What is Cybersecurity? Everything You Need to Know

Formerly confined to the dramatic narratives of Hollywood thrillers, cybersecurity has become a part of everyday life in our increasingly digital world. With the rise in sophisticated AI-driven cyber crimes, the escalating number of cyberattacks is not only impacting companies financially but also posing a substantial threat to national security.

As the demand for cybersecurity professionals grows, gaining familiarity with this field has become a necessity—not only for those aspiring to work in cybersecurity but also for individuals in various sectors. Why? The answer is simple: cybersecurity helps us protect personal, sensitive, and proprietary information from unauthorized access.

In this post you’ll learn how cybersecurity works, the roles within the field and what the job outlook looks like. Let’s dive in!

Table of contents: 

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What is Cybersecurity? 

Cybersecurity is a broad term that encompasses all of the efforts technologists—including developers, cybersecurity engineers, and more—take to protect sensitive data to keep us safe from bad actors.

The beauty of the internet is that it is a global network that connects people, businesses, government, and non-government organizations to one another all over the world.

The dark side of the internet is that these same pathways that make it easier for us to connect, also make us more vulnerable to predatory behavior from criminals and even predatory foreign governments.

Sensitive data can take many different forms: on the personal side, it can be the password to your social media or bank account, your social security number shared in email, or a list of all of your friends’ contact information. In business it can look like personal customer information, proprietary intellectual property, or access to large business bank accounts. For governments it can mean state secrets!

Fortunately, cybersecurity experts have created a myriad of ways for protecting computers, networks, and data from digital threats. And these measures are how cybersecurity is practiced—they encompass a set of approaches, technologies, and procedures designed to defend assets against cyberattacks or unauthorized access.

And throughout the day you are undoubtedly encountering many of them!

For example, before you started reading this article you (hopefully) used a strong password to log into your email program. Passwords are one of the first lines of cybersecurity defense! Your email provider also probably uses encryption to protect any sensitive information you share via email, and even this website uses the HTTPS protocol to encrypt data as it makes its way to your browser. If you’re extra cautious, or signing into a business critical service, maybe you’re using your phone for two-factor (2FA), or multi-factor authentication which is even more secure than your password, and perhaps your phone is set to use biometric authentication like your face or fingerprint to open it.

The Rising Cost of Cyberattacks

A cyberattack is another broad term used to describe any scenario when someone intentionally tries to damage, access, or steal information from computers, networks, or digital devices. There are many reasons why cyber criminals undertake cyberattacks, such as wanting to  steal important data, disrupt operations, create chaos, or even to breach national security. Hackers may focus on individuals, businesses, or governments—in other words, anyone can be a victim of cyber crime.

Unfortunately, with the increase in digital technologies and remote work, the number of cybercrimes is on the rise. Check Point Research (CPR) reported that in 2022 there was a 38% rise in worldwide cyberattacks compared to the previous year. And the biggest targets? Collaboration tools used for remote work, educational institutions that had transitioned to e-learning during the pandemic, and healthcare organizations.

Based on the Cybersecurity Ventures report, it is expected that the costs of cybercrime will increase by 15% each year until 2025 when it will reaching $10.5 trillion, a sharp rise from the $3 trillion recorded by The World Economic Forum in 2015. The costs, according to the report, include “the cost of data breaches, stolen funds, intellectual property theft, operational disruption, and post-attack recovery.”

To put these numbers into perspective, Cybercrime Magazine wrote that the projected costs surpass the cumulative damage caused by natural disasters and are expected to surpass the combined profitability of the global drug trade.

In other words: cybercrime is a big business.

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The 5 Common Types of Cyberattacks 

Cybersecurity experts generally group cyberattacks into five main categories:

1. Hacking

Hacking is defined as any unauthorized access to computer or network data, usually in with the goal of exploiting system weaknesses to steal information. Hackers and hacking can disrupt company and government operations, leading to significant costs.

2. Malware 

Malware encompasses any malicious software disrupting normal computer functioning. This can include viruses, worms, trojans, adware, spyware.

3. Ransomware

Ransomware is a specific type of malware that locks a device or computer network until a ransom is paid. Ransomware is often delivered via email.

4. Identity Theft

Identity theft is any unlawful acquisition of personal information for fraud, but these days, identity theft usually occurs online through common identity theft methods such as phishing, where criminals pose as a trusted part of someone’s community (think: when someone hacks your account and tells all your friends that you need money).

5. Social Engineering

Social engineering is the technical name for what is most commonly known as catfishing. Social engineering encompasses any form of psychological manipulation for fraudulent purposes and is usually done via deceptive messages, malware, and fake websites.

Types Of Cyber Security

Alright, so how do cybersecurity professionals fight cybercrime?

The answer: they have a lot of different skills and techniques, but four major categories of cybersecurity include:

Network Security

Network security ensures computer networks stay safe from unauthorized access, attacks, and disruptions. It involves implementing measures like firewalls, VPN encryption, and antivirus software to protect interconnected systems, devices, and data within a network, allowing only authorized users access.

Cloud Security

According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the global data stored in the cloud, including public and private clouds, is expected to reach more than 99 trillion gigabytes by 2025, comprising half of the world’s data at that point in time. When half the world’s data is stored in the cloud, you better believe That only means one thing – cloud security will gain even more importance.

