Your guide to the CompTIA Security+ certification

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It's no surprise just how many certifications are out there—to test everything from general knowledge to niche skills—in the rapidly expanding field of cyber security. Cyber security professionals can and should earn numerous different cyber security certifications throughout their career to demonstrate their particular expertise to employers. In fact, many cyber security positions explicitly state that the employee should have one or multiple certifications to qualify for a given job, making them a necessity in the field.

Numerous independent providers offer cyber security certifications. The Security+ certification offered by CompTIA is one of the most popular in the field for entry-level professionals. Continue reading to find out who can benefit from this certification, what's on the exam, how to prepare for it and much more.

Understanding the CompTIA Security+ certification

Cyber security certifications are an important way to identify peoples' skills and competencies in the IT industry. CompTIA—known more officially as the Computing Technology Industry Association—is one independent certification and education provider that offers 14 total certifications across four IT certification series. Certifications are earned by passing an exam.

Security+ is one of their certifications, which is meant to provide a baseline of best practices in IT network and operations security.

"CompTIA Security+ is a global certification that validates the baseline skills necessary to perform core security functions and pursue an IT security career. It is intended for entry-level or early career cybersecurity professionals," wrote Steven Ostrowski, senior director of corporate communications for CompTIA. "We recommend that individuals have two years of experience in IT administration with a security focus as the appropriate on the job experience level before taking this exam." While having this experience is recommended, it is not required to take the exam.

"CompTIA Security+ is the only foundational cybersecurity certification that emphasizes hands-on practical skills, ensuring the security professional is better prepared to problem solve a wider variety of today's complex issues. IT professionals who pass the exam have demonstrated they have the cybersecurity knowledge applicable across more of today's job roles to secure systems, software and hardware," Ostrowski said.

Benefits of obtaining this certification

There are several advantages to getting a Security+ certification from CompTIA.

On top of the fact that many employers may prefer or require their employees to have a certain certification (especially in government), holding this certification could lead to the following benefits: 

A chance to get better jobs with higher salaries

Possibility for promotion and career advancement

An additional competitive edge against other applicants in the job market

Preparation for higher-level certifications from CompTIA like PenTest+ or CySA+

"CompTIA Security+ is chosen by more corporations and defense organizations than any other certification on the market to validate baseline security skills and for fulfilling Department of Defense 8570 compliance," Ostrowski said. "CompTIA Security+ is also the most frequently requested certification by employers looking to hire cybersecurity workers—nearly 266,000 between May 2022 and April 2023. That's according to CyberSeek™, the leading source of data and information on supply and demand in the U.S. cyber workforce."

Note: Certificate vs Certification

  • Certificate: A certificate is awarded by an educational institution, and signifies that a student has satisfactorily completed a given curriculum. Certificate programs can help students prepare for certification exams.
  • Certification: A certification is generally awarded by a trade group after an individual has met certain professional requirements (e.g. earned a specific cyber degree, worked professionally in a given field for a set amount of time, etc.) and passed a certification exam.

In short, a certificate is evidence that someone has completed an educational program, while a certification denotes that someone has met a certain set of professional criteria and/or passed an exam.

Not all programs offered are designed to meet state educator licensing or advancement requirements; however, it may assist candidates in gaining these approvals in their state of residence depending on those requirements. Contact the state board of education in the applicable state(s) for requirements.

CompTIA Security+ Exam details

The CompTIA Security+ exam is a 90-minute test that is taken online, either from home or at an in-person Pearson VUE testing center. You may choose which location you want to test from.

The exam consists of a maximum of 90 questions which include both multiple-choice and performance-based simulation questions. A score of 750 is considered passing, on a scale of 100-900.

If you fail the exam, you can retake it as many times as you wish, as long as you pay the exam fee each time.

