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Best online cybersecurity courses of 2020: free and paid certification programs, degrees and masters

Best online cyber security courses
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How about taking one of the best free cybersecurity courses online and get yourself a new qualification while the whole notion of "new normal" sinks in as the effects of the great pandemic 2020 impact the global workforce.

These brilliant courses prove that it doesn't need to be expensive to become qualified in cybersecurity. 

While you will ideally need to take a degree or other accredited course in computer science, in which you can choose networking and security topics to suit your career path, there are other options available that you can try in order to test the waters and see whether the industry really is for you. 

One of the best ways to do this is by signing up for a free online taster course, which introduce some of the basics. These are a great way of seeing if this is the sort of career you'd like – but if you want to become an industry professional, then you'll need to sign up for more advanced courses.

Even still, some of the free providers do also provide paid courses which are often cheaper than undergraduate study, and may allow not just for suitable training but also industry connections to help on your path.

Therefore if you really are interested in exploring cybersecurity, try some of these featured courses to get an idea of whether you might suit the industry, and vice versa, but do be aware that any free training will generally be quite limited.

Jump straight to:


(Image credit: Udemy)


Huge learning platform

Huge range of courses
Intensive learning opportunities
In-depth courses
No accreditation

Typically, courses on Udemy cost money, but we’ve found a few worth checking out that won’t put a dent in your bank account. There’s a Cybersecurity Law primer, for example, that we think could be beneficial to anyone wanting to know the ins and outs of cybersecurity ethics. 

The Cyber Security Course for Beginners - Level 01 could also be advantageous to take, not only for cybersecurity enthusiasts but for anyone who want to learn more about the subject. 

However, Udemy's real selling point is that not only does it offer some very in-depth courses, many of these courses can be bought on offer for less than $20, making them extremely cost-effective. 

Paid courses worth looking for for include Cyber Security Crash Course for Beginners:Learn From Scratch but there are also others to consider such as The Data Science Course 2020: Complete Data Science Bootcamp which will help provide an insight into the intricacies of computer science.

It's worth underlining just how comprehensive and intensive the paid courses can be, and while they may not carry any traditional educational accreditation they could be excellent options if you wanted to consider working as a freelancer to build up some experience, and in a very cost-effective way, too.

Open University

(Image credit: Open University)

Open University

The online university

Accredited qualifications
Range of IT qualifications
Online learning environment
No cybersecurity specialism

The UK's Open University (OU) is a leader when it comes to distance learning, having spent decades developing its courses, and it serves an international range of students. The online portal for students is excellent with information clearly laid-out, with different modules having clear timetables to work to.

Even better is that the courses are tailored toward people of all abilities, and do a fantastic job of easing the inexperienced and unqualified into what can be quite deep and advanced topics, while actively trying to prevent students from feeling overwhelmed. 

In terms of cybersecurity the OU is a little lacking in a specialized course in this - however, they do offer a flexible honors degree in Computing and IT where you can choose to focus in different areas, all of which will show a concern for security issues. The OU also offers a dedicated degree in Data Science.

So although they may not offer cybersecurity as a core focus, the OU can deliver an accredited degree in computing and IT that aims to embrace all learners while allowing them to define their own learning path. Additionally, you can take up to 16 years to qualify for your degree through part-time learning.

Future Learn

(Image credit: Future Learn)

Future Learn

Wide range of short courses

Lots of course options
Excellent presentation
Some accredited degrees
Limited accredited courses

Future Learn offers a wide range of short and free online sources, with the opportunity to pay for certificates of participation either at the course level or else access all content for a set fee. The courses themselves are well-presented in short and easy to work sections that make learning simple and interesting.

The Introduction to Cyber Security offers a free taster to the subject, and is accredited by UK Government intelligence organization GCHQ, global accreditation and examination institute APMG International, and The Institute of Information Security Professionals. However, there are also a small number of accredited degrees available in IT and computer science which includes a masters degree in cybersecurity.

Overall, while Future Learn is more focused on general introductory short courses, there are paid-for and accredited learning opportunities available through the platform.


(Image credit: Coursera)


Another short-course distance learning platform

Number of online courses
Cybersecurity courses
Some accredited degrees

Like Future Learn, Coursera offers a range of short courses for distance learning, including a few cybersecurity ones such as Cybersecurity Specialization which was created by the University of Maryland to bring the underlying concepts of the construction of secure systems directly to your web browser. 

It consists of five courses in total, each of which can take several weeks to complete. These range from Usable Security to a Cybersecurity Capstone Project, so it’s safe to say that they'll require you to already have some intermediate cybersecurity know-how under your belt.

There are also online degrees available in either computing and IT or data science, and like the Open University although none are focused specifically on cybersecurity, you can be assured that cybersecurity will be a significant part of the curriculum.

