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March 15, 2024

Planning to obtain a cybersecurity certification but can't decide between CISSP and CISA? This is a common dilemma, especially since both certifications are well-known and highly regarded in the cybersecurity field.

Choosing between CISSP and CISA isn't just a matter of preference; it's a strategic decision that can significantly impact your career trajectory and how you're perceived in the industry. So, how do you determine which one aligns with your career goals?

In this article, we'll explore the key differences between the CISSP and CISA certifications, including their focus areas and the career opportunities they offer. By understanding these distinctions, you can make an informed decision that matches your skills and career aspirations, charting a clear course for your future in cybersecurity.

What is the CISSP?

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is a globally recognized certification in the field of information security awarded by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, also known as ISC2.

It's designed for cybersecurity professionals seeking to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge in designing, implementing, and managing a best-in-class cybersecurity program. The CISSP is often regarded as a milestone for IT professionals aiming to climb higher in their cybersecurity careers.

With a CISSP certification, individuals prove their ability to effectively design and manage a comprehensive security program. This certification covers a broad range of topics essential for the information security industry, including risk management, cloud computing, mobile security, and application development security, among others. It's structured around eight domains that are considered critical to information security practices.

What Is CISA?

The Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) is a prestigious certification tailored for professionals in the field of information systems auditing, control, and security.

Issued by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), CISA is recognized globally as a benchmark for individuals with audit responsibilities, showcasing a commitment to excellence in managing vulnerabilities and ensuring compliance within an organization's IT infrastructure.

Earning a CISA certification validates an individual's expertise in assessing vulnerabilities, reporting on compliance, and instituting controls within the enterprise. It covers five primary domains that are critical to effective information systems auditing, making it an essential credential for professionals looking to solidify their careers in IT audit, control, and security.

CISSP vs. CISA: Pros and Cons

Feature

CISSP

CISA

Focus

Technical aspects of information security.

Information systems auditing, control, and security.

Pros

  • Recognized globally across industries.
  • Opens doors to technical and high-level security roles.
  • Comprehensive coverage of information security topics.
  • Highly valued in IT audit, control, and security.
  • Focuses on governance, risk management, and assurance.
  • Ideal for professionals aiming to specialize in IT audit.

Cons

  • Requires broad knowledge, making it challenging to prepare for.
  • Maybe too technical for some professionals.
  • More focused on auditing, which might not appeal to those interested in broader security roles.
  • Requires specific interest and skills in auditing and control.

CISSP vs. CISA: The Difference

CISSP and CISA certifications are designed for senior cybersecurity professionals aiming to advance their careers, yet they chart distinct paths within the industry.

If you're wondering which of these two aligns more closely with your career aspirations and offers the specialization you seek, understanding their key differences is crucial. Let's break them down:

Target Audience

Even though CISSP and CISA certifications may appear to be aimed at the same type of cybersecurity professionals, they are actually tailored to two distinct groups. Understanding who each certification is for can help clarify which aligns with your career goals and aspirations.

CISSP Target Audience

CISSP is designed for experienced cybersecurity professionals looking to validate their ability in both technical and managerial aspects of security. Ideal candidates include security VPs, directors, managers, security architects, IT directors/managers, security auditors, security analysts, and chief information security officers.

This certification is perfect for those aiming to demonstrate a well-rounded competence in designing, implementing, and managing a best-in-class cybersecurity program. It suits individuals seeking roles that require a balance of deep technical knowledge and the ability to manage and lead security teams within an organization.

CISA Target Audience

CISA, on the other hand, targets IT auditors, audit managers, consultants, and security professionals who specialize in information systems auditing, control, and security.

This certification is ideal for individuals focused on assessing an organization's information technology and business systems to ensure they are securely and efficiently governed, controlled, and operated. CISA is particularly suited for professionals aiming for careers that emphasize auditing, risk management, compliance, and the assurance of critical business systems.

Prerequisite

Both CISSP and CISA certifications require a certain level of professional experience for full certification. These prerequisites ensure that candidates have practical, real-world experience before being recognized as certified professionals.

Let's dive into what each certification demands from its applicants.

CISSP Prerequisite

The CISSP certification is aimed at seasoned professionals in the cybersecurity field, requiring candidates to demonstrate a robust background of practical experience. Specifically, you'll need five years of full-time work experience in two or more of the CISSP's eight domains. If your career includes part-time work or internships, these can also count towards your experience, but in a prorated manner.

For those with a relevant college degree, certain accreditations, or additional certifications, one year of experience can be waived. Importantly, even if you're currently short on the required experience, you can still take the CISSP exam and become an Associate of ISC2. This designation allows you to accumulate the necessary experience post-exam, keeping your career trajectory upward.

CISA Prerequisite

Tailored for professionals in information systems auditing, control, and security, CISA certification stipulates a requirement of five years of work experience in the relevant fields. This experience ensures that certified professionals are not only knowledgeable but also adept in applying their understanding in practical scenarios.

The experience can come from a variety of roles, including IT auditing, IT security, and even IT control. CISA recognizes the value of academic achievements and other professional certifications by offering up to three years of waivers for certain qualifications.

For those who pass the CISA exam but haven't yet met the experience requirements, there's a pathway to certification. By accumulating the required experience after passing the exam, you can complete your certification, solidifying your standing as an expert in information systems audit and control.

Exam Details

Understanding the scope and structure of the CISSP and CISA certification exams can provide valuable insights into which certification aligns best with your current skills and areas of expertise.

Each exam has its unique focus, covering specific domains that are essential for the respective areas of cybersecurity and information systems auditing. Here's what you need to know about the exam details for both CISSP and CISA.

