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5 Great ‘Starter’ Cybersecurity Certifications

Kim Lindros
Kim Lindros
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Updated Jan 23, 2023

Find accessible and affordable certifications to get your cybersecurity career off the ground.

  • Global cybersecurity spending is expected to reach trillions through 2025. This makes the cybersecurity industry a great space in which to pursue jobs.
  • Entry-level cybersecurity certifications from Microsoft, ISACA, CompTIA, GIAC and (ISC)2 can help you prove your prowess to potential employers.
  • You can use study guides, flashcards and practice tests to prepare for your exam. Registering for your exam may cost several hundred dollars. 
  • This article is for anyone interested in entry-level cybersecurity jobs.

Looking for a career change? There’s no better time to consider a career in cybersecurity. U.S. businesses and government agencies are spending billions of dollars annually to protect their data and assets from malicious attacks. In fact, according to the 2022 Official Cybercrime Report by Cybersecurity Ventures, global cybersecurity spending will total $1.75 trillion between 2021 and 2025.

With the demand for qualified security professionals soaring, certification is a logical way to verify your skills and knowledge and get your resume noticed. We’ll highlight five certifications to help launch your cybersecurity career and offer exam preparation tips.

Entry-level cybersecurity certifications

The following cybersecurity certifications are excellent ways to firm up your skill set and bolster your resume for hiring managers seeking to attract and retain the best employees.

1. Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals

The Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance, and Identity Fundamentals certification is one of the most “entry-level” certifications we’re highlighting. Aimed at students, business users and IT professionals, this cert recognizes knowledge of numerous cybersecurity topics, including general Microsoft 365 and Azure. It also recognizes general IT knowledge or work experience and familiarity with cloud and networking computing concepts. To achieve certification, you must pass a single exam, which costs $99.

To improve your chances of achieving this certification, Microsoft recommends using its self-paced Microsoft Learn content. Microsoft also suggests attending instruction events, taking practice exams and shadowing people who work in security, compliance, and identity management. 

Did you know?Did you know?: Microsoft certifications include numerous options for network engineers, security engineers and security operations analysts.

2. ISACA Cybersecurity Fundamentals

Folks in the security industry know ISACA for such long-running certificates as its Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and similar certifications – all of which grant intermediate to advanced credentials. They’re designed for IT professionals who want to help prevent and avoid network security threats and vulnerabilities.

The Cybersecurity Fundamentals certificate is designed to fill the entry-level niche. This certificate covers four cybersecurity-related domains: 

  • Threat landscape
  • Information security fundamentals
  • Securing access
  • Security operations and response

The single exam costs $150 for ISACA members and $199 for nonmembers. The certificate doesn’t expire or require periodic recertification.

3. CompTIA Security+

Perhaps the most well-known entry-level security certification is the CompTIA Security+, which covers a wide array of security and information assurance topics, including:

  • Network security
  • Threats and vulnerabilities
  • Access controls
  • Cryptography
  • Risk management principles
  • Application, host and data security 

The certification meets U.S. Department of Defense Directive 8570.01-M requirements – an essential item for anyone looking to work in IT security for the federal government – and complies with the Federal Information Security Management Act.

CompTIA recommends that candidates have two years of relevant experience and achieve the Network+ credential before taking the Security+ exam. At $392, this exam lands roughly midway between the least and most expensive compared to other entry-level certifications. The Security+ certificate leads to such jobs as security administrator, systems administrator and network engineer, among others.

TipTip: CompTIA is known for its vendor-neutral certification program. In general, CompTIA certifications are grouped according to skill set and focus on real-world skills all IT professionals need.

4. GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GISF)

GIAC gears the GISF certification toward system administrators, managers and information security officers who need a solid overview of computer networks, security policies, incident response and cryptographic principles. 

The GISF exam is considered to be more challenging than the CompTIA Security+ exam. GIAC certification exams in general require test takers to apply knowledge and problem-solving skills, so hands-on experience gained through training or on-the-job experience is recommended.

The GISF exam costs $949. Although GIAC includes two practice exams in the certification-attempt package, this exam price is exceptionally high.

After achieving the GISF, consider pursuing the GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC), an intermediate-level certification that takes a big step beyond foundational information security concepts.

TipTip: Check out our picks for the best business continuity and disaster recovery certifications to help you learn to recover systems after a disaster.

5. (ISC)2 Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)

The (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is probably the most recognizable and popular security certification today. But (ISC)2 offers several other security-related certifications, with the ANSI-accredited SSCP filling the entry-level slot. 

The SSCP prepares you for such jobs as security analyst, network security engineer and security administrator, which typically start at the junior level if you don’t already have technical or engineering-related information technology experience.

To achieve the SSCP, you must pass a single exam that includes questions that span seven common body of knowledge (CBK) domains:

  • Access Controls
  • Security Operations and Administration
  • Risk Identification, Monitoring and Analysis
  • Incident Response and Recovery
  • Cryptography
  • Network and Communications Security
  • Systems and Application Security

To ensure that you have sufficient hands-on security knowledge before taking the exam, (ISC)2 recommends that you attend training courses or conference workshops, participate in webinars, and read white papers and books.

The exam costs $2,490, and (ISC)2 offers a variety of study resources for purchase on its website.

Did you know?Did you know?: Many additional niche cybersecurity certifications can help you advance your IT career. For example, you can also achieve big data certifications, digital forensics certifications, computer hardware certifications and networking certifications.

Preparing for your exams

Regardless of which certification is the best fit for you, be prepared to devote ample self-study time to the effort. Many test takers prefer to use a top-rated study guide along with some practice tests and flashcards when preparing for a certification exam. 

If your learning style leans more toward formal, instructor-led training, factor the costs and required time into your plans. Although training costs vary by certification, they typically run from $400 to over $5,000, depending on whether you choose online, virtual classroom or in-classroom delivery.

Cybersecurity certifications can help you navigate your career path

Entry-level certifications are an excellent way to begin, improve or navigate your career path as an IT professional. Pursuing and achieving IT certifications helps you demonstrate a willingness to learn while developing the in-demand career skills your employers – and future employers – want.

Max Freedman contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.

Image Credit: focal point/Shutterstock
Kim Lindros
Kim Lindros
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Kim Lindros is a full-time content developer who writes about security, technology and business. She spent nearly 10 years in tech support and as a network administrator before transitioning to tech publishing. With a background in project management, she has run large multifunction teams to produce entire book series, online curricula and on-ground training classes. She has also contributed to several books on Windows technologies and applications, and IT certification.