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Last Updated On: May 7, 2024

When it comes to prestigious certifications in the IT industry, CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) and CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) stand out as two of the most sought-after credentials. Both certifications offer professionals a pathway to advance their careers and demonstrate expertise in their respective domains. However, despite their prominence, CISSP and CCNA serve distinct purposes and cater to different areas of specialization.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the key differences between these two certifications, exploring their respective scopes, exam details, career prospects, and more, empowering you to make an informed decision that aligns with your professional aspirations.

What is CISSP?

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is a globally recognized certification in the field of information security, governed by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, commonly known as ISC2. This advanced certification is designed for security practitioners, managers, and executives who want to prove their knowledge across a wide array of security practices and principles.

One of the standout features of the CISSP certification is its vendor-neutral approach. Unlike certifications focused on specific technologies or vendors, CISSP covers the broad spectrum of information security. This makes it incredibly versatile and applicable in a variety of settings and industries.

The CISSP curriculum is built around eight domains of security knowledge, from Security and Risk Management to Software Development Security, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the entire information security landscape. This broad-based approach empowers professionals to design, engineer, and manage the overall security posture of an organization.

What Is CCNA?

The Cisco Certified Network Associate is a prominent vendor-specific certification that focuses primarily on networking technologies. Managed by Cisco Systems, a leading provider of networking solutions, the CCNA certification is designed to prepare candidates for today's associate-level job roles in IT technologies. CCNA now includes security, automation, and programmability, reflecting the breadth of skills required in modern network environments

Unlike the broader, vendor-neutral CISSP, the CCNA certification centers on Cisco’s own products and software, equipping professionals with specific skills to handle Cisco networks and systems. The certification covers a range of topics, including network fundamentals, network access, IP connectivity, IP services, security fundamentals, and automation and programmability.

By focusing deeply on Cisco's ecosystem, CCNA holders are well-prepared to install, configure, and operate LAN, WAN, and dial access services for medium-sized networks. This makes CCNA an invaluable asset for those seeking to specialize in Cisco environments, providing a solid foundation in core network engineering using Cisco technologies.

CISSP vs. CCNA: Pros and Cons

Feature

CISSP

CCNA

Focus

Technical aspects of information security.

Technical skills specific to Cisco networks.

Pros

  • Recognized globally across various industries.
  • Opens doors to both technical and high-level security roles.
  • Comprehensive coverage of information security topics.
  • Directly applicable to managing Cisco systems.
  • Widely recognized in the IT industry for networking roles. 
  • Offers foundational networking knowledge and skills.

Cons

  • Requires broad and deep knowledge of information security, making it challenging to prepare for.
  • Focused primarily on Cisco products, which may be limiting if branching into other technologies or vendors.

CISSP vs. CCNA: How Do They Differ

While both CISSP and CCNA are prestigious certifications within the IT industry, they cater to markedly different professional needs and areas of expertise. CISSP is primarily centered around cybersecurity, while CCNA focuses specifically on networking. This fundamental distinction underscores the unique pathways and opportunities each certification presents.

Below, we provide a detailed breakdown of how these two certifications differ:

Eligibility

Most IT certifications, including CISSP and CCNA, have specific prerequisites that candidates must meet to qualify for the exams. Understanding these requirements is crucial as they often include elements of work experience that vary significantly between certifications.

CISSP Eligibility

To sit for the CISSP exam, you need a robust background in security. Specifically, ISC2 requires candidates to have at least five years of cumulative, paid work experience in two or more of the eight domains of the CISSP. This can include full-time work, part-time positions, or internships.

If you hold a four-year college degree or an approved credential from the ISC2 approved list, one year of the required experience can be waived. For those who don’t yet meet these experience requirements, you can still take the CISSP exam and become an Associate of ISC2, giving you six years to gain the necessary experience.

However, do note that this exam is mainly targeted towards cybersecurity professionals who are at the later stages of their careers. So, even if you can take it without meeting the experience requirement, doing so can be very challenging given the comprehensive scope of the exam.

CCNA Eligibility

Unlike the CISSP, the CCNA doesn't have any mandatory work experience requirements. This makes it an ideal certification for those just starting their networking careers or students looking to validate their skills straight out of college or a networking program. The CCNA is tailored for entry-level network administrators, network support engineers, and those seeking to demonstrate their proficiency in configuring and troubleshooting Cisco networks.

Exam Details

Since CISSP and CCNA cater to distinct areas within the IT field, the structure and content of their exams also differ significantly. Each certification exam is designed to assess the specific knowledge and skills pertinent to its focus area.

CISSP Exam Details

The CISSP exam is administered using the Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) format, which tailors the difficulty of questions based on the candidate's previous responses. This format is designed to assess a candidate's competency more efficiently. The exam covers eight domains of knowledge:

  1. Security and Risk Management (16%)
  2. Asset Security (10%)
  3. Security Architecture and Design (13%)
  4. Communication and Network Security (13%)
  5. Identity and Access Management (IAM) (13%)
  6. Security Assessment and Testing (12%)
  7. Security Operations (13%)
  8. Software Development Security (10%)

The exam consists of a variable number of questions, typically ranging from 100 to 150, and candidates have up to three hours to complete it. The CISSP exam is offered in multiple languages, including English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Spanish, making it accessible to a global audience

CCNA Exam Details

The CCNA exam focuses on a variety of fundamental networking topics, including:

  • Network fundamentals
  • Network access
  • IP connectivity
  • IP services
  • Security fundamentals
  • Automation and programmability

The exam usually consists of around 120 questions and must be completed within 120 minutes. Unlike the CISSP, the CCNA exam does not use the CAT format but follows a traditional fixed-form question model. It is available in English and Japanese and can be taken either online or in person, offering flexibility in how and where you choose to sit for the exam.

