CISSP vs CISM vs CEH: Which Cyber Certification is Right for You?

If you're interested in a career in cybersecurity, you’ll likely need to acquire at least one industry certification. CISSP, CISM, and CEH are among the most popular and well-regarded. Which one should you pursue? Read on to learn more.
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Interested in IT Security? Then you’ll likely need to acquire at least one industry certification. But which one should you pursue first? Or if you’re already in the field, which certification is the best for taking your career to the next professional level?

With the increasing threat of cyber attacks, it’s no surprise that cybersecurity professionals are in high demand. If you’re thinking about taking steps to start down this lucrative career path, read on to compare the most popular industry certifications available and determine which one might suit you best.


Becoming a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

(ISC)² launched the CISSP credential in 1994. Since then, it has become one of the most popular programs of its type within the IT Industry, boasting more than 140,000 certificate holders. The program proves the certificate holder in question possesses a broad knowledge base of security principles and practices. It is designed to demonstrate that a security professional can design, engineer, implement and run a basic information security program.

This certificate is ideal for any number of cybersecurity careers including Senior-level positions such as Chief Information Officer and IT Director, where it might be mandatory, as well as mid and entry-level roles like Security Analyst, Network Architect, and Systems Administrator. 

Advantages of Becoming a CISSP

Overall, the CISSP is the most widely recognized and comprehensive certification available, making this an ideal program to take for those looking to grow their career within the Information Security profession. According to (ISC)², CISSP holders reported an average salary of $131,030 in 2018, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that the expected job growth rate for Information Security Analysts is expected to remain high over the next decade, at 31 percent. 

The CISSP can also open doors for job candidates interested in working for the U.S. Federal Government. The certification is approved by the Department of Defense and serves as a prerequisite for many governmental positions. 

CISSP Cost and Scope

The cost of the CISSP exam is $699 and it takes the form of a 100-150 question test, administered over three hours. The eight domains or topics of the test are drawn from (ISC)² Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) and include: 

  • Security and Risk Management
  • Asset Security
  • Security Architecture and Engineering
  • Communication and Network Security
  • Identity and Access Management (IAM)
  • Security Assessment and Testing
  • Security Operations
  • Software Development Security

Beyond simply passing the exam, candidates must gain peer endorsements, agree to the CISSP code of ethics and possess a minimum of five years of security work experience. In some cases, one year of work experience can be substituted for either a four-year college degree or an additional (ISC)² certification; the organization has additional information on prerequisites on their site

Becoming a Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

As opposed to focusing on the operational side of security like the CISSP, the CISM credential tests the user’s knowledge of the strategic side of security and how it relates to overall business goals. Completing this certification indicates that candidates are ready to assess, design, manage and oversee information security environments on the enterprise level. They must also possess a solid grasp of the technology landscape and demonstrate their ability to implement them in practice. More than 32,000 individuals hold this certification worldwide. 

Given the managerial nature of the program, CISM credential holders typically work in Security or IT Director or management positions. They might also serve as IT Consultants, Chief Information Officers, or in other enterprise leadership roles.

Advantages of Becoming a CISM 

Becoming a CISM is a great way to expand the scope of your information security knowledge and climb the corporate ladder within your organization. With a strong focus on strategy and policies, possessing this certification could open doors at a more senior level or make you more qualified for advanced freelance work if you’re on the consulting side.

According to Forbes, CISM is one of the top-paying IT certifications, with an average annual salary of $148,622 in 2020. Like the CISSP, the program is also globally recognized. 

CISM Cost and Scope

The CISM exam is administered by the  Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) and costs $575 for members and $760 for nonmembers. Test-takers are given four hours to complete 150 questions. 

The four domains covered by the CISM exam are:

  • Information Security Governance
  • Information Risk Management
  • Information Security Program Development and Management
  • Information Security Incident Management

To qualify for this exam, candidates must possess a minimum of five years of work experience within the last decade, with three of those years in at least three of the domains listed above. 

Becoming a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

“To beat a hacker, you need to think like a hacker,” according to the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council). That’s why they offer the Certified Ethical Hacker program, which teaches the very same penetration tools and techniques used by hackers with malicious intent. Of course, the CEH program is designed to equip users with offensive strategies used to thwart cyber threats. The test emphasizes real-world scenarios and covers over 270 attack methods used by cyber criminals. 

This certification is extremely useful and in-demand among any professional working to strengthen an organization’s IT systems. Job titles might include Security Analyst, Penetration Tester, Malware Analyst, or Security Consultant. More than 237,000 individuals across public and private organizations have received this certification.

