As a life-long learner, and someone who is passionate about both bettering myself and helping others to reach higher and achieve their goals, I’m constantly on the lookout for fresh educational materials particularly in the areas of IT Administration and Security. I’m always amazed at the breadth of knowledge that is available, albeit, often at a substantial cost. I’m even more amazed at the amount of free content available but can’t help but be anxious about the quality, validity and dubious characters claiming to be experts just because they have a YouTube Channel. I’ve recently had the opportunity to get an up-close look at Cybrary, a relatively new online training provider with some known instructors. Oh… And before I forget, I should mention – they’re FREE! Could this be the best of both worlds?
Cybrary’s goal is spelled out very clearly when they describe “Our Revolution” throughout their site. They state, “We believe IT and Cyber Security training should be free, for everyone, forever. We believe that everyone, everywhere, deserves the OPPORTUNITY to learn. What they do with the opportunity is up to them, but the opportunity should be available. Join us in demanding liberation, help us in forcing change.” That’s all well and good. But how’s the actual training?
A Little Background on Cybrary
Cybrary launched on January 13, 2015 by Ralph P. Sita, Jr., CPA and Ryan J. Corey. Ralph has been in the IT and Cyber Security training industry since 2001, and Ryan since 2003. Their goal is to provide the opportunity to learn IT and Cyber Security, to anyone, anywhere, who wants that opportunity. Perusing other pages on their site, it quickly became evident that they aim to be a “game changer” in this arena. Boasting a well-crafted website and quickly adding new materials from a variety of authors, the group is quickly gaining momentum by building on top of a solid initial repertoire of courses with valuable training in a growing variety of areas. Directly from cybrary.it, here is their list of current Course Catalog:
- Virtualization Management
- Ethical Hacking
- Computer Forensics
- Post Exploitation
- Social Engineering and Manipulation
- Python for Security Professionals
- Malware Analysis
- Advanced Penetration Testing
They clearly cover a number of various ‘cy’ber security topics in their li’brary’ of content, thus the name Cybrary. But it is nice to see that they also cover other areas of IT. That shows a level of understanding by the group that it not only takes a lot of foundational knowledge before anyone even gets to the security side, but also that one must possess a wide range of information to maintain or advance their careers.
Although Cybrary offers a nice mix of courses with some tied to certifications and some that are simply to educate on a given topic, not all courses on the above list are live. I understand that this is a new venture, but it would be nice to maybe put in parentheses that the course is “Coming Soon.” Including these not yet available courses on the Course Catalog Page as well as the drop-down menu for Course Catalog without this caveat is a little misleading. But overall, I’m encouraged.
Some Personal Background and Thoughts
Clearly this next section does not apply directly to what Cybrary has to offer, but I feel it’s important to know where I came from and what I’ve done. This way you also have the same frame of reference as I do when comparing varying types of educational content.
I signed up on Cybrary, unsure of exactly how I felt about “free” training. While certainly you have your free training in the form of prizes (thank you for my previous ethicalhacker.net winnings in the past) or employer-paid training courses and seminars, but for many people, certain areas such as security fall outside of their typical work duties and are therefore outside of the scope of employer reimbursement. For others who are just starting, it’s often tough to make decisions on what courses to take on very limited income or family budget, not knowing whether they’ll gain any value from the training or whether it even truly reaches the areas of interest or knowledge levels they want to achieve. Contrast free training to expensive courses organized by big vendors in the security and IT realms, where a student is guided through pretty much all ‘expected’ areas of a certification in order that they are ‘guaranteed’ a pass, and the decision might become difficult for some students.
Pushing forward I remained skeptical, as being in the profession for 20’ish years, I’ve gotten a good feel for what works and what doesn’t (at least for me) in terms technical training. For me, bootcamps have always been helpful, hammering home ideas and allowing solid, hands-on experience with the materials. However, often times I’ve attended a training and found the instructors to be lacking in real-world expertise as their “experience” is often coming from “book knowledge” and less from real world involvement.
The Big Picture on Cybrary
This First Look at Cybrary is meant to be just that. It is my opinion from a 30,000 foot view. With that in mind, I will not be calling attention to every course or even report on the fine details of a specific class. Instead, I chose to take advantage of the format afforded to me by the model Cybrary has given us. Since it is all free, it was very easy to navigate through multiple courses. This is incredibly helpful in writing a review of an organization, but it should also be good for all of you as you decide on your career paths. Imagine how liberating it would be to walk through the halls of your favorite training provider and sit in each class and decide if the content is what you want and the instructor fits with your way of learning. Now add in the fact that I can do this from the comfort of my own home, and the power of this platform started to become apparent.
As I spent more time perusing multiple courses and watching the videos, I realized that their methods of offering their content really shine! Cybrary lays out the courses as self-paced study, meaning that a student can visit and revisit any of the course materials they choose at any time. Each course is made of up recordings and video presentations that can be paused, rewound and played in a similar fashion to the more expensive CBT offerings out there. The more I watched, the more I felt confident that the authors understand their topics and aren’t just bookworms or charlatans looking to promote themselves. Additionally, in each course area, there are links to extra training materials on the web, books (albeit not free ones but valuable references nonetheless), whitepapers and other useful tidbits to supplement the training.
