A Complete Guide to Math in Cybersecurity

Math in cybersecurity

A critical shortage of trained cybersecurity professionals exists. Employees are in high demand at all levels, and all indications are that this demand will continue to rise.

Understanding how your abilities, interests, experiences, and aptitudes match with those required for success in cybersecurity will assist you in determining the best way to enter the field. Finding the ideal job is difficult at best.

Cybersecurity is a technological area that necessitates good quantitative abilities. This guide explains how math is used in cybersecurity and how to better prepare for a math-based cybersecurity job.

Cybersecurity as a science

The almost universal use of computers in almost every aspect of life makes understanding the technology behind the displays both easy to overlook and difficult to comprehend. In most cases, whether a desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile device does what we want it to do, we don’t give much attention to the bits and bytes that make it work. When we find ourselves wondering what magic makes these machines so unbelievably powerful, we must metaphorically throw up our hands and exclaim that there is simply too much technology jammed into our electronics for any one person to comprehend.

You are not alone in feeling this way, and you are not mistaken. Our computing and networking devices contain much too much technology for any one person to comprehend. To conceptualise, design, produce, software, customise, secure, and deploy each piece of technology that we take for granted, it takes teams of experts from various fields working together. The common denominator among these experts is that they must all be knowledgeable in the core academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Although math is required in all STEM fields, this guide will concentrate on math because it is required for success in the general field of computer science and, more specifically, cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is a branch of computer science, and many cybersecurity positions require less STEM training than becoming a computer scientist.

People also use a broad brush to describe themselves and others, declaring them to be either imaginative or logical. Logical or methodical thinkers are also credited with mathematical aptitude. Although this is frequently true, the ability to consistently apply justification does not preclude the ability to be imaginative.

The creative mind can express itself in a very artful way by using mathematical equations. Consider your partnership with numbers instead of allowing one of these labels to discourage you from exploring STEM fields. How comfortable you are with numbers could be a better indicator of how well you would fit into STEM fields.

Consider if you enjoy dealing with numbers and communicating concepts and ideas with them. If you do, and you think analytically with a keen attention to detail, you may have a natural aptitude for a career involving numbers.

If you like numbers, you’re probably a good fit for fields that need math skills. If you enjoy solving complex puzzles and assisting others, you may be a good fit for a career in cybersecurity.

People that enjoy working with numbers

Many professions include the use of mathematics. Many knowledge-based careers, from research to finance to communications, demand competence and aptitude in mathematics and quantitative reasoning. In addition, analytical problem solving, critical thinking, and decision making are emphasised in these fields. There are abilities that have been honed through the study of mathematics. Consider the traits, skills, and abilities mentioned below to obtain a general understanding of your relationship with numbers.

Traits, skills, and abilities of “lovers of numbers” include:

  • The ability to accomplish objectives by reasoning backwards from the desired outcome to the actual state of an issue — or to reverse engineer a problem to find a solution.
  • Ability to imagine abstract concepts, quantitative relationships, and spatial relationships easily
  • The ability to use symbols and numbers to comprehend, interact, and model
  • Ability to think analytically and provide or receive criticism of ideas and concepts without involving feelings or emotions
  • The ability to recognise and categorise patterns and relationships, as well as the ability to use statistics as justifications for taking calculated risks.
  • An ability to keep track of and follow details while working on large, complex problems An ability to be patient while working on large, complex problems

To be effective in cybersecurity, you don’t have to be a “numbers person,” but the more of the traits, skills, and abilities mentioned above you can assert as yours, the more likely you are to enjoy a numbers-based work.

How math is used in cybersecurity

Cybersecurity isn’t typically thought of as a math-intensive field. That isn’t to suggest that knowing how to do math and being comfortable with it won’t help you succeed in cybersecurity. To progress beyond an entry-level cybersecurity grade, however, an applicant must be at least proficient in high school math.

Determining risk is a mathematical exercise, whether expressed as (threat x vulnerability) or (probability x loss) or in some other more nuanced way. At some stage, all security practitioners are involved in risk assessment. This calculation is almost subconsciously done several times per day by many security personnel in the course of their duties. The ability to consider risk is all about knowing what’s important and where to invest time and money to get the best results.

A protection professional on the front lines of a Security Operations Center (SOC) can be inundated with security warnings. They must examine these warnings and perform a fast risk assessment to determine what they can handle right now and what needs to be escalated for further investigation. This can be daunting at times, and it necessitates the ability to quickly quantify risk.

A security code auditor will be tasked with reviewing code written by others. While several analytical tools are available to help, she must be able to spot flaws and bugs in the code at a glance. Mathematical skills are needed for writing and understanding computer software code.

Computer operations are calculated using binary math. Anything from defining IP addresses to network routing relies on it. The term binary refers to something that is made up of or involves two items. A binary number is composed of bits, each of which has a value of 0 or 1. In a machine, a bit (short for binary digit) is the smallest unit of data. Bytes are the bit multiples that computers use to store data and execute instructions. A byte is made up of eight bits in most computer systems.

