7 Popular Cybersecurity Certifications for IT Professionals of All Levels
Data breaches have become so prevalent in the business world that cybersecurity is no longer just an IT issue; rather it’s a company-wide issue requiring leadership by experts accredited with industry-renowned cybersecurity certifications. Technical teams now expect their systems to see attack attempts rather than wondering if one will ever happen. In the first half of 2019 alone, 31 million records were exposed in corporate data breaches.
A security breach can have disastrous consequences on an organization. Whether the breach results in the theft of personally identifiable information or a takedown of services and infrastructure, customer trust can be lost in an instant and a positive business reputation may be impossible to rebuild. What was once seen as a checkbox on a long list of an IT team’s tasks—cybersecurity—now functions as a highly sought-after discipline of its own. Organizations that don’t allocate the budget or employee time to build and maintain a cybersecurity policy as well as keep their skills up to date leave themselves open to significant risk.
Why get a cybersecurity certification?
According to one estimate, the US may see 500,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions by 2021. As with roles for other high-demand technical skills, like data science, cloud computing, and IT administration, the need for cybersecurity knowledge will continue to grow as companies achieve their digital transformation goals. Given talent shortages, many of these roles will not be able to be filled externally and internal training will be critical for organizations. Yet, according to an Information Systems Security Association International survey, more than half (56%) of survey respondents said their organization does not provide continuous training to keep their cybersecurity skills up to speed. Organizations need to step up their investment in training their IT teams with key cybersecurity skills and certifications.
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7 top cybersecurity certifications
A certification in cybersecurity acts as an assessment tool for hiring managers when building information security teams and allows individuals to plot their career paths as they move from entry-level positions to intermediate and advanced security expertise.
While there are dozens of security certifications and specialities to learn, the following security certifications demonstrate knowledge of industry best practices and commitment to staying ahead of these rapidly evolving skills. These certificates also fall within the US Department of Defense 8570 directive of approved baseline cybersecurity certifications for Information Assurance Technical (IAT) positions.
Not sure where to start your cybersecurity learning? Follow the beginner, intermediate, advanced, and speciality skills learning paths below.
For cybersecurity beginners
The Security+ Certification is a vendor-neutral security accreditation and considered a foundational certification for IT professionals wanting to specialize in security. It could also be a helpful certification for people in security-adjacent roles like legal compliance, web development, and even sales. The exam covers identity and access management, installation and configuration of secure network components, secure network architecture, encryption and cryptography best practices, threat detection, and more skills fundamental to a cybersecurity role.
For intermediate cybersecurity professionals
For intermediate levels, the CySA+ certification goes beyond the basics of the Security+ certification and ensures professionals can defend systems through incident detection and response. It applies behavioral analytics to security protocols to identify and fight malware, use threat-detection tools, and secure the systems and applications across an entire organization.
Last Updated January 2021
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The Certified Information Security Manager certification from ISACA (Information Systems Audit and Control Association) is an intermediate-level certification for professionals with at least five years of verified information security work experience. CISM is ideal for security professionals working within an enterprise company, as organizations of this scale have unique vulnerabilities and risks. ISACA is a trade organization focused on the adoption of global information systems, so CISM is well recognized globally. Those who pass the exam will demonstrate skills in security program development, security risk management, governance, and incident response.
Last Updated November 2020
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For advanced security professionals
For IT professionals with advanced-level security expertise, the vendor-neutral (CISSP) is one of the most in-demand security certifications for hiring managers. The International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)², administers the exam and requests five years of work experience in two of the following domains: Security and Risk Management, Asset Security, Security Architecture and Engineering, Communications and Network Security, Identity and Access Management, Security Assessment and Testing, Security Operations, and Software Development Security.
Last Updated November 2020
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For specialty security skills
The PenTest+ certification is for security professionals specializing in penetration testing, also called ethical hacking, which is the simulation of attacks on a company’s systems. This security team member is authorized to attack the company’s servers and infrastructure, to search for the same vulnerabilities that bad actors are also seeking. The intermediate-level CompTIA exam covers how to plan for penetration testing, identify vulnerabilities, exploit networks and systems, and how to report on these vulnerabilities across an organization.
Last Updated December 2020
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The CCNA Security certification is ideal for companies that use Cisco services and want to ensure network administrators are equipped with the skills to recognize network threats, develop a security infrastructure, and actively minimize any threats on Cisco networks. The exam covers core competencies related to all of Cisco’s security structures. Exam takers should know how to securely install network devices and maintain the systems through monitoring and troubleshooting of the network devices and its related data.
Last Updated August 2018
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According to Cisco, the CCNA Cyber Ops certification was specifically designed for analysts who work in the security operations center for large organizations, enterprises, and government functions. Courses related to this certification prepare employees for the realities of a career within large-scale security teams, as well as learning cybersecurity fundamentals like how to mitigate risk from hackers, malware, Trojans, and other threats.
Last Updated July 2020
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Even for technical teams lacking the budget for dedicated security units, encouraging employees to pursue cybersecurity certifications builds what every company needs now for 2020 and beyond—security-first approach to tech. Start your company’s cybersecurity education today.