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March 6, 2024

The cybersecurity industry is continually evolving, and professionals in the field need to constantly seek ways to distinguish themselves and advance their careers. Among the most prestigious and sought-after credentials are the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certifications.

Both credentials are highly regarded in the industry, but they cater to different professional paths. Choosing between CISSP and CISM often depends on your career goals, areas of interest, and the specific roles you aspire to within the cybersecurity field.

In this guide, we will discuss CISSP vs. CISM, their key differences, and their pros and cons to help you decide which certification aligns best with your career aspirations.

What is the CISSP?

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is a globally recognized certification in the field of information security offered by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC2). It is designed for IT and cybersecurity professionals who wish to demonstrate their expertise in developing and managing a robust cybersecurity program.

The CISSP certification validates an individual's ability to effectively design, implement, and manage a best-in-class cybersecurity program. With a focus on technical and managerial knowledge and proficiency, it covers critical aspects of security in eight domains, including risk management, security architecture, and identity and access management.

The CISSP is aimed at experienced security practitioners, managers, and executives interested in proving their knowledge across various security practices and principles.

What is CISM?

The Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) is a prestigious certification offered by ISACA that focuses on the development and management side of information security. It is tailored for IT professionals responsible for managing, designing, overseeing, and assessing an organization's information security.

Unlike certifications that focus on technical skills, CISM is aimed at individuals looking to advance their careers in information security management and governance. The certification emphasizes the importance of aligning information security programs with broader business goals, a critical aspect for modern organizations.

CISM validates expertise in risk management, incident management, and the development and management of information security programs, making it ideal for those aspiring to hold senior management roles in the field of information security.

CISSP vs. CISM Pros and Cons

Feature

CISSP

CISM

Focus

Technical and managerial aspects of information security.

Management and governance of information security.

Pros

  • Recognized globally across industries.
  • Opens doors to technical and high-level security roles.
  • Comprehensive coverage of information security topics.
  • Highly valued for strategic roles in information security management.
  • Focuses on governance, risk management, and program development.
  • Suitable for IT professionals aiming for leadership position

Cons

  • Requires broad knowledge, making it challenging to prepare for.
  • May be too technical for professionals interested in management roles.
  • More focused on management, which might not appeal to those interested in the technical side.
  • Limited to information security management, potentially less versatile than CISSP.

CISSP vs. CISM: How Do They Differ?

Even though both CISSP and CISM certifications boost and enrich a professional's expertise across a broad spectrum of information security, they also have their distinct differences. Let's examine what sets them apart:

Eligibility Requirements

To take any of these certification exams, you need to meet certain requirements. These criteria ensure that you, as a potential certified professional, possess the necessary experience and knowledge within the cybersecurity domain.

CISSP Exam Requirements

To qualify for the CISSP certification, candidates must have at least five years of cumulative, paid work experience in two or more of the eight domains of the CISSP CBK (Common Body of Knowledge). Part-time and internship experiences are also accepted as work experience. However, they are calculated differently from full-time work.

Relevant educational degrees or credentials approved by the ISC2 can satisfy up to one year of the required experience. If you don't have any of those, don't worry. ISC2 allows you to still take the CISSP exam. The only caveat is that you won't get CISSP-certified right away. Instead, you'll become an Associate of ISC2 and be given six years to complete the necessary experience.

CISM Exam requirements

For the CISM certification, candidates need to have five years of work experience in information security, with at least three years in information security management across three or more job practice analysis areas.

Unlike CISSP, CISM allows candidates to waive two years of the five required, depending on their education or certifications. But, it doesn't allow new professionals to take the exam. It targets those who already have a footing in information management. This makes CISM less accessible for those just starting in the field.

Exam Details

Both the CISSP and CISM certifications require you to sit down and answer a closed-book exam, testing your knowledge and skills in the cybersecurity domain.

