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Best Information Security Certifications 2018

Best Information Security Certifications 2018
Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

The year 2017 marked another milestone for information security: more breaches, bigger losses, more coverage and more jobs and opportunities for IT and programming professionals. By the end of 2017, according to a Cyber Seek report the number of cybersecurity job openings in the USA stands at just over 285,000. Projections continue to be robust further out: CSO expects that number to hit 500,000 by 2021, with more than 3 million cybersecurity jobs open for the rest of the world that same year.

When evaluating prospective InfoSec candidates, employers frequently look to certification as an important measure of excellence and commitment to quality. We examined five InfoSec certifications we consider to be leaders in the field of information security today:

  1. CEH: Certified Ethical Hacker
  2. CISM: Certified Information Security Manager
  3. CompTIA Security+
  4. CISSP: Certified Information Systems Security Professional
  5. GSEC: SANS GIAC Security Essentials

This year's list includes entry-level credentials, such as Security+ and GIAC Security Essentials, as well as more advanced certifications, such as the CEH, CISSP and CISM. We also offer some additional certification options in the last section that covers choices outside our top five, because the field of information security is both wide and varied, with lots of other options.

Security-related job roles cover a lot of ground, such as information security specialist, security analyst, network security administrator, system administrator (with security as a responsibility) and security engineer, as well as specialized roles such as malware engineer, intrusion analyst and penetration tester. Average salaries for information security specialists and security engineers – two of the most common job roles – vary widely depending on the source. For example, Simply Hired reports $124,000 for specialist positions, whereas Glassdoor's national average is just under $78,000. For security engineers, Simply Hired reports $96,000, with Glassdoor's average at $86,000.

If you're serious about advancing your career in the IT field and are interested in specializing in security, certification is a great choice. It's an effective way to validate your skills and show a current or prospective employer that you're qualified and properly trained.

Before examining the details of the top five InfoSec certifications, check the results of our informal job board survey. The data indicates the number of job posts nationwide in which our featured certifications were mentioned on a given day. The data should give you an idea of the relative popularity of each certification.

Certification

Simply Hired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

TechCareers

Total

CEH (EC-Council)

2,211

2,553

2,439

1,430

8,633

CISM (ISACA)

3,104

3,485

3,827

11,209

21,625

CISSP [(ISC)2]

10,104

11,351

11,189

5.977

38,621

GSEC (SANS GIAC)

1,484

1,781

1,745

854

5,864

Security+ (CompTIA)

3,197

3,357

1,405

1,526

9,709

 

Hackers are innovators and constantly find new ways to attack information systems and exploit system vulnerabilities. Savvy businesses proactively protect their information systems by engaging the services and expertise of IT professionals skilled in beating hackers at their own game (often called "white hat hackers" or simply "white hats"). Such professionals use the very skills and techniques hackers themselves use to identify system vulnerabilities and access points for penetration to prevent hackers' unwanted access to network and information systems.

The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) is an intermediate-level credential offered by the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council). It's a must-have for IT professionals pursuing careers in ethical hacking. CEH credential holders possess skills and knowledge on hacking practices in areas such as footprinting and reconnaissance, scanning networks, enumeration, system hacking, Trojans, worms and viruses, sniffers, denial-of-service attacks, social engineering, session hijacking, hacking web servers, wireless networks and web applications, SQL injection, cryptography, penetration testing, evading IDS, firewalls, and honeypots.

To obtain the CEH certification, candidates must pass one exam. A comprehensive five-day CEH training course is recommended, with the exam presented at the end of training. Candidates may self-study for the exam but must submit documentation of at least two years of work experience in information security with employer verification. Self-study candidates are required to pay an additional $100 application fee. Education may be substituted for experience, but this is approved on a case-by-case basis.

Because technology in the field of hacking changes almost daily, CEH credential holders are required to obtain 120 continuing education credits for each three-year cycle.

Certification Name

Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Training is highly recommended. Without formal training, candidates must have at least two years of information security-related experience and an educational background in information security, pay a nonrefundable eligibility application fee of $100, and submit an Exam Eligibility Form prior to purchasing an exam voucher.

Number of Exams

One: 312-50 (125 multiple-choice questions, four hours)

Cost of Exam

$950

URL

https://www.eccouncil.org/programs/certified-ethical-hacker-ceh/

Self-Study Materials

EC-Council instructor-led courses, computer-based training, online courses and more are available at ECCouncil.org. A CEH skills assessment is also available for credential seekers.

