Thanks to new legislation and some high-profile security breaches, cyber security remains a hot field. It offers the opportunity for a thriving career and long-term benefits. So how can you break into this industry? Let’s explore the certificates and courses students need to stand out in the cyber security job market and master their skills.
What Is a Cyber Security Certification?
Cyber security and information systems both ensure the integrity of a computer network and its information. The Information systems discipline focuses on network efficiency, making sure that every component runs smoothly and troubleshooting issues that arise. Cyber security, on the other hand, focuses on network weaknesses that could lead to information leaks, system hacks, and other vulnerabilities. Information systems ensures the company can use its network to the best of its ability, but cyber security keeps it safe from attack.
Potential cyber security professionals can choose from hundreds of cyber security courses and certifications. These options vary from entry-level to advanced and from general to vendor or concentration-specific. A cyber security certificate typically covers the following topics:
- Risk identification or audit
- Risk assessment and mitigation
- Monitoring and reporting
- Operations, governance, and strategy
Participants in a certification course demonstrate domain-level knowledge of what it takes to secure networks and devices, understand prevention best practices, and troubleshoot the architecture and strategy to create the best and most secure network possible.
Cyber security courses leverage hands-on lessons. Students frequently study real-world challenges and problem solve different potential threats. Students in these programs mostly engage in collaborative projects, which translates into more hands-on experience and fewer lectures.
How Can I Use a Cyber Security Certification?
Jobs in the cyber security sector are estimated to grow exponentially. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects information security analyst jobs to grow by 33% from 2020 to 20301. These positions include businesses, consulting firms, and technology solutions companies. With an annual salary of over $100,000 per year, it’s a lucrative field as well1.
In enterprise positions, information security analysts may occupy an in-house position as part of an overall IT team. For consulting firms, cyber security specialists sometimes come in to respond to a current threat but can also provide guidance for developing new strategies.
One growing area of cyber security lies in artificial intelligence. Hackers can use artificial intelligence to get around traditional security keys, so cybersecurity must respond. For example, penetration testers pit two artificial intelligence machines against each other, with one looking for weaknesses. By intentionally breaking into a system, they learn more about how to keep that system safe.
Cyber Security Courses
Many cyber security specialists already possess a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Cyber security majors study subjects such as:
Networking courses cover the best practices for creating a secure network, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks, and wireless networks. Participants identify the best practices for addressing each type of network’s specific needs and the design necessary for a specific scenario.
Learners explore how to protect a company’s infrastructure and sensitive data. It provides a framework for maintaining compliance and security within the chosen database structure.
Forensics and cybercrime
Students learn terms, concepts, and histories of the fight against cybercrime. This could include email security, recovering image files, or fraud detection.
Configuring Windows servers
Learners explore methods for installing and configuring Windows systems and troubleshooting basics.
Students majoring in computer science also study development principles, software and hardware fundamentals, and networking best practices. These dovetail into creating secure networks by teaching the skills to create, manage, and troubleshoot a multitude of different systems.
Cyber Security Degrees and Certifications
Learners can focus first on computer science degrees and use certificates to specialize further. However, self-taught students can also leverage certificates to prove mastery of cyber security principles.
Cyber Security Degrees
Cyber security degrees typically fall into two categories:
Computer science degree with cyber security concentration (or minor)
Students learn computer science and web development fundamentals. Electives include courses in cyber security-specific topics.
Cyber security degree
A cyber security degree focuses more exclusively on cyber security principles. Any computer science courses focus on the security and governance perspective, and students may go deeper into cutting-edge principles such as penetration testing.
Students who want to dive into artificial intelligence-based cyber security often receive this instruction at the master’s or doctorate level. Courses include building AI algorithms, the complex math that goes into developing them, penetration testing principles, and general adversarial networks.
Common concentrations in cyber security include:
- Information security management
- Ethical hacking
- Network security
- Computer forensics
- Enterprise cyber defense
Cyber Security Certificates
Students can also choose from hundreds of cyber security certificates, but six, in particular, stand out as industry standards.
CompTIA Security+ Certificate
For entry-level security professionals, the CompTIA Security+ certificate offers a foot in the door for the industry. The test doesn’t possess hard and fast requirements, but the organization that offers it suggests the Network+ certification first plus two years of work experience.