Salary and Job Opportunities

Earning an IT certification is a strategic move that can significantly enhance your career prospects and earning potential. But exactly how much can these certifications elevate your career? Here’s a closer look at the salary and job opportunities associated with CISSP and CCNA certifications.

CISSP Salary and Job Opportunities

Holders of the CISSP certification are often recognized for their advanced knowledge and skills in cybersecurity, qualifying them for a variety of high-level security roles. That’s why the average annual salary for CISSP professionals is much higher than CCNA-certified individuals, which is around US $120,552, depending on the specific role, years of experience, and location.

Job roles typically include:

  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
  • Security Analyst
  • Security Systems Engineer
  • Security Architect
  • Network Architect
  • Security Manager

These positions involve overseeing and protecting information systems in various organizational contexts, reflecting the comprehensive and managerial focus of the CISSP certification.

CCNA Salary and Job Opportunities

The CCNA certification, while more focused on networking, also opens doors to substantial career opportunities. The average annual salary for individuals with a CCNA certification is approximately US $82,062, which is usually higher than for non-certified IT professionals.

Common job roles for CCNA-certified professionals include:

  • Network Administrator
  • Network Engineer
  • Systems Administrator
  • Support Technician

These roles primarily revolve around the setup, configuration, and maintenance of networks, particularly those using Cisco technology, illustrating the certification’s specialized nature.

Cost and Recertification

When deciding which certification to pursue in the IT field, understanding the financial investment required is crucial. Both the initial cost of the exam and any ongoing fees for maintaining the certification should be considered. Here's a breakdown of the costs and recertification requirements for CISSP and CCNA certifications.

CISSP Cost and Recertification

The CISSP exam fee typically runs around US $749, but the total cost can increase significantly when you factor in study materials and training courses. Many candidates opt for preparatory courses, which can vary widely in price, along with purchasing official books and study guides.

After certification, CISSP holders must pay an Annual Maintenance Fee (AMF) of US $125 and are required to earn Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits to maintain their certification. Specifically, they need to accumulate at least 40 CPE credits each year and 120 CPE credits over three years. This commitment ensures that professionals stay up-to-date with industry developments.

CCNA Cost and Recertification

The CCNA exam costs about $300, but similar to the CISSP, additional expenses for study materials can add up. Many candidates invest in Cisco’s official training resources or third-party materials to better prepare for the exam.

To maintain the certification, Cisco requires CCNA holders to recertify every three years. This can be done through passing a recertification exam or earning Continuing Education credits. The recertification ensures that professionals maintain their skills and knowledge in line with current technologies.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Hard Is CISSP Compared to CCNA?

The CISSP is generally considered more challenging than the CCNA due to its broad and in-depth coverage of cybersecurity topics and its requirement for extensive experience. The CCNA, focusing on networking and specifically Cisco systems, is more technical but narrower in scope.

Is CISSP in High Demand?

Yes, CISSP is in high demand. Organizations globally recognize it as a leading cybersecurity certification. It is highly valued across various industries for roles that involve managing and securing information systems.

Can I Pass the CISSP in 3 Months?

Passing the CISSP in 3 months is possible but challenging. It depends heavily on your prior knowledge, experience in cybersecurity, and the amount of time you can dedicate to study. For most, a more extended preparation period is recommended.

CISSP vs. CCNA: Which Certification Should You Pursue?

If you're looking at moving into a cybersecurity role or a cybersecurity professional who wants to elevate their career, then CISSP is the ideal choice. It’s suited for those seeking to hold senior-level security roles across various sectors. On the other hand, if your interest is primarily in networking, particularly with Cisco technologies, and you aim to start or advance in a network administration or engineering role, then CCNA would be more appropriate.

In a nutshell, both certifications are valuable and can provide value to your IT career. But your decision should align with your career path and the specific skills you wish to develop. Taking the time to assess your career objectives and the skills you need to acquire or hone will guide you in making the best choice.

If you feel that CISSP aligns better with your career aspirations, choose Destination Certification to support your journey. We offer a CISSP training course that adapts to both your existing knowledge and your schedule. Whether you're well-versed in the field or just starting out, our course adjusts to meet you where you are. This flexibility ensures that every participant gets the most out of their training, making it an ideal choice for anyone serious about advancing in cybersecurity.

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John Berti

John is a major force behind the Destination Certification CISSP program's success, with over 25 years of global cybersecurity experience. He simplifies complex topics, and he utilizes innovative teaching methods that contribute to the program's industry-high exam success rates. As a leading Information Security professional in Canada, John co-authored a bestselling CISSP exam preparation guide and helped develop official CISSP curriculum materials. You can reach out to John on LinkedIn.

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