Top Cyber Security Certifications: Which Ones Are Right for You?

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What Cyber Security Certification is Right for You?

Cyber Security Certifications Can Help You Expand Your Skills, Knowledge, Career Prospects

If you already work in the field of cyber security, you know how important certifications can be. They can carry a lot of weight and, while they won’t land you a job all on their own, they can be resumé boosters and in some cases are sometimes required for employment.

As Philip Casesa, former director of product development and portfolio management at (ISC)², told Dark Reading, “certification validates that a security professional has a specific set of skills and capabilities. For human resources managers, certification provides a screening mechanism to match potential candidates with the skills, knowledge and experience an organization is looking for in a security professional.”

Certifications can also significantly increase a cyber security professional’s salary potential. For example, the ISACA’s Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) certification commanded a median pay premium equivalent to 13% of base salary in the third quarter of 2016, according to the IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index and reported by InfoSecurity Magazine. “In the U.S. and Canada, certified IT staff make nearly $8,400 more than noncertified counterparts —equal to an 11.7 percent pay increase,” according to Computer World.

The Computer World report revealed that 82% of IT workers today hold certifications (an average of three per person) and that 26% of the respondents reported earning certifications specific to cyber security.

If you would like to pursue a certification in order to bolster your resumé and build on your formal education, be it a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, there are several certifications to consider. Depending on your goals and your specific career path, you may want to consider exploring one or more of the certifications described below.

Cyber Security Certifications vs. Certificates

It is important to distinguish between a certification and a certificate. While both can be valuable depending on your goals, they are quite different. A certification is typically looked at as the more significant achievement of the two, as a certification is a specialized credential focused on a targeted topic. Certifications are usually offered by professional organizations or companies and typically require recertification after a certain time period. A certificate on the other hand is more like a diploma for entry-level professionals that is usually offered by a college or university. A certificate may be a good option if you are just looking to learn more about the field and are still considering your career options. Certifications are typically geared toward professionals already in the field or with experience and/or education in cyber security.

Top Cyber Security Certifications

There are several cyber security certifications available to professionals looking to advance their skills and increase their knowledge. Depending on your goals, you may be interested in one or more of the certifications listed below that are popular among those in the field.

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

If you want to work at the Department of Defense, obtaining your CISSP certification is a requirement. And it carries a lot of weight beyond the Department of Defense as well. By getting your CISSP certification you open the door to higher level positions and the possibility of increased pay. The CISSP is a globally recognized certification for seasoned professionals. It meets the strict conditions of ISO/IEC Standard 17024.

Who’s It For? Seasoned professionals with titles such as Security Manager, Security Analyst, Chief Information Security Officer

Offered By: (ISC)²

Exam Fee: $699

Exam Format: 3 hours, 150 questions, Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT)


    • At least five years of cumulative, paid, full-time work experience in two or more of the eight domains (Security and Risk Management, Asset Security, Security Engineering, Communications and Network Security, Identity and Access Management, Security Assessment and Testing, Security Operations, and Software Development Security) of the (ISC)² CISSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK). You can satisfy one year of work experience with a four-year college degree or an approved credential from the CISSP Prerequisite pathway.
    • Pass the exam with a score of 700 or greater
    • Subscribe to code of ethics and get endorsed

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Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

This certification focuses on governance, risk management, compliance and international security measures. It is geared toward managers who design, oversee and assess an enterprise’s information security. It meets the strict conditions of ISO/IEC Standard 17024.

Who’s It For? Information security managers, chief information officers or those in an enterprise leadership position, risk management professionals

Offered By: ISACA

Exam Fee: $575 for members, $760 for non-members

Exam Format: 4 hours, 150 multiple-choice questions


    • Pass the CISM exam
    • Agree to code of ethics
    • Possess a minimum of five years of information security work experience including at least three years of work experience in information security management in three or more of the job practice analysis areas (this experience must fall within the last 10 years)
    • Apply for certification
    • Agree to continuing education policy

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Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

This certification focuses on auditing, controlling, monitoring and assessing information systems and can add a significant pay boost to a cyber security professional’s annual salary.

Who’s It For? Information system auditors, information security professionals, governance professionals and enterprise leadership

Offered By: ISACA

Exam Fee: $575 for members, $760 for non-members

Exam Format: 4 hours, 150 multiple-choice questions


    • Earn a passing score on the CISA exam
    • Adhere to the ISACA Code of Professional Ethics
    • Commit to abide by the CISA Continuing Professional Education Policy
    • Possess a minimum of five years of professional information systems auditing, control or security work experience (as described in the job practice areas). Substitutions and waivers of such experience may be obtained if certain education and general IS or audit experience requirements are met.
    • Comply with Information Systems Auditing Standards

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Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH)(Practical)

The (C|EH Practical) is the first of three exams offered by the EC-Council. This exam teaches valuable hands-on testing skills and is geared toward entry-level applicants or those who are looking for an introduction to or refresher on ethical hacking.