As the student progresses, they have the opportunity to register their activity to earn CPE (continuing professional education) credits toward other certifications that require them. Badges and Certificates of Completion can be purchased for nominal fees or by using points (which can be earned by referring friends, tweeting about cybrary.it or sharing materials on Facebook), if a student chooses to do so. The student must remember, however, that the certificates / badges / CPEs alone are not a certification, but rather the courses exist to prepare them to pursue the relevant certification examinations after course completion.
Cybrary has done a good job at rounding up knowledgeable and respected content authors. The course authors are also members of the site which allows direct messaging with questions or concerns. Because of the nature of this article, I did not try to contact the instructors, so I can’t honestly report on the response times. One neat example I’d found regarding the instructors on the site was that Georgia Weidman (whose book I reviewed a couple of months ago here on EH-Net, Book Review: Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to Hacking) has published her “Advanced Penetration Testing” course with Cybrary. The course videos follow her book nicely and make a great supplement to the reading. I thought it was great to see that an author and presenter with whom I was already familiar, is one of their participants. This solidifies my feelings about Cybrary, in that others in the industry welcome this new ideology as well. Time will tell exactly how much industry acceptance is garnered, but it’s a good start.
Not everything is perfect, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention a few things on the negative side. Some of the content is old. Case in point is the Network+ course which is based on an outdated exam. The information contained in the course is still valuable, but it nonetheless is not current. Speaking of certifications, some of the courses follow a specific curriculum from specific certification organizations. This is neither good nor bad, but it does mean that the knowledge it contains is geared towards the credential and not necessarily unbiased or utilize best practices. There are also comments left by Cybrary members on the style of some of the courses with more of a lecture style, in that they can be boring and without real examples. In courses based on highly technical content and not just theory, this may not make the grade.
Additional Services from Cybrary
A library is a valuable institution offered by many municipalities as a free public service. But we all know that nothing in life is truly free. Public libraries have the backing of taxpayer dollars, but that often doesn’t cover the entire cost of the operation. Fund raisers, fees and ancillary paid services help make ends meet. This is the same for Cybrary, although they don’t have the luxury of taxpayer funds. So with that it is no surprise that they have other ways of making money. I didn’t have time to explore these, but it is important to include them in this article. So here’s a quick glance at just a few:
- Practice Labs – Cybrary offers access to various virtual environments for varying price points that include labs for Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA, VMware et al.
- Exam Voucher Marketplace – Offers discounts on popular certification exams.
- Enterprise Training Solutions – Custom paid programs for organizations with more needs than just self-paced learning.
- Sponsored Webinars – A way to get additional free content but with some corporate marketing along with it.
Another creative way for Cybrary to get the help of a wider community is to utilize a very popular method. You guessed it… Kickstarter. I actually applaud this idea, as it gives members and non-members alike a way to support the idea as a whole whether or not it helped your career or knowledge base. Please take a look at Cybrary’s Kickstarter campaign and at least consider backing the project or at the very least help spread the word.
Is Cybrary a one-stop-shop for all of your cyber security educational needs? Absolutely not. And I don’t think that it was their intention to be, just as one would not expect your public library to be the extent of your education. But it is an invaluable tool that you have at your disposal. For that alone I applaud the efforts and concept offered by Cybrary. They are off to a great start and many people will benefit. I did have an idea as I was going through the site and writing this article. A library has multiple tomes on the same topic, so it might be a good future goal of Cybrary to offer multiple courses by different authors on the same exact topic. This gives more options to the members to find educational content and instructors that works best for them.
It’s also worth mentioning again that the format of the site and content really lends itself to exploration. I know when I want to learn a new topic be it for work, play or simply curiosity, I want to have the freedom to jump around the content. Cybrary allows for that. When trying to add some credentials to my resume like certifications, I find that I am much more successful when I am able to utilize multiple sources of information, which can get expensive. Cybrary allows for that. New areas of interest are always popping into my head and also new duties at work, and I’m not quite sure if I have to desire, aptitude or funds to take it on. It would be nice to be able to put a toe in the water before deciding to spend thousands of dollars on in-person training. Cybrary allows for that, too.
To summarize my feelings, Cybrary has really caught on to something by offering solid and affordable (REALLY AFFORDABLE IE FREE) training, which I think will continue to gain momentum. For the budget-conscious security professional or the college, high school, or even younger (hint, hint) students who want to focus their efforts on something to boost their careers or give them a head start on the road to success, I challenge you to start looking at the opportunity Cybrary is giving to you. I assure you, it’s a great investment of your time and efforts.
OK EH-Netters... this is where you come in. Take a look at what Cybrary has to offer and go through some of their free courses, and let everyone know what you think in the forum thread connected to this post. We’re highly interested in what you think of the courses offered, the quality of training, certs, the site, their support… anything and everything you’d like to share. Plus, the more you share, the greater the chances of winning an EH-Net Monthly Giveaway!!
Tim Everson, OSCE, OSCP, GPEN, C|EH AKA hayabusa is an avid pentester and security enthusiast / professional who has been involved in IT for nearly 20 years with mixed experiences in pretty much every sector of the industry from SMB to enterprise, manufacturing, education and government. He enjoys reviewing new books and courses to build his knowledgebase and challenge himself as well as to help others find appropriate learning to help them progress in the field. When he’s not tucked behind a computer screen, he’s an avid sport-bike enthusiast, a busy husband and dad, and has a passion for cartoon drawing and computer graphics / animation.