InfoSec professionals who want to set themselves apart as leaders in IT security should seriously consider one of these top five information security certifications for 2017.
When it comes to information security, you need only read the headlines to observe that those with malicious intent constantly find new and scary ways to access and misuse privileged information for criminal, unscrupulous or questionable purposes. As a result, IT professionals skilled in information security remain in very high demand. In 2016, there were more than 200,000 security positions available in the U.S., with forecasts pointing to 1.5 million open positions globally by 2019.
When evaluating prospective InfoSec candidates, employers frequently look to certification as one measure of excellence and commitment to quality. In this article, we take a look at five InfoSec certifications we consider to be leaders in the field of information security today:
- CompTIA Security+
- CEH: Certified Ethical Hacker
- GSEC: SANS GIAC Security Essentials
- CISSP: Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- CISM: Certified Information Security Manager
This year's list includes entry-level credentials, like Security+ and GIAC Security Essentials, as well as more advanced certs, such as the CEH, CISSP and CISM. We also offer some additional certification options in the last section, as the field of information security is both wide and varied.
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 the area of network security and should consider first obtaining the Network+ certification. IT pros who obtain the cert 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 $311 (discounts may apply to those who work for CompTIA member companies, and to full-time students). Training is available but not required. If you're thinking about taking the Security+ exam sometime in 2017, be aware that CompTIA released the current version – SY0-401 – in May 2014. Because the organization typically releases exams every three years, a new exam should be available in late spring or summer 2017.
IT professionals who earned the Security+ cert 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.
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 same skills and techniques hackers use to identify system vulnerabilities and access points for penetration, and to prevent 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 also 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.
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 for "hands-on" security roles. GSEC credential holders demonstrate 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 $1,249, 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 certifications 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 $399 every four years.
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, is required for this certification. CBK domains include 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 $399 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.
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.
Designed for experienced security professionals, CISM credential holders 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 to meet the experience requirement.
ISACA members who register early pay $450 for the exam; nonmembers pay $635 for early registration. Regular registration fee for members is $500 and $685 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.