A Guide to Cybersecurity Certifications

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Certifications for cybersecurity build the skills needed for a thriving career in the field. With a cybersecurity certification, individuals demonstrate to colleagues and employers that they can tackle the biggest challenges facing information security today. Certifications for cybersecurity train learners in the largest tools and technologies used to detect, prevent, and thwart cybersecurity threats.

Cybersecurity certifications meet the needs of individuals looking to pursue careers in information technology, cybersecurity, or other related areas. They also build upon existing cybersecurity knowledge and facilitate career advancement.

These credentials accommodate individuals at all levels, which can make it difficult to choose the right cybersecurity certification. This guide explains what you need to know about the best cybersecurity certifications.

What Are Cybersecurity Certifications?

Entry-level cybersecurity certifications provide foundational information about the field while introducing students to the tools needed to work as cybersecurity professionals. Intermediate and advanced cybersecurity certifications build upon existing knowledge and may focus on specific skills, technologies, or professional roles.

Cybersecurity professionals can earn certifications to demonstrate specialization in areas like ethical hacking, information security management, and risk assessment.

In contrast to academic certificates, certifications reflect acknowledgment by a third party based on industry standards. Certifications differ from licensure for this reason, as well. Licensure comes from government agencies, while certification verifies that an individual meets industry standards set by a professional organization.

Where to Get Cybersecurity Certifications

Professional organizations, private companies, and industry vendors offer certifications in cybersecurity that vary in length, level, and format. Online cybersecurity certification training programs often allow students to complete assignments at their own pace in anticipation of culminating exams.

Colleges and universities may incorporate certification prep into their cybersecurity programs, aligning the curriculum with industry-recognized credentials. CompTIA, for example, provides instructional and learning materials to schools, nonprofit organizations, and government-funded agencies.

As a leader in certifications for cybersecurity, CompTIA offers programs in cybersecurity fundamentals, penetration testing, and advanced security. Additional certifying bodies include (ISC)², CompTIA, and Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC).

Certifications for Cybersecurity Experts


Along with core, data and analytics, infrastructure, and professional credentials, CompTIA offers three cybersecurity certifications.

  • The CompTIA Security+ certification covers essential skills needed to perform core professional security functions. This credential is ideal for individuals entering the field of cybersecurity. In anticipation of an exam, students learn to assess attacks, threats, and vulnerabilities. Certified individuals can create secure architecture, respond to security incidents, implement security protocols, and apply appropriate regulations.
  • The CompTIA CySA+ certification covers behavior analytics for combatting and preventing cybersecurity threats. The intermediate-level certification verifies that holders can analyze and interpret data, identify and address vulnerabilities, suggest preventive measures, and respond to cybersecurity incidents.
  • The CompTIA CASP+ certification is an advanced credential for security architects and senior security engineers. The certification emphasizes technical skills and leadership in threat management, risk mitigation, digital forensic analysis, and cryptographic solutions.


Cisco groups its certifications into entry-level, associate, professional, and expert categories.

  • The CCNP security certification includes two exams. The first test covers core security infrastructure knowledge in network security, content security, and security visibility and enforcement. The second exam addresses emerging and industry-specific topics, allowing individuals to customize their certification. This certification accommodates individuals with about three years of experience in the field.
  • The CCIE security certification combines design skills and technical expertise for individuals who seek to design and deploy security solutions and technologies. The certification includes two exams: a qualifying core exam and an eight-hour hands-on lab assessment.


GIAC provides technical and practical certifications in information security. Its programs unite industry, government, and military clients around the world.

