Training underway through the National Institute of Standards and Technology's National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers & Studies. Challenging times have spurred companies and associations to offer free cybersecurity offerings. (NIST)

A pair of cybersecurity firms this month announced a slate of new career training and education courses that will be made freely available to the public. These complimentary offerings are helping current, aspiring and unemployed infosec professionals gain an upper hand in a down economy, while aiding an industry facing a growing skills gap.

On Jan. 6, Fortinet announced that it would provide, at no cost, self-paced advanced security training courses, with topics that include securing SD-WANs, operational technology, cloud environments and more. Previously, only Fortinet’s channel partners had free access to the company's career training content, but since April 2020, the firm began making its curriculum available to all. This latest announcement is an expansion of that policy, which was enacted in response to the pandemic and the work-from-home movement it created.

Then on Jan. 12, Cybrary also announced a new slate of free cyber career training and development courses that will be made available on a month-to-month basis. In January 2021, free content includes training for CISSP certification as well as courses specializing in SQL, malware, Docker and more.

“I'm not surprised that there is an appetite for this type of thing,” said Kelvin Coleman, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “With unemployment being what it is and people looking for new avenues of making a living… certainly [cybersecurity] is one of the most viable ones. And if you can get a leg up by having a bit more training, a bit more education certifications, then why not?”

Certainly, there are many highly credible and valuable for-profit cyber education offerings available to professionals through subscription models, paid online courses, and contracted relationships between cyber vendors and employers. But as the U.S. citizens anxiously await more financial assistance and stimulus help to boost an economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, free career assistance is particularly welcomed.

“When you combine the cybersecurity talent and skills gaps, increased cyberattacks, and COVID's impact on unemployment, we as an industry have to open the door as wide as possible for as many people to start learning... to get skilled up and prepared for jobs that are in dire need,” said Cybrary co-founder and CEO Ryan Corey. “Making content free to allow people to acquire skills, explore cybersecurity as a potential career, or to skill up to enhance their capabilities for potential employers is critical in these times.”

“Our response to the pandemic has been to get this training into the hands of as many people as possible at no cost – partners, customers and the general public," said Rob Rashotte, vice president of global training and technical field enablement at Fortinet. “Other global leaders like IBM’s SkillsBuild digital platform and Salesforce Trailhead in collaboration with the World Economic Forum leverage our NSE training security curriculum, furthering the reach of our free cyber resources.”

Candy Alexander, ISSA International president and chief information security officer at NeuEon Inc., said that ISSA "commends Fortinet for making its self-paced advanced security training courses free in 2021. This demonstrates their commitment for contributing to the collective success of the cybersecurity community.” Alexander was not aware of other companies opening their content in the same manner, but encourages all members and cybersecurity professionals worldwide "to use this and other training resources to support the always-learning approach.”

In its own statement, the Global Cyber Alliance similarly called Fortinet’s new offerings a “welcome addition to help train cybersecurity professionals,” also crediting organizations such as Cisco, CISA and SANS Institute for making coursework openly available to the public. GCA, along with Salesforce, Fortinet and the WEF partnered on the Salesforce Trailhead Cybersecurity Learning Portal. The alliance also made free training available for DMARC and for small businesses, teaching them to use the GCA Cybersecurity Toolkit for Small Business.

Experts have taken note of some of the free subjects that professionals are showing a particular interest in. “There's been a noticeable increase in interest in certifications like Network+ and Security+, [both] being strong entry points as gateway certifications into cybersecurity,” said Corey at Cybrary. “Also, interest is up for threat hunting and intelligence, malware analysis, and incident response content – which makes sense with the well documented increase in cyberattacks since COVID lockdowns began in early 2020.”

Coleman at the NCSA believes there is also a demand for ethical hacking training. Meanwhile, cybersecurity pros who already possess strong technical abilities may be interested in free coursework that focuses on leadership skills, like “managing a team of analysts” or “managing a SOC,” he said.