The certificate brings an average base salary of around $64,000 per year2. However, system engineers in the computer or networking fields can expect around $112,000 per year2. The exam covers:
- Mobile, IoT, and Cloud environments
- Risk and compliance laws and regulations
- Responding to security incidents
- Identification of risk
- Security assessment of an organization
Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) Certificate
Learners with one year of work experience in one or more of the testing areas can take the SSCP. Testing areas include:
- Access controls
- Risk identification and analysis
- Security administration
- Risk and response
- Application security
- Incident response
Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) Certificate
If students possess at least three years of experience in information security program management, they can take this exam. Students without that experience can gain it within five years of taking and passing the exam.
Recipients can expect an average salary of around $125,000 per year3. This certificate also supports positions such as Chief Information Security Officer (average salary of $177,000 per year3) or Director of Risk Management (average salary of around $130,000 per year3).
- Risk and control monitoring and reporting
- IT risk identification
- IT risk assessment
- Risk and control monitoring and reporting
Recipients can earn an average salary of around $74,0004. Some positions, such as security architect, can make over six figures per year with the certificate and work experience4.
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) Certificate
A student must demonstrate at least five years of experience in at least two of eight security domains before taking the CISSP exam. These areas include security and assessment testing, software development security, security architecture and engineering, asset security, security and risk management, communication and network security, identity and access management, and security operations.
CISSP professionals make around $117,0005 per year at the base level, with some positions such as security architects making as much as $131,000 on average5. The exam includes areas like:
- Business continuity and disaster recovery planning
- Networking security
- Security architecture
- Access controls
Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) Certificate
Students seeking this certificate will need five years of experience in IT or IS audit, security, control, or assurance. Students can also substitute one or two years of experience with a two-year or four-year degree, respectively.
Recipients of this certification can expect a salary of around $105,000 per year6. Certain positions can bring even higher salaries. A Chief Information Security Offer commands around $180,000 per year6, while an Internal Audit Director receives around $144,0006 per year on average.
Topics on the exam cover five domains:
- Protection of information assets
- IT governance and management
- Information systems auditing process
- Information systems operations and business resilience
- Information systems, acquisition, development, and implementation
Offensive Security Certified Professionals (OSCP) Certificate
Professionals interested specifically in penetration testing can take the OSCP exam. The organization recommends familiarity with Linux, Bash scripting, Perl, or Python before taking the exam.
OSCP professionals can expect to earn around $95,000 per year7. Some positions, such as security engineers, can expect salaries over just over six figures7. The test covers:
- Compromising target machines using multiple exploitation steps
- Producing detailed penetration reports for each attack.
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Cyber Security Certification?
Entry-level certifications don’t typically require any experience beyond what you need to learn the source material. In some cases, this is just a few months to a year. Many of them recommend at least a year of work experience as well.
Some of the certifications require a certain amount of work experience — anywhere from three to five years or more. Also, some certifications will allow students to pass the test first and gain the required experience during a certain window of time afterward–within five years of successfully passing the exam, for example.
For many students, a 2-4-year degree remains the norm to work in the cyber security industry itself to gain the requisite experience.
Discover More About Cyber Security Courses and Certifications
Q. Is a cyber security certificate worth it?
Yes. Cyber security certificates can supplement your existing credentials or prove mastery in foundational concepts while seeking employment and experience.
Q. How do I become cyber security certified?
Learners must pass a certification exam, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional or the Offensive Security Certified Professional exams. Some certifications also require continuing education credits to keep the certification current.
Q. Does cyber security require coding?
Most entry-level positions do not require coding. However, mid to upper-level cyber security positions may require coding experience to build applications and engage in penetration testing.
Q. Can I get a job with only a cyber security certificate?
Yes. Many entry-level positions, such as a cyber security analyst or systems responder, prove well matched to cyber security certifications. Students may not even need a full degree.
Q. What kind of jobs can I get with a cyber security certificate?
Learners can pursue a variety of positions in the cyber security field with a cyber security certificate. These positions include systems engineer, network engineer, penetration tester, cyber security consultant, cyber security analyst, and software developer for cyber security programs.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Information Security Analysts. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm
 PayScale. (2021). Salary for Skill: CompTia Security. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Skill=CompTIA_Security%2B/Salary
 PayScale. (2021). Salary for ISACA Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (ISACA CRISC). https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=ISACA_Certified_in_Risk_and_Information_Systems_Control_(ISACA_CRISC)/Salary
 PayScale. (2021). Salary for System Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP). https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=System_Security_Certified_Practitioner_(SSCP)/Salary
 PayScale. (2021). Salary for Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Certified_Information_Systems_Security_Professional_(CISSP)/Salary
 PayScale. (2021). Salary for Certification: Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Certified_Information_Systems_Auditor_(CISA)/Salary
 PayScale. (2021). Salary for Certification: Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP). https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Offensive_Security_Certified_Professional_(OSCP)/Salary