Globally, organizations experienced 925 cyber attacks per week per organization in 2021, and many analysts predict that number will rise in 2022. Demand for competent cyber security professionals is going up as a result, but the number of qualified cyber security specialists has not scaled with the need. A significant cyber skills gap has left many organizations struggling to secure their networks and digital assets.
To fill newly created cyber security positions, many organizations support cross-training employees. This has led private companies and academic institutions to launch new entry-level certification programs, certificate programs and bachelor’s and master’s degree programs focused on various areas of cyber security. Given this plethora of starting points, deciding which credentials to pursue when you want to launch a cyber security career can be overwhelming. A good first step is to research popular cyber security certificate programs for beginners and early-career cyber security certifications. Keep reading to learn how specialty certificates, such as those offered by the Cyber Tech Academy at San Diego State University, support early-career cyber security professionals as they grow in the field.
THE APPEAL OF CERTIFICATES AND CERTIFICATIONS IN CYBER SECURITY
Certifications and certificate programs are non-degree credentials that are popular in the field of cyber security for several reasons. First, they let professionals quickly upskill in key areas of demand — such as security governance or cloud security. These skills-based programs tend to be more agile than degree programs. Because the landscape of cyber security is constantly changing, professionals with degrees still need to learn new skills from time to time to stay up to date. Content in certificate programs tends to cover leading-edge concepts, tools and techniques.
Certificate programs are also typically less expensive than degree programs or bootcamps and take less time to complete. Most cyber security bootcamps cost between $9,000 to $20,000. Master’s degrees cost anywhere from $17,000 to $70,000 and may take two years or more to complete. In contrast, SDSU’s Cyber Tech Academy tuition is only $4,500 per certificate, and each track can be completed in as little as 14 weeks.
CYBER SECURITY CREDENTIALS FOR BEGINNERS
You don’t need years of experience under your belt to work in the cyber security field. There are entry-level credentialing programs, certifications and training courses available that can help you gain the know-how needed to start on the cyber security career path. This field is open to professionals from other disciplines such as information security, computer science, network engineering and systems administration.
With the right skills and credentials, you can step into a host of cyber security jobs, including certified ethical hacker (CEH), network security engineer, system administrator, certified information systems security professional (CISSP), cyber security analyst, certified information security manager (CISM), penetration tester and security administrator.
Popular cyber security certifications for early-career professionals include:
MICROSOFT CERTIFIED: SECURITY, COMPLIANCE AND IDENTITY FUNDAMENTALS
Security is a broad term referring to methods of preventing, detecting and mitigating cyber attacks. Compliance refers to ensuring all security measures align with relevant laws and regulations about data privacy and storage. Identity addresses ways of verifying users and access without negatively impacting usability.
While there are no prerequisites for the Microsoft Certified: Security, Compliance and Identity Fundamentals credential, familiarity with Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365 may be helpful. Earning this credential entails passing an exam that verifies competency with Microsoft identity and access management solutions, Microsoft security solutions and Microsoft compliance solutions. It can qualify you to step into various entry-level positions in the above areas of cyber security.
COMPTIA SECURITY+ CERTIFICATION
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1982 that issues professional certifications for IT professionals. The CompTIA Security+ certificate is one of the most popular cyber security certifications for beginners. It covers security topics such as access controls, application security, cryptography, data security and risk management.
While there are no prerequisites for this certification, experts recommend exam takers have two years of IT security or IT administration experience and complete the CompTIA Network+ certification first. Pursuing one or more SDSU cyber security certificates is another way to prepare to ace the Security+ certification exam.
GIAC SECURITY ESSENTIALS
Founded in 1999, the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) organization verifies cyber security skills with more than 40 certifications. The GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) certification is geared toward those new to the cyber security field, but comfortable working with networks and information systems. It covers access control, active defense, cryptography, defensible network architecture, incident response, Windows access controls and security automation.
ISACA CSX CYBERSECURITY FUNDAMENTALS CERTIFICATION
The Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) is an international association that guides information technology leadership and governance. It offers a variety of certification exams, including the ISACA CSX Cybersecurity Fundamentals, which is a great starting point credential for those new to the field. This exam covers architecture, application and data security, incident response and networks and systems.
