Cybersecurity can be a dream career for an analytical, tech-inclined person. The field is projected to grow a whopping 33% from 2020 to 2030, adding jobs by the thousands every year. And those jobs often pay six-figure salaries.
Computer security entices many new professionals and career changers, but it can be an intimidating prospect, especially where math is involved. Don’t panic—this article will walk you through what you need to know to succeed. (Hint: It’s probably less than you thought.)
Does Cybersecurity Involve Math?
All computing careers have a foundation in math, including cybersecurity. Any time you run penetration tests to get ahead of hackers or compile data reports to identify threats, your system is crunching numbers.
As a real-world cybersecurity professional, you need to know how to use those systems. You rarely need to know what’s going on under the hood.
Compared to other information systems careers, cybersecurity doesn’t go as deeply into theory. That’s good news for the math-averse, because it means you only need a basic grasp of a few relatively simple mathematical concepts.
Fortunately, those concepts are covered in most basic computer science courses and cybersecurity boot camps, which experts recommend for cybersecurity hopefuls without prior tech experience.
“You need to understand programming to understand the vulnerabilities we leave behind us,” says Aspen Olmsted, faculty member for edX’s Introduction to Databases MicroBachelors program. “You need to understand the operating system to understand how the host in the machine has vulnerabilities. You need to understand networking and how we transmit data and the vulnerabilities there. It’s really a critical part going into cybersecurity.”
You can learn the necessary applied math in degree programs or stand-alone courses.
What Kind of Math is Used in Cybersecurity?
Most entry-level and mid-level cybersecurity positions like cybersecurity analyst aren’t math intensive. There’s a lot of graphs and data analysis, but the required math isn’t particularly advanced. If you can handle basic programming and problem solving, you can thrive. Here’s what you need to get there.
A cybersecurity analyst scours a company’s programs, applications, security systems, networks, and more to identify any defects or flaws that could leave this information vulnerable. Learn more about why this role is an excellent launchpad for loftier career goals with job titles like cybersecurity architect, solutions implementation engineer, and cybersecurity engineer.
Binary Number Theory
Binary math powers everything a computer does, from creating and routing IP addresses to running a security client’s operating system. It’s a mathematical language that uses only the values “0” and “1” in combination.
Computer networks “speak” in binary, so cybersecurity professionals need to understand how it works. Fortunately, most computer science courses introduce students to binary as part of the curriculum.
Boolean algebra is used extensively in computer programming. It’s a kind of algebra that describes logical operations using two values, “true” (represented by the digit 0) and “false” (represented by the digit 1). Boolean algebra manipulates those values using the logical function AND and OR.
Unlike other forms of algebra, Boolean doesn’t involve any numerical calculations. The answer is either “yes” or “no,” which is why it’s been so useful in computer coding.
Most cybersecurity training programs, including edX’s Cybersecurity Fundamentals MicroBachelor’s program from NYUx, require you to have some knowledge of programming languages like Python or Java.
NYUx recommends its edX MicroBachelors® program in Computer Science Fundamentals for those who want to study Cybersecurity Fundamentals but haven’t completed computer science degrees.The Fundamentals program covers the skillset necessary for a beginning cybersecurity student.
When you study computer science basics, you’ll get a basic grounding in the kinds of Boolean logic used in cybersecurity.
If you studied linear algebra in high school or college, you may have encountered complex numbers. A complex number is a term that includes a numeral and the letter i, which stands for “imaginary.” An imaginary number is the square root of -1, because the principles of math don’t allow that number to exist.
Complex numbers pop up in various cybersecurity processes, so knowing them can give you a serious edge. You’ll learn about them if you study college algebra.
Cryptography is the scientific discipline that underlies all of cybersecurity, information security, and network security. It uses math to encode communications and protect computer systems from unwanted intruders, while making sure that authorized users have the access they need.
The math used in cryptography can be very simple or highly advanced. More advanced cryptography is usually the domain of high-level engineers, who design and refine the complex algorithms that keep systems safe.
Cryptography is the kind of skill that you’ll use and develop throughout your cybersecurity career. To start out, it’s enough to grasp the basics.
Math and Cybersecurity: What Do You Need to Know and When?
You can apply for cybersecurity jobs with a basic understanding of the concepts described here: binary number theory, Boolean and linear algebra, and cryptography. These are also the math skills you’ll need to secure most cybersecurity certifications, which most employers prefer entry-level candidates to have.
You might eventually use more advanced skills if you become a cybersecurity scholar or higher-level cybersecurity engineer. By that point, you’ll have had plenty of time to develop your math knowledge.
You may touch on advanced topics like calculus if you pursue a master’s or bachelor’s degree, but doing so isn’t a requirement. Plenty of bootcamps and intensive online programs, including edX’s Professional Certificate in Essentials of Cybersecurity from UWashingtonX, will teach you the skills you need to succeed.
Getting Started: Learning Math in Context with edX
Cybersecurity is a highly technical career field, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a math whiz to succeed. You can easily get by with the math basics taught in computer science.
If you don’t have a computer science background, or if you need a refresher, edX’s computer science courses can teach you the math you need in the context you’ll use it. edX also offers a variety of math courses with skills applicable across disciplines, from computer science to data analysis.
Some of today’s hottest careers are in tech, and basic math can help you to thrive in those fields. Learn more about edX math courses today, and get started on your way to a cybersecurity career.