Cybersecurity Certifications: An Overview

Cybersecurity Certifications: An Overview
Both seasoned professionals and new learners can benefit from earning certifications. Image from Pixabay
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Angela Miller August 22, 2022

A worrisome labor shortage looms in the cybersecurity profession even as the number and rate of cyberattacks is increasing. The BLS projects rapid growth in this potentially lucrative job market.

Cybersecurity and I.T. Degree Programs You Should Consider

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The frequency of cyberattacks is on the rise; a recent State of Cybersecurity Workforce study determined that 43 percent of organizations experienced an increase in the number of attacks in the last year. And the news gets worse; many companies lack sufficient defenses for this growing onslaught. The same report found that 62 percent of companies concede their cybersecurity teams are understaffed.

That’s a big deal, because cybersecurity—and the lack of it—can make or break an organization and significantly impact a business’ longevity. That’s why demand for cybersecurity professionals stands to grow significantly in the coming years. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects information security analyst will be one of the fastest-growing positions in the country—the job market is projected to grow by 33 percent between 2020 and 2030. Over 715,000 positions are currently open.

Why do employers struggle to fill these gaps? A lack of qualified candidates, in part. Employers seek applicants with relevant skill sets and cybersecurity certifications. Both seasoned professionals and new learners can benefit from earning certifications, which serve those at all proficiency levels and professional backgrounds. They also provide a stepping stone to two and four-year degrees.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • What are cybersecurity certifications?
  • Certifications vs. degree programs
  • Top cybersecurity certifications
  • Fill the cybersecurity employment gap

What are cybersecurity certifications?

Cybersecurity certifications denote an information technology professional’s mastery of specialized skill sets within the cybersecurity realm. They’re generally tied to an educational program offered by a college, independent organization, or university and signify the completion of relevant coursework. They often require passage of a certification exam at the end of coursework.

Many hiring managers seek out applicable certifications to validate candidates’ qualifications and assess their commitment to the field. According to CompTIA, 97 percent of hiring firms require or recommend certification for IT candidates.

What will I learn in a certification program?

Cybersecurity certification programs prepare professionals to identify vulnerabilities, mitigate risk, and learn strategies on when to play offense versus when to play defense. You’ll learn how to protect computer operating systems, networks, and company data from cyberattacks.

With hundreds of certifications available, curriculum content centers around specific focus areas. What you learn varies depending upon the certification you pursue. Popular cybersecurity certifications include the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) , Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) .

Earning a certification demonstrates your depth of cybersecurity knowledge and expertise to potential employers. It also speaks to your commitment to your profession, another plus.

How long do certification programs take to complete?

Cybersecurity certification programs can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of years to complete. They make an ideal choice for working professionals looking to efficiently gain the relevant knowledge to upskill or break into the cybersecurity field.

How many certifications do cyber security professionals need?

Whether you’re looking to gain the skills to become a penetration tester, security engineer, network security specialist, or cybersecurity analyst, many certifications center on specific skills to help you achieve your cybersecurity career goals.

Professionals looking to widen their pool of opportunities and vary their skill sets may decide to pursue multiple certifications. Those looking to address organizational deficits seek particular certifications to address those vulnerabilities. Those with no cybersecurity experience looking to transition to their organization’s security operations (SecOps) department may pursue a certification due to the short completion time.



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Certifications vs. degree programs

Well-rounded cybersecurity professionals come from many backgrounds and bring a combination of real-world work experience, education, and industry expertise to the table. While you don’t necessarily need a degree to enter the field, hiring managers typically look favorably upon those with relevant education.

Cybersecurity certifications

Cybersecurity certifications are a great choice for those lacking years of experience or those within the IT field who want to efficiently transition to a security operations (SecOps) position.
Certifications offer a more concise, laser-focused approach to specific cybersecurity subtopics than do degree programs.

In comparison to degrees, cybersecurity certifications typically cost less and take less time to complete. CompTIA offers core certifications in IT fundamentals starting at just over $200 per exam. Cisco offers numerous certifications starting at $300. Microsoft, IBM, and Salesforce offer vendor-specific certifications.

Certifications provide a cost-effective way to upskill quickly. They’re also an attractive option for those looking to add high-demand skills after earning a degree.

