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Last Updated On: June 21, 2024

Selecting the right cybersecurity certification can feel like navigating a labyrinth, especially when deciding between the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and the GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH). Both certifications are well-regarded in the industry, but they serve different purposes and career paths.

Are you more interested in the broad, managerial aspects of cybersecurity, or do you want to dive deep into incident handling and response? This article will break down the essentials of CISSP vs. GCIH, helping you make an informed decision that aligns with your career goals. Whether you're aiming for a management role or a hands-on technical position, we've got you covered.

Let's begin!

What is CISSP?

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) iis a globally recognized credential in the field of cybersecurity. Offered by ISC2, the CISSP certification is designed for professionals who want to demonstrate their expertise in designing, implementing, and managing a best-in-class cybersecurity program.

CISSP covers eight domains from the Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) from ISC. This broad scope ensures that CISSP holders have a comprehensive understanding of the cybersecurity landscape.

This certification is often considered the gold standard for cybersecurity professionals due to its comprehensive coverage and rigorous exam. What sets CISSP apart is its focus on both the technical and managerial aspects of security, making it suitable for a variety of roles in the cybersecurity field. With CISSP, you're not just proving your technical prowess but also your ability to lead and strategize in the complex world of cybersecurity.

What Is GCIH?

The GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH) is a certification offered by the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) organization. It's designed for professionals who manage and respond to security incidents, focusing on practical skills and real-world applications.

GCIH certification demonstrates your ability to detect, respond to, and resolve security incidents effectively. It emphasizes hands-on skills and practical knowledge, making it highly valuable for roles that require direct involvement in incident handling and response.

Unlike CISSP, which covers a broad range of cybersecurity domains, GCIH is more specialized, concentrating on the techniques and strategies needed to manage cybersecurity threats and incidents. This certification is ideal for those looking to enhance their technical skills in incident management and forensics, providing a solid foundation for roles such as incident handlers, security analysts, and SOC (Security Operations Center) professionals.

CISSP vs. GCHI: Pros and Cons





Broad technical and managerial aspects of information security.

Incident handling and response.


  • Recognized globally across industries.
  • Opens doors to technical and high-level security roles.
  • Comprehensive coverage of information security topics.
  • Emphasizes practical, hands-on skills.
  • Highly relevant for roles in incident response and management. 
  • Focused training on detecting and resolving security incidents.


  • Requires broad knowledge, making it challenging to prepare for.
  • May be too technical for professionals interested in management roles.
  • More specialized, less comprehensive than CISSP.
  • Limited to incident handling, potentially less versatile.
  • May not be as widely recognized as CISSP.

CISSP vs. GCIH: Key Differences

The main difference between these two certifications is pretty obvious: CISSP covers a broad range of cybersecurity domains, while GCIH focuses specifically on incident handling and response. But their differences extend beyond that. Let’s look at them in detail so you can decide which certification is right for your goals.


Most cybersecurity certifications require you to have some sort of experience before you can sit for the exam. So, what experiences do you need to take the CISSP and GCIH?

CISSP Eligibility

For the CISSP certification, you need to demonstrate a solid foundation in cybersecurity. Specifically, candidates must have at least five years of cumulative, paid work experience in two or more of the eight CISSP domains. But what if you're just starting out?

If you don’t have the required experience, you can still become an Associate of ISC2 by passing the CISSP exam. This status allows you to gain the necessary work experience after passing the test. Additionally, if you have a four-year college degree or hold an approved credential from the ISC2 list, you can substitute that for one year of the required experience. This pathway makes CISSP attainable even if you're still building your career.

GCIH Eligibility

The GCIH certification, on the other hand, is more flexible in terms of eligibility. It doesn’t impose strict work experience requirements, which makes it an attractive option for those newer to cybersecurity or looking to specialize in incident handling. While there are no formal prerequisites, having practical experience is highly beneficial. GIAC recommends that candidates have some hands-on experience or relevant training to be successful.

While you can attempt the GCIH exam without this experience, it's designed to ensure you're well-prepared for the hands-on, technical nature of incident response tasks. So, it’s recommended that you have either practical knowledge or specialized training to easily pass the test.

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Exam Details

Well, this isn't news. But another major difference between the two is the coverage of their exams. Let's look at what you're up against when you choose to take any of these certifications:

CISSP Exam Details

The CISSP exam is available in multiple languages, including English, French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, and Korean. It is now conducted in a Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) format, regardless of the language you choose. This format adjusts the difficulty of questions as you progress through the exam based on your performance.

The exam consists of 100-150 questions, lasting three hours. It covers eight domains and the weightage of each domain is as follows:

  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%)

This comprehensive coverage ensures that CISSP-certified professionals have a well-rounded understanding of cybersecurity principles and practices.

GCIH Exam Details

The GCIH exam, although not in a Computerized Adaptive Testing format, is equally rigorous and designed to test your hands-on skills and practical knowledge. The exam is available in English and consists of 106 questions, with a time limit of four hours.