CISSP Exam Details

The CISSP exam tests a candidate's knowledge and skills across eight domains:

  1. Security and Risk Management (15%)
  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 (11%)

These domains are not just broad categories but are weighted to reflect their importance, with Security and Risk Management having the highest emphasis.

The exam is available in English and several other languages, including French, German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Spanish. It utilizes the Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) format for English language exams, offering a dynamic and efficient testing experience.

Typically, the CAT exam includes 125 to 175 questions with a three to four-hour time limit, depending on when you take it. The exam format for languages other than English includes 225 to 250 questions to be completed within six hours.

CISA Exam Details

The CISA exam focuses on five primary domains:

  1. Information Systems Auditing Process (18%)
  2. Governance & Management Of IT (18%)
  3. Information Systems Acquisition, Development & Implementation (12%)
  4. Information Systems Operations & Business Resilience (26%)
  5. Protection Of Information Assets (26%)

These domains ensure that candidates have a thorough understanding of the entire lifecycle of information systems auditing and the critical aspects of governance, risk management, and protection of assets. The exam is available in multiple languages and consists of 150 questions, with a four-hour time limit to complete.

Salary and Job Opportunities

Certified professionals often enjoy a significant advantage in the job market, with CISSP and CISA holders commanding higher salaries and gaining access to a broader spectrum of career opportunities than non-certified individuals.

CISSP Salary and Job Opportunities

Professionals holding CISSP certifications are among the most sought-after in the cybersecurity industry, as reflected in their average salaries, often at the top of IT certification salary surveys. Depending on the location, years of experience, and the specific role, CISSP-certified professionals can expect an average annual salary of US $120,552.

Career roles that typically require or benefit from a CISSP certification include:

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

The CISSP certification opens doors to senior-level positions and is a significant credential for those aiming to lead security teams or departments.

CISA Salary and Job Opportunities

Similarly, CISA-certified professionals are highly valued in roles focusing on auditing, risk management, and compliance within IT and business systems. The average salary for CISA holders can vary widely but generally falls about US $115,000, influenced by factors like geographical location, job role, and experience level.

Career opportunities for CISA-certified individuals include:

  • IT Auditor
  • Audit Manager
  • IT Risk and Assurance Manager
  • Chief Audit Executive

The CISA certification is particularly relevant for professionals seeking to specialize in the governance and assessment/audit of IT systems, ensuring they are secure, controlled, and efficient.

Cost and Recertification

Choosing between the CISSP and CISA certifications isn't just about aligning with your career path; it's also wise to consider the broader implications, including the investment you'll need to make and what it takes to maintain your certification.

From exam costs to the recertification process, let's dive into the details of both certifications to give you a clearer picture of what to expect.

CISSP Cost and Recertification

The CISSP exam fee varies by region, but is generally around US$749. You also need to consider other fees, such as study materials and training programs. But these costs are just the beginning. Once you've passed the test, you'll incur other expenses as well. 

To maintain CISSP status, you're required to earn Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits—40 CPEs annually and 120 CPEs over a three-year cycle. This ensures that CISSP holders stay up-to-date with advancements in the field.

Additionally, there's an Annual Maintenance Fee (AMF) of US$125, which supports the ongoing costs of the certification, including access to ISC2 resources and services.

CISA Cost and Recertification

The cost of the CISA exam also varies but is approximately $575 for ISACA members and $760 for non-members. To keep the CISA certification active, holders must comply with the Continuing Professional Education Policy, which requires earning at least 20 CPE hours annually and a total of 120 CPE hours in a three-year reporting period

Like CISSP, there's an Annual Maintenance Fee, which is $45 for ISACA members and $85 for non-members. This fee supports the certification's maintenance and access to valuable resources.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Is Best CISA or CISSP?

The best certification between CISA and CISSP depends on your career goals and area of expertise. If you focus on information systems auditing, control, and security, CISA is tailored for you.

For a broader approach to cybersecurity, including designing and managing security protocols, CISSP might be the better choice. It's about where you see yourself in the cybersecurity landscape.

Is CISA or CISSP Harder?

The difficulty of CISA vs. CISSP is subjective and depends on your background and experience in the respective areas. CISSP covers a wide range of cybersecurity topics, making it challenging for those without a comprehensive background in security. CISA focuses on auditing and may be difficult for those unfamiliar with audit procedures and controls. Both exams require a significant study commitment.

Is CISSP the Best Certification?

CISSP is considered one of the top certifications in the cybersecurity field, renowned for its comprehensive coverage of information security topics and its recognition across industries. However, whether it's the best depends on your career aspirations. CISSP is excellent for a well-rounded cybersecurity career, but other certifications might be better suited for specialized roles.

Which is Best: CISSP vs CISA

Deciding between CISSP and CISA ultimately comes down to where you see yourself in the cybersecurity ecosystem.

If you're drawn to the managerial aspects of cybersecurity and looking to design, implement, and oversee comprehensive security programs, then CISSP is your go-to certification. It's ideal for those aspiring to take on roles such as Security Analyst, Security Manager, or CISO, where a broad understanding of information security is key.

On the other hand, if your passion lies in the audit, control, and assurance of information systems, with a keen interest in governance and compliance, CISA aligns with your career trajectory. It's tailored for professionals aiming for positions like IT Auditor, Audit Manager, or Compliance Officer, where specific knowledge of auditing standards and practices is crucial.

If CISSP sounds like the right fit for your career goals, there's no better time than now to start this journey. At Destination Certification, we understand the commitment it takes to achieve CISSP certification. That's why we offer a CISSP MasterClass that's not just comprehensive but also flexible, designed to fit into your busy schedule.

With our guidance, your path toward achieving CISSP certification is not just a dream but a very achievable reality. Let Destination Certification be your partner on this journey, ensuring you have the knowledge, skills, and support to succeed.

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