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March 6, 2024

Deciding between CISSP and Security+ for your next certification? You're not alone. Many cybersecurity professionals face this dilemma, especially since both share similar subject matter. However, each certification has its own strengths and caters to different career stages.

Whether you're just starting out or aiming to deepen your expertise, picking the right one can significantly impact your career path. In this guide, we'll navigate through the details, from the basics of each certification to their impact on your career trajectory.

So, let's dive in and uncover which certification could be the best fit for you, setting the stage for your next big leap in your cybersecurity career.

What is the CISSP?

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is a prestigious credential globally recognized in the field of information security. Offered by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or ISC2, the CISSP certification is designed for experienced security practitioners, managers, and executives interested in validating their knowledge and expertise across a wide array of security practices and principles.

This certification encompasses the critical aspects necessary for establishing a robust security posture for organizations, focusing on the depth and breadth of security management. Professionals who achieve the CISSP certification are acknowledged for their ability to effectively design, engineer, and manage the overall security posture of an organization.

Targeted at individuals with significant experience in IT security, the CISSP is intended for those seeking to affirm their expertise at an advanced career level.

What Is Security+?

The CompTIA Security+ certification is a foundational credential within the cybersecurity field, widely recognized for its role in validating the baseline skills necessary to perform core security functions. Endorsed by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), Security+ is tailored for IT professionals seeking to establish a career in cybersecurity by demonstrating their ability to address security incidents and identify risks.

Unlike the CISSP, which is aimed at experienced professionals with a deep understanding of security management, Security+ provides a stepping stone for those entering the field, covering essential principles of network security, compliance, operational security, vulnerabilities, and threat analysis, among other topics.

This certification ensures that holders possess the practical skills required to secure networks, manage risks, and adhere to compliance standards.

CISSP vs. Security+ Pros and Cons

Feature

CISSP

Security +

Focus

Technical and managerial aspects of cybersecurity.

Fundamental security practices and principles.

Pros

  • Globally recognized across industries.
  • Opens doors to technical and high-level security roles.
  • Comprehensive coverage of cybersecurity topics.
  • Suitable for professionals aiming for advanced cybersecurity positions.
  • Provides a solid foundation in cybersecurity.
  • Widely acknowledged as an entry-level certification.
  • Prepares candidates for immediate cybersecurity roles.
  • Acts as a stepping stone for more advanced certifications, like CISSP.

Cons

  • Requires broad and deep knowledge, making preparation challenging.
  • Demands at least five years of work experience in two or more of the eight domains.
  • Less detailed in scope compared to CISSP, focusing mainly on foundational aspects.
  • May not lead directly to high-level positions without further experience or certifications.

CISSP vs. Security+: Which Is Better for Your Career?

Choosing between CISSP and Security+ is a significant decision for any cybersecurity professional. It's about more than just earning a certification; it's about investing your time, money, and effort into a credential that will best advance your career. Both certifications are valuable but cater to different professional needs and career stages.

To help you make this crucial decision, we've broken down the key differences and how they align with various career paths.

Exam Details and Requirements

Understanding the exam details and requirements for CISSP and Security+ is more than a checkbox for your certification journey; it's about strategically aligning your preparation to meet these challenges head-on.

The structure, content, and prerequisites of each exam can significantly influence your study approach, commitment level, and, ultimately, your readiness to excel. Here's a closer look at how each exam is structured and what you need to bring to the table not just to pass but to thrive.

CISSP

The CISSP exam is distinguished by its comprehensive scope, assessing candidates' knowledge across eight domains that blend technical acumen with managerial insight. The domains and their respective weightings in the exam are as follows:

The CISSP exam is offered in various languages, including English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Simplified Chinese. Candidates taking the exam in English will experience it in the Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) format.

The CAT format dynamically adjusts the difficulty of test questions based on the candidate's ability, intending to accurately assess their competency over a range of 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.

For those opting to take the exam in languages other than English, the format is linear, presenting a fixed set of 250 questions or 225 items if you take it after April 15, 2024. This traditional exam format requires candidates to demonstrate their knowledge across all domains in a set sequence without the adaptive adjustments seen in the CAT format.

To qualify for the CISSP exam, candidates must possess at least five years of cumulative, paid work experience in two or more of the eight domains of the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK). This requisite experience can stem from full-time work, part-time work, or internships, with non-full-time roles being calculated prorated.

Additionally, individuals holding relevant educational degrees or professional credentials approved by ISC2 may have one year of the required experience waived. This provision allows a broader range of candidates to pursue the CISSP certification, acknowledging the value of formal education and other certifications in preparing for the demands of information security roles.

