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Security analysts work to protect the computer systems and networks of an organization. Demand for these professionals continues to grow as cyberattacks evolve. This career is ideal for problem-solving, detail-oriented technology lovers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of an information security analyst is $103,590 as of 2020. The BLS projects employment in this field will increase 33% between 2020 and 2030.
Employers often prefer security analysts with cybersecurity certifications. These credentials validate security professionals' education and skills. This guide explores available security certifications, their benefits, and how to get them.
What Is Certification in Security Analysis?
No states have licensure requirements for cybersecurity professionals. However, earning security analysis certifications highlights skills for prospective employers and can boost salary potential. Entry-level professionals can complete general security analysis certifications as they train for more advanced positions. More experienced security analysts often pursue certifications for specific tools or skill sets.
Professional associations and private software companies offer security analysis certifications. Professional association certifications endorse and authenticate the skills and credibility of the holder. Private companies' credentials only certify the holder is well-versed in using specific technologies.
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Why Pursue Certification as a Security Analyst?
Employers value certifications, which prove potential employees' commitment to furthering their expertise and keeping current with technologies and trends. These credentials can make applicants stand out during the hiring process — a 2015 CompTIA study showed that 93% of HR professionals consider applicants' certifications when hiring.
Certification can also help security analysts secure higher salaries and promotions. The 2020 Global Knowledge IT Skills and Salary Report revealed 13% of IT professional respondents attributed their increased salaries to one or more certifications they'd earned. The report also showed 20% of respondents attributed a promotion to new certifications.
Read more about the role of a cybersecurity analyst below.
- Security Analyst Career Overview
- How to Become a Security Analyst
- The Typical Day of a Security Analyst
What the Best Certifications for Security Analysts Have in Common
The best cybersecurity analyst certifications meet the international standard for personnel certification bodies (ISO/IEC 17024). Certifying bodies often hold accreditation from the American National Standards Institute or a similar authority. Because several certifying bodies may issue similar certifications, candidates should research which credentials best match their professional goals.
Many certifications require candidates to have multiple years of work experience. The evaluations are rigorous, so learners should devote time to exam preparation. Often, security analyst certifications require recertification on a semiannual basis to ensure certificate-holders' skills and knowledge stay relevant.
Below, we explore several certifying bodies that offer top cybersecurity analyst certifications. This list is not exhaustive.
The Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) formed in 1999 to endorse the skills of information security (infosec) professionals. GIAC's certifications test specific focus areas and hard skills rather than generalized knowledge. They offer computer, network, and cybersecurity credentials. Once certified, professionals must renew their GIAC endorsements every four years with continuing education.
Popular GIAC cybersecurity analyst certifications include:
GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GISF)
The GISF certification best suits professionals transitioning to cybersecurity careers. It validates the holder's knowledge of computer and networking fundamentals, including internet security, basic cryptography, and infosec technologies. The two-hour examination consists of 75 questions.
GIAC Network Forensic Analyst (GNFA)
The GNFA certification validates computer forensics skills. The credential covers topics like encryption and encoding, network architecture, and open-source network security proxies. The 2- to 3-hour proctored examination has 50-66 questions. The minimum passing score is 70%.
GIAC Certified Intrusion Analyst (GCIA)
The GCIA credential covers intrusion detection systems, fragmentation-based attacks, and tools like Snort and Zeek. The certification also tests knowledge of network traffic analysis fundamentals. The four-hour proctored exam has 106 questions and a minimum passing score of 68%.
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) develops and endorses skills in the IT industry. This vendor-neutral organization offers an array of certifications and developmental programs, boasting a partner network of thousands of companies. CompTIA has awarded over 2.5 million networking, cybersecurity, and technical certifications.
Professionals must complete continuing education units every three years to renew their CompTIA certifications.
Top CompTIA certifications include:
The CySA+ certification endorses behavioral analytics skills that monitor, detect, and prevent internet security threats. This is an intermediate certification covering core areas such as intelligence and threat detection techniques, data analysis and interpretation, and incident response and recovery.
The CySA+ certification has U.S. Department of Defense approval. The exam comprises up to 85 multiple-choice questions, and professionals need at least four years of relevant experience to sit for the test.
The CASP+ certification verifies security architecture and engineering skills that security analysts employ against cyberattacks. Candidates need at least 10 years of IT experience, including five years of hands-on cybersecurity experience.
The exam covers areas like incident response, cybersecurity compliance, and cryptography. The CASP+ exam is pass/fail. Test-takers must answer up to 90 multiple-choice questions in 165 minutes.
