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Security consultants specialize in safeguarding their employers' computing networks and digital assets. They are also known as cybersecurity consultants and information security consultants.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes security consultants within its "information security analyst" occupation data. This field is poised to benefit from an explosive rise in demand, with the BLS projecting 33% employment growth for information security analysts from 2020 to 2030. This equates to more than 47,000 new jobs in the field.
Security consultants typically hold general or specialized degrees in computer science or cybersecurity. However, many of these professionals also add industry-standard security consultant certifications. These credentials assure employers that the certification-holder possesses the knowledge and skills required for this high-level work.
This guide explains the various security consulting certifications available to cybersecurity professionals. It also reviews associated recommendations and requirements for obtaining them and addresses frequently asked questions.
What Is a Certification in Security Consulting?
Security consultant certifications function as endorsements of a tech professional's mastery of cybersecurity best practices. They usually cover a targeted area of focus. Popular certifications cover subjects such as security essentials, cybersecurity auditing, information security management, and ethical hacking.
In professional circles, security consultant certifications are optional, though many employers prefer candidates who hold them, sometimes valuing them as much as or more than academic credentials. While they are not necessarily required, they are strongly recommended.
Why Pursue a Security Consultant Certification?
Industry-standard certifications validate a cybersecurity professional's skills and abilities. Because security consultants must usually pass rigorous, comprehensive examinations to earn these certifications, the credentials assure employers of professionals' ability to meet demanding performance expectations in relevant roles.
The credibility a cybersecurity professional gains through certification carries significant weight in the job market. Employers are likely to choose a certified job applicant over an uncertified competitor if the candidates' qualifications are otherwise comparable. Cybersecurity consultant certifications can also help established professionals take on higher-ranking roles.
Cybersecurity has emerged as a top area of need in an increasingly interconnected, internet-dependent world. Yet, tech insiders note that a skills gap persists in the general cybersecurity field. Security consultant certifications thus function as highly marketable credentials in this high-growth, high-demand, and well-paid field.
Read more about working as a security consultant at the links below.
- Security Consultant Career Overview
- How to Become a Security Consultant
- The Typical Day of a Security Consultant
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What Certifications Are Available for Security Consultants?
Multiple certifying bodies issue security consultant certifications. Candidates should evaluate a number of factors for these certifications to determine which are best suited to their professional aspirations.
One major such factor relates to the bodies that offer security consulting certifications. These groups include but are not limited to:
- Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
- International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council)
- Information Assurance Certification Review Board (IACRB)
Major technology companies including Cisco, Google, and Microsoft also certify the skill sets of information security professionals.
One way to confirm the relevance and legitimacy of a given certification is to reverse-search cybersecurity job listings. Candidates should consider pursuing certifications that employers identify as desirable or required qualifications.
Also, note that multiple organizations offer certifications in similar areas, including ethical hacking and information security management. Candidates should research competing certifications individually and prioritize those most relevant to their career goals.
The subsections that follow examine three leading organizations that provide multiple cybersecurity-related certifications.
Established in 1999, GIAC focuses exclusively on computing, network, information, and software security certifications. The organization takes a skills-focused approach to examinations. GIAC tests specific hard skills rather than general knowledge about information security. This unique approach has vaulted GIAC's cybersecurity consulting certifications to a position of industry leadership.
GIAC endorsements remain valid for four years. Professionals must then recertify to ensure their knowledge and skills have adapted to the notoriously fast-changing tech industry.
Examples of popular GIAC security consultant certifications include:
GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GISF)
Entry-level GISF certification functions as an endorsement of foundational skills. It is often recommended to people seeking to change careers into a cybersecurity field.
The examination covers essential industry terminology, best practices for organizational security and incident response, and networking basics. It also covers cryptology and password protections in a 75-question exam that candidates have two hours to complete.
GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)
The GSEC certification functions as an introductory-to-intermediate credential for cybersecurity professionals. It mainly covers:
- Cyberdefense strategies
- Incident response
- Policy, planning, and risk management
- Cloud security and operating system security
Candidates must earn a score of at least 73% to pass this four- to five-hour, 106- to 180-question exam.
GIAC Systems and Network Auditor (GSNA)
An intermediate certification, the GSNA endorsement confirms a professional's ability to audit information systems for risks and vulnerabilities. It covers Windows and Unix environments.
Test-takers must get a minimum score of 72% on the 115-question, three-hour examination to pass.
GIAC Enterprise Vulnerability Assessor (GEVA)
This advanced, specialized certification endorses a cybersecurity professional's ability to identify, assess, and correct vulnerabilities. It focuses specifically on the needs of commercial enterprises and covers:
- Assessment planning and methodologies
- Strategies for identifying and confirming vulnerabilities
- Techniques for reporting and correcting vulnerabilities
It is designed for established professionals seeking to validate advanced skills in the aforementioned areas. The exam consists of 75 questions, which test-takers have two hours to answer.
CompTIA helps support the tech industry's ongoing push for a highly skilled workforce with proven, adaptable, and advanced skills. It offers professional development programs, certification tests, and market research operations.
Thousands of companies, nonprofit groups, government organizations, and academic institutions are among CompTIA's global partner network. Its leading certification programs for information security professionals include:
CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+)
This entry-level certification endorses a professional's mastery of essential skills. CompTIA characterizes it as a "pre-career certification." It is primarily designed for students and those retraining for new careers in IT and cybersecurity.
The examination covers:
- Operating system and network connectivity essentials
- Software literacy
- Internet usage safety and security best practices
The test includes up to 75 questions, which test-takers have one hour to complete. To pass, a candidate must score at least 650 out of 900 (72.2%).
CompTIA describes this widely recognized, heavily sought-after certification as a "global benchmark." The 90-minute test covers four key areas:
- Enterprise environment security assessments
- Security monitoring best practices
- Governance, compliance, and risk management
- Security incident analysis and response strategy
CompTIA recommends that candidates hold the organization's network+ certification along with two years' experience as a cybersecurity-oriented IT professional.
CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+)
This advanced certification program was designed for midcareer IT and cybersecurity professionals. CompTIA recommends 10 years of general IT experience, including at least five years in a specialized security role.
The 165-minute examination tests candidates' critical thinking skills and ability to make sound decisions regarding complex security questions. This prestigious certification supports professionals aspiring to senior security consulting and cybersecurity management roles.
EC-Council launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Its founders imagined the losses and chaos that would result from a comparable event playing out in the cybersphere. They established the EC-Council to develop advanced training and certification programs in support of a prepared, capable, and responsive information security workforce.
The organization operates in 145 countries and its certifications are recognized globally. Leading EC-Council programs include:
Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
The CEH certification ranks among EC-Council's best-known endorsements. It is the industry's gold standard for information security professionals seeking to demonstrate their knowledge of hacker techniques.
EC-Council offers two CEH certifications: the standard version and an advanced CEH master endorsement. The CEH master certification has no specific prerequisites, but EC-Council recommends earning the standard endorsement first.
EC-Council Certified Security Specialist (ECSS)
The ECSS certification is recommended for established information security professionals seeking to advance their careers. It signifies advanced capabilities in three key areas:
- Information security
- Network security
- Computing forensics
Candidates can prepare by participating in a five-day, 40-hour course. The two-hour examination consists of 50 questions and has a minimum passing score of 70%.
EC-Council Disaster Recovery Professional (EDRP)
Information security consultants frequently participate in organizational disaster recovery planning. The EDRP certification thus functions as a valuable tool for professionals seeking to advance their careers.
This certification demonstrates knowledge of advanced concepts in business continuity strategy. The exam has 150 questions and takes four hours. Test-takers must earn a grade of at least 70% to pass.