For the CISSP, you'll need to take your exam in person, administered exclusively at Pearson VUE Testing Centers. Conversely, CISM offers more flexibility, allowing you to take the exam at an in-person testing center or remotely via remote proctoring.

CISSP Exam Details

The CISSP exam is offered in multiple languages, including English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Simplified Chinese, catering to a global audience. If you plan on taking it in English, it will be in a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) format. It contains 125 to 175 items if you're taking the exam before April 15, 2024, and 100 to 150 items if you take it after that

The CISSP exam is divided into eight domains, following the CISSP CBK. They're weighted as follows:

CISM Exam Details

This CISM exam is available in multiple languages, including English, Japanese, Spanish, and Simplified Chinese, ensuring accessibility for a diverse, global audience. Unlike the CISSP exam, the format for this certification is consistent, comprising 150 multiple-choice questions that candidates must complete within four hours.

It is also divided into four domains, unlike CISSP, which is divided into eight. Here are them:

  • Information Security Governance (24%)
  • Information Risk Management (30%)
  • Information Security Program Development and Management (27%)
  • Information Security Incident Management (19%)

Exam Difficulty

Another key difference between the CISSP and CISM certifications lies in the difficulty of their exams. The CISSP certification covers a wide range of information security topics, including both technical and managerial aspects. This broad scope makes CISSP a complementary certification to CISM, which focuses primarily on managerial skills within the information security domain.

This distinction affects how you might decide which certification best fits your career goals. Although they emphasize different skill sets, it's worth noting that neither exam is inherently easier than the other. Each exam has its unique challenges and requires a tailored preparation strategy based on the depth and breadth of knowledge required.

CISSP Exam Difficulty

The CISSP exam is often described as "a mile wide and an inch deep," reflecting its comprehensive scope across various topics within its eight domains. This characterization highlights the exam's challenge: it requires a broad understanding of information security concepts without delving too deeply into any subject area.

The adaptive nature of the English version of the exam further intensifies this challenge, as it tailors the difficulty of questions based on your responses. Candidates typically need to dedicate months of study to cover the extensive material adequately and develop a solid grasp of each domain. However, you can pass the test on your first try with the right tools and resources.

Given the comprehensive nature of CISSP, many professionals find it beneficial to pursue it first. The knowledge and skills gained from CISSP can provide a strong foundation for the managerial focus of the CISM certification.

CISM Exam Difficulty

On the flip side, the CISM exam zeroes in on the strategic and managerial aspects of information security. It assesses your ability to govern and manage information security programs, demanding an in-depth understanding of information security management principles.

The challenge here is less about the technical details and more about applying managerial concepts to real-world scenarios, making it incredibly challenging for those without experience in these areas. Like the CISSP, preparing for the CISM requires a deep dive into its four domains, focusing on governance, risk management, program development, and incident management.

Salary and Job Opportunities

Both CISSP and CISM certifications can significantly enhance your professional value and marketability, leading to better job prospects and higher salaries. The choice between them should align with your career goals: whether you're looking to affirm your expertise across the full spectrum of information security with CISSP or specialize in its governance with CISM.

In either path, these certifications serve as a key differentiator in the competitive IT security job market, potentially unlocking opportunities for advancement and higher compensation.

CISSP Salary and Job Opportunities

The CISSP certification is renowned for its ability to open doors to many high-level information security roles. On average, professionals holding a CISSP certification can earn about US $120,552. This average is significantly higher compared to those without any certification.

Positions often requiring or benefiting from the CISSP include, but are not limited to:

  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
  • Director of Security
  • IT Director or IT Manager
  • Security Consultant
  • Security Analyst
  • Security Systems Engineer
  • Security Architect
  • Network Architect
  • Security Manage

The certification is valued across industries for its comprehensive coverage of information security topics, making CISSP-certified professionals highly sought after for their expertise and versatility in addressing complex security challenges.

