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Incident responders are a crucial part of cybersecurity teams. They deal with the immediate aftermath of security breaches by patching data vulnerabilities. Getting started in this career usually requires a bachelor's degree in information technology or a related field and at least two years of experience in network security.

Industry-recognized certifications can help incident responders learn new skills and qualify for salary increases and advanced positions. The Global Knowledge 2021 IT Skills and Salary Report found that tech certifications can improve work quality, engagement, and speed.

Explore certification options, recommendations, and requirements for incident responders below.

What Is Certification in Incidence Response?

Incident responders do not need state-issued licensure to practice their profession. Employers, however, may expect these professionals to hold certifications from industry associations to verify specific cybersecurity skills.

Earning a certification usually requires completing training and passing an exam. Certified professionals often need to recertify every 3-4 years, which typically involves continuing education units.

Certifications such as CompTIA Security+ help validate fundamental skills and knowledge. Once an entry-level professional gains experience, they can also pursue advanced credentials like the certified information systems security professional from (ISC)². This certification prepares holders to design, implement, and manage cybersecurity programs.

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Why Pursue Certification in Incidence Response?

Certifications benefit cybersecurity professionals' careers. According to the Global Knowledge

2021 IT Skills and Salary Report, a comprehensive study of over 9,300 IT professionals, 92% of people in the industry hold at least one certification. The data also found certified professionals reported greater job satisfaction and engagement compared to their uncertified peers.

Employers often prefer certified job candidates: Among those surveyed, 64% of decision-makers in IT reported that certified employees delivered $10,000 or more in additional value compared with other employees. Certification also ranked among the top 10 reasons employees received a raise.

In addition, cybersecurity employers see certifications as an efficient way to address skills gaps among their current technology professionals. Two of the most popular certifications for incident responders are:

Find out more about incidence response careers at the links below.

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What the Best Certifications Have in Common

The best certifications come from organizations that hold accreditation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology or similar agencies. These organizations include (ISC)², CompTIA, ISACA, and the Global Information Assurance Certification.

Every certification emphasizes distinct components of cybersecurity. Thus, incident responders should determine which certifications will validate the skills they need to advance their careers. Professionals should also research eligibility requirements as they consider certifications. Some credentials, such as (ISC)²'s certified cloud security professional certification, require incident responders to hold several years of relevant experience.

These industry credentials can also increase earning potential. Global Knowledge identified two cybersecurity certifications linked to the highest salaries: certified in risk and information systems control from ISACA and certified information systems security professional from (ISC)².

The certifying bodies listed below represent three top organizations, but are not an exhaustive list.

Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)

Founded in 1999, GIAC validates information security skills for cybersafety professionals. Applicants can earn certification in areas like offensive operations, cyberdefense, cloud security, industrial control systems, and digital forensics and incident response.

GIAC certifications require renewal every four years. To recertify, applicants must complete 36 continuing education units. GIAC offers qualifying educational options and accepts credits from other institutions.

GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)

This certification helps prepare professionals for incident response. The curriculum covers computer crime investigation, network hacker exploits, and tools such as Nessus and Netcat.

GIAC created a training curriculum that includes using actual programs and code on virtual machines. Applicants take a four-hour, 106-question proctored exam. To pass, they must earn a 70% or higher.

GIAC Response and Industrial Defense (GRID)

Relevant for active defenders and penetration specialists, this certification covers topics like detection, incident response, monitoring, threat hunting and analysis, threat intelligence, and visibility and asset awareness.

GIAC offers training modules to help prepare professionals for the test. The two-hour, 75-question proctored exam requires a 74% score to pass.

GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA)

The GCFA credential serves threat hunters, security operations center (SOC) analysts, and incident response team members. This certification covers topics such as digital forensics, memory forensics, timeline analysis, advanced incident response, and APT intrusion incident response.

The three-hour proctored exam consists of 82-115 questions, and students must earn a score of 72% to pass.

Reverse Engineering Malware (GREM)

Designed for cybersecurity professionals who protect their organizations from malware, this certification validates malware detection incident response skills.

Students learn to analyze malicious document files and browser scripts, use memory forensics, and reverse-engineer Windows assembly code. The proctored exam consists of 66-75 questions and takes 2-3 hours to complete. Test-takers must score at least 72% to pass.

EC-Council

Founded after the September 11 attacks, EC-Council now operates in 145 countries around the world. The organization has trained and certified more than 200,000 information security professionals.

EC-Council offers credentials in 15 different areas of cybersecurity, including encryption, penetration testing, ethical hacking, and incident handling. Students can earn bachelor's degrees, graduate certificates, or master's degrees in cybersecurity through EC-Council.

Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

Students in the CEH program learn to use state-of-the-art tools and techniques to hack into organizations legally. The CEH curriculum covers topics such as WPA3, enumeration, emerging attack vectors, and malware reverse engineering.

After completing one of four training options, applicants sit for a four-hour exam that consists of 125 multiple-choice questions.

Certified Incident Handler (E|CIH)

One of EC-Council's three incident responder certifications, the E|CIH credential serves professionals with at least one year of cybersecurity experience. Students complete a three-day training course or complete 24 hours of study.