Topics on the exam

The CompTIA Security+ exam validates the following skills which make up the five content domains of the exam:

Attacks, threats and vulnerabilities:
Where and how attacks occur, including newer devices
Architecture and design:
Enterprise environments, security networks, the cloud
Administering identity, access management, public key infrastructure, basic cryptography, wireless and end-to-end security
Operations and incident response:
Response procedures, risk mitigation, security controls and digital forensics
Governance, risk and compliance:
Compliance with technology regulatory bodies

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Preparing for the CompTIA Security+ exam

On top of the fact that CompTIA recommends that you have at least two years of IT systems administration work experience with a focus on security, CompTIA has numerous resources to help you prepare for the exam. When you purchase an exam voucher (which is necessary to take the exam), there is an option to bundle and purchase other exam prep products together, such as:

  • Interactive, self-paced training modules
  • Practice assessments
  • Virtual labs
  • Instructor-led training
  • Self-paced study guide

These materials are designed specifically for the Security+ certification and align with the exam objectives.

"CompTIA, along with our partners in the academic and commercial training communities, offers a variety of ways to prepare for our certification exams—self-paced study, instructor-led courses, bootcamps and more. It comes down to each person's preferred way of learning," Ostrowski said.

According to the Security+ study guide, you will be able to do the following upon successful completion of the materials in the guide:

  • Compare security roles and security controls
  • Explain threat actors and threat intelligence
  • Perform security assessments and identify social engineering attacks and malware types
  • Summarize basic cryptographic concepts and implement public key infrastructure
  • Implement authentication controls
  • Implement identity and account management controls
  • Implement secure network designs, network security applications, and secure network protocols
  • Implement host, embedded/Internet of Things, and mobile security solutions
  • Implement secure cloud solutions
  • Explain data privacy and protection concepts
  • Perform incident response and digital forensics
  • Summarize risk management concepts and implement cyber security resilience
  • Explain physical security

Tips for studying for the exam

Consider these tips to help you prepare for the exam and feel confident going into test day:

  1. Make sure this certification is right for you: Studying does no good if you are preparing for an exam that is too advanced for you. Make sure you have enough relevant experience before signing up for the Security+ exam.
  2. Create a study plan: Determine how long you have until you take the exam and set aside blocks of time to study in the meantime.
  3. Study using your preferred learning style(s): Consider the ways in which you learn best and take advantage of exam resources that appeal to you. For example, a self-directed study guide may be sufficient for some people, while others may prefer to work through interactive labs for more hands-on practice.
  4. Spread out your study time instead of cramming: Studies show that spreading out your learning in smaller increments leads to better long-term retention of the content when compared to cramming (studying for hours on end in a day or two leading up to an exam).

Taking the exam

Exam day looks a little different depending on whether you chose to take the exam in-person at a testing location or from home (or wherever you have a private space and internet connection). Regardless of how you choose to test, you should read CompTIA's testing policies and procedures prior to registering for the exam.

If you are testing online from home, you must run a systems test on the device you plan to use to take the exam. This should be done before you even register for the exam. Log on to your device on the date and time that you registered for and you can take the exam. Make sure you have a strong internet connection and do not switch devices or networks while taking the test.

If you are testing in-person, you should check in at your testing location at least 15 minutes prior to your assigned testing time. You must bring two forms of acceptable identification. In addition, they will take a photograph of you during check-in. You are not be able to bring any personal items into the testing room, including phones, notes, bags or books.

Tips for reducing stress and testing successfully

If you're nervous about test-taking or if you simply want some advice about how to increase your chances of success, consider these testing strategies:

Mentally prepare before the test.
If you're feeling stressed about taking an exam—and many people do—it can be a good idea to set aside time the morning of or shortly before the test to mentally prepare. This could include a brief meditation, a recitation of positive affirmations or some other positive ritual that focuses and calms your mind. 
Take care of your physical health.
This includes getting a good night's sleep the night before, eating a healthy breakfast the morning of testing day and staying hydrated throughout the day.
Arrive early.
If you are taking a test at an in-person location, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get there. If you are running late, it could exacerbate any stress you may already be feeling and you could risk missing the test. If you are testing from home, sit down at your desk before the test begins and double check your internet connection to make sure everything is in order.
Read the entire test.
When you first begin the exam, it can be a good idea to quickly scan the test to see get a feel for the structure and what questions you'll be asked. This can help you plan how you want to take the test and make sure you set aside enough time for all sections.
Answer the questions you know first.
Don't be afraid to skip questions that are stumping you. Answer the questions you know and then go back to answer the questions you skipped at the end.
Check your answers.
If you have time left, double check your work to make sure you gave your best answers.

