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The Top Cybersecurity Certifications to Launch and Advance Your Career

The Top Cybersecurity Certifications to Launch and Advance Your Career

Cybersecurity certifications are becoming increasingly critical for starting and moving up in an IT security career. With cyber threats on the rise, employers are seeking qualified professionals who possess up-to-date cybersecurity skills and knowledge.

Industry-recognized certs demonstrate that you have the right competencies to protect sensitive systems, networks, and data. They also qualify you for more advanced roles with higher salaries. This comprehensive guide explores the most valued cybersecurity certifications available in 2023.

Why Earn a Cyber Certification?

Investing the time and effort to study for and pass a cyber certification exam comes with many benefits:

  • Validates your skills - Proves you have the technical cybersecurity skills and knowledge employers require.

  • Increases hireability - Certifications make you more attractive to recruiters and hiring managers.

  • Shows commitment - Demonstrates your dedication to advancing in the cybersecurity field.

  • Opens up opportunities - Qualifies you for cyber roles you couldn’t get without the right certs.

  • Boosts salary potential - Cyber certifications can lead to higher pay, bonuses, and salary growth.

  • Builds credibility - Establishes you as an expert cyber pro with domain mastery.

  • Fulfills requirements - Many government and contractor roles mandate certain certs.

  • Enhances skills - Preparing for exams reinforces and deepens your cyber capabilities.

  • Provides CPEs for other certs - Maintaining certs requires earning Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits.

Cybersecurity certs clearly offer major advantages for aspiring cyber professionals at all levels. Next let’s explore some of the leading certifications available in 2023.

Entry-Level Cyber Certifications

If you’re new to cybersecurity, you’ll want to start with foundational certifications that demonstrate core knowledge and skills. Here are top entry-level cyber certs:

CompTIA Security+

One of the most widely recognized and trusted starting certifications is CompTIA Security+. To earn the Security+:

  • You must pass a 90 minute, maximum 90 question exam

  • The exam covers network security, compliance policies, security tools, attack mitigation, and threats

  • No prerequisites are required, though CompTIA recommends some IT admin experience

  • It's approved by the Department of Defense for specific IT roles

The CompTIA Security+ fully validates foundational cyber skills and is a springboard to more advanced certifications and careers.

Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)

For those interested in cybersecurity from a network infrastructure perspective, consider the Cisco CCT cert. It focuses on securing Cisco networking environments. To obtain CCT certification:

  • You must pass a 90 minute, 75-85 question CCT exam

  • The exam covers network device hardening, endpoint security, secure access, perimeter security, and more

  • Prerequisite is the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) credential

The CCT verifies skills in implementing cyber protections across Cisco’s routing and switching infrastructure.

ISACA Cybersecurity Fundamentals

For a broad overview of cybersecurity concepts and best practices, ISACA offers their Cybersecurity Fundamentals exam. Key details:

  • 2 hour, 150 question exam covering access controls, risk management, attacks, security ops, disaster recovery, and regulations

  • Open to anyone, no prerequisites

  • Aligned with NIST and CIS cybersecurity frameworks

Earning the ISACA Cybersecurity Fundamentals cert shows you grasp the breadth of the cybersecurity landscape.

Intermediate Cyber Certifications

Once you gain experience and master entry-level cyber certs, intermediate tier certifications can take your career to the next level. Here are some top intermediate cybersecurity certs.


The System Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) from ISC2 is designed for IT pros transitioning into cybersecurity. To achieve the SSCP:

  • You must pass a 3 hour, 125 question exam

  • The exam covers risk analysis, incident response, security controls, access management, and cryptography

  • At least 1 year of IT admin experience is required

  • SSCP is a precursor to the CISSP for those lacking experience

Overall, the SSCP develops well-rounded cybersecurity skills and knowledge highly attractive to employers.

Microsoft Security Operations Analyst (MS-500)

Microsoft’s Security Operations Analyst (MS-500) certification focuses on monitoring, detecting, investigating, and responding to cyber threats using Microsoft tools. Key details:

  • Passing a 120 minute exam with 40-60 questions is required

  • Exam covers SIEM, threat protection tools, attack simulation, automation, and more

  • Experience with Windows OS, networking, & Microsoft 365 recommended

For cyber pros looking to lock down Microsoft-heavy environments, the MS-500 certification delivers specialized skills in demand by employers.

