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Cybrary’s Free Online Training Reshaping Cybersecurity Education

A shortage of cybersecurity professionals in the public and private sectors has left the US vulnerable to major cyberattacks. In response, Cybrary, the world’s first and only free massive open online course for IT and cybersecurity professionals, announced the availability of free classes to the general public.

“We have the firm belief that IT and cybersecurity training should be free,” Ryan Corey, co-founder of Cybrary, told Homeland Security Today. “Many in the industry feel the skills gap in cybersecurity and a number of reports indicate that there are more cybersecurity jobs than there are qualified people to fill them. We were very aware of that problem.”

The Greenbelt, Maryland-based Cybrary is designed to provide comprehensive IT and cybersecurity training options for a range of users. With classes ranging from entry level to very advanced, Cybrary has attracted interest from people just breaking into the field as well as seasoned cyber professionals looking to advance in their current careers.

In addition, Cybrary strives to be a resource for underserved, underprivileged and disadvantaged people across the globe. Corey said Cybrary has had visitors to their website from every country and registered accounts from 151 countries, including Monaco.

“We have a global look on this,” Corey said. “We get letters from users in developing countries saying their country has nothing like this. It gives them the opportunity to learn something they otherwise would not have access to.”

Cybersecurity is predicted to be the fastest growing homeland security market, according to a report released by ASD Reports last year. Unfortunately, as more cybersecurity positions open up, there is a major shortage of professionals with the skills necessary to fill them.

Corey asserts that the financial barrier often prevents otherwise qualified professionals from entering or progressing in the cybersecurity field.

“During my years in the field, I have met a number of people interested in entering the cybersecurity field,” Corey said. “Many of those who were qualified were unable to get training because it was too costly and could not make the jump to pay for the training or take two steps back in their salary level to take an entry level job.”

He added, “Among those who were unqualified but interested in entering the field, they often didn’t discover they were not qualified until after paying for a costly IT training class. I can’t tell you how many people I have met in these kinds of situations throughout the years.”

Cybrary currently offers 20 of the most in-demand and cutting-edge certification courses in systems administration, network administration and cyber security, with several more in production. Initial courses focus on skills that lead to entry-level jobs, such as A+, Network+ and CCNA, and advanced skill sets, such as Microsoft’s MCSA, CISSP and Advanced Penetration Testing. Cybrary will introduce more classes in response to updates and technological advances.

“We try to provide as much free course material as we possibly can,” Corey said. “In cases where we don’t have something created internally, we also provide links to recommended books.”

Continuing, he said, “The classes themselves are modeled off the traditional self-paced online learning model where you have a series of videos organized to get you from point A to point B in the skillset. These videos walk you through the material, usually with slides and a lot of physical demonstrations.”

In addition, emphasizing the importance of peer-to-peer interaction, Cybrary has put a lot of focus on their forums. Students, whether they are enrolled in a course or not, are encouraged to contribute insights to the community.

According to Corey, the large number of major cyberattacks in 2014—which has been referred to as the “Year of the Security Breach," have generated a huge increase in interest in cyber careers, especially among millennials.

“One of our chief target markets is millennials,” said Corey. “We found a recent report saying many millennials have an interest in a cybersecurity career and that number is spiking.”

Homeland Security Today reported last year that a study by Raytheon found that as the demand for cybersecurity professionals continues to rise in response to the increase and sophistication of cyber attacks, millennials are starting to take notice and they want to do something about it.

Having grown up in the digital age, the millennial generation may hold the key to closing the cybersecurity talent gap. However, the survey found that despite millennial interest in cybersecurity, a large majority of respondents— 64 percent — did not have access to high school computer classes or other types of classes necessary to build the skills required to become a cybersecurity professional or pursue a computer science related degree in college.

“This study shows that despite the fact that more students are generally interested in pursuing related careers, they often lack the needed skills and encouragement that our educators should be providing to grow the talent pipeline,” said Jack Harrington, vice president of cybersecurity and special missions for Raytheon.

“Both the private sector and educational institutions need to help inspire millennials to join our next generation of innovators and cyber defenders,” Harrington said.

Cybrary is doing just that. These courses have made the field more accessible to those attempting to pursue a cyber career who are unable to commit to a costly and potentially lengthy training course or graduate level program. Corey believes that removing the financial barriers to cyber education will help address the US’s inability to produce enough cybersecurity professionals.

Corey noted, however, that online learning is not a replacement for classroom training, but that the availability of free online sources is changing the way the world thinks about IT and cybersecurity education.

“Our approach will ultimately reshape IT and cyber security training,” Corey said. “We think education is reforming and that our program will change the game.”

Editor’s note: Also read the Oct./Nov. Homeland Security Today report, Cybersecurity Education Shortage Poses Significant Security Threat to US.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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