Additional Certifications for Cybersecurity Consultants
Multiple other organizations maintain respected information security certification programs. These include (ISC)² and IACRB.
(ISC)² offers multiple certifications of potential interest to security consultants. Examples include:
- Systems Security Certified Practitioner
- Certified Cloud Security Professional
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional
The organization also features concentrated information security specializations that build on its core programs.
IACRB's collection of respected security consultant certifications includes:
- Certified SCADA Security Architect
- Certified Security Awareness Practitioner
- Certified Cyber Threat Hunting Professional
- Certified Data Recovery Professional
Preparing for Security Consultant Certification Exams
Prospective security consultants have a number of approaches available to prepare them for certification exams. These options include:
- Preparatory Courses
- Candidates can enroll in courses that review, develop, and enhance specific information security skills. Some certifying bodies offer such courses, as do some coding schools and bootcamp providers.
- Practice Modules
- Independent learners can self-direct their exam prep by following practice modules. These preparatory materials offer directed learning exercises, practice questions, and additional prep resources.
- Practice Examinations
- Taking at least one timed practice test helps prepare test-takers for the structure and time constraints of the exam.
- Study Groups
- Creating a study group with other candidates allows test-takers to share resources and strategies.
Whenever possible, use the certifying organizations' published or officially endorsed prep materials. Certifying bodies also routinely list preparation recommendations on their exam-specific webpages. Consult them for further tips and information.
To learn about additional certifications, degree programs, and cybersecurity bootcamps, follow the links below.
- Certificate Programs in Information Technology
- Certificate Programs in Cybersecurity
- Associate in Cybersecurity Programs
- Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs
- Master's in Cybersecurity Programs
- Cybersecurity Bootcamps
Choosing Between Security Consulting Certifications
Given the number of certifications available, aspiring security consultants should consider these key factors when choosing credentials to pursue:
- Earning certifications from recognized organizations maximizes the value of the credentials.
- Security consultants certifications are often designed for professionals at specific stages of their careers. For instance, established professionals seeking senior roles have little to gain from pursuing beginner-level credentials.
- Renewal Requirements
- Some certifications may have expensive or time-consuming requirements for renewal, while other similar credentials may be easier to renew.
- Some industry-standard certifications come with full international validity, but some are only recognized regionally. Ensure certifications you pursue are recognized where you work.
Finally, ensure the certification aligns with your overall professional development and career goals. Avoid pursuing certifications of limited utility in your job search or advancement plans.
Resources for Future Security Consultants
What Is a Security Consultant?
This resource explains in detail what information security consultants do with a special focus on core hard and soft skills.
Day in the Life of a Security Consultant
Those aspiring to information security careers often wonder about the details of their future daily duties. Learn more in this resource, which includes an expert interview.
Salary and Career Outlook for Security Consultants
The future looks bright for information security professionals. Explore job growth trends and earning potential in detail.
FAQ's About Certifications for Cybersecurity Consulting
How long does it take to become a certified security consultant?
Candidates typically spend 2-4 years earning an undergraduate degree. Some professionals invest an additional 1-2 years earning a master's degree. These qualifications can lead to entry-level roles. Professionals usually need certifications and several years of junior-level experience to qualify for security consultant roles.
Do security consultants need to be licensed?
Most jurisdictions do not have formal licensure requirements for information security professionals. Instead, many earn industry-standard security consultant certifications. These credentials endorse the certified professional's hard skill set.
What is the best certification for security consultants?
Examples of popular certifications include CISSP, GSEC, CEH, and security+, among others. Leading certifying bodies include EC-Council, GIAC, CompTIA, (ISC)², and IACRB. Candidates can explore their programs for certifications that match their interests and career objectives.
What other qualifications do you need to become a security consultant?
Beyond industry-standard certifications, many security consultants hold bachelor's degrees or master's degrees. Some professionals hold general computer science degrees. Others hold specialized degrees in cybersecurity, information security, or a related field.
Featured Image: Hinterhaus Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images
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