Who’s It For? Ethical hackers, system administrators, network administrators and engineers, web managers, auditors, security professionals in general

Offered By: EC-Council

Exam Fee: $550

Exam Format: 6 hours, online, live proctored

Eligibility: Be a C|EH member (any version) in good standing (your $100 application fee will be waived); or have a minimum of three years working experience in InfoSec domain (you will need to pay $100 as a non-refundable application fee); or have any other industry equivalent certifications such as OSCP or GPEN cert (you will need to pay $100 as a non-refundable application fee).

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Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

The CRISC certification was designed particularly for IT professionals who have hands-on experience with risk identification, assessment and evaluation, risk response, risk monitoring, IS control design and implementation, and IS control monitoring and maintenance.

Who’s It For? IT risk management professionals, control and assurance professionals, CIOs/CISOs and other enterprise leadership professionals

Offered By: ISACA

Exam Fee: $575 for members, $760 for non-members

Exam Format: 4 hours, 150-question multiple-choice exam

Eligibility: A minimum of at least three years of cumulative work experience performing the tasks of a CRISC professional across at least three CRISC domains is required for certification. There are no substitutions or experience waivers. Individuals must apply for certification by completing and submitting a CRISC Application for Certification.

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CompTIA Security+ (SY0-401 or SY0-501)

The CompTIA Security+ is designed for entry-level security professionals. The CompTIA Security+ certification meets the ISO 17024 standard and is approved by the U.S. Department of Defense to fulfill Directive 8570.01-M requirements.

Who’s It For? Entry-level security professionals

Offered By: CompTIA Security

Exam Fee: $330

Exam Format: 90 minutes long, maximum of 90 questions, multiple choice, performance based

Eligibility: CompTIA recommends CompTIA Network+ and two years of experience in IT administration with a security focus

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Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)

The CCSP is recommended for professionals who wish to demonstrate their proficiency in cloud computing and data security, including cloud architecture and design and application security considerations.

Who’s It For? Enterprise architects, security administrators, systems engineers, security architects, security consultants, security engineers, security managers, systems architects

Offered By: (ISC)²

Exam Fee: $599

Exam Format: 4 hours, 125 multiple-choice questions


    • A minimum of five years cumulative, paid, full-time work experience in information technology of which three years must be in information security and one year in one or more of the six domains of the CSSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK). Earning CSA’s CCSK certificate can substitute for one year of experience in one or more of the six domains of the CCSP CBK. Earning (ISC)²’s CISSP credential can be substituted for the entire CCSP experience requirement.
    • Pass the exam with a score of 700 or greater
    • Subscribe to code of ethics and get endorsed

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GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC)

The GSEC certification is designed for professionals who want to demonstrate their hands-on aptitude in IT systems and information security tasks. The certification covers general security best practices and real-world applications. In order to gain certification, candidates must be able to demonstrate an understanding of security beyond simple terminology and concepts.

Who’s It For? Those looking to demonstrate proficiency in system security and protection.

Offered By: Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)

Exam Fee: $1,699

Exam Format: 5 hours, 180 questions, proctored exam

Eligibility: No specific requirements are necessary

Learn More:

Additional Cyber Security Certifications

CREST, a nonprofit based in Great Britain, embraces a global cyber security mission, part of which is providing rigorous course content and exam protocols to train and certify industry professionals. Key CREST certification tests include a basic information security exam known as the Practitioner Security Analyst and a penetration testing exam called the Registered Penetration Tester, as well as Simulated Target Attack and Response (STAR) examinations. offers a challenging ethical hacking certification course and certification called the Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) program. Exam participants are given instructions for an experiment in which they are expected to compromise multiple operating systems and devices within 24 hours and thoroughly document their work.

Red Hat, a noted IT industry solutions provider, offers an impressive variety of certification exams, as does the Linux Professional Institute. Some of the industry’s leading vendors, such as Microsoft and Cisco, also offer worthwhile IT security certification exams.

Final Considerations

Certifications can help you bolster your resume and lend credibility to your skills. When combined with a graduate degree in cyber security, certifications can help you land a lucrative leadership position at a number of top companies across the country. With that being said, certifications are often best when paired with an information security or cyber security degree. Since certifications can be narrow in scope, they can serve as excellent complements to a degree but often will not suffice as a degree replacement.

While certifications can be an excellent way to strengthen your skillsets and your marketability for specific jobs, they won’t necessarily signify to potential employers the type of high-level thinking that is necessary to be truly impactful and marketable in the cyber security field.

So, if you need more than what a certification can offer, you may want to consider the many benefits of a graduate degree in cyber security. Ensuring that you have a strong foundation of experience and the right level of education is the first step to building a successful career in cyber security.

To help give you a strong educational foundation, the University of San Diego offers two cyber security graduate degrees — a 100% online Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership and an on-campus Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering. If you are interested in learning more about advancing your education to further your career in cyber security, contact us.

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