Advantages of Becoming a CEH

As the type of roles one could go into as a CEH varies, there is no single average salary statistic. However, the Information Security Careers Network (ISCN) predicts that this certification will increase in demand throughout 2022 and beyond. The program is also top-rated among Information Security Certifications by Business News Daily

The versatile nature of ethical hacking makes this credential program a great choice for those interested in consulting, or just looking for flexibility in their career. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, cyber crime rose by more than 600 percent, so there’s no doubt the CEH role will increase in demand. 

CEH Cost and Scope

The four-hour, 125 questions CEH exam costs applicants $950 to test at home or $1,199 to test at an affiliated Pearson Vue facility. Candidates are eligible for the exam after two years of work experience and completing the eligibility application process OR after completing an official EC-Council training at their center or an approved academic institution. 

Exam material typically matches that of the learning material taught in official training. Topics are updated to account for the newest trends in technology and amongst hackers. They might include:

  • Footprinting and Reconnaissance
  • Scanning Networks
  • Enumeration
  • Vulnerability Analysis
  • System Hacking
  • Malware Threats
  • Sniffing
  • Social Engineering
  • Denial-of-Service
  • Session Hijacking
  • Evading IDS, Firewalls, and Honeypots
  • Hacking Web Servers
  • Hacking Web Applications
  • SQL Injection
  • Hacking Wireless Networks
  • Hacking Mobile Platforms
  • IoT and OT Hacking
  • Cloud Computing
  • Cryptography

Following the exam, the CEH certification is maintained by earning 120 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) hours within three years. To earn these hours, individuals may attend conferences or webinars, teach training, write research papers, or do other similar activities. 

Which Certification is Right For You?

Ultimately, anyone who hopes to have a lengthy career in the Information Security or Cybersecurity field needs to obtain at least one certification. Unfortunately, there’s no one right answer for which one is right for you. However, there are several factors you should consider before investing your time and money.

First, think of the long-term goals of your career: where do you see yourself in five or 10 years? If the answer is in a management position, you might want to consider becoming a CISM. Even if you’re only in an entry-level position at the moment, preparing for the prerequisite process for any of these programs now is never a bad idea.

Lean on your colleagues and others in the industry before making this decision. They’ve been through the recruiting process and they know what opportunities are out there from first-hand experience. Ask them what certifications they earned and how they helped shape their career path. Would they do it all over again or is there perhaps a different program they would have participated in? Your own network can be one of the biggest deciding factors in this case.

Finally, look towards which areas of IT are predicted to be in high demand. A sudden increase within a particular certification might indicate that companies are hiring for that type of role at a rapid pace. Within the next several decades, mobile security, Big Data analytics and management, penetration breach testing, and Cloud security are all expected to become increasingly viable roles. Having the knowledge and training for these positions is a great way to ensure you’ll never be out of work.

Any of the certifications listed above can lead to a lucrative and fulfilling career. At the end of the day, it comes down to how you put your certification and work experience into action. 

What other Cybersecurity Certifications Exist?

With these three popular and industry-standard certifications, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the offerings available in the information security field. Other certifications to consider include:

  • CompTIA Security+ – A more foundational program for those looking for hands-on troubleshooting and practical security problem-solving experience. 
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) – Another certification from ISACA that also requires five years experience, the completion of the program indicates a mastery of assessing vulnerabilities, reporting on compliance, and instituting controls
  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) – This is another one for ethical hackers, the program covers writing basic scripts to aid in the penetration testing process and tests users’ ability to successfully conduct remote and client-side attacks. Users complete a 24 hours hands-on exam in order to become certified.
  • Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) – (ISC)² credential program specific to cloud environments. Candidates must have five years of experience, with three of those within one or more of the six domain areas for this exam. 
  • GIAC Security Essentials – This one comes from the Global Information Assurance Certification and is similar to the CISSP, but does not require any prior work experience. The five-hour test costs $1,999 but is a great proof of knowledge for those seeking an entry-level IT role.

Learn More About Information Security and Cybersecurity Careers

We hope this article has equipped you to dive into the exciting world of cybersecurity. A great way to prepare for a certification program while enhancing your knowledge within the field is by attending a cybersecurity bootcamp. These programs offer a cost-effective way to gain necessary “on-the-job” skills and encounter real-world scenarios in an educational setting. Many bootcamp providers partner directly with certification organizations and create curriculums geared towards preparing students to ace the exam! Many also offer career services like resume review, 1:1 mentorship, and networking opportunities to help students land a promising role post-graduation. 

Be sure to browse our complete listings of cybersecurity bootcamps or take a look at our additional resource pages!

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