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The Most Valuable Cybersecurity Certifications

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By: Shelby Welty

November 17, 2020

Skills to Pay the Bills: The Most Valuable Cybersecurity Certifications

Not all cybersecurity certifications are created equal. While some will help you get your foot in the door, others are designed for advanced infosec professionals. Their level of complexity doesn't always align with their level of compensation — meaning it's in your best interest to find the most valuable cybersecurity certifications before spending time and money hitting the books and completing qualification exams.

So, which certifications are your best bet? Which offers the best benefits for your career path, compensation, and cultivation of cybersecurity skills?

Let's break down the top four cybersecurity certifications, why they matter, and what they can do for your IT career.

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

As noted by Forbes, CISM certification comes in with the third-highest salary of any IT qualification in 2020 at just under $150,000. It makes sense: CISM-trained professionals have the knowledge and skills necessary to help organizations augment IT defenses by creating sophisticated, standardized cybersecurity frameworks.

This certification focuses on four key topic areas:

  • Information security governance
  • Information risk management and compliance
  • Information security program development and management
  • Information security incident management

It's worth noting that this is not an entry-level qualification. At the same time, there are no certification prerequisites; IT pros must have five years of security experience and agree to the CISM professional code of ethics.

Earning the CISM designation also requires completing a 4-hour, 150 question exam, with a 450 or better score.

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Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA)

The CISA certification comes in just under the CISM in terms of salary at around $130,000 per year. This qualification focuses on IT professionals' ability to effectively evaluate current enterprise security practices and processes and recommend key improvements to help bolster the overall defense. CISA training focuses on five aspects of the auditing process:

  • The auditing information systems process
  • Protection of information assets
  • Governance and management of IT
  • Acquisition and implementation
  • Ongoing operations and maintenance

Common roles for CISA-certified professionals include:

  • IT audit managers
  • Internal auditors
  • IT consultants
  • Privacy officers
  • PCI security specialists

Just like the CISM qualification, earning the CISA designation requires IT professionals to complete a four-hour, 150-question exam with a score of 450 or better. Candidates must also have at least five years of IT auditing, control, or security expertise in the ten years preceding their date of application for certification.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Often called the "gold standard" of security certifications, CISSP comes with a salary to match: According to PC Magazine, the average compensation for CISSP-certified professionals is just over $140,000 per year. This intermediate-level certification requires completing a 150-question, 3-hour adaptive test with a score of 700/1000 or better, and IT professionals must recertify every three years.

CISSP certification tests your knowledge across eight key areas:

  • Information security and risk management
  • Asset security
  • Security engineering and architecture
  • Communications and network security
  • Identity and access management
  • Security assessment and testing
  • Security operations
  • Software development security

Given the considerable breadth of these topics, even experienced IT professionals often find the CISSP exam challenging — in-depth online training courses can help focus your efforts and increase your chances of completing the exam.

Certified in Risk and Information Control (CRISC)

CRISC certification means that risk is your business, and business is booming with an average salary of just over $145,000 per year. It makes sense; as corporate compute environments evolve, attack surfaces also expand, in turn exposing critical data to potential risk. CRISC-certified professionals have demonstrated the ability to effectively identify, assess, monitor, and mitigate risks at scale, making them a valuable addition to any IT team.

Earning CRISC certification requires completing a four-hour, 150-question exam and is a worthwhile investment for a cybersecurity professional, business analyst, or project manager looking to bolster their security skillet and boost their overall income.

Honorable mention — CompTia Security+

While jobs that require CompTia Security+ can't compete in terms of sheer salary with the four certifications listed above — CompTia lists an average salary of just over $80,000 for Security+ certified professionals — the value of this qualification can't be overstated.

Here's why: No matter your areas of interest and expertise in cybersecurity, every company wants to see a CompTia Security+ certification. It's ubiquitous and useful to small businesses and enterprises alike because it demonstrates an understanding of essential security principles along with a willingness to improve security skills with hard work and dedication. Put simply, if you're looking to unlock career doors in the cybersecurity industry and expand your opportunities, Security+ is your key.

Value-Added Education

What's the bottom line? The most valuable cybersecurity certifications offer substantial salaries from companies looking to secure IT expertise. But value isn't measured in dollars alone — the best qualification for your career depends on where your interests lie, which skills you'd like to improve, and what infosec opportunities you're looking to explore over the long term.

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