The GCIH exam covers a range of crucial topics in incident handling and response, including:

  • Detecting Covert Communications
  • Identifying and defending against evasive techniques
  • Recognizing and mitigating exploitation tools like Metasploit
  • Defending against drive-by attacks
  • Managing endpoint attacks and attack pivoting
  • Conducting incident response and cyber investigations
  • Performing memory and malware investigations
  • Mitigating web application attacks

This focus on practical skills ensures that GCIH-certified professionals are well-prepared to manage and respond to cybersecurity incidents effectively.

Salary and Job Opportunities

Whichever you choose between the two, you can expect your salary to be higher compared to non-certified professionals. But how much will your salary increase when you have any of these two credentials?

CISSP Salary and Job Opportunities

CISSP-certified professionals are among the highest earners in the cybersecurity field. On average, a CISSP holder can expect to earn around US $120,552 annually. This can vary significantly depending on the specific role, location, and level of experience.  Additionally, obtaining this certification can open up opportunities for senior roles, including:

  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
  • Security Manager
  • Security Architect
  • IT Director
  • Security Consultant

GCIH Salary and Job Opportunities

GCIH-certified professionals also command impressive salaries, with an average annual income of around US $107,000. This figure can also vary based on factors such as role, location, and experience. Typical job titles for GCIH holders include:

  • Incident Handler
  • Security Analyst
  • SOC (Security Operations Center) Analyst
  • Threat Analyst
  • Forensic Analyst

These roles are crucial in any organization that prioritizes cybersecurity, particularly in sectors like finance, technology, government, and large enterprises with significant security needs.

Cost and Recertification

Getting a cybersecurity certification requires an investment, not just in terms of time and effort, but also financially. Let's break down the costs and renewal requirements for CISSP and GCIH certifications.

CISSP Cost and Recertification

The cost of taking the CISSP exam ranges from US $699 to US $749, depending on your region. However, the exam fee isn't the only expense you need to consider. Additional costs can include study materials, training courses, and travel expenses.

Once you pass the exam, maintaining your CISSP certification requires earning Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits and paying an annual maintenance fee of US $125. You need to earn a total of 120 CPE credits over a three-year period to keep your certification in good standing. This ensures that CISSP professionals stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the field.

GCIH Certification Cost and Renewal

The cost for the GCIH exam ranges from US $979 to US $1,299. Similar to the CISSP, this cost does not include study materials or training courses, which can add to your overall investment. However, if you choose to obtain the Applied Knowledge Certification, it includes a course with content that closely aligns with the GCIH exam.

To maintain your GCIH certification, you need to earn 36 CPE credits every four years and pay a renewal fee of US $429. This ensures that GCIH-certified professionals continue to hone their skills and stay current with industry trends and best practices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is GCIH a Good Certification?

Yes, GCIH is a highly regarded certification, especially for those focusing on incident handling and response. It demonstrates practical skills in detecting, responding to, and managing cybersecurity incidents, making it valuable for roles such as Incident Handler, SOC Analyst, and Security Analyst.

What Is Equivalent to GCIH Certification?

Certifications equivalent to GCIH include the Certified Incident Handler (ECIH) by EC-Council and the Certified Cybersecurity Incident Responder (CCIR) by Mile2. These certifications also focus on incident response and handling skills.

Is CISSP Still Valuable?

Absolutely, CISSP remains one of the most valuable and recognized certifications in the cybersecurity industry. It validates a broad range of security knowledge and skills, making it ideal for senior-level roles in cybersecurity management, consulting, and leadership. The comprehensive coverage and prestige associated with CISSP continue to make it a highly sought-after credential.

CISSP vs. GCIH: Which Is the Right Certification?

When it comes to cybersecurity certifications, it's not a matter of choosing just one. In fact, earning multiple certifications can be incredibly beneficial, especially when they complement each other. However, taking both exams right away might not be feasible. So, which should you choose first?

If you’re aiming for a broad understanding of cybersecurity with an emphasis on both technical and managerial skills, the CISSP is an excellent choice. It’s ideal for those aspiring to senior-level positions like Security Manager, Security Architect, or Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).

On the other hand, if you’re passionate about incident handling and want to specialize in responding to and managing security incidents, the GCIH is perfect for you. It’s particularly suited for roles such as Incident Handler, SOC Analyst, or Security Analyst.

Ultimately, the right certification for you aligns with your career goals and current experience level. Both CISSP and GCIH offer unique advantages and can significantly boost your career in cybersecurity.

If you think CISSP is the best choice for your career path, consider Destination Certification’s CISSP MasterClass. Our comprehensive training program is designed to fit your schedule and help you master the essential knowledge and skills needed to pass the CISSP exam. With expert instructors and flexible learning options, you'll be well on your way to achieving one of the most prestigious certifications in the industry. Start your journey with us today!

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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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