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Best Information Security Certifications 2019

Best Information Security Certifications 2019
Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

The year 2018 saw its share of cybersecurity breaches with major breaches suffered by global entities such as Facebook (87 million records breached) and Aadhaar, who reportedly had more than 1.1 billion records breached. The sheer magnitude of these information security breaches equates not only with bigger losses and more media coverage but also with more jobs and opportunities for IT and programming professionals.

According to a Cyber Seek report, the number of cybersecurity job openings in the U.S. stands at almost 302,000, with nearly 769,000 cybersecurity professionals employed in today's workforce. 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 cover 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 like 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 $30,263 for specialist positions, whereas Glassdoor's national average is almost $68,000. For security engineers, Simply Hired reports almost $95,000, while Glassdoor's average is more than $131,000 with salaries on the high end reported at $144,000.

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 results from our informal job board survey. It reports the number of job posts nationwide in which our featured certs were mentioned on a given day. This should give you an idea of the relative popularity of each certification.

Certification

Simply Hired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

TechCareers

Total

CEH (EC-Council)

2,100

2,849

4,471

1,360

10,780

CISM (ISACA)

3,088

4,049

6,663

6,409

20,209

CISSP [(ISC)2]

9,760

12,967

20,129

6,875

49,731

GSEC (SANS GIAC)

1,552

1,983

3,187

920

7,642

Security+ (CompTIA)

2,437

3,145

4,348

415

10,345

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 a CEH certification, candidates must pass one exam. A comprehensive five-day CEH training course is recommended, with the exam presented at course conclusion. 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 must also pay an additional $100 application fee. Education may be substituted for experience, but this is evaluated 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.

Once a candidate obtains the CEH designation, a logical progression on the EC-Council certification ladder is the Certified Ethical Hacker (Practical) credential. A recent addition to the EC-Council certification portfolio, the CEH (Practical) designation targets the application of CEH skills to real-world security audit challenges and related scenarios. To obtain the credential, candidates must pass a rigorous six-hour practical examination. Conducted on live virtual machines, candidates are presented 20 scenarios with questions designed to validate a candidate's ability to perform tasks such as vulnerability analysis, identification of threat vectors, web app and system hacking, OS detection, or network scanning, packet sniffing, steganography, virus identification, and more.

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 (ECC Exam) (125 multiple-choice questions, four hours)

Cost of Exam

$950 (ECC exam voucher)

Note: An ECC exam voucher allows candidates to test via computer at location of their choice. Pearson Vue exam vouchers allow candidates to test in a Pearson Vue facility and cost $1,199.

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. Additionally, Udemy offers CEP Practice Exams.

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

Pluralsight currently offers various 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.

Kaplan IT Training offers a practice exam for the CEH 312-50 certification that includes several sets of exam-like questions, custom quizzes, flashcards and more. An exam prep subscription for 180 days costs $149 and allows candidates access to online study materials as well as the ability to download the materials for offline study. Backed by its "pass the first time" guarantee, Kaplan IT is so confident that this practice exam will prepare you for the CEH exam that it will refund its practice test costs if you don't pass.

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 organization's continuing education policy and submit a written application. Some combinations of education and experience may be substituted for the experience requirement.

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 exam (150 questions, four hours to complete) (Exams are offered several times during designated exam windows only. In 2018, there were three designated exam windows. Exam windows for 2019 have not yet been announced.)

Cost of Exam

Exam fees: member $575; nonmember $760

Exam fees are nontransferable and nonrefundable.

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. Additionally, Udemy offers comprehensive training for the certification exam.

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 SkillSoft CISM 2016 CISM e-learning course. The 180-day subscription includes custom quizzes, practice exam questions, access to experts through the InstructorLink and more. As with other Kaplan courses, a pass guarantee comes with the 180-day subscription.

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 8140/8570.01-M requirements. In addition, the Security+ credential complies with the standards for ISO 17024.

The Security+ credential requires a single exam, currently priced at $339 (discounts may apply to employees of CompTIA member companies and 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 complete 50 continuing education units (CEUs) or complete the CertMaster CE online course 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. Udemy also offers a complete and comprehensive course for the certification.

Number of Exams

One: SY0-501 (90 questions, 90 minutes to complete; 750 on a scale of 100-900 required to pass)

Cost of Exam

$339 (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, Kaplan IT Training offers a Security+ practice exam build-your-own training package course. Candidates can choose a 30-day assessment option that includes a single set of exam questions, plus quizzes and references and explanations. For an additional fee, candidates can upgrade to a 180-day subscription that includes multiple exam options, key concept flashcards, access to InstructorLink experts, discussion boards and more. Mobile eLearning along with access to practice labs are also available.

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 (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 is 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 Architecture and Engineering, Communications and Network Security, Identity and Access Management (IAM), 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.

Agree to the (ISC)2 Code of Ethics.

Submit the CISSP application.

Complete the endorsement process.

Number of Exams

One for CISSP (English CAT exam: 100-150 questions, three hours to complete; non-English exam: 250 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.

Given the popularity of the CISSP certification, there is no shortage of available training options. These include 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 include 13 courses and 20 hours of e-learning that cover the security concepts required for the certification exam. Current courses include business continuity management, information classification, investigations and incident management, security controls and framework, communications and network security, cryptography application, risk and asset management, security architecture, security engineering, security management, personnel security, and physical (or environmental) security. 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. Kaplan IT Training offers CISSP practice exam subscriptions in either a 30-day assessment or full 180-day exam format to help you prepare for this challenging exam.

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 skills and technical expertise necessary to occupy "hands-on" security roles.

GSEC 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 $1,899, 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

$769, if part of training/bootcamp
$1,899 (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 available from Amazon.

In addition to the GSEC credential, SANS GIAC currently offers a full range of certifications (more than 36 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 (CySA+), 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.