Top 10 Cyber Security Certifications to Help Your Career

Updated September 8, 2023

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An icon with a lock signifying cybersecurity floats next to a list with the title "12 cybersecurity certifications to advance your career" and these items:

1. CompTIA Network+ certification
2. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
3. CompTIA Security+ certification
4. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
5. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
6. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
7. NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NCSF) Foundation certification
8. Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT) certification
9. Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)
10. Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI) certification
11. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Security
12. Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP)

Cyber security is the practice of safeguarding networks, systems, and programs from digital damage, threats, and unauthorized access. Corporate, scientific, military, government, medical, and financial organizations generate, store, and process large amounts of highly sensitive data, which require continuous protection. Understanding the various certifications in cyber security can help you prove your technical knowledge to potential employers. In this article, we discuss the importance of cyber security certifications, their prerequisites, tips for finding the right certification, and the best certificates to pursue.

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Why cyber security certifications are important

Many companies use specific network products or data structures, and they require their cyber security staff to have specific cyber security certifications to complement what they already have in place. Various certifications can qualify professionals to carry out specific skills in this area. Many career positions and job postings in cyber security require certification, so it's good to understand what certifications employers may be looking for when recruiting new employees.

Related: 9 IT Career Paths You May Have Never Considered

Certification prerequisites

A prerequisite is something that a certification requires before you can take the final exam to receive a qualification. These prerequisites can vary depending on the certificate. For example, a program might require you to have a specific number of years' experience or to have already completed another certification. As such, it's important to take note of any of these requirements before you begin studying.

It's vital to remember the difference between a prerequisite and a recommendation. Some programs have multiple certifications that you can obtain and a specific order in which to get them. For example, a certification can recommend individuals take their level one and two programs before attempting their level three, but they might not require it. So, if you're confident enough in your cyber security skills to pass level three without taking the previous exams, the program may allow you to do this.

Related: 5 AWS Security Certification Courses You Can Pursue

Finding the right cyber security certification

A simple way to determine which certification is right for you is to look through various job descriptions and identify jobs and companies that interest you. Try to find any matches for work background, education, and certifications. You can also read through the reviews on a certification's website to understand whether previous students' career paths align with your own. It can also be helpful to look up relevant internet communities, message boards, and industry networking sites. Active discussions on these sites might give you insight into the advantages and disadvantages of certifications for specific companies and jobs.

You can also join groups that focus on cyber security and the various organizations that provide certification programs. You can make the most of the money and study time that you're investing into your career by having a firm understanding of the industry's current certification requirements. It's also possible to pursue multiple certifications. Having multiple certificates simultaneously can show you are keen to learn and have the knowledge companies look for in a candidate.

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The best certifications for cyber security

There are various online and traditional in-person programs to earn a cyber security certificate. These programs usually explore computer security, cryptographic techniques, and designs for network perimeter defences. Many focus on data and network protection at different levels. Each program prepares an individual for a specific purpose in cyber security. Before applying for a certification, it's important to ensure that the course aligns with your career goals. The following are the various cyber security certifications you can apply for:

1. Certified Ethical Hacker

The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification from EC-Council teaches students the latest commercial-grade hacking techniques, tools, and methodologies. These are the same practices that hackers and information security professionals use to hack an organization legally. The CEH uses five phases of ethical hacking as a blueprint for successfully approaching a target and breaking into its systems. The five phases are reconnaissance, gaining access, enumeration, maintaining access, and covering your tracks. The end of every module gives you a chance to practice what you learn and use these skills with hands-on hacking challenges.

2. Certified Penetration Testing Professional

The EC-Council Certified Penetration Testing Professional (CPENT) certification program teaches individuals to perform an efficient penetration test within an enterprise network. The live practice sessions from CPENT teach individuals how to upgrade their skills by performing penetration tests on OT systems and IoT systems. The program also shows how to build your own tools, conduct advanced exploitations, and customize exploits to penetrate the innermost segments of a network. The certification is user-driven, meaning you can participate in the CPENT training course or take the exam if you feel you have enough experience.

Related: How to Become a Penetration Tester (Step-By-Step Guide)

3. Certified Information Security Manager

The Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) shows that an individual has expertise in program development and management, information security governance, risk management, and incident management. The CISM certification is for those with technical experience and knowledge in IT security and control who want to pursue managerial roles. Anyone looking to receive this certification requires at least five years of experience, but a combination of experience and education can also meet this requirement.

4. Certified in Risk and Information System Control

The ISACA provides the Certified in Risk and Information System Control (CRISC) certification to professionals looking to broaden their expertise and knowledge of business risk, IT, and identification and implementation of business systems control. CRISC is a certification that helps IT professionals prepare for real-world threats, and it can add value to clients and employers in risk assessment and management fields. It can also foster continuous learning as it provides regular, up-to-date information. The CRISC designation can prove your expertise to employers in areas like governance, IT risk assessment, risk response and reporting, and IT and security.

5. Certified Information Systems Auditor

The Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification from the ISACA is a standard of achievement for professionals who control, audit, assess, and monitor an organization's IT and business systems. The CISA can show employers that you have knowledge of information systems auditing processes, IT governance and management, and information assets protection. This certification is excellent for entry-level to mid-career professionals looking to showcase their knowledge and assert their ability to apply a risk-based approach to planning, executing, and reporting audit engagements.

6. CompTIA Security+

The CompTIA Security+ certification from CompTIA can confirm an individual's baseline skills, which are necessary to perform core security functions. When training for this certification, you can receive hands-on practical skills that help prepare you to solve various complex cyber security issues. The CompTIA Security+ certification covers core technical skills in areas including incident response, risk assessment and management, enterprise networks, forensics, and security controls. These skills can assure employers of your high performance in the workplace.

7. Certified Information Systems Security Professional

Receiving the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) designation from the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC) shows that you can effectively design, implement, and manage a high-class cyber security program. The CISSP certification can be ideal for experienced security managers, practitioners, or executives who have an interest in demonstrating their expertise across various security principles and practices. To earn this certification, you can take an exam covering one of the various topics, such as security and risk management, security architecture and engineering, and software development security.

8. Systems Security Certified Practitioner

The Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) certification shows an individual has advanced technical knowledge and skills. They can use these skills to implement, monitor, and administer IT infrastructure using the best security policies, practices, and procedures that the cyber security experts at ISC have established. The SSCP can be great for IT managers, administrators, directors, and network security professionals whose responsibilities are in the hands-on operational security of an organization's critical assets. The exam for this certification evaluates your knowledge across various security domains, such as security operations and administration, access controls, and cryptography.

Related: What Is an SSCP Certification? (And How Do You Earn One?)

9. GIAC Security Essentials

The GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC) from the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) shows that an individual's information security knowledge goes beyond basic concepts and terminology. This certificate verifies that you have skills in cryptology, active defence, incident handling, and securing networks. The GSEC is for professionals who may be considering working in a hands-on security role. The GSEC provides you with training through on-demand or live training sessions. After you've received it, the certification requires renewal every four years.

10. GIAC Penetration Tester

The GIAC provides the GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN) certification to validate an individual's ability to conduct a proper penetration test using best practice methodologies and techniques. This certification is typically a requirement for professionals whose responsibilities involve target networks and finding security vulnerabilities. There are no training requirements to take the certification exam, but GIAC does provide you with exam prep resources. When renewing the certification, the GIAC requires you to take the current version of the exam at that time.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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