Security+

The Security+ certification exam is designed to validate the baseline skills necessary to perform core security functions in the cybersecurity field. Unlike CISSP, Security+ does not delve into management principles but focuses on practical technical skills across six domains:

  • Threats, Attacks, and Vulnerabilities (21%)
  • Technologies and Tools (22%)
  • Architecture and Design (15%)
  • Identity and Access Management (16%)
  • Risk Management (14%)
  • Cryptography and PKI (12%)

This certification exam is offered in English, Japanese, and Portuguese. All candidates taking the Security+ exam will do so in a linear format, which means they will answer a fixed set of up to 90 questions. The exam encompasses both multiple-choice and performance-based questions designed to test a candidate's ability to solve problems in a variety of contexts.

The Security+ certification does not have formal work experience requirements, making it an accessible entry point for individuals new to cybersecurity or those transitioning from other IT roles. While there are no mandatory prerequisites, it is recommended that candidates have a foundational understanding of IT and at least two years of experience in IT administration with a focus on security.

This approach ensures that those attempting the Security+ exam have a practical understanding of basic security concepts and are prepared to apply security knowledge and skills in a real-world environment. The absence of stringent eligibility requirements opens the door for a broader audience to gain certification and start a career in cybersecurity.

Pro Tip: If you're considering the CISSP certification but are daunted by its extensive work experience requirement, there's a strategic approach you might find beneficial. The Security+ certification is also one of the approved credentials by ISC2. This means successfully obtaining your Security+ certification can offset one year of the CISSP work experience requirement.

Exam Difficulty

When it comes to cybersecurity certifications, both the CISSP and Security+ are renowned for setting high standards in the field. As benchmarks of excellence, these exams challenge candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in comprehensive and practical ways.

Administered by Pearson VUE, a leading provider of computer-based testing for certification and licensure exams, both CISSP and Security+ offer a consistent, secure, and user-friendly testing experience. However, the difficulty level of each exam can vary significantly, reflecting the distinct objectives and target audiences of the certifications.

Let's explore what makes each exam challenging in its own right and what candidates can expect when sitting for these prestigious tests.

CISSP

The CISSP exam is notorious for its rigorous nature, primarily due to the vast coverage of knowledge required. As a certification aimed at experienced professionals, it covers a wide range of topics across its eight domains. The exam not only tests theoretical understanding but also the practical application of concepts in real-world scenarios.

The challenge is further amplified by the adaptive nature of the exam's English version, delivered through the CAT format. This format dynamically adjusts the difficulty of subsequent questions based on your responses, making it a highly personalized assessment of your expertise. Such an approach means no two test experiences are the same, and candidates must be thoroughly prepared across all domains to succeed.

Preparation for the CISSP exam is a marathon, not a sprint. Candidates often dedicate several months to study, utilizing a variety of resources such as study guides, training courses, practice tests, and study groups. This extensive preparation is crucial to developing a deep and comprehensive understanding of each domain.

With the right strategy, resources, and commitment, passing the CISSP exam on the first try is achievable, setting a solid foundation for advanced roles in cybersecurity.

Security+

While the Security+ exam is positioned as more accessible compared to the CISSP, it nonetheless presents a considerable challenge, especially for those new to the field. The inclusion of performance-based questions, which require candidates to solve problems in simulated environments, adds a practical dimension to the assessment, testing not just knowledge but the ability to apply it.

The linear format of the Security+ exam means that candidates must be prepared to face a wide array of questions covering the full spectrum of the syllabus without the adaptive difficulty adjustments seen in the CISSP CAT format. This requires a solid understanding of each domain and the ability to recall and apply knowledge under exam conditions.

Preparation for Security+ typically involves a mix of self-study, instructor-led courses, and practical exercises. While the preparation period might be shorter than that for CISSP, the need for a comprehensive grasp of fundamental security principles remains paramount.

Salary and Job Opportunities

Holding certifications like CISSP or Security+ isn't just a mark of your expertise—it directly influences your career trajectory and financial outlook. These credentials pave the way for new job opportunities and are typically linked to higher salaries than those seen by non-certified professionals.

However, the extent of these benefits can vary, reflecting their different levels of expertise and target job roles. Let's delve into what you can expect in terms of salary and job opportunities with each certification.

CISSP

The CISSP certification is aimed at experienced professionals seeking to solidify their standing in the cybersecurity field. It's recognized globally as a standard of excellence in information security, reflected in the career opportunities and salary prospects it offers. CISSP holders are often considered for senior-level positions such as:

  • 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

In terms of salary, CISSP-certified professionals command some of the highest pay in the IT industry. On average, they earn about US $120,552. While the exact figures can vary by region, experience, and specific job role, it's not uncommon for CISSP holders to see annual salaries well into the six-figure range.