Cloud security includes any implementation of technologies like encryption and access controls to ensure that only authorized users can access, modify, or retrieve data from cloud services. The main goal here is to safeguard sensitive information, prevent data breaches, and ensure the privacy and integrity of data stored in the cloud.

Endpoint Security

Endpoint security is a type of cybersecurity that focuses on securing individual devices, such as computers, laptops, and smartphones. Today the scope of mobile endpoint devices has expanded beyond Android and iPhones to include wearable watches, smart devices, voice-controlled digital assistants, and other IoT-enabled devices. To protect all of these and more, endpoint security uses tools like antivirus software, firewalls, and encryption.

Mobile Security

A subset of endpoint security is mobile security, but because of the proliferation of mobile computing it warrants a special call out. As per Verizon’s Mobile Security Index for 2022, 45% of the organizations surveyed had encountered a compromise related to mobile security, nearly double the figure reported in the 2021 survey.

Mobile security aims to ensure the privacy and security of personal information stored on mobile devices. Secure passwords and biometric authentication are a good example. As per Verizon’s Mobile Security Index for 2022, 45% of the organizations surveyed had encountered a compromise related to mobile security, nearly double the figure reported in the 2021 survey.

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What is the job market for cybersecurity professionals?

The silver lining to the increase in cybercrime is that it has, in turn, dramatically increased the demand for cybersecurity professionals. Cybersecurity job opportunities worldwide increased by 350%, from one million in 2013 to 3.5 million by 2021 with over 750,000 of these roles located in the United States. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that cyber security jobs will grow by 32% from 2022 to 2032, surpassing the average growth rate for all occupations.

And the talent gap is huge.

According to the State of Cybersecurity 2023 Report from ISACA and Adobe, over 70% of respondents reported not being able to fill their company’s cybersecurity roles.

The even better news for you is that cybersecurity is a great tech role for people who have no prior tech experience. Speaking to CNBC, Lisa Gevelber, Google’s chief marketing officer for the Americas, said that many assume entering this field is challenging due to its specialized and technical nature but in reality, you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree to secure a well-paying job in the industry.

Common Cybersecurity Roles

Let’s explore roles at different levels!

Information Security Analyst

This is an entry level cybersecurity role whose responsibility it is to devise and implement security measures to safeguard the computer networks and systems of an organization.

  • Requirements: A strong foundation in IT, and knowledge of cybersecurity principles.
  • Pay Range: $60,000 to $136,000 according to Indeed

Information Security Specialist

This is an entry level cybersecurity role whose responsibility it is to identify and address security issues, set standards, educate management, update security software, and simulate breaches to enhance the organization’s security.

  • Requirements: usually a bachelor’s degree in computer technology, information systems, or a related field. Though some employers may accept experience combined with relevant certification.
  • Pay Range: $67,000 to $187,000 according to Indeed

Penetration Tester 

This is a mid level cybersecurity role whose responsibility it is to simulate real-world cyber threats and assess the security posture of an organization’s networks, applications, and infrastructure.

  • Requirements: a comprehensive knowledge of both information technology (IT) and security systems to effectively assess and identify vulnerabilities within them. Generally, your proficiency and experience are more crucial factors than possessing a specific degree.
  • Pay Range: $82,000 to $173,000 according to Indeed

Security Engineer

This is a mid level cybersecurity role whose responsibility it is to design and implement measures to protect computer systems, networks, and data. Their responsibilities include managing security tools, responding to incidents, and ensuring compliance with policies and regulations.

Cybersecurity Architect

This is a senior level cybersecurity role whose responsibility it is to design a company’s cybersecurity strategy, implement, and maintain security systems within an organization’s IT network, overseeing all computer systems and data protection. They conduct comprehensive security assessments, including penetration tests, risk analyses, and ethical hacking.

  • Requirements: Extensive experience in cybersecurity, strong analytical and problem-solving skills, and often a master’s degree in a related field.
  • Pay Range: $152,000-236,000 according to Indeed

How to Learn Cybersecurity?

To learn cybersecurity, start by understanding the basics of how computers and networks work. You can find beginner-friendly resources online or take introductory courses to grasp fundamental concepts. Once you’re comfortable with the basics, explore specific areas of cybersecurity, such as cryptography, network security, or ethical hacking. Many online platforms offer specialized courses in these areas.

Practice is crucial in cybersecurity. Set up a virtual lab to experiment with different tools and techniques in a safe environment. Engage in online communities and forums to learn from experienced professionals and stay updated on the latest trends. Pursuing certifications, like CompTIA Security+ or Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), can also provide structured learning paths and validate your skills.

Starting to learn any tech skill can be tricky, but don’t worry, we’re here to help you figure out that first step! If you’re interested in learning more about changing careers into tech, sign up for our free course.

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Nino Abdaladze

Nino Abdaladze is an award-winning journalist who covers business and technology. She was previously based in Tbilisi, Georgia where she worked as a communications expert for EU4Business. Prior to that, she worked as a graduate research assistant at Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism in Phoenix, AZ.  She holds a master’s degree in investigative journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and is a recipient of a Fulbright scholarship. Her stories have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, AP News, the Arizona Republic, and other publications.