While EC-Council offers both instructor-led and online training for its CEH certification, IT professionals have plenty of other choices of self-study materials, including video-based training, practice exams and books.

Pluralsight currently offers several ethical hacking courses geared toward the 312-50 exam. With a monthly subscription, you get access to all these courses plus everything else in Pluralsight's training library. Through Pluralsight's ethical hacking courses, IT professionals learn about session hijacking, reconnaissance and footprinting, SQL injection, enumeration, social engineering, and how to hack web servers, applications and mobile platforms.

Transcender from Kaplan IT Training offers a practice exam for the CEH 312-50 certification that includes 300 questions. Backed by its "pass the first time" guarantee, Transcender is so confident that this practice exam will help you prepare for the CEH exam that you can get a full refund if you don't pass the CEH exam.

The Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) is a top credential for IT professionals responsible for managing, developing and overseeing information security systems in enterprise-level applications, or for developing best organizational security practices. The CISM credential was introduced to security professionals in 2003 by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA).

ISACA's organizational goals are specifically geared toward IT professionals interested in the highest quality standards with respect to audit, control and security of information systems. The CISM credential targets the needs of IT security professionals with enterprise-level security management responsibilities. Credential holders possess advanced and proven skills in security risk management, program development and management, governance, and incident management and response.

Holders of the CISM credential, which is designed for experienced security professionals, must agree to ISACA's Code of Professional Ethics, pass a comprehensive examination, possess at least five years of security experience, comply with the Continuing Education Policy and submit a written application. Some combinations of education and experience may be substituted for the experience requirement.

ISACA members who register early pay $500 for the exam; nonmembers pay $710 for early registration. The regular registration fee for members is $550 and $760 for nonmembers. The CISM credential is valid for three years, and credential holders must pay an annual maintenance fee of $45 (ISACA members) or $85 (nonmembers). Credential holders are also required to obtain a minimum of 120 continuing professional education (CPE) credits over the three-year term to maintain the credential. At least 20 CPEs must be earned every year.

Certification Name

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

To obtain the CISM credential, candidates must do the following:

  1. Pass the CISM exam.
  2. Agree to the ISACA Code of Professional Ethics.
  3. 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. Experience must be verifiable and obtained in the preceding 10-year period prior to the application date or within five years after passing the exam. There are some exceptions to this requirement depending on current credentials held.
  4. Apply for CISM certification (processing fee is $50). The credential must be obtained within five years of passing the exam.
  5. Agree to the CISM Continuing Education Policy.

Number of Exams

One (only offered in June, September and December; candidates are encouraged to register early)

Cost of Exam

Online early registration: member $500, nonmember $710
Mailed/faxed early registration fee: member $525, nonmember $735
Online final registration deadline fee: member $550, nonmember $760
Mailed/faxed final registration deadline fee: member $575, nonmember $785

URL

http://www.isaca.org/Certification/CISM-Certified-Information-Security-Manager/Pages/default.aspx

Self-Study Materials

Training and study materials in various languages, information on Job Practice Areas, primary references, publications, articles, the ISACA Journal, review courses, exam prep community, terminology lists, a glossary and more are available at ISACA.org.

In addition to the CISM, ISACA offers numerous certifications for those interested in information security and best practices. Other credentials worth considering include the following:

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
  • Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT)
  • Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

The CISA designation was created for professionals working with information systems auditing, control or security. The CGEIT credential targets IT professionals working in enterprise IT management, governance, strategic alignment, value delivery and risk, and resource and performance management. IT professionals seeking careers in all aspects of risk management will find the CRISC credential nicely meets their needs.

Kaplan IT Training offers the Axelos/SkillSoft Quick Review course for CISM, and subsidiary Transcender is preparing an early 2018 release for a CISM practice test. Visit the Transcender ISACA page for more information on practice test availability and costs.

 

CompTIA's Security+ is a well-respected, vendor-neutral security certification. Security+ credential holders are recognized as possessing superior technical skills, broad knowledge and expertise in multiple security-related disciplines.