Security+

The Security+ certification is often the first step for those entering the cybersecurity field or looking to make a career pivot. It provides a solid foundation of security knowledge and skills, making it ideal for positions like:

  • Systems Administrator
  • Security Administrator
  • Security Specialist
  • Security Engineer
  • Network Administrator
  • Junior IT Auditor
  • Penetration Tester
  • Security consultant

While these roles may not offer the same salary levels as those accessible with a CISSP certification, they are crucial stepping stones in a cybersecurity career. Security+ certification holders can still expect a salary boost compared to their non-certified counterparts. On average, they earn about US $84,000, which can vary depending on location, experience, and job role.

Cost and Recertification

Earning the CISSP or Security+ certification marks a significant milestone in a cybersecurity professional's career. However, obtaining these prestigious credentials is only the beginning. Maintaining them requires an ongoing commitment to professional development and adherence to each certifying body's recertification policies.

Let's explore the costs associated with these certifications and what you need to do to keep them active.

CISSP

The CISSP exam fee is a considerable investment, costing you US $749 just to take the exam. Additionally, candidates may incur costs for study materials, courses, and practice exams to prepare for the test. Once you pass the test, you also need to pay an Annual Maintenance Fee (AMF) of US $125 to keep the certification active.

CISSP certification holders are required to recertify every three years. This process involves earning Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits to demonstrate ongoing learning and professional growth. Holders must satisfy 120 CPE credits over a three-period.

Security+

The Security+ exam fee is more accessible compared to CISSP, costing you only US $404. Like CISSP, additional expenses may arise from preparatory resources and training. You also need to account for the fees you'll incur during the exam, such as transportation to and from the exam center.

Security+ also requires recertification, but the process differs slightly from CISSP. Security+ certification holders must recertify every three years, with options to do so through earning CPE credits or passing the latest exam version. The recertification process for Security+ encourages professionals to engage in continuous learning and professional development, ensuring their skills remain sharp and relevant in a fast-paced industry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is CISSP Harder Than SEC+?

Yes, CISSP is generally considered more challenging than Security+ due to the topics covered, as well as its target audience. CISSP is aimed at experienced cybersecurity professionals and covers a wide range of advanced topics across eight domains.

It requires at least five years of direct, full-time security work experience. In contrast, Security+ is designed as an entry-level certification for individuals new to cybersecurity, focusing on foundational knowledge and skills. The CISSP's comprehensive scope and experience requirements make it a more challenging certification to obtain.

Is CISSP Equivalent to Security+?

No, CISSP and Security+ are not equivalent. While both certifications are respected in the field of cybersecurity, they serve different purposes and are targeted at professionals at different stages of their careers. Security+ is an entry-level certification that provides a foundation in cybersecurity concepts and practices.

CISSP, on the other hand, is an advanced certification for experienced professionals, covering more in-depth topics related to cybersecurity management and operations. The two certifications complement each other but are designed for individuals with different levels of expertise.

What Is the Hardest Cybersecurity Certification?

Determining the "hardest" cybersecurity certification can be subjective, as it often depends on the individual's background, experience, and areas of expertise. However, the CISSP is frequently cited as one of the most challenging certifications due to its comprehensive coverage of information security topics and the experience required to qualify for the exam.

Ready to Level Up Your Cyber Security Career?

Both CISSP and Security+ certifications stand as pivotal milestones for professionals aiming to advance their cybersecurity careers. Each caters to a distinct audience, designed to match your current expertise and future ambitions in the field.

If you're relatively new to cybersecurity or looking to solidify your foundational knowledge, Security+ emerges as an excellent starting point. It opens the door to numerous opportunities and serves as a stepping stone towards more advanced certifications. Importantly, should you decide to pursue CISSP later, having your Security+ can offset a year of work experience required for the CISSP certification, making it a strategic choice for your career progression.

For those with more experience or those seeking a more challenging certification journey, CISSP is undoubtedly the way to go. Its comprehensive coverage across various domains of information security affirms your expertise and commitment to the field. For aspiring professionals without the required experience, you can still take the CISSP exam. While you won't immediately earn the CISSP credential, you'll achieve the Associate of ISC2 status, giving you six years to meet the experience requirements.

If you've set your sights on the CISSP, let Destination Certification be your guide. Our CISSP MasterClass is crafted to align with your existing knowledge and fit into your busy schedule seamlessly.

With us, you won't have to sacrifice your valuable time or compromise on work commitments to prepare for the certification. We follow your schedule, allowing you to study at your own pace. The best part? Our program is structured to let you focus on the areas needing attention, ensuring an efficient and effective study experience.

So, why wait? Begin your CISSP journey with Destination Certification today and take a decisive step towards elevating your cybersecurity career.

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