Technology continues to play an essential role in daily life processes causing the world to be connected extensively. Whether it is video calling loved ones living on the other side of the world or using an AI assistant to control critical operations, technology has become mainstream, and it is here to stay. It is indeed a blessing to many, including cybercriminals, who are increasing by the day as new, easy to use, but highly sophisticated malware variants emerge. Cyber actors hone their skills to compromise protected networks and systems belonging to an individual or a company. Cyber-attacks have increased tremendously recently, thus requiring industry leaders to not only concentrate on innovating new technological advancements but also to eliminate and mitigate adverse cyber events.
To mention just a few cybersecurity statistics, Gartner estimates that the global spending on cybersecurity will surpass $3.9 trillion by the end of 2020. Also, a study by Accenture showed that 68% of the sampled business leaders believe that cybersecurity threats and risks are on the rise. Moreover, the global number of machine and human passwords will reach 300 billion by 2020. It is also worth noting a research finding by the University of Maryland, which revealed in every 39 seconds, cyber adversaries attempt an attack, with hacktivist attempts averaging 2,244 times daily. As of 2019, the average cost of a cybersecurity attack or a data breach was $3.92 million.
These and many other statistics are proof that cybercriminals are relentless in delivering sophisticated malware. They focus on breaching critical systems to exfiltrate data, spy on users, or achieve other illegal purposes.
Although a shortage of cybersecurity skills and talent has contributed to the rising cases of cybercrime, developing insecure applications and systems is also to blame. In essence, DevSecOps is a prerequisite for developing secure and resilient applications. The concept means development, security, and operations, and it involves observing the recommended practices to ensure a secure development environment to provide end-users with trusted and safe products. Cyber actors can, however, still work around and compromise systems with the highest security levels.
To prevent this, cybersecurity professionals need to possess diverse skills to be able to detect security issues in a system and deploy sufficient mitigations. For this reason, having a strong programming background can equip the required skills needed to thrive in the cybersecurity profession today.
Importance of Programming to Cybersecurity
Henrique, a Brazil-based Python expert and trainer, stresses that “besides keeping abreast with the latest happenings in the cybersecurity field, you also need to be acquainted with various programming languages.”
Jason Robert, a navy veteran with multiple cybersecurity certifications, also adds that security personnel should “determine the best programming language for cybersecurity, your particular corner of the quicky expanding cybersecurity world, and get familiar with the basics.”
Unquestionably, programming knowledge enables cybersecurity experts to analyze software to uncover security flaws and vulnerabilities, determine malicious programs, and perform tasks requiring cybersecurity analytical skills. However, the choice of the programming language depends on the desired skills, which can be in computer forensics, web application security, network security, malware analysis, and software security. In any case, a programming background provides cybersecurity professionals with a higher competitive edge over other professionals lacking the skills.
Other than that, the main reason why it is necessary to learn to program is to gain the high-level skills required in an ideal cybersecurity expert. A competent cybersecurity professional must demonstrate unrivaled knowledge in virtualization software, networking, operating systems, system administration, system architectures, and other vital components that form an IT system. Understanding system architecture comprehensively permits cybersecurity professionals to see the bigger picture such that they can pinpoint vulnerabilities accurately, and provide appropriate recommendations on how to secure all access points to prevent breaches and attacks.
Also, cybersecurity professionals need to fully understand firewall management and configuration, network switches and routers, network architectures, and network load balancers. Virtualization and network technologies provide business operations with unmatched benefits, but the technologies must contain sufficient security. With cloud computing taking center stage of most business processes, cybersecurity teams require to understand the development and protection of web browsers and other web-based applications as they provide the interface for accessing cloud services. Ultimately, advanced programming knowledge is crucial for cybersecurity specialists to provide adequate security.
Also, not all cybersecurity jobs require applicants to possess a programming background. For most entry-level positions, individuals do not require high-level programming knowledge. It is, however, a relevant requirement for intermediate and expert professionals. Enhancing an understanding of programming languages allows cybersecurity experts to remain ahead of malicious hackers since having an intimate knowledge of a system architecture means it is possible to exploit it. As Jason Robert highlights, “not all cybersecurity professionals have, or need, coding skills. But without some knowledge or at least one language, you may find your path forward somewhat limited.”
More importantly, programming languages play an essential role in the development of secure applications and systems. In the recent past, most companies have shifted to Agile and DevOps methodologies to integrate business operations with the IT side of the business. As Scott Prugh, the Chief Architect and Vice President of Software Development Operations for SSG International, states, “the goal is to put more effective working relationships in place to improve the flow of work, as well as the quality and speed of that work.”
During development, developers should concentrate more on ensuring a new piece of web-based app or software has sufficient security processes. Inadequate security provides hackers with easily penetrable systems risking the loss and compromise of vital data. While most of the modern enterprises implement robust monitoring software and secured servers for information storage, they are still incapable of entirely keeping cyber adversaries at bay. As a result, developers have more substantial responsibility for ensuring the security of all products under development. The need for sturdy security highlights why it is so crucial to possess programming knowledge.
