What Is Cybersecurity? Definition + Industry Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Find out what cybersecurity is and how you can start a career in this field.

[Featured Image]:  IT Security Analyst working on a cybersecurity plan for the organization.

Cybersecurity is the branch of technology that aims to protect computers, mobile devices, and information from malicious actors who want to gain unauthorized access to them or cause harm. Since technology is a significant part of life, many individuals, companies, and governments store sensitive information on desktop and mobile devices, like credit card information, addresses, phone numbers, passwords, personal data, and customer information. Cybersecurity strives to keep that information private and safe.

In this article, you'll learn more about cybersecurity, its importance, and the common threats it can protect against. Best of all, you'll also explore courses that can help you build critical cybersecurity skills today.

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity protects data, devices, and networks from attackers, criminals, and anyone harming a system. Any software that contains sensitive information, such as medical records or financial information, must be equipped to handle cyberattacks to avoid theft or corruption. Inadequate security measures could expose your devices and data to harmful threats like malicious software.

What is cybersecurity in simple terms?

Cybersecurity is like building a fort around everything inside your computer to keep it safe. Imagine all your important information, such as photos, messages, bank accounts, and passwords, contained within your computer. Cybersecurity protects these things from people who might try to steal them, change them, or stop you from using them. It's like having guards, alarms, and secret codes to keep everything safe and sound.


Why is cybersecurity important?

Vulnerabilities (flaws or weaknesses) in software, firmware, or hardware expose systems to cyberattacks. Accordingly, cybersecurity measures are critical to a system's value and quality. If attackers gain unauthorized access to a weak system with sensitive data, they can steal and sell your information, which leads to fraudulent purchases and activity. 

These vulnerabilities may arise from programming inefficiencies or misuse of hardware. Layers of security provide a safety net to safeguard information and systems should one of the other security measures fail. That way, not one singular vulnerability can make the entire system unreliable.

Read more: Cybersecurity Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Types of cybersecurity

As various types of cyber threats exist, so do ways to protect against them. The following sections provide a brief overview of several subcategories of cybersecurity.

1. Application security

App security is the creation of security features for apps to prevent cyberattacks and account for any exploitable vulnerabilities in the software. Application security is crucial to the reliability and functionality of the software.

2. Cloud security

Cloud security is a segment of IT that deals with handling risks and problems with a cloud-based network. It also entails finding and implementing solutions, mostly wirelessly. Cloud security specialists assist the needs of the cloud in terms of memory, security, and any possible vulnerabilities that need patching.

Read more: 7 Popular Cloud Security Certifications for 2024

3. Critical infrastructure security

Critical infrastructure security is technological security typically used by the public to protect assets, systems, and networks that belong to a community, city, or country. This sector of cybersecurity focuses on the defense of municipal and government-owned infrastructure.

4. Information security (InfoSec)

Information security is about securing information and preventing fraudulent access and interception of personal details. It primarily focuses on protecting sensitive data and information. InfoSec specialists determine where valuable data is stored and develop safeguards to protect that information from being modified or accessed. Information security deals with confidentiality, integrity, and availability, which determine the quality of a system that manages or holds information.

Read more: What is InfoSec? Definition + Career Guide

5. Network security

Network security defends the reliability and security of a company’s infrastructure. Network security focuses on network integrity to ensure systems are secure enough to prevent malicious actors from infiltrating them via the internet. 

Common cyber threats

Those who attack information systems are often motivated by the potential for monetary gain. However, some bad actors attempt to steal or destroy data for political reasons, as an insider threat to the company they work for, to boost the interests of their country, or simply for notoriety. The attack vector (method of cyberattack) varies. Five common attack strategies are:

  • Password attacks: Password cracking is one of the most widespread methods for fraudulently gaining system access. Attackers use various tactics to steal passwords to access personal information or sensitive data. Password crackers sometimes use brute force attacks. In other words, they guess every possible password until there's a match. They may also use dictionary attacks, where a program tries many common passwords for them to find a match, among other more complicated algorithms.

  • Phishing attacks: Phishing scams are one of the most persistent threats to personal systems. This practice involves sending mass emails disguised as being from legitimate sources to a list of users. These emails contain malicious links that, when clicked, can install malware and allow illegitimate access to personal information. These attacks can also occur on websites, social media, or over the phone (also known as vishing).

  • DOS attacks: DOS stands for denial-of-service attack. This cyberattack occurs when software or a group of devices attempt to overload a system so it cannot properly serve its purpose.

  • Man-in-the-middle attacks: A man-in-the-middle attack occurs when an attacker exploits security vulnerabilities in a network to insert themselves into a two-machine interaction. They then monitor the IP packets being sent back and forth. In this way, they can intercept valuable information.

  • Malware: Malware attacks are software designed to exploit a system or act maliciously against a user or institution. Many types of malware attacks exist, such as viruses, trojans, worms, ransomware attacks, and spyware. Almost all of these types of software deploy themselves and use system vulnerabilities to infect other machines, capture specific data, or simply disrupt or damage a device.

Learn more quick definitions of cybersecurity terms with the Cybersecurity Terms Glossary.

Read more: 5 Cybersecurity Threats to Know

Cybersecurity careers

Cybersecurity professionals use their technological skills to assess systems, patch weaknesses, and build secure systems for their clients. Demand for cybersecurity professionals is at an all-time high, and this growth is projected to increase over the next few years. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the need for cybersecurity specialists to grow by 32 percent between 2022 and 2032 [1].

That figure is much higher than the 3 percent growth average projected for all occupations in the US. This demand is due mainly to the growing frequency of cyberattacks and the continual development of sophisticated software. The BLS projects an average of 16,800 job openings per year in cybersecurity [1].

Read more: 10 Cybersecurity Jobs: Entry-Level and Beyond

Keep learning about cybersecurity with Coursera.

Our increasing reliance on technology for sensitive information storage necessitates cybersecurity. Start building job-ready skills in cybersecurity with the Google Cybersecurity Professional Certificate on Coursera. Get hands-on experience with industry tools and examine real-world case studies at your own pace. Upon completion, you’ll have a certificate for your resume and be prepared to explore job titles like security analyst, SOC (security operations center) analyst, and more.

Article sources

  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Information Security Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm#tab-1." Accessed June 15, 2024.

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