  • Individuals can become certified forensic examiners with GIAC's digital forensics and incident response certifications. The forensic examiner (GCFE) certification covers browser forensics artifacts, cloud storage analysis, and digital forensic fundamentals. The GCFE exam includes 115 questions for candidates to complete in three hours.
    • Additional digital forensics and incident response certifications include:
      • Certified forensic analyst (GCFA)
      • Network forensic analyst (CNFA)
  • Among GIAC's offensive operations certifications, learners can earn credentials in incident handling, penetration testing, and cybersecurity defense. The penetration tester (GPEN) certification validates the recipient's ability to conduct penetration tests using effective and current techniques and methodologies. As part of the exam, candidates participate in hands-on, real-world practical testing.
    • Additional offensive operations certifications include:
      • Certified incident handler (GCIH)
      • Enterprise vulnerability assessor (GEVA)
      • Assessing and auditing wireless networks (GAWN)
      • Defending advanced threats (GDAT)
  • GIAC's cloud security certifications emphasize cloud security techniques and cloud penetration testing. Individuals looking to enter the field of cloud security can earn GCLD certification. This credential attests to the holder's abilities to evaluate cloud services, plan and deploy security protocols, and assess security risks.
    • Additional cloud security certifications include:
      • Cloud security automation (GCSA)
      • Public cloud security (GPCS)
      • Certified web application defender (GWEB)
      • Cloud penetration tester (GCPN)
  • GIAC also offers certifications in:
    • Cyberdefense
    • Industrial control systems
    • Management, legal, and audit

International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council)

EC-Council trains cybersecurity professionals to protect communities and economies in nearly 150 countries. The organization offers 27 cybersecurity certification programs.

  • The certified ethical hacker (CEH) credential suits individuals entering the world of cybersecurity by covering network scanning, vulnerability analysis, server hacking, and firewall evasion. At the end of training modules, each candidate completes a hacking challenge.
  • As an advanced certification, EC-Council's certified chief information security officer (CCISO) credential emphasizes leadership in information security. The course covers five CCISO domains by presenting scenarios derived from real-world experiences.
  • EC-Council's certified encryption specialist (ECES) certification introduces novices and cybersecurity practitioners to cryptography. Learners explore ciphers, algorithms, and other encryption fundamentals, along with best practices for penetration testing and encryption.
    • Additional cybersecurity certifications include:
      • Forensic investigator (CHFI)
      • Certified cloud security engineer (CCSE)
      • Certified threat intelligence analyst (CTIA)
      • Certified cybersecurity technician (CCT)
      • Web application hacking and security (WAHS)
      • Network defense architect (CNDA)


ISACA was founded in 1969 to provide a centralized resource for electronic data processing professionals.

  • ISACA's certified information security manager (CISM) certification verifies an individual's expertise in information security governance, program development management, and incident and risk management. To become certified, candidates must pass the CISM exam and have relevant work experience related to the exam content.
  • ISACA's cybersecurity practitioner (CSX-P) credentials cover five security functions: identification, protection, detection, response, and recovery. Candidates acquire the skills to assess, identify, and resolve cybersecurity threats through live, proctored, virtual activities and the culminating exam.
  • Additional certifications offered through ISACA include:
    • Certified information systems auditor (CISA)
    • Certified in risk and information systems control (CRISC)
    • Certified in the governance of enterprise IT (CGEIT)
    • Certified data privacy solutions engineer (CDPSE)
    • Information technology certified associate (ITCA)
    • Certified in emerging technology certification (CET)


Since its founding in 1989, (ISC)² has been at the forefront of standardization and certification in the cybersecurity industry.

  • The entry-level certified in cybersecurity (CC) program covers nontechnical and technical skills needed to enter a career in the field. This certification covers security principles, disaster recovery, access control concepts, and network security.
  • The certified information systems security professional (CISSP) certification suits experienced cybersecurity practitioners, managers, and executives. The certification indicates mastery of security and risk management, asset security, security architecture and engineering, and communication and network security. Additional topics include identity and access management, security assessment and testing, security operations, and software development security.
    • Concentrations within the CISSP include:
      • Information systems security architecture (CISSP-ISSAP)
      • Information systems security engineering (CISSP-ISSEP)
      • Information systems security management (CISSP-ISSMP)
  • Additional certifications from (ISC)² include:
    • Security administration and operations (SSCP)
    • Cloud security expertise (CCSP)
    • Risk management framework (CAP)
    • Secure software development (CSSLP)
    • Securing patient data and critical systems (HCISPP)

How to Choose Between Cybersecurity Certifications

Choosing a cybersecurity certification requires consideration of skill level and prerequisites, program length and intensity, and test style and length.

