems: The first half focuses on Linux, including the use of CentOS LiveCD in VMware Player and important concepts and commands. The second half focuses on Windows, particularly Windows 7, covering important topics for advanced computer users.
  2. Networking: Students learn fundamentals for understanding computer attacks and defenses from a network perspective. The module covers various protocols used at each layer, with a particular focus on the Networking layer.
  3. Systems Administration: Learners acquire tools for performing common administrative functions in popular scripting environments. The module examines PHP and PERL in the context of an Apache web server. It also the explores the use of GNU BASH and Microsoft Powershell scripting from the command line to complete everyday administrative functions.

Assessment

Each module includes a tutorial. Students can also choose to take optional online multiple choice quizzes, offered every three months.

Top performers in the online course quizzes are invited to attend the National Cybersecurity Career Fair, the largest virtual career fair in the cybersecurity industry.

Materials

Learners must install VMware (VMware Player for Windows or Linux hosts or VMware Fusion for Macs). They also need to download two virtual machines to run in VMware: a Linux and a Windows version. This requires at least 30GB of disk space.

Prerequisites

None. The course is intended to appeal to a broad array of participants, including newcomers, self-taught individuals, and those looking to strengthen their existing cybersecurity knowledge.

Securing Digital Democracy

Provider: University of Michigan
Instructor: J. Alex Halderman, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan
Duration: 7 weeks
Workload: 2-3 hours per week
Register: www.coursera.org/course/digitaldemocracy

Topics Covered

This layman’s course focuses on electronic and internet voting. Students learn about various voting technologies, including the risks these systems face.

Cybersecurity issues include:

  • Voting viruses
  • The potential for hackers to steal an election
  • Recent research on vulnerabilities and risks
  • The effectiveness of safeguards, checks and balances
  • Potential for future security technologies

Assignments
Weekly quizzes, optional readings, discussion questions and a final essay.

Materials

The course supplies optional materials for students with a college-level computer science background.

Recommended Reading
Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?

Prerequisites

None. Most of the course is accessible to non-technical students.

Software Security

Provider: University of Maryland
Duration: 6 weeks
Workload: 3-5 hours per week

Register: www.coursera.org/course/softwaresec

Topics Covered

This is the second course in the University of Maryland’s cybersecurity specialization. It covers the foundations of software security, including the tools and skills needed to build secure software. This class serves those in the front lines of security.

To that end, students explore:

  • Important software vulnerabilities and attacks that exploit them (e.g. buffer overflows, SQL injection, session hijacking, side-channel attacks, phishing and insecure defaults)
  • Defenses that prevent or mitigate these attacks
  • Techniques that can be used to strengthen the security of software systems at each phase of the development cycle
  • State-of-the-art ways to test and verify that software is secure (e.g., penetration testing, program analysis tools, etc.)

By the end of the course, learners can immeasurably strengthen the security of software systems and “build security in” from the get-go.

Assessment

Quizzes and three hands-on projects.

Materials

Supplementary readings will be freely available on the web.

Prerequisites

Third-year undergraduate education in computer science. students should have a solid knowledge of the C programming language and programming proficiency in at least one language. Familiarity with Unix/Linux, machine-level program execution and assembly language and WWW and basic networking concepts is also expected.

Usable Security

Provider: University of Maryland
Instructor: Jennifer Golbeck, Director, Human-Computer Interaction Lab, University of Maryland, College Park
Duration: 8 weeks
Workload: 3-5 hours per week
Register: www.coursera.org/course/usablesec

Topics Covered

This is the first course in the University of Maryland’s cybersecurity specialization. The class focuses on humans’ role in the security process, including their cognitive abilities, workflows, and daily tasks.

Students explore:

  • How to design and build systems with a human-centric focus
  • Principles of usability and human-computer interactions
  • Security measures that respect human performance and their goals within a system
  • Authentication mechanisms, browsing security, mobile security and privacy and social media

To learn to integrate usability into security software, learners conduct hands-on exercises in designing, building, evaluating, and critiquing systems.

Assessment

Quizzes, homework, and a final exam.

Prerequisites

Sophomore- or junior-level undergraduate education (and beyond). No programming experience is required.

Wiretaps to Big Data: Privacy and Surveillance in the Age of Interconnection

Provider: Cornell University
Instructor: Stephen Wicker, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cornell University
Duration: 10 weeks
Workload: 4-8 hours per week
Register: www.edx.org

Topics Covered

This overview course explores privacy in a world of cellular, WiFi, and internet surveillance. The class examines key issues surrounding the use of information networks, including:

  • The basic function of networking technologies
  • Types of cryptography used to secure wired and wireless networks
  • Contemporary surveillance and security decisions/laws
  • The implications of surveillance on individuals, corporations, markets and democratic institutions
  • Evolution of privacy concerns and users’ rights

Novices gain a broad understanding of the issues. Detailed resources are provided for those engaged in the development of corporate and governmental policies.

Materials

A list of supplemental resources, including textbooks, is provided. The textbook, Cellular Convergence and the Death of Privacy, is optional.

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Are you ready to find a school that's aligned with your interests?

Find the right education path to take advantage of this fast-growing industry and join the front-lines on technology and security.