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Last Updated On: May 10, 2024

Choosing the right cybersecurity certification can be a pivotal decision in your career. Two of the most recognized certifications in the industry are the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and the Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP). Each offers unique advantages and targets different areas of cybersecurity expertise. So which of them should you pursue?

In this article, we’ll delve into the distinctive features of the CISSP and OSCP certifications, shedding light on their value in advancing your cybersecurity career. We’ll provide a concise comparison, equipping you with the information needed to choose the certification that best aligns with your professional goals.

Whether you're aiming to fortify your defensive strategies or master the art of ethical hacking, understanding these certifications can significantly shape your professional path. Let’s begin!

What is CISSP?

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

CISSP is considered a benchmark of achievement in the industry, demonstrating a professional’s ability to design, implement, and manage a best-in-class cybersecurity program. It is highly esteemed among IT security professionals and often serves as a stepping stone to more senior leadership roles within the cybersecurity domain.

What Is OSCP?

The Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) is a well-respected certification in the cybersecurity industry, focusing specifically on offensive security through hands-on penetration testing. It is offered by Offensive Security, an organization renowned for its rigorous, real-world approach to technical training.

This certification is designed for information security professionals seeking to prove their practical skills in a controlled and legal environment. OSCP holders demonstrate their ability to identify vulnerabilities, execute attacks, and report on their findings systematically. This certification is particularly valued for its emphasis on hands-on technical skills and is regarded as a significant credential for professionals looking to specialize in the offensive tactics of cybersecurity.

CISSP vs. OSCP: Pros and Cons

Feature

CISSP

OSCP

Focus

Technical aspects of information security.

Technical skills in offensive security and penetration testing.

Pros

  • Recognized globally across industries.
  • Opens doors to both technical and high-level security roles.
  • Comprehensive coverage of information security topics.
  • Highly valued for technical, hands-on skills in penetration testing.
  • Emphasizes practical, real-world abilities.
  • Renowned for rigorous, immersive training environment.

Cons

  • Requires broad knowledge, making it challenging to prepare for. 
  • May be too broad for those focusing solely on technical skills.
  • Intensive and challenging, requiring substantial practical experience.
  • Focuses specifically on offensive security, which may not suit all cybersecurity career paths.

CISSP vs. OSCP: Main Differences

Both the CISSP and OSCP certifications provide rigorous training and are highly respected in the cybersecurity field. However, they cater to distinctly different career trajectories and skill sets. In this section, we'll explore the main differences between these two certifications to help you choose the path that aligns best with your career goals.

Prerequisites

Since both the CISSP and OSCP certifications are quite challenging, it is advisable to have some level of experience in the cybersecurity field before attempting either exam. Below, we detail the specific prerequisites you need to meet to qualify for these rigorous tests:

CISSP Prerequisites

If you're considering the CISSP certification, you should have at least five years of cumulative, full-time work experience in two or more of the eight domains of the CISSP. However, if your experience includes part-time work or internships, don't worry—1,040 hours of part-time work equates to one year of full-time experience.

Additionally, if you hold a four-year college degree, a master’s degree in Information Security, or an approved credential from the ISC2 list, such as the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification, you can have one year waived from the required experience. This certification demands a broad understanding of the field, so your diverse background will be your strength.

OSCP Prerequisites

For the OSCP, there are no formal education or work experience requirements to sit for the exam. However, you’ll benefit greatly from a solid understanding of networking and hands-on management of both Linux and Windows systems. If you have experience in penetration testing or a knack for scripting (Bash, Python, etc.), you’re already a step ahead.

Prepare yourself for a rigorous 24-hour practical exam that will test your ability to identify, exploit, and report vulnerabilities. The OSCP is very hands-on, making your practical skills crucial to success.

Pro tip: Instead of choosing between the two certifications, why not pursue both? Since OSCP is part of the ISC2-approved list, earning this certification can reduce the required experience for the CISSP by one year. This strategy not only enhances your skill set but also accelerates your journey towards achieving CISSP certification.

Exam Details

Apart from meeting the prerequisites, understanding the structure and coverage of the exam itself is crucial. The CISSP and OSCP exams differ significantly in format, duration, and focus areas, reflecting their unique objectives and the skills they aim to validate.

Here’s what you need to know about each exam to prepare effectively and align your study efforts with the exam requirements.

CISSP Exam Details

The CISSP exam is administered using Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT), which tailors the test based on the examinee's ability level, offering a more personalized and efficient testing experience. The exam typically takes up to 3 hours to complete and is offered in multiple languages including English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Spanish.

The format tests a broad range of knowledge across eight domains of information security, each weighted differently to reflect their significance within the field. These domains encompass areas such as:

  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%)

OSCP Exam Details

In contrast, the OSCP exam is an intense 24-hour practical test where you are required to hack into a series of machines and networks in a safe lab environment. The exam is available only in English and focuses solely on your ability to research, analyze, and perform penetration testing under pressure. Unlike CISSP, there are no multiple-choice questions; instead, it’s all about demonstrating practical skills and documenting your findings comprehensively.