Best methods for learning code for beginners
Programming is not a required skill that can deny beginners an opportunity to venture into the cybersecurity profession. But since it is a crucial requirement for advancing to intermediate and expert positions, it is prudent for anyone considering a cybersecurity career to learn to code. A straightforward approach to get started consists of two steps; developing a programming awareness and developing a programming proficiency.
1. Developing a programming awareness
It is important to note that the job requirements of an entry-level cybersecurity job are more general. Therefore, to develop a programming awareness, beginners should consider using a technical position as a quick and easy way to gain hands-on skills and experience.
The beginning of a cybersecurity career is usually the best time to build on programming awareness to gain proven experience and skills. This strategy entails being able to identify the programming code, understanding the fundamental programming components and constructs, and reading code to decipher its purpose. A structured practice, which involves creating code as introduced in new programming concepts, is the best way to develop and build programming awareness.
2. Developing proficiency in programming
Programming proficiency does not necessarily mean being a fully qualified coding expert in a specific programming language. Instead, it is the ability to develop a unique code by utilizing the available resources, and troubleshooting code created by other programmers. For example, a cybersecurity analyst who can create a script for automating repetitive tasks using the python language can be said to be proficient in coding.
Developing a programming proficiency is similar to developing awareness, with the difference being the need for advanced programming courses, either online or in a college, but with the focus being on applying the programming concepts to develop a secure solution.
Programming languages required for cybersecurity
Python has been a common language in cybersecurity for many years now. It is a server-side scripting language; hence coders do not require to compile the created script. It is also a general-purpose language and, therefore, used in thousands of cybersecurity projects.
Most security developers use Python to develop cybersecurity tools since it is easy to read and use. It has numerous white spaces that make it easy to learn for beginners. Python has become a popular choice over the years, not only for cybersecurity experts but for data science professionals as well. Large companies, such as NASA, Google, and Reddit, use it for various development projects. The factors contributing to the popularity include an extensive set of libraries, a simple and clear syntax, and simple code readability.
As a writer on Medium states, “it doesn’t come as a surprise that Python is one of the most sought-after programming languages for cybersecurity considering its extensive library of powerful packages that supports Rapid Application Development (RAD), clean syntax code and modular design, and automatic memory management and dynamic typing capability.”
Cybersecurity professionals can use their knowledge in Python programming language to scan wireless networks by sending TCP packets without depending on other third-party tools, develop and simulate attacks, create systems for detecting malware, and create an intrusion detection system. Also, Python is a popular cybersecurity language since its features have high compatibility with scientific applications and the methods used for data analysis. It is, therefore, suitable for data analysis, desktop applications, and back-end web development, all of which are vital concepts in enhancing cybersecurity.
3. Structured Query Language (SQL)
Due to the high rates of technological adoptions, numerous enterprises have become data-driven. They must collect and process various data types to provide products and services, identify new market segments, and compete effectively with rival competitors.
Effectively, enterprises use databases to manage the collection and storage of business data. Developers use the Structured Query Language (SQL) programming language to create most database management systems, and it is, therefore, one of the most sought programming languages in database management. At the same time, most attacks are data-driven since hackers often compromise networks and protected systems to gain access to sensitive information.
Subsequently, understanding the SQL programming language can assist cybersecurity professionals in strengthening the security of databases housing confidential information. For instance, malicious actors use SQL injection attacks to inject databases. An SQL injection involves identifying an SQL flaw and exploiting it to locate credentials belonging to various users for accessing a database. A hacker uses SQL to gain unauthorized access and output the information stored in a database. A cybercriminal also deploys SQL injection to add new information or modify data in a database server, thus compromising its integrity and confidentiality. To prevent and identify vulnerabilities in a database, a cybersecurity professional requires to possess significant knowledge of the SQL programming language.
Enterprises and individuals often use the PHP programming language for website development. As such, it is a good fit for cybersecurity professionals whose job descriptions involve protecting and securing websites. Additionally, PHP has increased in popularity in recent years as one of the essential languages developers need to learn. Understanding the language equips strong development skills that eventually enable a learner to transit to the cybersecurity industry.
Developers also use the language in desktop application development, mobile app development, and back-end development. Due to its numerous uses, PHP is a valuable language and a requirement for cybersecurity professionals. The language knowledge allows cybersecurity teams to secure and mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities in desktop applications, operating systems, mobile apps, among others.
It is also important to note that organizations use PHP as a server-side language that works together with HTML to provide an environment through which a website can operate correctly. Web developers use PHP language to link databases with website URLs to simplify the processes of updating sites.
As a result of its use cases, PHP language is highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. By way of illustration, cyber adversaries can attempt to use DDoS attacks to render a website unresponsive and to shut it down eventually, deleting the site’s data in the process. As a cybersecurity expert, it is vital to understand the PHP language and how codes written in PHP works. The knowledge enables infosec teams to identify security problems and resolve then before attackers can strike.
