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Security Certification Roundup

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In this installment of the Certification Roundup series, IT certification expert and Anderson College professor Emmett Dulaney describes the importance of security certification and provides a survey of the principal credential offerings in this arena. He then offers general preparation tips and links to useful Web sites.
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Two years ago, a study by CompTIA revealed that the discrepancy between the need for and availability of qualified individuals was greater in the field of network security than any other area of the IT industry. With this in mind, more IT professionals have begun obtaining security certifications to develop their expertise in the field and become more marketable to prospective employers.

If you want to validate your security proficiency or become more skilled in security-related areas of network administration, becoming familiar with the most recognized certifications available will help you build a timeline of preparation for their obtainment.

The first decision to make when deciding to acquire almost any certification is whether to go after one that is vendor neutral (not focused on any one particular distribution) or vendor specific. Within those two categories, we will look at the most popular certifications and briefly outline methods for studying to obtain them.

Vendor-Neutral Certifications

Whereas vendor-specific security certifications exist to test aptitude on specific systems and programs, the following vendor-neutral certifications require you to know how to work with a combination of hardware and operating systems in order to create a secure networking environment and will be most beneficial to your long-term certification plans.

CompTIA Security+

CompTIA is one of the most recognized and respected certification providers throughout the IT industry. The Security+ certification is a smart place to start your certification journey, because it provides a well-rounded, vendor-neutral assessment of the key concepts behind IT security. System and organizational security, network infrastructure, and access control are covered in the 100-question exam. Both multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank question types are used throughout.

Although the Security+ certification has no prerequisites, CompTIA advises candidates to have two years of IT experience (preferably focused on security) before attempting the exam and also recommends obtaining the Network+ certification prior to Security+. Network+ tests the general competencies of managing and maintaining network infrastructures.

The Security+ exam costs $258 per attempt and is conducted in one 90-minute session. To learn more about the CompTIA Security+ exam and to find testing times and locations, visit http://www.comptia.org/certifications/listed/security.aspx.

Linux Professional Institute LPI 303

The LPIC certification program from the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) is a leader in entry-level and advanced Linux certification. As a supplement to LPI’s senior-level certification, LPI introduced Exam 303 in 2009 to provide candidates with a special security designation in addition to the core certification.

LPI 303 places emphasis on cryptography via multiple programs including OpenSSL and GnuPG, access control, and operations security. Since the security designation serves as a capstone to the entire LPIC program, several years of security work on Linux-based systems, as well as supervisory and consultancy experience is recommended before taking the exam. For candidates already pursuing LPI’s certification track and focusing on security, this specialty designation is a valuable addition to already-acquired certifications. The exam costs $160. To see a breakdown of the topics covered in Exam 303, as well as a selection of sample questions, go to http://www.lpi.org/eng/certification/the_lpic_program/lpic_3.

Security Certified Program (SCP)

Unlike most other certification providers, SCP focuses exclusively on security certifications. Their entry-level exam, Security Certified Network Specialist (SCNS), assesses the fundamental skills required for network defense, firewall management, and wireless security. After the SCNS, candidates can move to the Security Certified Network Professional exam, which builds on the skills of the previous certification with more emphasis placed on prevention techniques and risk analysis. Finally, the Security Certified Network Architect represents the capstone of SCP’s program and tests candidates’ knowledge of strategies and policies for building a secure and trusted network.

SCP certifications must be obtained sequentially and each require recertification after two years to remain in good standing. The 90-minute exams each consist of 60 questions and cost $179. For more information of the Security Certified Program, including SCP-provided courses to accompany each exam, head to http://securitycertified.net.

(ISC) 2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional

The CISSP certification targets security professionals with extensive experience in the field. A full five years of information security experience, focused in two or more concentrations specified by (ISC) 2, is required before a candidate can attempt the certification exam. If the experience is in place, however, CISSP represents a premier certification for professionals concentrating on information security as a career path.

The CISSP exam lasts 6 hours and costs $599 (with a $50 discount for registration more than 16 days prior to the exam date). Candidates are required to submit endorsement from an (ISC) 2 certified professional to verify their IT experience and may be subject to an audit to further validate this information. A yearly fee of $85 and recertification every three years is required to keep CISSPs in good standing. Individuals looking to obtain CISSP certification but lacking the necessary years of experience are still able to take the exam and receive the Associate of (ISC) 2 designation in place of full certification.

In addition to the CISSP, (ISC) 2 offers a number of security certifications for professionals of varying experience levels. To learn about certifications and designations that match your professional history, visit https://http://www.isc2.org/credentials/Default.aspx.

CIW Web Security Professional

CIW offers three levels of security certification, with Web Security Professional being the most advanced. To obtain this certification, candidates must complete the CIW Web Security Associate Exam, as well as two other security-focused certifications from approved providers including CompTIA, LPI, and (ISC)2. This partnership with other providers makes Web Security Professional an ideal certification for security specialists already in the process of obtaining multiple certifications.

Exam 1D0-470, required for CIW’s Web Security Associate certification, costs $150. To find out more about the exam and see a list of approved certification partners, visit http://www.ciwcertified.com/Certifications/Web_Security_Series/security_professional.php.


ISACA offers two security certifications: Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and Certified Information Systems Manager (CISM). The CISA exam tests the basic practices of information security, while the CISM is a more specialized assessment of the skills needed for construction and management of enterprise-level systems. Both exams consist of 200 questions and cost $415 for ISACA members and $545 for non-members. Upon completion of each exam, proof of five years information security experience must be submitted to ISACA for approval before certification is awarded. For more information of ISACA’s certifications, visit http://www.isaca.org/CERTIFICATION/Pages/default.aspx.

Vendor-Specific Certifications

In addition to the preceding certifications, a number are available for security-specialists already employed and working on specific systems. If your environment specializes in Microsoft, Cisco, Red Hat (or a number of other possibilities), then you should look for exams within their vendor-specific certification tracks that will allow you to authenticate your expertise and credibility.


If you’re looking to begin obtaining multiple security certifications, constructing a plan for certification will help you save time and effort. With no required prerequisites and only two years of recommended experience, beginning with CompTIA’s Security+ makes sense for most security professionals. From this point, working through the trio of SPC certifications will establish a comprehensive knowledge base of all areas of IT security management and likely encompass the years of experience needed to apply for (ISC)2’s CISSP. When this path is completed, you will be in possession of the most widely recognized security certifications in the industry.

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