Cybersecurity bachelor’s degrees

Bachelor’s degrees generally take four years to complete and provide a diverse educational experience. They equip you with relevant cybersecurity knowledge, but they also often require classes in the arts and sciences to ensure a well-rounded experience. Bachelor’s programs prepare students with soft skills and problem-solving, communication, and general knowledge that employers seek.

According to ISACA’s State of Cybersecurity 2022 report, 54 percent of survey respondents agree that the biggest skills gap for cybersecurity job applicants are their soft skills, not technical skills.

If you have the time and resources (bachelor’s degrees can be costly), consider earning a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degrees offer more longevity over certifications, which may only last a few years before you need to recertify.

Cybersecurity master’s degrees

Cybersecurity master’s degrees open up more opportunities for high-paying positions, including computer and information systems manager, cybersecurity architect, information security manager, and information security analyst.

Cybersecurity positions paying six-figure salaries may require an advanced degree. Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) roles typically command a median salary of over $232,090.

Regardless of whether you choose to pursue a cybersecurity certification or degree, you’re setting yourself up to enter a field with many opportunities and attractive compensation packages.

Top cybersecurity certifications

With so many options available, it’s helpful to have a list of some of the more sought-after certifications.

High-demand certifications include:

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): CISSP certification regularly appears on many must-have cybersecurity certification lists. It’s designed for experienced professionals and equips you with the technical skills necessary to develop, guide and manage security standards, policies, and procedures within your organization.
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): Ethical hackers learn how to test an organization’s software by trying to hack into their systems. Through CEH certification, you’ll learn about ethical hacking technologies, current vulnerabilities, information security policy, and standards. You’ll be well-equipped to approach systems from the perspective of a hacker.
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM): Are you an information security manager looking to excel in your role? CISM certification may be for you. You’ll dig into security risk management, program development and management, governance, and incident management and response.
  • CompTIA Security+: Those looking to launch careers in cybersecurity may be interested in this certification. It covers a wide range of topics including cyberattacks, incident response, architecture and design, governance and compliance, risk management, and cryptography.
  • Global Security Essentials (GSEC): This entry-level certification teaches active defense, cryptography, cloud security, and incident response.
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA): The CCNA prepares you to install and maintain Cisco networks and their security.
  • EC-Council Certified Security Analyst: This certification provides an overview of hacking tools and the latest technologies. It’s ideal for professionals interested in penetration testing.
  • Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP): Designed for beginners, this certification ensures your competency in security administration, application security, incident response, and risk identification.
  • __Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA): CISA certification serves as the gold standard for IT professionals looking to certify their knowledge in information security, audit control, and assurance.

There’s also no shortage of cybersecurity programs offered by colleges and universities. Some university cybersecurity certificate programs offer programs tailored to specific industries, while others provide a more general approach:

  • San Diego State University’s Cyber Tech Academy offers specialized training in the form of four 14-week certification options, including Cyber Security in Healthcare, Securing the Nation and Enterprises with Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Security and Governance, and Cyber Governance and Risk Management.
  • Temple University offers a five-course Certificate in Cybersecurity and Human Behavior that focuses on the human and social elements of cyberattacks and cybersecurity. Students learn about cybersecurity and how technology has impacted various other criminal enterprises, such as organized crime, terrorism, hate crimes, and white-collar crime.
  • Villanova University offers an online Certificate in Cybersecurity providing a foundational knowledge of cybersecurity terminology, cloud computing best practices, the management and identity of network access, and secure infrastructure, operations, and transmission. It also prepares students for the CompTIA Security+ certification.
  • Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies offers a Certificate in Cybersecurity Strategy exploring how to develop cyber strategies that increase security and align with business needs through a comprehensive examination of the cybersecurity field.

Fill the cybersecurity employment gap

Naomi Buckwalter, Executive Director of the Cybersecurity Gatekeepers Foundation, recently told the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) warned: “We are now standing at the edge of a precipice, and before us lies a decision. Do we continue our current course and walk off the edge? Or do we reach down and raise those that will replace us? Do we finally acknowledge the dire need to build the next generation?” She’s hardly the only cybersecurity professional warning of a dangerous impending labor and skill shortage in the field.

Regardless of the path you choose, cybersecurity is a high-demand profession that will continue to grow as threats evolve. Cybersecurity certifications offer an effective way to validate your skills and show prospective employers that you’re properly trained.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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