What to Expect in an Online Cyber Security Certificate Program

October 6, 2022

Over eight years tracked by Cybersecurity Ventures, unfilled cyber security jobs grew by 350%, from one million positions in 2013 to 3.5 million in 2021. To take advantage of this hiring surge — and to protect their workplaces from cybercrime — some IT and computer science professionals are wisely considering upskilling in advanced cyber security training. 

The Cyber Tech Academy at San Diego State University offers four pathways to earn a cyber security certificate online, with tracks focused on healthcare, governance and risk management, cloud security and artificial intelligence. These certificate programs develop the next generation of cyber security experts with a curriculum that builds on the fundamentals to help IT professionals move beyond entry-level cyber security roles. Here’s what you can expect if you enroll in a program offering cyber security certificates online. 

Should You Get a Certificate in Cyber Security?

Whether you want to advance in the field of cyber security or are just diving in, you have a range of educational opportunities to choose from, including master’s degree programs, bootcamps and cyber security certificate programs. 

Because the evolution of tech requires constant learning, many people pursue cyber security certificates online or enroll in boot camps even if they already have formal degrees. Certificate programs help professionals learn how to navigate new technologies and respond to new threats. For example, the pandemic forced many organizations to move to cloud-based platforms quickly. This move triggered an immediate need for cloud security, and as a result, demand for that skill shot up. 

According to Fior Markets, the global cloud security market will reach $36.43 billion by 2028. SDSU’s Cloud Security and Governance certificate helps IT professionals determine and communicate risks and threats particular to the Cloud. If you are already working in information technology or information security, you may not need a degree to develop new skills pertinent to your field.

SDSU’s suite of cyber security certificate pathways offers working professionals the opportunity to pursue a specialization and/or learn advanced skills without leaving their jobs. Whether you need to brush up on the fundamentals or dive into the new mechanics of tech security, a certificate might be the professional development sweet spot between wide-reaching degree programs and narrowly focused bootcamps. 

What You Can Learn in an Online Cyber Security Certificate Program

The skills you master by the end of any cyber security certificate program depend on your chosen certificate pathway. Certificate programs often use real-world examples of cyber threats as case studies to help students progress beyond pedagogy. The information offered in SDSU’s cyber security certificate pathways provides students with skills they can use immediately in the workplace. 

Coursework in any of SDSU’s online cyber security certificate options offers fundamental cyber defense skills such as risk management and cyber security theory alongside industry-specific know-how. Here are some must-have skills for a career in cyber security that students can learn by pursuing cyber security certificates online:

Networking and System Administration Skills

Network infrastructure encompasses every device your company is using to do business. As the number of devices grows and becomes more distributed, network security becomes more critical and trickier to manage. Advanced skills in network administration and computer systems security are increasingly important. 

Though many workplaces are switching to cloud-based platforms, cyber security specialists still need to understand hardware. Programs teach students how to protect the most common operating systems from vulnerabilities using firewalls, intrusion prevention, network segmentation and more. While every cyber security specialist needs a baseline understanding of network security, there are careers such as network security analyst, network security engineer and network security solutions specialist, dedicated explicitly to network security administration. 

Risk Identification and Analysis

In the field of cyber security, planning is paramount. In the same way firefighters educate their communities on the necessity of escape plans and fire safety, cyber security professionals have to identify potential points of weakness and then provide analyses that lay out a response plan should crises occur. 

According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach is $4.24 million. Cost factors include the amount of time an attacker has access to data and how much productivity is lost because of the violation. Mitigating these costs requires preemptive risk identification and strategies for responding quickly to breaches.

The SDSU Cyber Governance and Risk Management Certificate takes a national security approach to risk identification and information assurance. Students formulate security and governance frameworks and standards to respond to the global multidimensional environment of cyber, kinetic, economic and diplomatic threats.

Cloud Security Skills

The number of enterprises using the Cloud is getting closer to 100% yearly. According to the 2021 Flexera State of the Cloud Report, 92% of enterprises now have a multi-cloud strategy, and 80% have a hybrid Cloud strategy. “The Flexera 2021 State of the Cloud Report shows that the appetite for digital transformation is high,” said Jim Ryan, President and CEO of Flexera, in a release, “but real-world challenges — such as managing security and optimizing cloud spend — still must be addressed.”

Cloud security is a crucial component of modern cyber security certificate online programs. Students should learn to appraise Third-Party Risk Management (TPRM), Operational Resilience (OR) and Incident Response (IR) in the Cloud.

Technical Skills

Depending on how much experience is required to enroll, certificate programs may provide training in technical fundamentals. Included are Windows and Linux OS and security, programming with common languages like Python, network forensics, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) and Security Orchestration, Automation & Response (SOAR). 

Technical skills are essential in cyber security, but how adept you need to be in each competency depends on your career goals. If you’re looking to manage a team or work at the C-Suite level, you may not be using specific technical skills, such as programming, daily. Make sure that your chosen certificate program aligns with your desired job description. 

Industry-Specific Skills

A certificate program should offer skills relevant to your industry or the one you want to enter. Unlike bootcamps — which are usually more technique or tool-centric — and degree programs — which are broader in focus — certificate programs should narrow in on industry standards and best practices.