This intermediate-level certification is best suited for penetration testers and security specialists. The test covers vulnerability scanning, ethical hacking, and active and passive reconnaissance.
This credential requires candidates to have a strong technical background with at least 3-4 years of experience in information security. The 165-minute test has at maximum 85 questions.
The International Council for Electronic Commerce was established in 2001. EC-Council creates certification programs to foster a capable cybersecurity workforce. These programs are recognized globally and available in 145 countries.
Top EC-Council certifications include:
Certified Cloud Security Engineer (C|CSE)
EC-Council's C|CSE certification combines vendor-neutral and vendor-specific concepts to provide real-world skills to information security professionals. This hands-on, instructor-led program equips security analysts with the knowledge and tools required to protect cloud infrastructure and investigate threats and weaknesses.
Analysts also learn how to manage cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. The 4-hour test has 125 multiple-choice questions.
Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES)
The ECES program validates skills in cryptography and encryption. From setting up a virtual private network to handling algorithms such as AES and RSA, the ECES certification provides practical cryptanalysis training to aspiring ethical hackers, penetration testers, and cybersecurity analysts.
To take the exam, candidates need at least one year of experience in information security systems or complete an EC-Council training session.
Certified Network Defender (CND)
This network security program arms data analysts, IT administrators, and network engineers with the tools to predict, identify, and defend against cyberattacks. The course is lab-intensive and runs in several formats: in-person, synchronous online, self-paced, or masterclasses from industry experts. The 100-question exam takes four hours.
Additional Certifications for Security Analysts
Other institutions, like the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2, offer prestigious certifications for security analysts.
(ISC)2 credentials include certified information systems security professional, systems security certified practitioner, and certified cloud security professional.
Security analysts can also pursue multiple vendor-specific certifications from companies such as IBM, Google, and CISCO.
Preparing for Certification Exams
Security analyst certifications have rigorous examinations that call for diligent preparation. Candidates can choose one or more preparation methods:
IT Courses and Bootcamps
Enrolling in skills-specific cybersecurity courses can develop a candidate's knowledge and prepare them for the certification exam.
Organizations like CompTIA offer practice tests on their website. These help exam candidates understand question phrasing, overall test structure, and time limitations
Instructor-led coaching programs, such as GIAC's SANS training courses, are available online or on demand. Coaches offer expert advice for studying and understanding the exam more fully.
Learners who do not need instructor guidance can take advantage of e-books, virtual labs, and other digital tools to prepare for the exam.
To learn more about additional certifications and degree programs in cybersecurity, follow the links below.
- Certificate Programs in Information Technology
- Certificate Programs in Cybersecurity
- Associate in Cybersecurity Programs
- Bachelor's in Cybersecurity Programs
- Master's in Cybersecurity Programs
- Cybersecurity Bootcamps
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Choosing Between Certifications
The number of security analyst certifications can be overwhelming. Candidates should consider some key factors about different certifications before choosing any.
Some certifications are valid globally, while others are valid only in certain regions. Candidates must ensure their region recognizes the certifications they pursue.
Certifications can be expensive. Before committing to any program, make sure you can afford it. Research if your current employer will help pay for the certification.
Many certifications need renewal every 3-4 years. Explore each certification's renewal requirements, which can include continuing education credits.
Does the certification cover the areas of your interest? Entry-level certifications cover only the fundamentals of cybersecurity, while intermediate and advanced programs focus on specific areas.
Resources for Security Analysts
This resource details the typical duties and work environment of a security analyst.
Learn about the process of becoming a security analyst in this guide.
This page explores security analysts' daily experiences, including an interview with a professional in the field.
Learn more about salaries and growth projections for security analysts in this guide.
FAQ About Security Analyst Certifications
How long does it take to obtain security analyst certifications?
Each security analyst certification has different timelines. The certification itself may require candidates to pass a test, and preparing for that test can take several weeks or months.
Are certificates in security analysis the same as certifications?
Certificates are typically short-term programs earned through higher education institutions. These are usually geared toward professionals seeking to change careers. Certifications, on the other hand, indicate that you have passed an assessment and endorse industry-standard skills.
What are the best certifications for security analysts?
Some of the most popular certifications for security analysts are CISSP, CISM, CEH, and GSEC. Organizations such as CompTIA, (ISC)², GIAC, and EC-Council are some of the top cybersecurity certifying bodies.
What other qualifications do you need to become a security analyst?
Cybersecurity analysts must be well-versed in incident response, system administration, security regulations and standards, and computer forensics fundamentals. Relevant soft skills include communication, problem-solving, and attention to detail.
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