UNDERSTANDING CYBER SECURITY CERTIFICATIONS
The field of cyber security presents an opportunity for professionals to use their tech skills and security savvy to thwart cybercrime. The need for qualified workers who have an education in the field is good, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipating a 34.7% job growth through 2031 for Information Security Analysts.
RSA Security says, "Whether a financial institution, an Internet storefront that does business with online shoppers, and now even hospitals with the rising tide of ransomware, cybercrime has no boundaries. In fact, anyone with an email address, an inbox, or a social media account is a target."
But professionals must have relevant credentials to appeal to today's and tomorrow's employers. One of the best ways to supplement your existing skills and experience is to earn cyber security certifications. Some professional certifications may help you gain footing in an entry-level role, but the majority of certifications and credentials are designed to help you grow your skillset.
WHY PURSUE CYBER SECURITY CERTIFICATION?
If you are currently employed and your employer would like you to advance in your job, they might choose to pay for your training and ultimate certificate. Many cyber certification programs require that you have a minimum level of on-the-job experience performing forensic examinations or security audits before enrolling in the course.
If your employer is satisfied with your performance, yet you don't have any professional security certifications, you might ask for specialized training to solidify your expertise in the field.
Since cyber security is such a huge topic and of vital interest to businesses and agencies, certification training might even be a part of your compensation package. If you work for a consultancy this could certainly be the case, because consulting firms frequently desire workers with the very best credentials. Clients love to see an overabundance of initials after every consultant's name.
WHO OFFERS CYBER SECURITY CERTIFICATIONS?
Certifications exist in other disciplines, but what makes them unique in cyber security and other IT fields is they are often vendor-specific. Vendors like Microsoft, Oracle, CompTIA and Cisco offer certifications so that security professional can demonstrate their expertise with ubiquitous technologies.
Certifications are also offered by professional organizations and institutions with a commitment to advance the skills and abilities of those in the information security field. The quality and legitimacy of cyber certification programs can vary, so be sure to vet any program you're seriously considering before signing up.
TYPES OF CYBER SECURITY PROFESSIONAL CERTIFICATIONS
The cyber security landscape is constantly changing. As a result, some skills are in higher demand across industries. All certifications add professional value, but some are more valuable than others. These are the certifications with the most appeal for cyber security professionals.
- GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) – Global Information Assurance Certification (GAIC) is an international agency dedicated to cyber security best practices. It offers certification in topics ranging from computer forensics to security administration.
- Certified Information Security Systems Professional (CISSP) – The International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2 offers CISSP certifications in topics ranging from computer security certification to authorization controls.
- System Security Certified Provider (SSCP) – This certification also offered by (ISC)2 is designed specifically for information assurance professionals focused on the development and management of information systems.
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) – The purpose of this certification from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) is to help security professionals better align their initiatives with broader business goals. This certification is valuable for anyone hoping to move into a CISO role.
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) – Anyone responsible for performing security audits and compliance checks can expand on their skills with this certification from the ISACA. This credential is valuable for anyone hoping to move into a CISA capacity.
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) – The EC-Council offers a variety of certifications to help professionals demonstrate their ability to work as ethical hackers and expose security vulnerabilities in a positive way.
- EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA) – This certification goes one step beyond the previous one and teaches security professionals how to assess threats and design tools to test for weaknesses.
- CompTIA Security+ – CompTIA offers vendor-neutral certifications across a spectrum of tech disciplines. The Security+ certification is valuable for professionals looking for a broad introduction to concepts of information security.
- Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP) – The Certified Wireless Network Professionals (CWNP) offer this certification to teach professionals how to secure enterprise wireless networks without having to rely on support from the vendor.
HOW LONG DO CYBER SECURITY CERTIFICATIONS TAKE TO EARN?
That all depends upon the certification. Some require professionals to have years of on-the-job experience before they are even eligible to pursue the certification. Others simply require professionals to pass an exam.
Since certifications are organized around specialized skills, it is always necessary to study, practice, and gain confidence with an unfamiliar discipline before taking the final exam. Once you are eligible, most certifications take a few months to complete.
PREPARING FOR CYBER CERTIFICATION AS AN UNDERGRAD
Though not required, one great way to prepare for certification is to have a strong knowledge of what will be required while you are still in your undergraduate cyber security program. Even if your university does not offer a specific cyber security degree or specialty, you might be able to assemble your coursework in such a way that you are prepared for your dream job.
Keep in mind that the very best cyber security programs have interdisciplinary features. Given that, you can discuss your goals with an advisor and piece together a curriculum that satisfies your university's requirements for, a computer science degree but also fleshes out your knowledge base and prepares you for later success.
COURSES TO CONSIDER TAKING
If they are available at your university, you might consider taking a few of these types of cyber security related courses:
- Cyber Law and Ethics
- Technical Writing
- Philosophy of Law
- Business Law
- Constitutional Law
ROLES YOU CAN GET PREPARE FOR IN ADVANCE
Once you have a certification, you may find that the job market seems more friendly. As a certified expert in information security, you may find some of the following job titles interesting:
- Security Auditor
- Perimeter Security Analyst
- Penetration Tester
- Security Consultant
- Security Manager
- Information Security Analyst
- Security Administrator
- Network Security Architect
INFORMATION SECURITY CERTIFICATION EXAMS OVERVIEW
To receive a certification, you will need to pass an examination that tests your abilities and knowledge in certain particular aspects of computer security. Make sure that you prepare adequately so that you can do your very best. Even if you work in a security department, your daily tasks might not cover all of the topics expected by the test makers.
When you find the right certification for you, the professional agency in charge will likely have pointers to help you prepare for the test. Also, note that sometimes the test can come in multiple parts. For information security, there may even be a part that can take over a month to complete.
Some certifying bodies recommend rigorous training prior to taking the test. Very often they have qualified independent training facilities across the nation and world to help you prepare. You may also be able to train for your examination online. The online option often works best for working professionals who don't have the time or desire to travel or commute for in-person training.
TOPICS COVERED ON A CYBER SECURITY CERTIFICATION EXAM
Your test will be very in-depth and will look for positive outcomes in as many as 10 different areas, some of which may include the following:
- Law and Ethics
- Operating Systems
- Cyber Security Analysis
- Media Geometry
There will be detailed questions for each area. For instance, you might be asked to know the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the 4th Amendment, or be able to discuss how to best behave in court. Other features of the law might include the notion of consent, privacy issues, and the discovery process.
HOW MUCH DO CYBER SECURITY CERTIFICATIONS COST?
Part of the appeal of certifications is that they allow you to add significantly to your resume at a fraction of the cost of an additional degree. The cost of cyber security certifications can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. You may also have to pay for study and test-prep materials. IT employers have been known to help professionals offset the cost of certifications in order to benefit from the skills they gain.
PRO TIP: CERTIFICATIONS VS. CERTIFICATES
Despite the similar names, these are two very different types of credentials. If you're researching school programs and come across a certificate program, understand that this involves the completion of a course with a specific end goal. Here are some guidelines for the two:
- Certifications are specialized credentials that professionals earn in a focused area to demonstrate their expertise and exact skill set, and generally require passing an exam. These are generally offered by companies or professional associations and agencies.
- Certificates are a type of condensed degree or diploma program that students earn in order to first enter the field. You could find certificate programs at any community college, college or university.