While Security+ is an entry-level certification, successful candidates should possess at least two years of experience working in network security and should consider first obtaining the Network+ certification. IT pros who obtain this certification possess expertise in areas such as threat management, cryptography, identity management, security systems, security risk identification and mitigation, network access control, and security infrastructure. The CompTIA Security+ credential is also approved by the U.S. Department of Defense to meet Directive 8570.01-M requirements.

The Security+ credential requires a single exam, currently priced at $320 (discounts may apply to those who work for CompTIA member companies, and to full-time students). Training is available but not required.

IT professionals who earned the Security+ certification prior to Jan. 1, 2011, remain certified for life. Those who certify after that date must renew the certification every three years to stay current. To renew, candidates are required to pass the most current Security+ exam, pass a higher-level CompTIA exam or complete 50 continuing education units (CEUs) prior to the expiration of the three-year period. CEUs can be obtained by engaging in a variety of activities, such as teaching, blogging, publishing articles or white papers, and participating in professional conferences and similar activities.

Certification Name

CompTIA Security+

Prerequisites & Required Courses

None. CompTIA recommends at least two years of experience in IT administration (with a security focus) and the Network+ credential before taking the Security+ exam.

Number of Exams

One: SY0-501

Cost of Exam

$320 (discounts may apply; search for "SY0-501 voucher")

URL

https://certification.comptia.org/certifications/security

Self-Study Materials

Exam objectives, sample exam questions, the CertMaster online training tool, training kits, computer-based training and a comprehensive study guide are available at CompTIA.org.

You'll find several companies offering online training, instructor-led and self-study courses, practice exams, and books to help you prepare for and pass the Security+ exam.

Pluralsight offers a series of Security+ video training courses as part of its monthly subscription plan for the latest SY0-501 exam. Split up into six sections, the training series is just more than 18 hours long and covers network security, compliance and operational security, threats and vulnerabilities, application, data and host security, access control and identity management, and cryptography.

If you want to test your security knowledge before attempting the real exam, Transcender/Kaplan IT Training offers a Security+ practice exam with more than 400 mock questions and nearly 550 study flashcards. The practice exam can be a good additional resource to online training and books, helping you gain confidence in your understanding of the exam objectives and knowledge of security essentials.

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is an advanced-level certification for IT pros serious about careers in information security. Offered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, known as (ISC)2 and pronounced "ISC squared," this vendor-neutral credential is recognized worldwide for its standards of excellence.

CISSP credential holders are decision-makers who possess expert knowledge and technical skills necessary to develop, guide and then manage security standards, policies and procedures within their organizations. The CISSP continues to be highly sought after by IT professionals and well recognized by IT organizations. It is a regular fixture on most-wanted and must-have security certification surveys.

CISSP is designed for experienced security professionals. A minimum of five years of experience in at least two of (ISC)2's eight Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) domains, or four years of experience in at least two of (ISC)2's CBK domains and a college degree or an approved credential, is required for this certification. The CBK domains are 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.

(ISC)2 also offers three CISSP concentrations targeting specific areas of interest in IT security:

  • Architecture (CISSP-ISSAP)
  • Engineering (CISSP-ISSEP)
  • Management (CISSP-ISSMP)

CISSP concentration exams are $599 each, and credential seekers must currently possess a valid CISSP.

An annual fee of $85 is required to maintain the CISSP credential. Recertification is required every three years. To recertify, candidates must earn 40 continuing professional education (CPE) credits each year for a total of 120 CPEs within the three-year cycle.

Certification Name

Certified Information  Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
Optional CISSP concentrations:
  • CISSP Architecture (CISSP-ISSAP)
  • CISSP Engineering (CISSP-ISSEP)
  • CISSP Management (CISSP-ISSMP)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

At least five years of paid, full-time experience in at least two of the eight (ISC)2 domains or four years of paid, full-time experience in at least two of the eight (ISC)2 domains and a college degree or an approved credential.

Number of Exams

One for CISSP (250 multiple-choice and advanced innovative questions, six hours)

One for each concentration area

Cost of Exam

CISSP is $699; each CISSP concentration is $599

URL

https://www.isc2.org/Certifications/CISSP

Self-Study Materials

A variety of training materials are available, including instructor-led, live online, on-demand and private training. An exam outline is available for candidate review, as well as study guides, a study app, interactive flashcards and practice tests.

With the popularity of the CISSP certification, there is no shortage of available training options, including classroom-based training offered by (ISC)2 as well as online video courses, practice exams and books from third-party companies.

