Free Online Cybersecurity Courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs (massive open online courses) are booming in popularity. They’re offered by universities, taught by faculty, and freely available to anyone who’s interested in cybersecurity — man, woman, child, or career-changer.

We take a look at the basics and then get into course descriptions. If you’re familiar with the MOOC structure, you can skip ahead to our annotated list of online cybersecurity courses.

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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, although instructors interact with students in virtual forums, live chats and/or during virtual office hours.
  • Time Commitment: Like many online courses, cybersecurity MOOCs take 6-10 weeks. Overall, you can expect to devote 3-6 hours of your life 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 be hands-on projects and a final exam. A lot of cybersecurity MOOCs incorporate programming labs and regular quizzes to test comprehension.

Make no mistake, it’s a real course, with real effort required. Approximately 10% of students who start MOOCs go on to finish them.

Which Course Do I Pick?

Cybersecurity MOOCs vary widely in their scope and level of experience required.

Some, like The Open University’s Introduction to Cybersecurity and the University of Michigan’s Securing Digital Democracy are accessible to the amateur.

Others, like the University of Washington’s Designing and Executing Information Security Strategies and the University of Maryland’s multi-course Cybersecurity Specialization, get down and deep with topics such as cryptography, software and hardware security.

You don’t need to be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program to take a MOOC, but you may need certain skills (e.g. knowledge of programming and discrete probability theory) to complete the assignments. When we could find them, we’ve made a note of prerequisites at the end of each course description.

Are MOOCs Really Free?

Yes. For a lot of universities, MOOCs are basically teaser courses, albeit teaser courses with great instructors and solid content. Because they’re free and self-directed, you won’t receive college credit for finishing them. You may be able to get a certificate of completion, but that usually comes with a price tag (e.g. $50).

The idea is to get you excited about the subject, familiar with the format and interested in the university’s fee-based programs.

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 MOOC in risk management, check out this offering. It explores a variety of structured, risk management approaches that inform cybersecurity decision-making.

You’ll learn about:

  • Developing and maintaining risk assessments (RA) and risk management plans (RM)
  • 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.

Assessment

Unspecified.

Materials

Unspecified.

Prerequisites

Unspecified.

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 3rd course in the University of Maryland’s Cybersecurity Specialization. It covers foundations and practical applications of modern cryptography. Ideas about defining security, hardness assumptions and the possibility of proving security of complicated constructions based on low-level primitives will all be explored.

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, you’ll have a firm grasp of cryptographic primitives in wide use today and a knowledge of how to combine these in order to develop modern protocols for secure communication.

Assessment

Unspecified.

Materials

Unspecified.

Prerequisites

Intended for students majoring in either computer science or mathematics. Prior experience covering discrete mathematics and basic probability (e.g. a course) is expected. Prior exposure to algorithms will be helpful, but is not necessary. Familiarity 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, you’ll learn how to:

  • 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 is split into two halves. During the first half, you’ll examine deployed protocols and analyze mistakes in existing systems.

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

View a preview of the course.

Assessment

Quizzes, written homework and programming labs.

Materials

Unspecified.

Prerequisites

Some programming background is helpful. However, the instructor will distribute lots of starter code and point you 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

In a sequel to Cryptography I, Cryptography II digs deeper into the workings of public-key systems and cryptographic protocols. The weekly workload is a little heavier and the topics more challenging.

You’ll 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.

Materials

Unspecified.

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
Instructor: TBD
Duration: TBD
Workload: TBD 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 is appropriate for students and working professionals alike.

Materials address 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

You’ll engage with industry experts, practice evaluating your environmental awareness and participate in knowledge assessments.

Assessment

TBD

Materials

TBD

Prerequisites

TBD

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

If you’re looking for a hands-on class where you can integrate and apply your cybersecurity knowledge, take a look at this course.

You’ll be presented with thorny, real-world problems designed by the practitioner community. Then you’ll be expected to design and execute information assurance strategies to solve them.

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

You’ll be able to assess the nature of security risk, compare and apply several models for security risk assessment, facilitate a risk assessment process and incorporate this assessment into an IT security plan.

Assessment

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

Materials

Unspecified.

Prerequisites

Students should have a cybersecurity background, including 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 is a great resource for those interested in making a career change, or anyone looking to brush up on their cyber skills. Upon completion of 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 course is organized around four key sections:

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

This is a self-paced course, meaning students can complete lessons on their own schedule.

