Tim Harmon is a Cisco Champion, an elite group of technical experts who are passionate about IT and enjoy sharing their knowledge, expertise, and thoughts across the social web and with Cisco. The program has been running for over four years and has earned two industry awards as an industry best practice. Learn more about the program at http://cs.co/ciscochampion.
Cisco had developed a new certification in order to reduce the global cybersecurity skills gap that has been reported throughout various sources. This certification is called the CCNA Cyber Ops and it is along the lines of what a Security Analyst in a Security Operations Center (SOC) does. There are two exams associated with this certification: the SECFND 210-250 and the SECOPS 210-255. Cisco introduced the Global Cybersecurity Scholarship program where they invest $10 million into the program to increase the talent pool with cybersecurity proficiency.
The scholarship is a self-paced e-learning path consisting of three courses and the two exams. The first course is the “Introduction to Cybersecurity” that is done on the Cisco Networking Academy platform and easy to complete. The other two courses are done on the Lumicybersecurity platform. The second course is the “Understanding Cisco Cybersecurity Fundamentals” (SECFND) and the third course is the “Implementing Cisco Cybersecurity Operations” (SECOPS).
Recipients of the scholarship can attempt each exam after the respective course or they can wait until they finish the entire program. There is mentoring and coaching for all courses from key Cisco Authorized Learning Partners, such as Global Knowledge, Fast Lane, etc. The cost of everything (training, mentoring and the exam fees) is all included in the scholarship and the recipients will not have to pay anything out of pocket.
There are some qualifications requirements that recipients of the scholarship need to have in order to be accepted. This includes having a basic technical competency where they must possess one or more of the following:
- Cisco certification, relevant industry certification
- Cisco Networking Academy letter of completion
- 3 years of combined experience in approved U.S. military job roles
- Windows or Linux expertise
They also need to be planning a career in IT cybersecurity, prepared to complete the training in three months (90 days) and willing to share a success story.
I decided to give this scholarship a shot and applied. I was given a chance to complete the assessment exam in order to be accepted into the program. I was fortunate to be one of the 10,000 people selected for the scholarship program but I was placed into the last cohort that was to start on July 6, 2018. That changed when I found out that some other people had requested to be moved to an earlier cohort, as I had requested to be moved to Cohort 3 with the start date being June 20, 2017. The Lumicybersecurity support team allowed me to be in Cohort 3.
They allowed everyone in that cohort to complete the “Introduction to Cybersecurity” course before the actual cohort start date, which gave us more time to complete the two main courses for the program. The day before our cohort started, we received an email with the Welcome Packet and a FAQ document that explains what the scholarship training entails.
Global Knowledge was the Cisco Authorized Learning Partner that I had for my mentoring and coaching during this cohort. Kris Bilbrey and the other mentors were great at making the material interesting and helped all students to understand what the material was talking about. The SECFND online material was more about the foundation of cyber security and introduced the concepts that students need to understand. This is so that they can not only pass the exam, but also to gain the skills to become a security analyst in a security operations center (SOC).
I was surprised at the new knowledge and skills I gained through the SECFND course. There were some things in the course that I had not known as I only had a little bit of experience, even though I gained a Master of Science in Cyber Security and Information Assurance from National University.
The mentoring sessions were a big help in the cohort as Kris Bilbrey was excellent in his style of conveying the material and answering everyone’s questions with enthusiasm. The sessions were two hours long and consisted of chapter reviews and any questions the students needed an answer to. Not only did I get some things out of these sessions, but I also helped other students with getting the answers they needed. The links provided in the mentoring sessions were useful in preparing for the exams.
The mentoring sessions for Global Knowledge use Adobe Connect while other Partners use Cisco’s WebEx for their sessions. The students mainly use the chat window to communicate with the instructor and other students but the instructor may allow them to communicate using the microphone. Before I went for my SECFND exam, I had let everyone know in my mentoring session that I was attempting the exam. Some students gave me some insight into the exam as they had already attempted it.
My exam day came and I was pretty nervous. I scheduled to take my exam at Coleman University in San Diego, CA USA and showed up to my exam a little early so I could be prepared. The testing center and Cisco do not allow you to take in anything (except tissue in case you need to blow your nose). That means you have to empty out all of your pockets into a box and place that box in a locker. Then you show the proctor your empty pockets and he/she will lead you to your workstation.
I completed the exam within 35 minutes of starting and I found out what my score was at the end of the exam. The exam was decently worded but there were some questions where it felt confusing as to what the question was asking. I was relieved to know that I had passed and felt ready to start going through the SECOPS course. With passing the SECFND, my CCNA R&S certification was renewed and I did not have to worry about it expiring anymore (at least for three more years).
I was behind in the SECOPS course material but thankfully, I caught up and finished the course material and labs on Saturday September 9, 2017 (11 days before the end of Cohort 3). The course material for the SECOPS was more of a technical nature and discussed topics surround the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This course was more on the SOC and what tools a Security Analyst in a SOC uses to “hunt” for threats and about incident response. It also talked about the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS).
I had requested my exam voucher the same day I completed the SECOPS course and then scheduled my SECOPS exam for Friday September 15, 2017. I took the SECOPS exam and it was a little harder and more technical than the SECFND exam. I was happy to have passed the second and final exam needed to become CCNA Cyber Ops certified.
The CCNA Cyber Ops certification will become one of the foundational certifications that the security industry will endorse and require for employment. The scholarship is definitely a great way to learn the concepts and technologies needed for a successful career in the world of cyber security. It was a great pleasure to have gone through the application process and the scholarship program as it has given me the confidence to know that Cisco wants to help the security industry by the training and certification of security professionals. I highly recommend the scholarship and the CCNA Cyber Ops certification as it is helping to bridge the skills gap. Information about the scholarship can be found here. Information about the CCNA Cyber Ops is here.