The Best Cybersecurity Certifications for Your Career

The Best Cybersecurity Certifications for Your Career

Cybersecurity is a blanket term that encompasses all of the many processes needed to protect computer networks, devices, and data from criminal attacks or unauthorized access.

The evolution of cybersecurity over the last few decades runs parallel with the increasing dependence on computers in all aspects of life. Companies, organizations, power grids, and even schools and hospital networks are routinely targeted with data breaches, malware infections, ransomware attacks, and other cyberattacks. Growing security risks in today’s interconnected world means cybersecurity is as much about protecting people as it is about protecting computers.

As the severity of online threats increases, companies hiring cybersecurity professionals are often looking for candidates who have more than just a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences. They look for the credibility, standards, and real-world knowledge that are often obtained through cybersecurity certifications.

Top picks

While there are tons of cybersecurity certifications on the market, here’s our pick for the best three. They are broad in scope and well-reputed in the industry.

  • IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • CompTIA Security+

IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate

This is a comprehensive certificate program for learners seeking placement as cybersecurity analysts. The eight-module course is designed to impart hands-on experience and the technical skills necessary for job readiness in the cybersecurity domain.  

Key focuses of the program include:

  • Cybersecurity analyst tools and network fundamentals
  • Cybersecurity compliance and current threat landscape
  • Incident response and digital forensics

The program was developed by experts at IBM and familiarizes learners with a wide breadth of concepts relevant to today’s cybersecurity environment. These include incident response, endpoint protection, vulnerability assessment, and penetration testing. The program relies on case studies and open-source cybersecurity tools to bring learners up to date on past, present, and emerging cybersecurity threats. Instructions are provided via lectures, discussions, audio-visual literature, computer training, and practical exercises.  

Candidates need to complete all modules in the program and clear the 70-question final assessment test with a minimum passing score of 80% to obtain the certification.

Certification details

Program location: Online

Duration: Four to eight months (132 hours)

Cost: IBM offers the program for free, but universities and online education providers offering the program may charge a subscription fee

Eligibility: Not specified

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

This is a global certification created by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)2, to ensure standardized knowledge in the field of cybersecurity. The CISSP certification can be a massive career booster for security engineers, network security specialists, and other types of cybersecurity professionals.

The CISSP certification exam is three hours long and consists of 100–150 questions designed to test applicants in the following eight domains of cybersecurity:

  • Security and risk management
  • Access control systems and methodology
  • Business continuity planning and disaster recovery planning
  • Security architecture and engineering
  • Identity and access management
  • Security assessment and testing
  • Software development security
  • Telecom and network security

Besides these areas, CISSP certification focuses on key elements like cryptography, security architecture, law, and investigation. Candidates who pass the exam must also subscribe to the ISC code of ethics and secure a recommendation from an ISC professional before becoming officially certified. Certification is valid for three years.

Certification details

Program location: Online
Cost: $699 (for the English language test)
Eligibility: Five years as a full-time security analyst covering two or more of the eight domains included in CISSP

CompTIA Security+

This certification test is administered by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) to validate baseline skills necessary for a career in cybersecurity. It was created to impart hands-on skills that enable cybersecurity professionals to identify security incidents and address them.

The 90-minute test is designed to evaluate candidates based on key risk management and mitigation skills, including the following:

  • Threat detection and vulnerability analysis
  • Network components deployment and troubleshooting for organizational security
  • Network architecture implementation
  • Physical security related to access management
  • Risk management best practices implementation
  • Wireless security configuration for public key infrastructure

Candidates with a CompTIA Security+ certification are likely to have a solid grasp of the core security functions necessary for intermediate-level cybersecurity jobs. The test consists of 90 multiple-choice questions and drag-and-drop tasks, followed by a 12-question exit survey. Candidates who pass the exam can hope to land jobs as security administrators, IT auditors, and security engineers, among other titles. CompTIA also offers three other certifications in the cybersecurity domain. These are CompTIA CySA+, CompTIA PenTest+, and CASP+.

Certification details

Test location: Online or in-person at any Pearson Virtual University Enterprise (VUE) location around the world

Cost: $392

Passing score: 750

Eligibility: CompTIA Network+ IT certification, plus two years of experience in IT administration with a security focus

Alternative options

Our top picks might not be for everyone. For example, if you want to specialize in information security governance or Mac OS and AWS security, you’re better off choosing a certificate that focuses more narrowly on those areas. Here are some alternative options that might be worth considering depending on your area of interest.

CISM Certified Information Security Manager

This certification is provided by the non-profit Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) to establish a minimum standard of knowledge in cybersecurity. It’s an advanced certification for experienced cybersecurity management professionals looking to upskill or seek new career opportunities as a manager.

A CISM certification indicates the ability to develop and manage enterprise-level information security programs. The certification process comprises 150 multiple-choice questions assessed on a 200–800 scaled scoring method covering four key knowledge areas.

  • Information security governance
  • Information risk management
  • Security incident management
  • Program development and management

Certification details

Test location: Online or in-person at 1,300 test centers around the world

Cost: $575 for ISACA members, $760 for non-members

Passing score: 450 out of 800

Eligibility: Five years of verified experience in information security with at least one year of experience in each of at least three of the four areas covered under CISM

GIAC Information Security Fundamentals

The GIAC Information Security Fundamentals or GISF certification is designed to test learners and professionals for foundational knowledge on computer functions, network security, cryptography, and cybersecurity technologies. In the jobs marketplace, a GISF certification indicates familiarity with key information security concepts, awareness of risks to information, and best practices in protecting information.

This certification is ideal for anyone new to cybersecurity fundamentals like non-IT security managers, professionals with basic computer and technical skills, professionals who need to implement or adhere to enterprise security policies, and those looking to change careers to cybersecurity.

