Free and cheap ways to learn about IT security

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Whether you're an IT student or have been in the field for many years, the learning never stops, especially in regards to security. Hackers are discovering vulnerabilities in our software and systems 24/7. They'll always find new ways to steal data, infect computers and wreak havoc in the digital world.

Even if security isn't your IT specialty, security awareness is crucial in any technology position. There is no better way to learn than to get hands-on experience, so here I share several projects you can do. All can be performed at home on your personal devices or at work—if (and only if) you have an appropriate position and full authorization from management.

That bears repeating: Always get full permission before performing these projects on someone else's computer or network, or else stick to using your own equipment. Several of the techniques covered here are used by hackers and could land you in hot water if you try them without authorization. That said, they have good purposes as well, giving you the ability to audit the security of your network and other tech equipment.

Beginner

Project 1: Perform digital forensics by recovering deleted files

Digital forensics is a branch of forensic science dedicated to data recovery and investigation of tech devices. This includes finding the source of intrusions, identifying the damage done by them and mining for information to aid in legal and criminal matters. Retrieving deleted data is one major aspect of a digital forensic professional's job.

Recovering deleted files from a computer or storage device can give you a taste of digital forensics, while also showing you firsthand why data security is so important—a thief could do the same thing to get sensitive info off a stolen device.

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