Entry-level certifications offer essential knowledge and skills and do not require previous coursework or experience, making them ideal for novices. Intermediate and advanced certifications often require previous credentials and a specific number of years of professional experience.

Prep time is also a crucial consideration. Some certifications provide intense, accelerated training programs. Others simply offer resources and guides for candidates to study and complete on their own time.

Test format and length may factor into certification choice, as well. Individuals who thrive in practical environments can pursue certifications with hands-on exams, while others may prefer multiple-choice questions.

Multiple credentials may be ideal, depending on your career goals. By earning certifications in different technologies and platforms, individuals demonstrate their breadth of expertise to current and potential employers.

Additional factors to consider:

  • Renewal period
  • Initial cost and cost of renewal
  • Global, national, or regional validity

Benefits of Getting Certified in Cybersecurity

Individuals with experience in information technology can gain a wider breadth of knowledge related to the field by earning a cybersecurity certification. They also develop additional skills that can lead to new professional opportunities.

Practicing cybersecurity professionals also benefit from certifications by becoming experts in subsets of the field. They can pursue certifications in cybersecurity architecture, engineering, or management to advance their careers. Additional options include earning a certification in cloud security, ethical hacking, or application security, which involve training in a niche area within the larger cybersecurity world.

Employers may require candidates to have cybersecurity certifications, but companies that use specific software prefer relevant certification for that platform. Entities that use Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, may look for individuals with AWS cybersecurity experience.

Certifications for Cybersecurity Careers

Computer Forensics Analyst


Incident Responder

Penetration Tester

Security Administrator

Security Analyst

Security Architect

Security Auditor

Security Consultants

Security Directors

Security Engineer

Security Manager

Security Software Developers

Security Specialist

Source Code Auditors

Vulnerability Assessors

Additional Resources

Questions About Certifications in Cybersecurity

Do I have to get certifications to work in cybersecurity?

You do not have to get certifications to work in cybersecurity. However, certifications demonstrate knowledge and skills applicable to working in the field.

Which cybersecurity certification should I get?

You should get the cybersecurity certification that relates to your professional goals. Employers may prefer certifications for cybersecurity from specific third-party organizations.

Are cybersecurity certifications expensive?

Cybersecurity certifications vary in cost, but some can be expensive. When choosing a credential to pursue, weighing the initial and renewal costs against potential income benefits can help put the expense into perspective.

Are cybersecurity certifications worth it?

They can be. Cybersecurity certifications are often worth it because they enhance your understanding of the field. These credentials also verify expertise in cybersecurity and topics within the wider discipline, leading to more job opportunities with higher pay.

Reviewed by: Darnell Kenebrew

Darnell Kenebrew is a first-generation graduate of San Francisco State University's class of 2020. He graduated with a bachelor's in computer science, which helped him kick off a career in tech and pursue roles within data and engineering.

Currently, he's a data analytics engineer at Meta and an executive captain for COOP Careers — a nonprofit for overcoming underemployment. Kenebrew strongly believes in giving people a chance and that everyone should have an equal opportunity within the job market. He believes that COOP Careers helps this equality materialize.

Kenebrew is passionate about how the industry is shaped by data and how data can be leveraged in many aspects of business decisions to meet goals. In addition, he's passionate about inclusion, community, education, and using data for good. He hopes that he can pivot business decisions to make a positive, meaningful impact and that his work will positively impact end-users, as well as meet business goals.

Darnell Kenebrew is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Page last reviewed Aug 31, 2022

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