The 75-minute, 120-question certification test covers these areas:

  • Cyber security terminology
  • Computer network basics
  • Security policies
  • Incident response
  • Passwords
  • Introductory cryptographic principles

Certification details

Test location: Online or in-person at Pearson VUEs

Cost: $2,499

Passing score: 72%

Eligibility: Not specified

CEH Certified Ethical Hacker

This certification is offered by the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council). It was introduced to validate information security professionals with the knowledge required to “avert a cyber conflict, should the need ever arise.”

A Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification indicates the ability to look for vulnerabilities in computer networks while also being able to deploy offensive security measures as part of an overall defense strategy. Professionals with this certification can be relied upon to have a deep understanding of the tools used by malicious hackers. CEH certification holders can play many roles in the cybersecurity industry, including:

  • Security analyst
  • Computer forensics analyst
  • Security specialist
  • Penetration tester
  • Security engineer
  • Security consultant
  • Malware analyst
  • Security code auditor

The four-hour CEH certification test includes 125 multiple-choice questions covering a range of topics including hacking methodologies, expected return responses, and network scanning tools such as Nmap, Wireshark, and Hping.  

Certification details

Test location: Online or in-person at Pearson VUEs

Cost: $1,199

Passing score: 70%

Eligibility: At least two years’ work experience in the information security domain

GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) certification

The GSEC certification is an intermediate-level certification that indicates qualification for hands-on IT system roles in cybersecurity. It’s ideal for IT professionals, forensic analysts, penetration testers, system administrators, and professionals who are new to information security. The certification includes a CyberLive module to test candidates in real-world job roles and evaluate their competence with actual cybersecurity programs, codes, and virtual machines.

This entry-level certification covers a wide range of areas, including:

  • Access control and password management
  • Cryptography, application security, algorithm, and deployment
  • Mac OS security
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft cloud fundamentals
  • Defense network architecture
  • Incident handling and response
  • Linux fundamentals and security
  • Security information and event management (SIEM)
  • Web communications security
  • Windows auditing, forensics, and services
  • Virtualization and cloud security
  • Wireless network security

GSEC certification is a validation of technical proficiency in the field of cybersecurity. The test has between 106 and 180 questions with a time limit of four to five hours.

Certification details

Test location: Online or in-person at Pearson VUEs

Cost: $2,499

Passing score: 73%

Eligibility: Not specified

CPT Certified Penetration Tester

The Certified Penetration Tester (CPT) certification is for cybersecurity professionals who are tasked with assessing the safety of computer networks and digital assets including IT infrastructure and devices. The CPT test validates a candidate’s ability to effectively deploy real-life penetration tools and methods to ensure the advanced security of information technology environments.

The CPT certification covers several important areas, including:

  • Penetration testing methodologies
  • Network protocol attacks
  • Network reconnaissance
  • Vulnerability identification
  • Windows exploits
  • Unix and Linux exploits
  • Covert channels and rootkits
  • Wireless security flaws
  • Web app vulnerabilities
  • Legal issues surrounding network penetration
  • Techniques and best practices involved in penetration tests

CPT certification requires professionals to demonstrate familiarity with theories and concepts of penetration testing. It also requires that they demonstrate practical skills needed for on-the-job responsibilities. Candidates with diverse educational backgrounds and career histories can acquire CPT certification for job changes or better prospects within the cybersecurity domain. The one-hour certification test comprises 40 multiple-choice questions covering three modules.

Certification details

Test location: Online

Cost: $499

Passing score: 70%

Eligibility: None    

CEPT Certified Expert Penetration Tester

CEPT certification is provided by the Infosec Institute to develop and endorse advanced cybersecurity knowledge and skills like threat pursuit, ethical hacking, and challenging network defense readiness with red team analysis. This advanced certification tests candidates on their abilities to create exploits and check for network vulnerabilities with manual and automated strategies, threat reconnaissance, and stealth techniques.

The certification is designed to be a powerful tool in fighting cybercrime and helping cybersecurity professionals improve their career prospects. CEPT is an industry-recognized credential that tests both technical knowledge and problem-solving ability with a focus on the following nine key domains:

  • Penetration testing methodologies
  • Network attacks
  • Network reconnaissance
  • Windows shellcode
  • Linux and Unix shellcode
  • Reverse engineering
  • Memory corruption and buffer overflow vulnerabilities
  • Exploit creation in Windows architecture
  • Exploit creation in Linux and Unix architecture

The certification syllabus is broken down into the following six modules, each designed to improve technical understanding while enabling the practical application of formal knowledge and skills:

  • Exploit writing
  • Advanced reconnaissance
  • Purple team privilege escalation project
  • Advanced exploitation
  • Finding vulnerabilities in software
  • Introduction to advanced hacking

The certification test comprises 50 multiple-choice questions followed by a practical session in which candidates have to complete three penetration challenges. A CEPT certification is valid for four years, re-certification is free, and there are no prerequisites for the test.

Certification details

Test location: Online or in-person at partner locations throughout the world

Cost: $499 for the online test, $399 for an on-site proctored test

Passing score: 70%

Eligibility: None

Take the next step in your career

Cybersecurity is a career option with tremendous growth potential. Over an eight-year period from 2013–2021, the number of vacant cybersecurity positions grew by an astonishing 350%, from 1 million unfulfilled positions to 3.5 million. Whether you’re new to the field or would like to upskill, there’s no better time than the present to pursue certification for a successful cybersecurity career.

If you’re looking to offer your services as a cybersecurity expert, Upwork can help you find jobs and boost your professional experience.

If you’re looking to hire a cybersecurity expert, we have a talent pool of some of the most accomplished professionals in the field. Just post a project, review proposals, hire an expert, and get your security operations projects on the way.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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The Best Cybersecurity Certifications for Your Career
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