CISM Salary and Job Opportunities

Similarly, the CISM certification is associated with strategic roles within the information security management and governance framework. CISM-certified professionals are often considered for leadership positions, given the certification's focus on governance, risk management, and program development. The average salary for CISM holders is also competitive, ranging from US $70,000 to $100,000, depending on the location and experience.

Typical roles for CISM-certified individuals include the following:

  • Chief Information Officer (CIO)
  • Information Security Manager
  • IT Auditor
  • Risk Manager
  • Governance, Risk, and Compliance Lead
  • Security Operations Administrator

Cost and Recertification

Both certifications not only demand an initial investment for the exam and preparation materials but also require a commitment to continuing education to keep the certifications active.

CISSP Cost and Recertification

The cost to take the CISSP exam is US $749, varying slightly by location. Beyond the exam fee, candidates often invest in study materials, boot camps, or online courses, which can significantly increase the total cost.

Once certified, CISSP holders must recertify every three years by earning 120 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits over the recertification cycle. This process ensures that certified professionals stay up-to-date with the latest in information security. There's also an annual maintenance fee of US $125 required to keep the certification active.

CISM Cost and Recertification

For the CISM exam, candidates can expect to pay a fee of around US $575 for ISACA members and US $760 for non-members. Similar to CISSP, additional costs for study materials and preparatory courses can add to the overall investment.

CISM certification requires recertification every three years, during which holders must accumulate at least 120 CPE credits to demonstrate their ongoing engagement with the field. ISACA also charges an annual maintenance fee of US $45 for members and US $85 for non-members.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Is Best CISSP or CISM?

The best certification depends on your career focus. If you're interested in both technical and managerial roles within information security, CISSP is likely the better choice due to its comprehensive coverage of cybersecurity practices.

CISM is more appropriate for those focusing on just management positions in information security, as it focuses on governance, risk management, and information security program development.

Should I Get the CISM or CISSP First?

Whether you should pursue CISM or CISSP first depends on your current knowledge base, career goals, and the specific skills you wish to develop.

Given CISSP's broad coverage of both technical and managerial aspects of information security, it often makes sense for professionals to start with CISSP. This certification provides a comprehensive foundation in information security, equipping you with a wide range of skills that are valuable across many roles and sectors.

If your career path is leaning more towards management and governance in information security, starting with CISSP can still be beneficial. The knowledge gained from CISSP can serve as a solid base before focusing on the more specialized managerial aspects covered by CISM.

Ultimately, if you aim to have a well-rounded understanding of information security, beginning with CISSP and then pursuing CISM could be a strategic approach.

Do I Need Both CISSP and CISM?

While not necessary, holding both CISSP and CISM certifications can be beneficial, especially if you're looking to demonstrate a broad and versatile skill set in both technical and managerial aspects of information security. Having both certifications can make you exceptionally attractive to employers, showcasing your comprehensive knowledge and commitment to the field.

CISSP vs. CISM: Which Is Right for You?

Choosing between CISSP and CISM depends largely on your current expertise, professional aspirations, and the skills you aim to acquire. The CISSP's extensive coverage of both the technical and managerial aspects of information security makes it an ideal starting point for many professionals. This certification lays a comprehensive foundation, equipping you with a diverse skill set applicable across various roles and industries.

If your career objectives are more aligned with the management and governance aspects of information security, beginning with the CISSP certification is still beneficial. The comprehensive knowledge base established through CISSP can serve as a strong foundation for developing the focused managerial skills emphasized by the CISM certification.

Ready to start your CISSP journey? If so, Destination Certification is here to support you on this significant journey. Our CISSP MasterClass is designed to be flexible and dynamic, adjusting to your current schedule and knowledge level. This approach allows you to start this certification path without sacrificing your current lifestyle or professional commitments.

With Destination Certification, you gain access to comprehensive resources and expert guidance to help you effectively prepare for the CISSP exam, making your certification journey as smooth and successful as possible.

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