The three-hour exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions. Passing scores vary according to overall cut score, which usually lands between 60% and 85%.

Certified SOC Analyst (CSA)

This certification covers SOC basics. Applicants need one year of experience as security or network administrators. The curriculum includes understanding threats, threat intelligence, and security operations and management.

The multiple-choice exam lasts three hours and comprises 100 questions. Students need at least a 70% to pass.

Certified Threat Intelligence Analyst (CTIA)

CTIA students explore cyberthreats, kill chain methodology, data collection, and intelligence reporting. Professionals take a three-day course or complete 24 hours of training. The 50-question exam takes two hours. Students must score at least 70% to pass.

(ISC)²

(ISC)2 began in 1989 as a consortium of information security organizations. It later introduced a slate of certifications along with a code of ethics for the industry. Today, (ISC)2 enrolls more than 168,000 members around the world.

This provider's certification options include entry-level cybersecurity certification, risk management framework, cloud security expertise, and cybersecurity leadership and operations. Most (ISC)2 certification programs require career experience.

Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)

The SSCP credential validates advanced skills in security administration. Topics covered include cryptography, access controls, and incident response. To apply, candidates need at least one year of relevant work experience. To prepare for the exam, applicants can take instructor-led classes online or in person.

Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)

This certification serves security professionals who protect assets in the cloud. This certification validates knowledge in topics like cloud data security, cloud platform and infrastructure security, and cloud security operations.

(ISC)2 offers an array of study tools to help applicants prepare for the CCSP exam. Candidates need five years of IT experience, including three years in information security and at least one year of work directly related to cloud security.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The CISSP credential is a general certification that serves many security professionals, including managers, directors, architects, and analysts. This certification validates skills like asset security, software development security, and communication and network security.

(ISC)2 provides textbooks, courses, study guides, and practice tests to help learners prepare for the certification exam. Applicants need five years of experience, including at least two years of experience relevant to CISSP skills.

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Additional Certifications for Incident Responders

Besides the three certifying bodies listed above, several other associations offer popular cybersecurity certifications that can benefit incident responders. These include CompTIA, Offensive Security, and ISACA.

CompTIA's relevant certifications include CySA+, CASP+, and PenTest+. ISACA offers credentials like certified information systems auditor, certified data privacy solutions engineer, and cybersecurity practitioner certification. Offensive Security provides three certifications in penetration testing.

Each of these organizations also offers training, resources, conferences, and events. By joining professional organizations like these, incident responders can strengthen their professional networks, stay updated on new technology, and advance their careers.

Preparing for Certification Exams

Certifications validate skills and knowledge, so they usually require passing a comprehensive examination. To prepare for these tests, applicants can take prep courses. Some organizations offer additional resources, such as study guides and sample tests.

Learners can also seek online communities where people exchange study tips. Taking a course through a higher education institution can also help applicants gain foundational knowledge while providing the structure of a classroom and the support of professors and peers. Some schools even provide certificate programs that may help students prepare for certification exams.

To learn about a degree in cybersecurity, click on the links below.

Choosing Between Certifications

When choosing a certification, applicants should consider the following factors:

  • Cost: Certifications vary widely in price. In addition to the exam fee, holders must often pay for continuing education units and renewal fees.
  • Requirements: Some providers require several years of job experience to qualify for certifications. Others only require applicants to pass an exam. A few certifications may demand other credentials as prerequisites.
  • Renewal Cycle: Applicants should research the renewal process for each certification. When does the credential need renewing? How much does it cost to renew? What are the continuing education requirements?
  • Test Style and Length: A certification exam might consist of 50 multiple-choice questions, or it could comprise more than 150 questions that include short-answer questions and practical demonstrations of skill. Applicants should research the exam content before pursuing a certification.

No certification universally fits every professional's needs. Some cybersecurity experts stack their credentials, accumulating a sequence of complementary skills over time.

More Resources for Incident Responders

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What Is an Incident Responder?

Incident responders fill a vital role on cybersecurity teams. Find out how they help protect and recover data.
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How to Become an Incident Responder

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Day in the Life of an Incident Responder

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Salary and Career Outlook for Incident Responders

How much can you earn as an incident responder? Explore data about salary expectations and projected career growth for incident responders.
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Questions About Certifications for Incident Responders


How long does it take to become a certified incident responder?

Incident responders often need 2-3 years of experience in the field and a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, information technology, or a related field. Pursuing certifications can add several weeks or months to the career path for incident responders.

Do incident responders need to be licensed?

No, incident responders do not need a state-issued license to practice their profession. Employers, however, may expect these cybersecurity experts to hold industry certifications. Professional associations like (ISC)² typically issue these credentials.

What is the best certification to get as an incident responder?

Several industry certifications can benefit an incident responder's career. The most popular certifications include certified information systems security professional, certified forensic analyst, and certified incident handler.

What other qualifications do you need to become an incident responder?

Incident responders usually hold a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity or related fields, such as computer science or information technology. These professionals may also hold 2-3 years of experience in entry-level positions like network administrator or system administrator.


Featured Image: shironosov / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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