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Last Updated On: April 25, 2024

The cybersecurity industry is brimming with opportunities, especially for those aspiring to climb to senior management or leadership roles. If you're deciding between certifications to elevate your career, the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and the GIAC Security Leadership Certification (GSLC) stand out as top contenders.

In this comprehensive guide, we compare CISSP and GSLC to help you discern which certification aligns best with your career aspirations. We’ll delve into their pros, cons, and key differences, such as their prerequisites, exam details, and much more to aid you in making a well-informed decision.

Let's begin!

What is CISSP?

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

CISSP covers critical topics in security today, including risk management, cloud computing, mobile security, and application development security, among others. It’s structured around a Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) that ensures its holders have a comprehensive understanding of new threats, technologies, regulations, standards, and practices.

The certification not only validates one's competence in these areas but also signifies adherence to a code of ethics and a commitment to continuing professional development. This makes CISSP one of the most sought-after certifications for advancing to senior roles in cybersecurity.

What Is GSLC?

The GIAC Security Leadership Certification (GSLC) is issued by the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC), an organization renowned for its leadership in cybersecurity certifications. GSLC is specifically tailored for professionals who are or aspire to be in managerial or leadership positions within the cybersecurity domain.

Unlike more technically focused certifications, GSLC emphasizes the strategic aspects of security management, policy making, and effective communication skills necessary for leading security teams.

This certification ensures that leaders in the cybersecurity field are proficient not just technically, but also in managing and safeguarding an organization’s informational assets in a policy-driven environment. Holders of the GSLC are recognized for their ability to align cybersecurity strategies with business objectives and to manage the human factors in security operations.

As such, GSLC is an ideal credential for those looking to solidify their ability to oversee, design, and coordinate an organization's overall security posture.

CISSP vs. GSLC: Pros and Cons

Feature

CISSP

GSLC

Focus

Technical aspects of information security.

Management and leadership in 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 leadership, policy making, and effective communication.
  • Suitable for professionals aiming for managerial positions.

Cons

  • Requires broad knowledge, making it challenging to prepare for. 
  • Demands significant experience and understanding of complex security issues.
  • More niche, focusing primarily on leadership, which may not appeal to all technical professionals.
  • Requires a strong understanding of policy and governance, which can be challenging without prior management experience.

CISSP vs. GSLC: Key Differences

Although both CISSP and GSLC certifications are designed for professionals seeking to advance to leadership roles in cybersecurity, they each emphasize different aspects of security leadership.

CISSP combines a broad, technical foundation with crucial managerial principles, making it comprehensive in scope. On the other hand, GSLC focuses more directly on the strategic management and policy aspects of security leadership. Understanding these key differences will help you choose the certification that best aligns with your career goals and areas of expertise.

Let’s delve into these distinctions to determine which certification might suit your professional journey.

Prerequisites

Depending on the credentials you pursue, getting certified in the cybersecurity industry often requires candidates to have some level of experience. This ensures that individuals are well-prepared to tackle the challenges presented by these exams and the responsibilities they will face in their roles. So, what do you need to meet these prerequisites?

CISSP Prerequisites

To qualify for the CISSP exam, candidates need a minimum of five years of cumulative, paid work experience in two or more of the eight domains of the CISSP CBK. Part-time work and internships can also count towards this requirement and internships are recognized if they are properly documented and approved by ISC2.

If you hold a four-year college degree or an approved credential from the ISC2 list, one year of the required experience can be waived. For those without the required experience, passing the CISSP exam will make you an Associate of ISC2, allowing you six years to gain the necessary experience.

GSLC Prerequisites

For the GSLC, candidates are expected to have some level of familiarity with management and/or leadership responsibilities in a cybersecurity context. However, GIAC does not strictly require a specific number of years of experience or educational background to take the GSLC exam.

This makes GSLC somewhat more accessible for those who may already have practical experience but not necessarily the formal job titles or roles typically associated with management credentials. Similar to CISSP, those with relevant higher education degrees or approved certifications may find that these qualifications enhance their readiness for the exam, although they are not mandatory for testing eligibility.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have enough experience to be eligible for the CISSP exam, consider taking the GSLC first. Successfully earning the GSLC certification can offset one of the required years of experience for the CISSP, streamlining your path to achieving both prestigious credentials. This strategic approach can accelerate your career progression in cybersecurity leadership.

Exam Details

Another major difference between these two certifications lies in their exams. From scope to length and format, each test is structured to evaluate different competencies and knowledge areas essential to their respective focus areas in cybersecurity.

CISSP Exam Details

The CISSP exam is a rigorous test that uses an adaptive testing format, meaning the difficulty of the questions adjusts based on the test taker’s ability. The exam consists of a range of 100 to 150 questions which candidates need to complete within 3 hours. It covers eight domains of knowledge, ensuring a comprehensive assessment across diverse aspects of information security. These domains include:

  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 CISSP exam is available in multiple languages, including English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, and Korean, accommodating a global audience.