Pluralsight's CISSP courses cover the security concepts required for the certification exam. Current courses include security engineering, asset security, software development security and physical (or environmental) security. There are several courses still in development that will cover the topics of security and risk management, communications and network security, identity and access management, and more. Available for a low monthly fee, the CISSP is part of a subscription plan that gives IT professionals access to Pluralsight's complete library of video training courses.

When you're ready to test your security knowledge, you can take a simulated exam that mimics the format and content of the real CISSP exam. Transcender offers a CISSP practice exam that includes over 900 practice questions and almost as many flashcards to help you prepare for this challenging exam. The practice exam covers all the CISSP exam objectives and helps you identify your weak areas so that you're confident in your understanding of all the CISSP content.

Another fine entry-level credential is the GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC), designed for professionals seeking to demonstrate that they not only understand information security terminology and concepts, but also possess the skills and technical expertise necessary to occupy "hands-on" security roles. GSEC credential holders have knowledge and technical skills in areas such as identifying and preventing common and wireless attacks, access controls, authentication, password management, DNS, cryptography fundamentals, ICMP, IPv6, public key infrastructure, Linux, network mapping and network protocols.

Currently priced at $1,699, the GIAC Security Essentials exam is quite a bit more expensive than the Security+ exam. While a training program is not required, credential seekers may take a SANS course that includes the cost of the exam.

GSEC certification must be renewed every four years. To renew, candidates must accumulate 36 continuing professional experience credits (CPEs). GIAC offers several ways to meet the CPE requirement. Some options are passing the current certification exam (worth 36 CPEs), attending or teaching approved courses, and publishing books, articles or research papers. In addition, credential holders must pay a certification maintenance fee of $429 every four years.

Certification Name

GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

None, but training is recommended.

Number of Exams

One proctored exam (180 questions, five hours) Exam administered by Pearson VUE. Registration with GIAC required to schedule an exam.

Cost of Exam

$729, if part of training/bootcamp
$1,699 (no training – referred to as a "certification challenge" or "certification attempt")

URL

https://www.giac.org/certification/security-essentials-gsec

Self-Study Materials

Training available from numerous sources, including SANS. Ric Messier's GSEC GIAC Security Essentials Certification All-in-One Exam Guide is also available from Amazon.

In addition to the GSEC credential, SANS GIAC currently offers a full range of certifications (more than 35 individual credentials) from entry to advanced levels for IT professionals seeking careers in the fields of security administration, forensics, legal, audit, management and software security. GIAC certifications are designed to stand alone; however, GIAC recommends that credential seekers obtain entry-level certifications and use them as skill builders for more advanced credentials.

In addition to these must-have InfoSec credentials, there are many other certifications available to fit the career needs of any IT professional interested in information security.

If you find incident response and investigation intriguing, check out the Logical Operations CyberSec First Responder (CFR) certification. This ANSI-accredited and U.S. DoDD-8570 compliant credential recognizes security professionals who can design secure IT environments, perform threat analysis, and respond appropriately and effectively to cyberattacks. Logical Operations offers other certifications as well, including the Master Mobile Application Developer (MMAD), Certified Virtualization Professional (CVP), Certified Cyber Secure Coder and CloudMASTER.

There are many other certifications to explore or keep your eye on. The associate-level Cisco CCNA Cyber Ops certification aims at people who work as analysts in security operations centers (SOCs) in large companies and organizations. Candidates who qualify through the Cisco Global Scholarship Program may receive free training, mentoring and testing to help them achieve the CCNA Cyber Ops certification. The CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CSA+), which launched in 2017, is a vendor-neutral certification designed for professionals with three to four years of security and behavioral analytics experience.

The Identity Management Institute (IMI) offers several credentials for identity and access management, data protection, identity protection, identity governance, and more. The IAPP, which focuses on privacy, has a small but growing number of certifications as well.

The SECO-Institute, in cooperation with the Security Academy Netherlands and EXIN, is behind the Cyber Security & Governance Certification Program, an up-and-coming European option that may be headed for the U.S. in the next year or two. Finally, it may be worth your time to browse the Institute of Information Security Professionals (IISP) accreditations, which are the U.K. equivalent of the U.S. DoDD 8570 certifications and the corresponding 8140 framework.