How Long Does It Take To Learn Cyber Security? (2024)

How Long Does It Take To Learn Cyber Security in 2024

How long does it take to learn cyber security? This question is important if you are beginning your journey. 

The time it takes to grasp cyber security is unique for each individual, and understanding the time commitment and learning involved is the first step toward achieving success.

This article will outline the three essential steps required to learn cyber security: basic IT, networking, and diving into the foundation aspects of cyber security itself.

We will review key concepts you will learn, certifications you can use as a blueprint, and how long it usually takes to prepare for each stage. Additionally, we will suggest resources that can help you learn the material. Let's review your cyber security education and how long it will take.

What Do We Mean “Learn Cyber Security”?

What do we mean by learn cyber security? Are we talking about the time it takes to become a hacker, CISO, or SOC analyst? 

Let’s answer these questions by defining our terms, goals, and whether certifications are important.

Defining Our Terms

Cyber security is vast, and expecting to learn everything is unrealistic and unnecessary, as no career in cyber security requires you to know everything. So, what's the end goal?  

It’s about acquiring foundational cyber security knowledge and concepts. Starting with IT knowledge, moving into networking, and finally into cyber security itself. 

Think of it like building a house. You can build a house without a foundation, but it won’t be very sturdy and will likely come crashing down. But if you build a solid foundation for the house, you’ve set the stage for a strong structure.

This is the same for learning cyber security. A strong IT and networking foundation is essential as it gives you the skills to understand and effectively manage security challenges. 

Cyber security knowledge serves two main purposes: firstly, it prepares you for entry-level positions in the field. Secondly, it gives you sufficient understanding to identify specific areas of interest within cyber security, allowing you to plan your next career steps. 

For instance, you might find penetration testing or threat hunting interesting and decide to specialize in it. 

Defining Our Goals

For a good grasp of cyber security, you must begin with a solid IT foundation before adding on some advanced networking ideas to learn how different systems communicate, and finally, build upon that with cyber security.

There are different ways to learn about the three areas, but popular certifications already exist for each one (IT, networking, and cyber security) and provide the topics that should be covered. 

These certifications provide well-organized information and define clear objectives. By providing you with a syllabus as your guide, you can ensure that you are learning the necessary information needed before moving on. 

We will help you pick out three certifications, one for each area, to use as your guide. We will explain what you must learn and when to move on to the next step.

Do I Need the Certifications?

Learning cyber security doesn't require earning certifications, but using the domains they provide as a roadmap is highly beneficial.  

While you can learn the material without taking the exams, obtaining the certifications is valuable to your resume. 

Since you're already covering the material needed for these certifications, taking the extra step to get certified, which involves paying for and passing the exam, can be a wise investment.

Ultimately, the choice is yours, but considering the resume boost and the structured learning path they offer, it might be worthwhile to go for the certification.

Learning Basic IT

The first step in your journey is learning basic IT. Basic IT, or Information Technology, is the fundamental knowledge and skills related to computing technology. This is an essential starting point in your cyber security journey. It typically includes understanding:

  • Computer Hardware: Knowledge of internal components like motherboards, CPUs, GPUs, and RAM.
  • Operating Systems: Proficiency in installing, configuring, and maintaining various operating systems like Windows, Linux, and macOS.
  • Software Applications: Skills in installing, updating, and troubleshooting various software applications.
  • Networking Basics: Understanding of networking concepts such as IP addressing, DNS, DHCP, and basic routing.
  • Basic Security Principles: Awareness of cyber security fundamentals, such as virus and malware protection, firewall configuration, and secure password practices.
  • Troubleshooting and Support: Experience providing clear and effective guidance to end-users, often translating complex technical terms into simple language.

Knowledge Through Certifications

We have explained why choosing certifications is a great guide to what you need to know along the way. But which certifications are available for you when you want to prove your IT knowledge?  

Though the Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) program is built around those who are interested in concentrating more on onsite support and maintaining Cisco systems and devices, it might not be useful for IT beginners.

There is also the Google IT Support Professional Certificate. It is tailored for beginners, focusing more on immediate job readiness for IT support roles, particularly in the context of Google's tools and services. But it doesn’t provide a comprehensive overview of IT.

Our recommendation is to use the CompTIA A+ certification. Unlike the other two, CompTIA A+ offers the most comprehensive overview of IT, helping you understand the terminologies and how different technologies all come together. 

The A+ syllabus covers essential hardware, networking, operating systems, and security topics, emphasizing real-world skills and troubleshooting. As a vendor-neutral certification, A+ opens doors to various entry-level IT roles and provides a solid base for further certifications and a stepping stone to learning networking. 

Here are the domains for each exam. 

1. CompTIA A+ 220-1101 Exam Domains

CompTIA A+ 220-1101 Exam Domains

  • Mobile Devices: Focuses on the essentials of mobile devices, including setup, configuration, and common troubleshooting.
  • Networking: Teaches the basics of networks, including understanding various network types and configurations.
  • Hardware: This dives into the key components of computer hardware and how they interact, from CPUs to storage devices.
  • Virtualization and Cloud Computing: Introduces the concepts of running virtual machines and utilizing cloud-based resources.
  • Hardware and Network Troubleshooting: Develops skills in diagnosing and resolving common issues with computer hardware and networks.