THE CSX CYBERSECURITY PRACTITIONER CERTIFICATION
ISACA also offers the CSX Cybersecurity Practitioner Certification. This test covers foundational cyber security skills such as detection, identification, protection, response and recovery — which form the foundation of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cyber security framework. Though there are no prerequisites for this exam, completing a CSX-P preparation course or a cyber security certificate program first is highly recommended.
SYSTEMS SECURITY CERTIFIED PRACTITIONER (SSCP) CERTIFICATION
Though not quite for beginners because it requires at least one year of work experience in cyber security or a relevant bachelor’s or master’s degree, the Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) certification is another great credential for those seeking to advance their cyber security careers. The exam verifies competency in access controls, cryptography, incident response and recovery, risk management, security operations, network security, systems and application security.
SPECIALTY CYBER SECURITY CERTIFICATES
Once you have basic cyber security skills, you can prepare to step into more senior-level niche roles by pursuing specialized cyber security credentials such as:
CLOUD SECURITY CERTIFICATES
Protecting data and applications in the cloud requires specialized knowledge related to cloud infrastructure and associated risk, response and mitigation strategies. San Diego State University’s Cloud Security and Governance Certificate program teaches cloud-specific security skills like:
- Third-Party Risk Management (TPRM)
- Operational Resilience (OR)
- Incident Response (IR)
- Risk identification and communication
- Standardized approaches like STAR, FedRAMP and SOC 2.
- Deployment and responsibility models
- Implementation of governance tools
RISK MANAGEMENT CERTIFICATES
SDSU’s Cyber Governance and Risk Management Certificate prepares students to identify and assess potential risks, evaluate the likelihood and potential fallout of cyber attacks, and determine where existing systems and processes lead to vulnerabilities. Certificate holders can:
- Assess and respond to a variety of global threats
- Apply theoretical and practical knowledge
- Understand historical relationships between technology, productivity and business
- Identify various forms of data that need protection, such as Intellectual Property (IP), DNA and operational data
- Implement cyber security into existing governance, risk management and compliance programs (GRCs)
- Create GRCs from scratch
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE CERTIFICATES
As artificial intelligence (AI) plays an increasing role in every sector — including decision-making in national security — cybercriminals are also finding new ways to leverage its capabilities. SDSU’s Artificial Intelligence for Cyber Security dives deep into the role of AI in cyber attacks and defense. Certificate holders can:
- Minimize risk while reaping the benefits of AI
- Understand the role of AI in national security
- Implement AI initiatives at an organizational level
- Analyze and investigate deep fakes and other social media phenomena
- Understand the future implications of AI
INDUSTRY-FOCUSED CYBER SECURITY CERTIFICATES
Some industries are more vulnerable to cyber attacks than others — or have more to lose. According to the American Hospital Association Center for Health Innovation, “Health care organizations are particularly vulnerable and targeted by cyberattacks because they possess so much information of high monetary and intelligence value to cyber thieves and nation-state actors.” SDSU’s Cyber Security in Healthcare Certificate teaches the protocols, posture and privacy controls to keep Protected Health Information (PHI) safe. Professionals who complete the program can:
- Assess the phases and effectiveness of incident response in healthcare environments
- Understand the successful elements of managing privacy events
- Create successful information security programs
- Understand the organizational and financial of healthcare delivery and systems
- Master healthcare information regulation and information risk decision-making
CYBER TECH ACADEMY CERTIFICATES VERSUS INDUSTRY CERTIFICATIONS
Lifelong learning is crucial to success in the cyber security field because the threat landscape is constantly evolving. Bootcamps, degree programs, certificate programs and certifications all have a role to play in closing the ongoing cyber security skills gap. While some sources stress the importance of pursuing degrees, many cyber security professionals launched careers not with bachelor’s degrees or bootcamps but with certificates and certifications.
Keep in mind that nothing about preparing for a career in cyber security is either/or. The best cyber security certifications and certificates will be those that help you establish foundational knowledge and teach you new specialty skills that align with your interests. You might pursue Cyber Tech Academy certificates now to launch a career and invest in an intensive bootcamp experience later. Or perhaps you already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a technical field and you’re looking into certificate programs such as SDSU’s because you want to transition into cyber security.
Industry certifications can do a lot to enhance your resume, but earning certificates from SDSU’s Cyber Tech Academy can help you stay up to date with the most common challenges in cyber security now and in the future. Connect with one of SDSU’s enrollment advisors to learn more, or enroll today in one of San Diego State University’s Cyber Tech Academy certificate tracks if you’re ready to launch your cyber security career.