After the exam

When you take the Security+ exam, you receive your results immediately. If you pass, you'll be provided instructions on how to access your record.

If you don't pass, you receive a score report which outlines what you missed and what areas you should improve. You can retake the exam as soon after your first attempt as you want, but your third and any subsequent attempts must have a waiting period of 14 days between attempts. You must pay the exam fee again each time you take the test.

If you don't pass, you receive a score report which outlines what you missed and what areas you should improve.

Your certification is valid for three years but can be renewed for another three years if you provide evidence of completing a certain amount of continuing education. For the Security+ exam, you need at least 50 continuing education units (CEUs) to qualify. There are numerous ways you can earn CEUs, including online activities, earning additional certifications (from CompTIA or other industry organizations), work experience, passing the latest release of the Security+ exam and more.

Job opportunities and salaries of CompTIA Security+ certification

A Security+ certification from CompTIA could be just the ticket to numerous entry and mid-level cyber security positions. Here are just some of the possible job titles you may qualify for with a Security+ certification and their respective cyber salaries:

Job title: Cyber security analyst

In general, a cyber security analyst works with all aspects of an organization's digital security system. They do a bit of everything, including monitoring for security breaches, responding to breaches when they occur, maintaining security software and recommending security enhancements where they may be applicable.

Median annual salary of information security analysts: $112,000

Job title: Cyber security manager

A cyber security manager oversees the personnel responsible for the digital security of an organization. They lead their team to implement and maintain security protocols and procedures, as well as respond to cyber security attacks if and when they occur.

Median annual salary of information security managers: $164,070

Job title: Cyber security auditor

Cyber security auditors design and maintain systems audits to make sure that an organization's security system is prepared against attacks. They then interpret the data found from the audit and make recommendations based on that information.

Median annual salary of information security analysts: $112,000

Job title: Security administrator

A cyber security administrator oversees security systems as a whole to make sure they are running properly. If a system requires improvements, they can implement them and convey any new procedures to employees.

Median annual salary of network and computer systems administrators: $90,520

*Salaries are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics

Professional development after Security+

In addition to maintaining your Security+ certification through CEUs, you may want to consider earning other these other certifications later on in your career:

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What is the cost of the CompTIA Security+ exam?

The CompTIA Security+ certification exam voucher costs $392 USD.

How long does it take to prepare for the exam?

It depends on the individual. Since you choose when you want to take the exam, you can give yourself as much or as little time to prepare as you like. A good way to test your readiness is to invest in any supplementary learning materials that can give you a sense of how the test will work and what will be on it.

How long is the certification valid?

The CompTIA Security+ certification is valid for three years from the day of your exam. You can choose to renew your certification for another three years if you complete 50 continuing education units (CEUs) within the three-year cycle.

How does the CompTIA Security+ certification compare to other IT certifications?

The Security+ certification is just one of many cyber security and/or IT certifications out there. Other organizations such as (ISC)2, EC-Council and GIAC offer similar security-based certifications. According to CompTIA, however, their Security+ certification is, "Chosen by more corporations and defense organizations than any other certification on the market to validate baseline security skills and for fulfilling the DoD 8570 compliance."

Wrapping it up

The Security+ certification offered by CompTIA is a popular certification in the field of cyber security for entry and mid-level professionals. With a Security+ certification, you're able to demonstrate to employers that you understand best practices in IT network and operational security. For some, earning this certification may be necessary to advance up the career ladder. That's not the only boon this certification may provide, though. It could also lead to a higher salary and open up more career opportunities. If you already have a few years of work experience in the field, you may be ready to earn your Security+ credential.

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Published: June 9, 2023

kendall upton

Written and reported by:

Kendall Upton

Staff Writer

With professional insight from:

Steven Ostrowski

Senior Director of Corporate Communications for CompTIA

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