CompTIA A+ 220-1102 Exam Domains

  • Operating Systems: Covers the installation and management of major operating systems, including their maintenance and optimization.
  • Security: Focuses on the fundamentals of IT security, including threat mitigation and protective measures.
  • Software Troubleshooting: Involves solving typical software-related issues across different operating systems.
  • Operational Procedures: Emphasizes the best practices in IT operations, including safety protocols and professional communication.

How Long to Study?

Most students indicated that they could pass both examinations in approximately one month if they had prior knowledge and between six and eight weeks if they were just beginning by devoting two hours per day to exam preparation. 

This translates for both exams to be approximately 120-160 hours for someone new and 20-40 hours for someone already proficient in A+ material. 

To be ready to move on to networking, this is how long it takes to build basic IT knowledge. If you want to take the exam and open yourself up to career opportunities passing the A+ provides, then check out this article CompTIA A+ Jobs: What Careers Does This Certification Offer? 

Courses

Here are four courses we recommend to learn the fundamentals of basic IT. 

Learning Networking

After grasping and understanding basic IT, the next step in your journey to learning cyber security is understanding networking. This is different from simply understanding how a home network operates and functions (though that will definitely help). This is more about learning enterprise networking

The key differences between managing a home network and an enterprise network are in their scale, complexity, cost, monitoring, and security. In networking, you'll encounter and learn about various aspects, such as:

  • Network Fundamentals: Understanding IP addressing, including IPv4/IPv6, subnetting, and address allocation.
  • Network Design: Ability to choose appropriate networking hardware (switches, routers, hubs) and lay out an efficient network topology.
  • Wireless Networking: Understanding of wireless communication standards (like IEEE 802.11) and the configuration and deployment of wireless access points.
  • Network Security: Proficiency in securing network infrastructure, including implementing firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems, and VPNs.
  • Network Monitoring: Ability to analyze network traffic and bandwidth utilization to ensure optimal network performance.

Knowledge Through Certifications

Which networking certifications can you use as a blueprint to learn the skills and knowledge needed to work with enterprise networking and bring you one step closer to learning cyber security? 

You might consider the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certification, which often comes to mind for many due to its coverage of networking concepts. However, its main focus is working with Cisco enterprise network hardware.

Another networking certification is JNCIA-Junos. While teaching some of the fundamental networking concepts, this certification focuses on the Juniper OS. 

The certification we recommend if your end goal is cyber security, is the CompTIA Network+. It's vendor-neutral, which covers a broader range of networking concepts applicable to various networking technologies rather than focusing on a specific vendor's hardware or software.  

Network+ is a great stepping stone to learning cyber security as it provides a foundational understanding of networking concepts that are crucial for understanding and mitigating security threats.

What will you learn by studying and sitting for the Network+ exam? Here are the domains covered by Network+.

2. Network+ Exam Domains
  • Networking Fundamentals: Examines the fundamental technologies and concepts of networking, including common networking protocols, network topologies, and the fundamentals of network infrastructure.
  • Network Implementations: Focuses on installing and configuring common network devices such as routers and switches. Describes wireless technologies, including standards, deployment, and configuration.
  • Network Operations: Covers the management and oversight of networks. It covers performance metrics, network documentation, and traffic management.
  • Network Security: Focuses on protecting networks from threats, implementing security measures, and reviewing secure network protocols and authentication methods.
  • Network Troubleshooting: Focuses on diagnosing and resolving network issues. Understand how to use different troubleshooting tools like cable testers, protocol analyzers, and network sniffers.

How Long to Study?

The study times needed to learn Network+ will vary greatly depending on many factors. For someone with no prior networking knowledge or experience, the time needed may be between four and six months if you study for two hours a day, which is around 280 hours total. 

The study time can be much shorter for someone with some knowledge and or experience. This could work out to be between six and eight weeks if you study daily for two hours, which is approximately 100 hours of total study time. 

This gives you a good guideline of how much time is needed to prepare and learn the material. Once completed, you are ready to move on to cyber security. Should you take the exam, it opens many more doors for potential careers and an increase in salary. See CompTIA Network+ Certification Salary: How Much Will You Make?

Courses

Here are three recommended courses to help you learn networking. Also, check out "Best Networking Courses for Beginners: Top 15 Picks."

Learning Security

Once you know IT and networking, you are ready to learn cyber security. Let’s quickly define “cyber security”. 

Cyber security refers to the strategies and techniques used to safeguard networks, computers, servers, mobile devices, other endpoints, and data from attacks, theft, and damage. 

This can be accomplished from an offensive as well as a defensive strategy. From the offensive side, you could employ penetration testing and red teaming to simulate real attacks. On the defensive side, you will likely use threat detection, continuous monitoring, and implementing policies and procedures. 

What will you learn when you begin to study cyber security? Cyber security requires understanding the following fundamental topics and technical knowledge. 