Any number in your device is an electrical signal, and electrical signals were difficult to precisely measure and monitor when these machines were first developed. Only distinguishing between a “on” state (represented by a negative charge) and a “off” state (represented by a positive charge) made more sense. As a result, binary arithmetic is used in both computer machine languages and applications today.

Hexadecimal math is another math-based concept used in cybersecurity. Unlike binary math, which has only two choices, hexadecimal math is based on the premise that you can count up to 16 different options. You should count these options from 0 to 15, giving you a total of sixteen options. Since one-digit numbers only go from 0 to 9 (10 takes up two digits), anything from 10 to 15 must be represented by something else, in this case the letters A through F.

At the very least, entry-level cybersecurity work would necessitate any knowledge of computer coding or programming. Math serves as the basis for computer code. Programming principles such as constraints, variables, and programming logic must be understood by coders. For example, you’d need to know how to write basic computer code like this simple if-else statement:

var x = 1; if (x === 1) { window.alert(“The expression is true!”); } else { window.alert(“The expression is false!”); }

The preceding is a basic example of computer code. Nonetheless, you can see from this that you’ll need a basic understanding of mathematical logic and how a machine interprets data.

The architecture of digital electronics has relied heavily on Boolean algebra. Boolean algebra is used in modern programming languages, despite the fact that it was first introduced by George Boole in his book The Mathematical Analysis of Logic in 1847. Expressions in elementary algebra represent primarily numbers, while in Boolean algebra, they represent the values false and true. It deals with logical value operations and includes binary variables of 0 and 1.

Cryptography is a mathematically oriented science that deals with codes and encryption. Information protection and data confidentiality are fundamentally based on cryptographic techniques. Cryptography uses a wide variety of algebra, from elementary to advanced. Computational hardness assumptions are used to construct cryptographic algorithms. A computational hardness assumption states that a problem cannot be solved efficiently, making algorithms difficult to crack in practise by any adversary. They’re often used by cyber-criminals and are a key component of ransomware. Cryptovirology is the study of how to use cryptography to create secure malicious software.

An algorithm is a calculable pattern of simple, machine-implementable directions in mathematics and computer science. They’re used to solve problems and finish calculations. Computer science and cybersecurity both rely on algorithms. Calculations, data analysis, automatic reasoning, and other activities are all carried out using them as blueprints.

Math requirements for education in cybersecurity

Examining the math criteria for different degree and credential programmes in the field is perhaps the most powerful way to equate your math aptitude to the requirements for a career in cybersecurity. If you’ve taken and passed these classes, or if you think you might pass them, it’s a positive sign that your interests and skills are a good fit for a career in cybersecurity.

The need for math in cybersecurity work isn’t so compelling that a math degree would be appropriate for anything but the most advanced cybersecurity research positions. These lucrative positions do exist, but in most situations, a degree or certificate in a security-related area would be preferred over a degree in math.

Look for the underlined terms to direct your understanding of where math skills may be needed when you review the course descriptions for cybersecurity-related qualification and degree programmes below. It is impossible to list all of the math requirements for all of the prerequisite courses, but these examples should give you a good idea of what is typically needed.

A technical cybersecurity certification will help you advance your career whether or not you plan to pursue a structured security-related degree programme. While there are numerous relevant certifications to choose from, CompTIA exam takers state that:

Only arithmetic and calculating the risk formula are required for the Security+ exam.
For IP/MAC addressing, the Security+ exam includes math.
In order to figure out subnet details on the Network+ test, you’ll need to use math.
You must note and apply the equation for calculating the transfer rate of various memory types on the A+ 220-801 test.

Many cybersecurity associate degree programmes do not include any math-related courses in their curriculum. Presumably, a high school diploma will be the only requirement for entry-level security jobs that don’t require an associate’s degree.

Cybersecurity associate degree programmes excel in two areas: gaining experience and training for cybersecurity industry certifications. Associate degree programmes play an important role in cybersecurity education, whether as stand-alone programmes designed to rapidly prepare students for the digital workforce or as a stepping stone to more advanced cybersecurity education, such as a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or a cybersecurity master’s or Ph.D.

Consider a BSE degree from Arizona State University as an example of the math needed for a bachelor of engineering degree. The following courses are mentioned as prerequisites for their junior year concentration in computer system security:

  • Computer Science BS or Computer Systems Engineering BSE are two majors in computer science.
  • CSE 310 – Data Structures and Algorithms. Stacks, lists, trees (B, B+, AVL), and graphs are examples of advanced data structures and algorithms. External sorting, hashing, and searching for graphs.
  • CSE 365 – Information Assurance. Information assurance (IA) concepts, procedures, risk management, governance, legal, and ethical concerns are covered.
  • SER 222 – Design and Analysis of Data Structures and Algorithms. Specification, complexity analysis, implementation, and deployment of data structures and associated algorithms. Professional tasks such as software creation, documentation, and checking, as well as sorting and searching.