GSLC Exam Details

The GSLC exam, while also comprehensive, is not adaptive and consists of 115 questions that must be answered within 3 hours. It focuses on the practical application of security knowledge in management and leadership roles, with questions designed to assess understanding of policy development, the human factor in security, and effective management of security teams. Unlike the CISSP, the GSLC exam primarily covers broader concepts such as Governance and Management, Protection of Information Assets, and Business Continuity Planning. The exam is offered in English and aims to validate the strategic and managerial expertise necessary for leadership in information security.

Salary and Job Opportunities

Both certifications open numerous doors of opportunity for those who achieve them. But what exactly awaits? Let’s explore the typical career paths, roles, and potential earnings for holders of CISSP and GSLC certifications.

CISSP Salary and Job Opportunities

CISSP is highly regarded in the field of information security, reflecting its holders' ability to manage and protect an organization’s critical data. As such, CISSPs often occupy senior roles such as:

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

The average salary for CISSP holders is about US $120,552 annually, depending on the role, location, and level of experience. The certification not only boosts salary potential but also significantly expands the range of job opportunities available.

GSLC Salary and Job Opportunities

GSLC certification is tailored for those aiming for leadership positions in the cybersecurity domain, focusing more on strategic and policy-oriented roles. Common positions for GSLC-certified professionals include:

  • Security Director
  • Compliance Officer
  • Information Assurance Manager
  • Security Program Leader

The GSLC can help propel professionals to high-level managerial roles, with salaries generally ranging from US $90,000 to US $130,000 annually. The certification is especially valuable for professionals who want to bridge the gap between hands-on technical roles and upper management, providing the knowledge and the credentials necessary to oversee broader security strategies.

Cost and Recertification

One thing you need to know about obtaining any cybersecurity certification is that it can be a significant investment—not just in terms of time but also money. Whether you’re planning to get certified or maintain it, here’s what you need to consider in terms of costs and ongoing requirements.

CISSP Cost and Recertification

The CISSP exam fee typically ranges between US $699 to US $749, depending on the region, but this isn’t the only expense to consider. Candidates may also incur costs for study materials, and courses, and possibly retake fees if necessary.

Once certified, CISSPs must earn Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits to stay current. Specifically, CISSPs are required to earn a minimum of 40 CPE credits each year and a total of 120 CPE credits over three years. Additionally, there’s an Annual Maintenance Fee (AMF) of US $125, which helps ensure the holder maintains their certification status and receives the necessary support from ISC2.

GSLC Cost and Recertification

Similar to CISSP, the GSLC exam has a cost, typically around US $979 to US $1,299, which includes two practice exams along with the actual test. This cost also covers access to a vast library of materials and tools to help candidates prepare.

For recertification, GSLC holders are required to earn 36 CPE credits every four years to maintain their certification. Additionally, GSLC-certified professionals must pay an Annual Maintenance Fee, which is usually around US $429. This fee contributes to the ongoing development of certification resources and supports the administrative costs of maintaining the GIAC certification system.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Hard Is GSLC?

The difficulty of the GSLC exam can vary depending on an individual's background in cybersecurity management and leadership. It is designed to assess a professional’s understanding of strategic security management and policy-making. Those with experience in these areas might find the exam challenging but manageable. Preparation, familiarity with the domains covered by the certification, and practical experience in security leadership roles are key factors that can influence the difficulty level of the GSLC exam.

Is CISSP the Hardest?

CISSP is often regarded as one of the toughest cybersecurity certifications due to its broad coverage of security topics and the depth of knowledge required. Candidates must master eight domains of information security and meet stringent experience requirements. The extensive preparation needed contributes to its reputation as a challenging certification

What Is Equivalent to CISSP?

While no certification is exactly equivalent to CISSP due to its comprehensive scope across multiple domains of information security, several certifications are considered to be on a similar level. These include CISM (Certified Information Security Manager), which is more focused on information security management, and CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker), which is more technical but also highly respected in the industry. Each certification has a different focus but is designed to validate extensive knowledge and experience in their respective areas.

CISSP vs. GSLC: Which Is Better?

Both certifications hold significant value and can boost your career, but the choice between them should be guided by your specific career aspirations and the roles you envision pursuing.

CISSP is ideal for those seeking a comprehensive understanding across various domains of information security and aiming for roles that require deep technical and managerial competency. It is highly valued in roles that cover both hands-on security tasks and overarching security strategies.

GSLC, on the other hand, is tailored for individuals who focus primarily on leadership and management within cybersecurity, offering insights into strategic policy development and team management. It suits those who are more oriented towards governance and compliance roles within an organization.

If you deem that CISSP aligns better with your career goals, consider taking your preparation to the next level with our CISSP MasterClass. At Destination Certification, we understand the complexities of balancing work, life, and study. Our MasterClass is designed to fit your schedule, allowing you to learn at your pace with expertly crafted content that prepares you not just to pass the CISSP exam but to excel in your cybersecurity career.

Dive into a comprehensive course that supports your aspirations and equips you with the knowledge you need. Explore our CISSP MasterClass today and take a decisive step towards achieving your certification goals.

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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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