Java is probably one of the best coding languages for cybersecurity professionals. It is a common language that proves useful in multiple situations. Java is one of the earliest languages and used in the development of operating systems and platforms, including Solaris, Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, among others. It is widely used across all industries since it powers both new and legacy web servers. These include Spring MVC and Apache Tomcat. Besides, with the introduction of the Android operating system, the Java programming code runs on billions of smart devices. As a result, contrary to the opinion of most individuals, Java is a vital language since hackers and cybersecurity professionals apply it in their work in equal measure.
Java language has many applications in information security. For instance, cyber adversaries use it to reverse-engineer commercial software products to detect software flaws and exploit them. Cybersecurity professionals need to have a strong background to ensure they identify such weaknesses before the bad guys. Additionally, penetration testers use Java to curate highly-scalable servers that they use in delivering payloads. Penetration testing is one of the vital roles of a cybersecurity expert, and being knowledgeable in Java simplifies the procedures.
Moreover, advanced ethical hackers use Java programming language to design and develop state of the art programs that are useful in ethical hacking. The programming language is dynamic, in contrast to others, such as C++. Hence, using Java to write a security testing program assists ethical hackers to run it on multiple platforms that support it. Lastly, a strong background in Java is essential to the creation of hacking programs to be used in pen testing Android systems. Android operating system and devices are popular and widely used and thus require strong security to protect vital data.
An article published on Cybersecurity Guide states, “Java is important for security practitioners because it so widely used. A variety of industry sources estimate that over 95 percent of enterprise desktops run Java, and of all computers in the U.S., 88 percent run Java.
Although it is a markup language, organizations and individuals use HTML in the development of almost all websites. Cybersecurity professionals require HTML knowledge since it is a simple and essential language for website development. It is one of the most straightforward and basic programming languages.
Being knowledgeable in HTML is a crucial factor for cybersecurity professionals. Understanding the language can assist one to land an employment position as a front-end developer. Part of the roles of such a job includes implementing controls to mitigate vulnerabilities allowing content spoofing and cross-site scripting attacks.
7. C Programming
The C programming language has been in existence since the 1970s. It is still popular today because it is easy to learn, and it enables cybersecurity engineers to identify vulnerabilities in applications and systems and excellent for reverse-engineering procedures.
Using C language in reverse-engineering powers the development of antivirus solutions since cybersecurity teams can dismantle a malware program to understand its architecture, spread, and impacts. Also, C programming is essential for developers who must ensure that their codes do not contain security flaws or vulnerabilities. Cyber adversaries can also use the language to detect exploitable vulnerabilities in a system before launching attacks.
For example, Lint is a code analyzer designed for programs written in C. Since its inception, various variants have emerged. Both cybersecurity professionals and attackers can use Lint to detect programming errors, locate bugs, and other flaws that pose security risks to a computer system. As such, programmers and cybersecurity professionals can use programs like Lint to analyze an application before launching in production. Failing to scan their code for vulnerabilities only allows cybercriminals to have a head start.
For individuals looking for a career in cybersecurity, knowing C programming provides several opportunities, such as performing vulnerability assessments, a position as an information security analyst, researching and providing solutions on emerging threats, and implementing suitable mitigations. More so, the C programming language assists cybersecurity professionals to participate in forensics procedures and performing investigations on security incidents.
Understanding the C++ programming language is also vital since it is an improved version of the C programming language. While the language was derived from the C coding language, it has some unique attributes. For instance, C++ supports objects and classes in comparison to C. Besides, C++ is faster and has a better performance than the C language.
As Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of C++, puts it, “C makes it easy to shoot yourself in the foot; C++ makes it harder, but when you do it, it blows your whole leg off.”
Cybersecurity experts can benefit from learning the language since they can quickly locate vulnerabilities and security flaws. A scanning solution like Flawfinder can enable infosec teams to find security flaws in the C++ code. Running a scan using the tool provides a report that details the existing vulnerabilities and the severity levels and impacts on an application or system. The security tool utilizes a built-in database containing known risks of the language function. The tool is useful for detecting security risks, such as the acquisition of poor random number, format string problems, and buffer overflow issues.
Since C and C++ programming languages contain numerous similarities, most enterprises prefer cybersecurity staff with a strong knowledge of both. Some of the job requirements include developing mobile and desktop applications and making sure they lack instances of vulnerabilities and bugs.
Assembly is an imperative programming language since cybersecurity professionals can use it to dissect malware programs to understand their modes of infection and spread. Cybersecurity staff must continuously defend from old and emerging malware, and it is, therefore, necessary to better understand how malware works. Learning the Assembly language is simplified if a learner has experience with higher-level languages.
Assembly language is also crucial since cyber adversaries use it to develop malware programs. As such, the Assembly coding can be useful in reverse-engineering known malware to develop adequate solutions. The language plays a vital role in equipping cybersecurity engineers with the necessary skills for understanding and defending against malware attacks. Also, Assembly coding enables the designing and implementation of mitigation measures against potential malware attacks.
I am a cyber security professional with a passion for delivering proactive strategies for day to day operational challenges. I am excited to be working with leading cyber security teams and professionals on projects that involve machine learning & AI solutions to solve the cyberspace menace and cut through inefficiency that plague today’s business environments.