Salary and Job Opportunities

Understanding the potential salary and job opportunities associated with CISSP and OSCP certifications can significantly influence your decision to pursue one or the other. These certifications not only boost your skills and knowledge but also your professional marketability, often reflecting directly on your earning potential.

CISSP Salary and Job Opportunities

Holders of the CISSP certification can expect a fruitful career with considerable earning potential. On average, professionals with a CISSP credential earn about US $120,552 annually. This certification opens doors to various high-level roles such as:

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

Organizations across a broad spectrum, from government agencies to private corporations, value the comprehensive security expertise that CISSP professionals bring to the table, making it a highly sought-after qualification in the industry.

OSCP Salary and Job Opportunities

On the other hand, professionals with an OSCP certification typically see an average salary of around US $100,000 annually. The OSCP is highly regarded in roles that require hands-on technical skills such as:

  • Penetration Tester
  • Security Analyst
  • Security Engineer
  • Vulnerability Tester.

Due to its practical, hands-on testing nature, OSCP is especially valued in industries that emphasize defensive and offensive cybersecurity tactics. This certification is a testament to one's ability to tackle real-world security problems, thus creating considerable job opportunities in dynamic sectors focused on technical security solutions.

Cost and Recertification

Getting a cybersecurity certification is a significant investment, both in terms of time and money. Understanding the costs associated with obtaining and maintaining a certification like CISSP or OSCP is crucial as you plan your career path in cybersecurity.

CISSP Cost and Recertification

The CISSP exam fee is approximately US $749, depending on the region, but aspiring candidates should also consider the additional costs for study materials, books, and preparatory courses, which can vary widely. Many aspirants overlook these extra expenses, and selecting inadequate resources initially can lead to increased costs over time as more materials or courses may be needed to adequately prepare.

After certification, CISSP holders must maintain their credentials by earning Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits and paying an Annual Maintenance Fee (AMF) of US $125. These ongoing requirements ensure professionals keep up-to-date with the evolving field of information security.

OSCP Cost and Recertification

The OSCP exam costs about $999, which includes 30 days of lab access; however, extended lab access is available for an additional fee. Preparation for OSCP may also entail costs for supplementary resources or courses. It’s crucial for candidates to factor in these expenses, which are often overlooked when budgeting for the exam.

Unlike the CISSP, OSCP does not require formal recertification, which means there are no ongoing fees or compulsory continued education requirements after passing the exam. Despite this, professionals often engage in further education and practical experiences to stay relevant in the field.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Higher Than OSCP?

While OSCP is a highly respected certification in penetration testing, higher or more advanced certifications include the Offensive Security Experienced Penetration Tester (OSEP) and the Offensive Security Certified Expert (OSCE). These certifications build on the foundational skills taught in OSCP and are aimed at professionals who seek deeper expertise in offensive security tactics.

Is CISSP the Hardest?

The difficulty of the CISSP exam is often noted, particularly due to its broad coverage of information security topics and the depth of understanding required. It is considered one of the most challenging certifications in the cybersecurity field, especially for those aiming at comprehensive knowledge across various security practices and principles.

Is CISSP in High Demand?

Yes, the CISSP certification remains in high demand across various industries. It is highly regarded by employers for roles that involve managing and securing information systems. The credential is often a requirement for senior-level security positions and is recognized globally as a leading certification for information security professionals, ensuring its holders are among the most sought-after in the industry.

CISSP vs. OSCP: What to Choose?

The best certification for you depends largely on your current position in your cybersecurity career and where you aim to go. If your goal is to specialize in penetration testing, the OSCP will equip you with the hands-on technical skills necessary for success in this area. On the other hand, if you're aiming for a more senior or management-oriented role within information security, the CISSP certification will provide you with the broad, comprehensive knowledge base that is highly valued in these positions.

If you’ve decided that CISSP is the right path for you, let Destination Certification guide your journey. Our CISSP MasterClass is uniquely designed to adapt to your existing knowledge and schedule, eliminating unnecessary repetition of what you already know and focusing on the areas you need to strengthen. This tailored approach ensures that your preparation is as efficient and effective as possible.

So, what are you waiting for? Enroll now and begin your journey to becoming a certified information security leader with the help of Destination Certification.

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Rob Witcher

Rob is the driving force behind the success of the Destination Certification CISSP program, leveraging over 15 years of security, privacy, and cloud assurance expertise. As a seasoned leader, he has guided numerous companies through high-profile security breaches and managed the development of multi-year security strategies. With a passion for education, Rob has delivered hundreds of globally acclaimed CCSP, CISSP, and ISACA classes, combining entertaining delivery with profound insights for exam success. You can reach out to Rob on LinkedIn.

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