  • Security Concepts and Threats: Recognizing the core principles of cyber security, which are confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA triad). Familiarity with different cyber threats and attacks: malware, phishing, social engineering, and network-based attacks.
  • Cryptography and Encryption: This includes the basics of cryptography, such as symmetric and asymmetric encryption, hashing algorithms, digital signatures, and cryptographic protocols. How encryption is used to secure data in transit and at rest.
  • Identity and Access Management (IAM): Principles governing access to resources and data. It encompasses understanding authentication, authorization, accounting, single sign-on (SSO) & multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • Security Policies and Frameworks: Security policies, standards, and best practices. Details on regulatory compliance issues, ISO 27001, NIST, and GDPR frameworks.
  • Vulnerability Management and Penetration Testing: Identifying vulnerabilities in systems and networks and how to fix them. Basics of penetration testing as a method to test the security of systems.

Knowledge Through Certifications

There is no shortage of options for cyber security certifications when it comes to learning the fundamentals. These can include some of the following. 

SSCP (Systems Security Certified Practitioner) is a respected certification from ISC2. It is often best suited for individuals with some existing experience, and its focus is more from an administrative view. To become certified, you need either a year of work experience or a degree in cyber security.

GSEC (GIAC Security Essentials Certification) is widespread and respected in the industry but can be very detailed and technical. It may be more appropriate for those who have already entered cyber security.

Part of Google’s Career Certificates, Google Cybersecurity Professional offers a good mix of theory and practice. However, it is relatively new and not very comprehensive, lacking many important concepts.

To balance a comprehensive understanding of cyber security and beginner's skills in the industry, we recommend the CompTIA Security+ certification as a guide. 

It is a certification that contains all the important aspects of network security, threat management, identity, and access management, among others, that are necessary for successful entry into the world of cyber security. 

As a vendor-neutral certification, it offers knowledge and competency that apply across multiple platforms and technologies. 

Let’s look at what you will learn within the Security+ domains and objectives. 

3. Security+ 701 Domains
  • General Security Concepts: This covers the foundational principles of cyber security, including different security controls, the CIA triad, and its importance in relation to confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
  • Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Mitigations: The section focuses on cyber security threats, vulnerabilities, and mitigation. This encompasses identifying risks and qualitative and quantitative risk analysis techniques such as single loss expectancy (SLE) and annualized loss expectancy (ALE).
  • Security Architecture: Discusses secure design in the cloud, on-premises environments hybrid environments with reference to architectural models. This domain emphasizes the importance of securing infrastructure and data, touching on third-party risk assessment components, vendor assessment, and management processes like penetration testing or supply chain analysis​​.
  • Security Operations: This covers the operational side of managing security within an organization. These include ways of securing computer resources, asset management techniques, incident responsiveness tips, and reasons to utilize security monitoring systems. In addition, it also includes security compliance issues.
  • Security Program Management and Oversight: This examines the oversight and management of security programs where effective security governance elements are discussed, plus systems/data roles & responsibilities for governance structures used. 

How Long to Study?

The study time needed to grasp the material from the Security+ will vary from person to person, but here are some average study times. 

For an absolute beginner with no networking knowledge, it will likely take you between three to six months if you study for two hours a day. This is an average of 252 hours.

If you have experience in networking and IT, which you would gain from taking the A+ and Network+, or have been exposed to cyber security concepts and terminologies, it might take you between four to six weeks. This works out to be an average of 70 hours.   

If you choose to take the Security+ exam, you have given yourself a significant credential in cyber security which will open you up to many job opportunities. See which jobs you are prepared for with our article, What CompTIA Security+ Jobs Can You Get in 2023? 

Courses

Once you are ready to take on the challenge of learning security, here are some great options. Each is a comprehensive cyber security course to help you.

Conclusion

How long does it take to learn cyber security?

Experienced individuals will need around 200 study hours over three to four months to cover the A+, Network+, and Security+ materials, while beginners should anticipate 673 hours spread across 11 to 12 months. These estimates are based on a study plan of 2 hours per day.

Once you’ve completed these three steps, it means you now have the skills and foundation needed to pursue a career in cyber security, potentially leading you to become a cyber security expert given time. Your next steps are wide open, and you could go in many different directions. 

There are many entry level cyber security jobs you can begin with. Afterwards, you could pivot towards offensive security and become a penetration tester, or you could possibly look at the defensive side of security and become a cyber security analyst. Your options are plentiful. 

Interested in gaining an advantage in your preparation for the A+, Network+, and Security+ certifications, or looking to jumpstart your cyber security career? Join the StationX Accelerator program today and take advantage of its many benefits, including community resources, mentorship, training, a career roadmap, mastermind groups, and more.

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  • Richard Dezso

    Richard is a cyber security enthusiast, eJPT, and ICCA who loves discovering new topics and never stops learning. In his home lab, he's always working on sharpening his offensive cyber security skills. He shares helpful advice through easy-to-understand blog posts that offer practical support for everyone. Additionally, Richard is dedicated to raising awareness for mental health. You can find Richard on LinkedIn, or to see his other projects, visit his Linktree.

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