Assessment

None

Materials

All learning materials are free and available online.

Prerequisites

None

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 4th course in the University of Maryland’s Cybersecurity Specialization. It examines cybersecurity from a hardware perspective.

You’ll 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, you’ll understand the vulnerabilities in current digital system design flow and the source of physical attacks. You will have also acquired tools and skills to build secure and trusted hardware.

Assessment

Unspecified.

Materials

Unspecified.

Prerequisites

Junior-level undergraduate students with computer science, computer engineering or an electrical engineering major. 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 towards professionals with a stake in information security, this course explores cutting-edge tools and techniques for securing and defending information systems. You’ll learn ways 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 will share proven practices in areas such as mobile workforce safety, security metrics, electronic evidence oversight and coping with e-crime and e-discovery. Over 10 weeks, you’ll also discuss issues such as:

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

Assessment

Unspecified.

Materials

Unspecified.

Prerequisites

Unspecified.

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 will introduce you to issues surrounding cybersecurity standards and law. You’ll learn about:

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

Assessment

Unspecified.

Materials

Unspecified.

Prerequisites

Intended for educators or 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

Targeted toward the layman, this course is intended to help you understand the basics of cybersecurity and provide guidance on protecting your digital information. Over the course of 8 weeks, you’ll:

  • Navigate your 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

This course has been developed by The Open University with support from the UK Government’s National Cybersecurity Program.

Assessment

Unspecified.

Materials

None.

Prerequisites

None.

MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT provides a free online library of selected course materials used to teach MIT undergraduate and graduate courses. There are cybersecurity course materials available, but they are a number of years old.

Public Privacy: Cybersecurity and Human Rights

Provider: iversity
Instructor: Anja Mihar, Associate Professor, The Hague Institute for Global Justice
Duration: Unspecified
Workload: Unspecified
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 instructor and guest lectures, interviews with stakeholders and a variety of assessments, you’ll 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 is split into two parts. The first part gives you 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, as well as violation and protection mechanisms in the era of Internet technology.

Assessment

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

Materials

Unspecified.

Prerequisites

None.

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 3 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, and covers important topics for advanced computer users.
  2. Networking
    You’ll 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
    You’ll acquire tools for performing common administrative functions in popular scripting environments. The module will examine PHP and PERL in the context of an Apache webserver, and then explore the use of GNU BASH and Microsoft Powershell scripting from the command line to complete everyday administrative functions.

Assessment

Each module includes a tutorial. To test your understanding, you can also choose to take the 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 (NCCF), the largest virtual career fair in the cybersecurity industry.

Materials

You will need to install VMware (VMware Player for Windows or Linux hosts, or VMware Fusion for Macs). You’ll also need to download two virtual machines to run in VMware: a Linux and a Windows version. This will require at least 30GB of disk space.

Prerequisites

None. The course is intended to appeal to a broad range 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 is a layman’s course focusing on electronic and Internet voting. You’ll learn about various voting technologies, why and where they’re being introduced and 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

Research findings are complemented by real-life stories, “from Mumbai jail cells to the halls of Washington, D.C.”

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
Instructor:
Duration: 6 weeks
Workload: 3-5 hours per week

Register: www.coursera.org/course/softwaresec

Topics Covered

This is the 2nd course in the University of Maryland’s Cybersecurity Specialization. It covers the foundations of software security, including the tools and skills you’ll need to build software that is secure. This is a class for those at the front lines of security.

To that end, you’ll 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, you’ll know how to immeasurably strengthen the security of software systems, as well as “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. You 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 1st course in the University of Maryland’s Cybersecurity Specialization. It turns its attention to the role that humans play in the security process – their cognitive abilities, workflows and daily tasks.

You’ll 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 how to integrate usability into security software, you’ll be challenged with hands-on exercises in designing, building, evaluating, and critiquing systems.

Assessment

Quizzes, homework and a final exam.

Materials

Unspecified.

Prerequisites

Sophomore/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 is an exploration of privacy in a world of cellular, WiFi and Internet surveillance. It 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 will gain a broad understanding of the issues; detailed resources will be provided for those engaged in the development of corporate and governmental policies.

Assessment

Unspecified.

Materials

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

Prerequisites

None.

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