The math level required for success in these courses is comparable to that required for other engineering degrees. A student should be assured in their ability to pursue a BSE programme with a solid understanding of algebra, geometry, and calculus at the high school level.

The math criteria for a master’s degree are more rigorous and challenging, as you would imagine. Boston University provides a cybersecurity specialisation to its MS students in order to satisfy what they see as a growing demand. This concentration includes courses on technological issues such as secure applications, languages, and architectures, as well as wider social issues such as privacy and legal implications.

Students are trained in a variety of topics through an eight-course curriculum, which includes:

  • Methods of cryptography
  • Knowledge and data protection
  • Computing that is fault-tolerant
  • Network safety
  • Anonymity and privacy
  • Security of software
  • System safety

While cryptographic techniques are math-intensive, students with a BSE degree should be confident in their ability to succeed in this course.

The Ph.D. is the highest academic honour bestowed by American universities and marks the pinnacle of academic achievement. In their Ph.D. Security degree programme, the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS) offers a security specialisation. This latest multidisciplinary specialisation provides students with the opportunity to study and perform multidisciplinary research in areas such as cybersecurity, physical protection, and homeland security, all of which have become increasingly important in today’s personal, company, and government operations.

The NSA’s Information Assurance Courseware Evaluation (IACE) Program has approved UCCS’ Ph.D. programme, which includes:

  • CS3910 – System Administration and Security. Installs and configures common operating systems, as well as essential network utilities, disaster recovery protocols, and techniques for ensuring system security.
  • CS4200-5200 – Computer Architecture. The science and art of selecting and connecting hardware components to build a device that meets functional, efficiency, and cost goals is known as computer architecture. This course teaches you how to build a single processor computer from start to finish, including processor datapath, processor power, pipelining optimization, instruction-level parallelism and multi-core, memory/cache systems, and I/O. You’ll see that creating a machine does not require any magic. You’ll learn how to assess and analyse design success quantitatively.
  • CS5220 – Computer Communications. The topic of transmitting data between processors is thoroughly discussed. The student should be proficient in hardware and/or real-time principles. Communication structures will be investigated, ranging from basic to asynchronous point-to-point connections to those focused on complex network architectures. The content will be geared toward computer scientists who are users, designers, or evaluators of such systems. Rather than comprehensive electronic or physical theory, the emphasis will be on terminology and principles.
  • CS5920 – Applied Cryptography. Basic computer security problems, classical cryptographic algorithms, symmetric-key cryptography, public-key cryptography, authentication, and digital signatures are all covered.
  • CS6910 – Advanced System Security Design. Firewall architecture, network intrusion detection, monitoring, and prevention, virus detection, programming language, and OS support for protection, as well as wireless network security, are advanced topics in network and device security.

You can find a Ph.D. programme in cybersecurity daunting if you have a dislike for numbers; however, there are many high-level, even C-Suite, positions in cybersecurity that do not require a Ph.D.

Final thoughts

Technology advances at a breakneck rate. Year after year, developments in computer technology have influenced and revolutionised how we communicate with the world, a world that was unimaginable only a few decades ago. It can be difficult for many people to figure out where they belong in this high-tech world. It can be difficult to match their preferences and abilities to a potential profession.

Many professional professions necessitate the use of math. The field of cybersecurity, which is rapidly expanding, is no exception. Math and algebra at the high school level are needed for entry-level jobs, and highly technical security jobs require much more advanced math. However, only a few security-related jobs necessitate math at a higher level than that required of a student pursuing a Master of Science degree.

Despite this, there are several non-technical career paths in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity firms and agencies, like any other company, need a diverse workforce. Non-technical people make up a big part of every company, from administrative to supervisory positions.

Allowing labels like “creative person” or “analytical person” to close doors unnecessarily is a waste of time. A passion for drawing and painting may indicate a talent for conceptualising complex concepts, which is useful in computer science. Many successful people have discovered how to use science to express their imagination.

While math is required for some cybersecurity jobs, there are other skills and characteristics that are more important, such as:

  • A value system that places a high value on supporting and protecting others.
  • Ability to work in a high-stress environment Willingness to work as part of a team Ability to rapidly understand new and complex concepts

You probably already have the math skills needed for all but the most advanced cybersecurity positions if you can write and understand computer code. If you’re applying for one of these highly specialised jobs, you’ve almost certainly already put your math skills to the test in the real world.

Examining the advanced certifications and degrees that cater to the security industry is the perfect way to see how your math knowledge and aptitude fit with technical security work. Some examples of each have been given in this guide. Examine these examples and consider whether something about your education, job experience, or general interests qualifies you for or disqualifies you from these services. To be honest, the security industry requires your services and will most likely be able to accommodate you.

Jennifer Thomas
Jennifer Thomas is the Co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer at Cybers Guards. Prior to that, She was responsible for leading its Cyber Security Practice and Cyber Security Operations Center, which provided managed security services.