For example, SDSU’s Artificial Intelligence for Cyber Security certificate option delves into the potential of AI in national security. Given the Department of Homeland Security’s commitment to “enhancing the nation’s cyber security resilience” by developing a more robust workforce, the ability to utilize AI programs to aid in cyber defense will be an increasingly valuable skill. The Cyber Security in Healthcare Certificate is similarly oriented toward an in-need industry, training certificate completers to protect health facilities and hospital systems from data breaches that could put millions at risk.

Soft Skills

It may seem counterintuitive, but soft skills are some of the most in-demand in cyber. According to the ISACA 2021 State of Cybersecurity report, 56% of more than 3,600 surveyed security professionals said the shortage of candidates with skills in communication, flexibility and leadership is one of the most significant skill gaps among today’s cyber pros.

Very few, if any, cyber security certificate courses teach soft skills directly, but effective instructors in these programs emphasize the importance of collaboration, communication and leadership alongside theory and pedagogy. 

How an Online Cyber Security Certificate Program Works 

Online certificate programs vary in structure. Some require students to log in at certain times, attend lectures live or complete coursework collaboratively. Others, like the certificate programs through the SDSU Cyber Tech Academy, are more flexible. The SDSU certificate programs typically require 15 to 20 hours of work per week if students aim to earn a certificate within 14 weeks. There are no deadlines or schedules. The program is 100% online and asynchronous, meaning all classes are pre-recorded and viewable whenever your schedule allows. 

Courses rely heavily on case studies and real-world examples. In the Cyber Governance and Risk Management Certificate program, students study significant breaches like the SolarWinds and Colonial Pipeline attacks to understand how to protect against similar attacks in the future. Students can schedule time with instructors to meet via teleconference and discuss the course content or academic challenges. Instructors at the Cyber Tech Academy are more akin to industry mentors than professors, with backgrounds in information security, consulting, national policy and more. 

How Long Does a Cyber Security Certificate Take to Complete?

Certificate programs typically take between one week and six months to complete, but some last a year. Certification exams, like the CompTIA security certificate, take just a few hours to complete but require months of prep work, while part-time master’s degrees last two years or more. Students can earn SDSU’s cyber security certificate online in as few as 14 weeks.

The program is for working professionals, so course materials are available online for up to one year. You do not have to log in to a platform at any particular time or be present for live classes. Students can also pursue the certificate from anywhere in the world.

How Much Does an Online Cyber Security Certificate Cost? 

One of the draws of online certificate programs is that they cost less than master’s degrees, which typically run between $17,000 and $70,000, according to U.S. News & World Report. Bootcamps and certificate programs tend to be shorter, less expensive and more focused.

That said, certificate programs vary in cost. Some online courses charge monthly, while others charge for the certificate at the end of the training. SDSU’s Cyber Tech Academy certificate tuition costs $4,500 total. The ROI is worth it. Not only does earning a cyber security certificate online allow you to continue earning an income while you study and learn valuable skills that can increase your earning potential, but it also prepares students for salary-boosting professional development opportunities further down the road. SDSU provides students with the skills and training necessary to ace popular certifications exams, like the CompTIA certification. These certifications in cyber security can boost salaries by tens of thousands of dollars.

If you are already working and want to stay with your company, you have another potential avenue for funding. Demand for cyber security professionals is rising — for every 100 cyber security jobs posted, there are only 66 people to fill them, according to CyberSeek. Some experts say the problem is that employers are setting the bar too high when finding talent outside their organizations. “Few companies are willing to put someone with just a few months of experience in charge of protecting valuable digital assets,” writes Brian Eastwood for Cybersecurity Dive, summarizing his interview with Will Markow of Lightcast. 

Eastwood writes that a potential fix to this problem is for companies to look internally at employees with cyber-adjacent skill sets. These employees may already have IT or computer science know-how but need to upskill in cyber security. Employers will pay for enrollment in high-quality certificate programs if the ROI is worth it. 

The Benefits of Earning a Cyber Security Certificate from SDSU

Cyber security is still a relatively nascent field, but it is buzzing with activity. The SDSU Cyber Tech Academy is unlike other certificate programs that have cropped up to meet the demand in two crucial ways. First, students are empowered to interact with experienced industry professionals. The curriculum is informed by what these experts are witnessing on the front lines of cyber defense and analysis. As a result, the coursework is immersive and specific, simulating the real responsibilities students will face in the workplace and evolving as the industry does. SDSU’s suite of certificates offers training in specializations that help candidates stand out in the job market, including AI, cloud security and governance, the needs of the healthcare industry and more. 

The second way that the SDSU Cyber Tech Academy differs from other programs is that it requires no specific work experience, bachelor’s degree or standardized test scores to apply to earn one or more certificates. The only educational prerequisite is a high school diploma or its equivalent. This makes earning a cyber security certificate online optimal for working professionals who started their careers in IT or technology by diving straight into the workplace. 

Whether you want to launch a career in cyber security or enhance your skills to advance an established career, the online experience at San Diego State University can help you develop an awareness of industry standards and best practices that let you hit the ground running.