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How is Math Used in Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the information security field will grow much faster than average—33% over the next ten years compared to the general average of 8%. As new types of threats loom over businesses and government entities, they'll look to hire the next generation of cybersecurity experts.

We know what you're thinking. Doesn't cybersecurity involve complex math? And more importantly, what kind of math and where do I learn it? Let's take a look at the math you'll need to know to break into cybersecurity and how to prepare for a career in the field.

Does cybersecurity involve math?

The short answer is yes. 

does cybersecurity involve math

Cybersecurity is a technical field in computer science, and potential job seekers will need strong analytical skills. It isn't a math-intensive field—not like astrophysics or engineering—but it requires comfort using certain math types. However, beyond entry-level jobs, cybersecurity experts and analysts need to get comfortable with the idea of using some mathematics.

Think of it like this. Math is a language used to express natural occurrences like probability and risk. It's a key to speaking directly to information systems. Once you learn the "language" of math, you're better equipped to translate real-world challenges into something that a computer can understand and analyze.

You probably use this type of math every day already and don't realize it. For example, in calculating risk, you might think to yourself, "what is the probability that I'll encounter a worst-case scenario" and then draw on all your previous experiences plus your knowledge of the situation. In cybersecurity, you'd translate this thought process into a specific equation to visualize the risk threat.

What kind of math is used in cybersecurity?

what kind of math is used in cybersecurity

Associate degrees may not require much math beyond high school-level math. However, moving into a bachelor's degree would necessitate training in cybersecurity mathematics and programming math. So what kind of math prepares you for a career in cybersecurity? There are a few different things you'll need to know.

Binary math

Binary math is the language of computer systems. The smallest layer of information in computer programming is known as a "bit," equal to a 0 or 1. Data is stored in strings called bytes or unique combinations of these bits.

This binary math is the heart of all computer programming. An understanding of binary math helps cybersecurity analysts understand and create the unique programs that keep networks safe and facilitates understanding weaknesses in existing code.

Boolean values

Leveraged in modern computer programming, Boolean math expresses information in a series of "false" and "true" values. This branch of Algebra incorporates the binary values of 0 and 1, and several modern programming languages like Python use this mathematic system to express decisions and responses.

Python is a favorite language among hacking (and ethical hacking) and cybersecurity communities. Therefore, knowledge and comfort with Boolean algebra concepts can provide a good foundation.

Hexadecimal math

Hexadecimal math expands the options from 0 or 1 to any digit up to 16 places (0-15). Number strings are represented as single-digit numbers up to 9 and then letters A-F for the remaining placements.

Hexadecimal math provides a more human-friendly expression of binary values. It's used most often in computer memory addresses such as IP addresses.

Cryptography

Cryptography uses mathematical theories to provide data confidentiality. These programs use algorithms designed around the computational hardness assumption, a computational complexity theory that finds difficult-to-solve problems and applies them to sensitive data. 

The harder a computation is to perform, the better protected a particular bit of information is. In cybersecurity careers, these computations revolve around algorithms used by hackers to solve these complex equations and those used by cybersecurity experts to preserve information security.

Linear algebra

Linear algebra is used to design and build many computer systems, including graph visualizations, images, cryptography, and image processing. It speeds up machine learning and makes faster information retrieval possible. Understanding linear algebra provides cybersecurity experts with a solid foundation in the principles of applied mathematics, computer science, and information systems.

Programming math

Modern computer programming revolves around algorithms or clear computer-implementable directions. Programming math includes variables, constraints, and logic. 

Understanding mathematical logic helps programmers understand how a computer will interpret a particular bit of code. In network security, professionals can analyze computer code to find weaknesses and build solutions.

How to prepare for a career in cybersecurity

how to prepare for a career in cybersecurity

Potential job seekers don't need a mathematics degree unless they pursue highly technical research positions in theoretical programming. In most cases, a cybersecurity degree and certification are preferable to a mathematics degree. Students can also earn a computer science degree with a specialization in cybersecurity to prepare.

The information technology field prioritizes work experience, so an active portfolio is a must. Students can take internships during their degree or join open source projects like those on GitHub to gain practical experience until hired.

While you can teach cybersecurity principles to yourself, a degree path offers the most efficient training. Students take advantage of mentoring, collaboration, and accredited training to essential cybersecurity certifications or cybersecurity professionals, like CompTIA.

Exploring careers in cybersecurity with edX

The edX platform offers training in computer security, cryptographic principles, and all the math skills necessary to succeed. The platform provides cybersecurity degree programs--micro-degrees that can get students trained and into the workforce.

Students can explore other subjects that could lead to cybersecurity positions, including data analysis, computer networks, and machine learning. Whatever the issue, learners gain new problem-solving and technical skills for a thriving career in their specialization.

Cybersecurity offers students a path to a thriving career in a field that's expected to grow faster than average. Students don't need to be mathematicians, but understanding the math we've mentioned will help potential job seekers prepare for cybersecurity jobs.