Overall, Coursera isn't so well-presented as Future Learn, but there are potentially more accredited options for study through it.


(Image credit: NextGenT)


Military-grade cybersecurity training

High-level training
Career services upon completion
Access to certifications 
Expensive (although payment plans exist) 

NexGenT was created by two US Air Force veterans with extensive experience teaching and training network engineering and cybersecurity.

The cybersecurity track features two courses: Basic Training, which serves as a prerequisite, and Cyber Security Specialization. Experienced candidates, however, can skip Basic Training by taking a series of tests to prove their skills.

Basic Training costs four payments of $497, and prepares you for both Full-Stack Network Associate (FSNA) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certificates. No prior experience is necessary, and the course is self-paced, so you can start and finish at any time.

The Cyber Security Specialization training takes place over 22 weeks, covers everything you need to know to protect businesses from cyberthreats, and includes access to NexGenT’s Career Services, which helps students enter the workforce upon completion.

The base tuition for the Cyber Security Specialization Program costs $12,500 up front, or you can choose zero-fee tuition and pay 10% of your salary only once you have a job with a $40,000 salary. Payments continue until you’ve paid 48 times, up to $25,000. After seven years, all remaining debt is forgiven, even if you haven’t paid a cent. That’s how confident NexGenT is that you’ll find a job and earn a living.

That confidence is backed up with some impressive figures: more than 50,000 enrolled students, 460,000 classes taught, and a number of success stories attesting to the effectiveness of their training.

If you’re looking for a solid and structured way to enter the professional world of cybersecurity, this may be the right course for you.

Read our full NexGenT evaluation.

Free online cybersecurity courses

  1. Cybrary
  2. US Department of Homeland Security
  3. Open Security Training
  4. Heimdal Security
  5. Sans Cyber Aces Online


(Image credit: Cybrary)

1. Cybrary

Extensive free cybersecurity courses

Extensive free courses
Wide range of courses
Very topic specific
No accreditation

As the name suggests, Cybrary is an online library for cybersecurity, IT and other InfoSec-related study materials. After creating a free account, you get access to almost 500 courses, each ranked by their difficulty and all of them free. 

You can filter classes by level – Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced – or by vendors like Cisco, (ISC)2 and Microsoft. Whether you want to learn the fundamentals of malware or the art of the Jedi mind trick, both of those curriculums are given equal prominence in Cybrary’s extensive course catalog.

What is especially good about Cybrary's courses is that they tend to focus on specific aspects of IT, which means if there are areas you'd prefer to specialize in then you can focus on that rather than have to take a larger course to access it.

US Department of Homeland Security

(Image credit: US Government)

2. US Department of Homeland Security

The government cybersecurity course platform

Government backed
Numerous specialisms
No accreditation

The US Department of Homeland Security is an obvious source of cybersecurity expertise, but you may not have been aware that you don’t have to travel all the way to the United States to benefit from the vast experience of US government security experts, or that you can do so for free.

The DHS has a calendar full of training events you can attend in Idaho Falls, but for everyone who doesn’t live in the midwestern US there’s an entire portal of online courses available to those involved in the security of industrial control systems.

Open Security Training

(Image credit: Open Security Training)

3. Open Security Training

Open cybersecurity training

Numerous subjects
No accreditation

Its website looks like what you'd get if you took all the slideshows and teaching materials from a university cybersecurity department and uploaded them to a domain sporting the most minimalist user interface of all time, but Open Security Training is host to a range of intermediate and advanced classes, along with a swath of beginner lessons that any newbie would be a fool to pass up.

There’s a whole rundown on the x86 and x64 architectures wielded by Intel processors, along with introductions to topics along the lines of cellular security, network forensics and vulnerability assessment.

Heimdal Security

(Image credit: Heimdal Security)

4. Heimdal Security

Another free cybersecurity course

Free course
Introductory coverage
No accreditation

From the same firm that brought you The Daily Security tip comes Heimdal Security’s Cyber Security Course for Beginners. Although this, too, is email-based, its syllabus is significantly more extensive than that of The Daily Security Tip. 

The Cyber Security Course for Beginners delivers a new lesson every two days for five weeks, and all without the need to pay back any tuition loans. In terms of content, it aims to give you step-by-step advice for keeping your personal data out of nefarious hands.

Cyber Aces

(Image credit: Cyber Aces)

5. Sans Cyber Aces Online

Simple introduction to cyber security

Easy to follow
Free and limited

It’s undeniably basic, and yet Sans Cyber Aces provides a nice little introduction to online IT and cyber security that's easy to follow and understand. 

After reading through a series of comprehensive entries about operating systems, networking and system administration, you can register for a quiz that puts your expertise to the test. Should highlighted talking points such as installing Linux virtual machine software or basic PHP, Bash and PowerShell web scripting pique your interest, you’ll be in for an engaging lecture.