EC-Council CND

The Certified Network Defender (CND) certification from EC-Council offers a comprehensive intermediate-level cybersecurity program covering 14 domains. Here’s an overview:

  • multi-part exam includes attack simulations, written questions, and hands-on labs

  • extensive preparation studying 14 modules like analysis, cloud, risk, endpoint, network, data, and mobile security

  • experience in IT admin, networking, OS, or security recommended

While robust, the CND effectively develops well-rounded defensive cybersecurity skills and abilities.

Advanced Cyber Certifications

At the advanced tier, certifications like the globally recognized CISSP and CISM allow seasoned cyber pros to unlock high-level careers.


The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is often called the gold standard in cybersecurity certifications. But it comes with more stringent requirements:

  • Passing a 3 hour, 150 question adaptive exam

  • Have at least 5 years cumulative work experience in cybersecurity

  • Education waiver available to offset 1 year of experience

  • Exam covers security engineering, communication, asset security, architecture, and management

The CISSP validates advanced-level expertise for high-salary leadership roles in cybersecurity.


ISACA’s Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) also demonstrates deep cybersecurity mastery with a focus on strategy and risk management. Here are the details:

  • 4 hour, 150 question exam covering governance, risk, compliance, security program management and incident management

  • Minimum 5 years IT experience, 3 in security management

  • Credential is designed for those leading cyber initiatives across an organization

The CISM qualifies individuals to develop comprehensive cyber programs at the enterprise level.

EC-Council CEH

The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification is all about honing penetration testing and vulnerability assessment skills. To achieve it:

  • You must pass a 4 hour 125 question exam with both multiple choice and performance-based questions

  • The exam covers reconnaissance, network intrusion, web apps, wireless networks, mobile and cloud, cryptography, and more

  • Some cybersecurity experience is recommended

The CEH develops the advanced technical skills to battle hackers using their own tactics.

Specialized Cyber Certifications

Beyond the core cybersecurity certs, you can specialize by pursuing targeted certs within sub-domains like forensics, governance, and software security.


The Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer (CDPSE) from ISACA focuses entirely on data privacy and regulatory compliance for industries like healthcare and banking. Key details:

  • 150 question, 4 hour exam covering data mapping, monitoring, DPIAs, GDPR, and privacy frameworks

  • Experience in IT audit, risk, security, or compliance is recommended

  • Credential recognizes expertise in proper data privacy controls and practices

CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+)

The CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst certification (CySA+) focuses specifically on cybersecurity analytics and threat detection. To achieve it:

  • Passing a 90 minute, 80 question performance-based exam is required

  • Exam covers attack methods, SIEM, intrusion analysis, packet capture, and incident response

  • Recommended prerequisites are Network+ and Security+ certs

The CySA+ develops skills in proactively identifying and combating cyberattacks.

GIAC Security Automation Engineer (GSAE)

This GIAC certification hones skills in streamlining security via policy automation, orchestration, DevSecOps and MFA. Details include:

  • Passing a 180 question online proctored exam is required

  • Exam covers automation languages, CI/CD pipelines, automation frameworks, cloud security architectures, and more

  • GIAC recommends having 1-2 years of IT experience

The GSAE boosts capabilities in integrating and automating security workflows.

Cloud & Containers Certifications

With workloads increasingly shifting to the cloud and containers, these complementary cyber certs are valuable too:

  • AWS Certified Security - Specialty - Validates skills securing cloud workloads and assets on Amazon Web Services.

  • Microsoft Certified: Azure Security Engineer Associate - Demonstrates expertise in securing resources and data on Microsoft Azure.

  • Google Cloud Certified Professional Cloud Security Engineer - Proves abilities to implement security controls, policies, and procedures on the Google Cloud Platform.

  • Kubernetes Security Specialist (KCSP) - Certifies competency in securing containerized apps and Kubernetes environments.

How to Decide Which Certification to Pursue

With so many options, how do you determine which cybersecurity certification is right for you? Follow these tips:

  • Assess your experience – Only consider advanced certs like CISSP if you meet experience prerequisites. Otherwise start with foundational and intermediate certs.

  • Understand requirements of roles you want – Review cyber job postings to see which certifications are requested or required by employers.

  • Align with your interests and skillset – Factor in your cyber subdomain preferences like cloud, networks, software, etc.

  • Consider vendor-specific vs vendor-neutral – Vendor specific certs focus on platforms like AWS and Microsoft while vendor-neutral applies broadly.

  • Research exam costs and costs to renew – Certification exams range from $200 - $700, with renewal fees every 1 to 3 years.

  • Look for employer-provided cyber training – Some companies offer certification training or reimbursement which lowers barriers to entry.

Continuously earning new certifications allows you to stay current, access more senior roles, and maximize your cybersecurity career potential. Start down the certification path today!

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