Looking to begin a career in Cybersecurity? Then you’re probably thinking about which certification you should obtain. If you’re not, you should be: 96 percent of managers look for certifications when screening candidates according to the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). They would know, too. In addition to conducting industry research, the non-profit also offers one of the leading certifications available to beginner cybersecurity professionals: CompTIA Security+.
More than 600,000 individuals have earned this certification, making it an extremely popular choice for those employed in the public and private sectors. But is this the right certification for you? In this article, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about the CompTIA Security+ Certification—from the preparation and testing process to career outlooks and salary information. Read on to learn more about why this certification might be extremely valuable to your career in technology!
What is the CompTIA Security+ Certification?
According to CompTIA, their Security+ Certification offers “validation [that the holder possesses] the baseline skills necessary to perform core security functions and pursue an IT security career.” The vendor-neutral designation is widely recognized across the global IT industry and is typically the first certification a professional would receive in their career.
The certification exam covers six domains, or topics, within the area of best practices for risk management and mitigation. The domains in questions are:
- Threats, attacks, and vulnerabilities: Analyze indicators of compromise and determine types of malware or compare and contrast types of attacks
- Identity and Access Management: Implement identity and access management controls or differentiate common account management practices
- Technologies and Tools: Troubleshoot common security issues or deploy mobile devices securely
- Risk Management: Explain the importance of policies, plans, and procedures related to organizational security
- Architecture and Design: Summarize secure application development, deployment, cloud, and virtualization concepts
- Cryptography and PKI: Compare and contrast basic concepts of cryptography or implement public key infrastructure
The Security+ Curriculum is updated regularly to account for the latest trends and techniques within the industry. Students can expect to learn about up-to-date risk management practices including forensics, hybrid/cloud operations, enterprise networks, and more.
What are the Prerequisites for the CompTIA Security+ Certification?
The CompTIA Security+ Certification has NO official prerequisites. This means that you can sign up to take this test at any point in time. However, the organization does lay out some preliminary recommendations that help best prepare students for success on the examination.
First, the group recommends completing the CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ certifications before the Security+ exam. The A+ Certification offers foundational knowledge of IT concepts for roles like help desk technician, while the Network+ Certification tests network security skills for jobs like System Administrator and Network Engineer. Depending on your past educational and work experience, you may or may not find these certifications helpful, but it is definitely possible to forgo them and progress directly to the Security+.
Second, CompTIA recommends that Security+ candidates obtain two years of experience in IT administration with a security focus before completing the exam. Once again, this is not a hard and fast rule, and certain prep courses can provide you with all the background knowledge you may need without two full years on the job.
How Can I Prepare for the CompTIA Security+ Certification Exam?
There are multiple ways to prepare for your Security+ certification that match the needs of any student, from an IT pro to a total beginner. CompTIA itself offers a full suite of preparation materials, ranging from ebooks, study guides, and online exam prep tools to video training and live online courses. Of course, these options range in price, with self-learning from a book being very affordable to 10 days of live courses running $2,499.
The good news for students is that they are not limited to official materials from CompTIA. Because the certification is so widespread at an entry level, almost all associated degree and bachelor’s degree programs in Cybersecurity include a curriculum that prepares students to take the exam. Numerous third-party providers also offer prep courses at various price points that can be taken in a part-time, full-time, and/or fully online capacity.
Another great option for budding professionals is cybersecurity bootcamps. These programs can be completed in about 8 weeks to six months and can essentially launch you from a total beginner to a lucrative industry role post-graduation. Just like longer degree tracks, look out for programs that include instruction geared towards earning the Security+ Certification.
What is the CompTIA Security+ Certification Exam Like?
The exam itself emphasizes real-world practical and hands-on ability to identify and address security threats. While the number of questions varies, there are no more than 90 on any version of the exam, which takes 90 minutes to complete. Question types include single and multiple response, multiple-choice, drag and drop activities, and performance-based items, which test the ability to solve problems in a simulated environment. A passing score is 750 out of a 900 point scale and individuals can retake the exam as many times as they wish.
The cost of the exam is $370, and test-takers have the option of completing the exam online at home or a local Pearson Vue testing center.
Your CompTIA Security+ certification is good for three years from the date you pass your certification exam, but you can easily renew your Certification for additional three-year periods via three methods. First, CompTIA offers a CertMaster CE Security+ training course that can be completed online in six hours or less. Second, recertification exams are available, or you can take a higher IT industry certification. And finally, you can complete 50 continuing education unit (CEU) activities within the industry. Full information about renewal can be viewed on CompTIA’s continuing education page.
What is the Career Outlook for CompTIA Security+ Certification Holders?
With its emphasis on preparing students for real-world careers, the Security+ Certification is an excellent way for any applicant to strengthen their cybersecurity resume. Overall, there’s never been a better time to enter this rapidly growing field. The job outlook for those working as Information Security Analysts is expected to grow by 33 percent by 2030, significantly faster than the overall average of eight percent for all occupations.
Security+ holders can stand out from a pack of entry-level applicants by proving they have the skills necessary to excel in a position and a passion for the industry that marks them as excellent candidates for climbing the corporate ladder.
What Jobs Can CompTIA Security+ Certification Holders Get?
Jobs that use CompTIA Security+ include Security Administrator, Security Engineers and Analysts, Systems Administrators, Network and Cloud Engineers, Software Developers, and Cybersecurity Specialists. Because the certification does not require any on-the-job experience, program completers land in a variety of different positions, although a vast majority will be entry-level type roles.
For those already in the industry, the Security+ Certification is a great way to shift from an IT or help desk role to the adjacent cybersecurity landscape. Analyst, architect, and engineer roles might offer a more varied and complex work environment, or provide additional opportunities to work in the consulting or governmental space.
What is the Salary for CompTIA Security+ Certification Holders?
Looking at the data, it’s clear that a Security+ Certification pays off, if only purely on financial terms. According to Payscale, Security+ Certification Holders earn an average base salary of $77,000 a year, significantly higher than the national average for entry-level positions. On the lower end of that range are Systems Administrators, with engineering roles on the opposite end averaging out at approximately $95,000.
The Security+ Certification also ranks in the top 10 of GlobalKnowledge’s list of the top 20 highest paying certifications. From their data, they calculate the average Security+ holder earns $84,000 per year, with the ability to greatly increase earnings by progressing through CompTIA’s additional certification offerings.
CompTIA Security+ Certification Alternatives
There are a couple of alternative certifications to Security+ geared towards those at a similar point in their career. It’s a good idea to do your research on each of these programs, so you can make a more informed decision on which one might suit you best.
- The ISACA Cybersecurity Fundamentals exam, which costs $150 for members and $199 for non-members is ideal for IS/IT practicians and recent graduates looking to get started in the field. As of early 2022, the exam is being updated and temporarily unavailable
- GIAC’s Information Security Fundamentals (GISF) certificate covers foundational knowledge of computer functions and networking, introductory cryptography, and risk mitigation best practices. The two-hour test is great for anyone new to cybersecurity, career changers, or non-IT security managers. The $2,499 cost is inclusive of a four-month prep course and the exam itself.
Is the CompTIA Security+ Certification Worth It?
Overall, any certification is only “worth” as much as you apply to it. Individual certifications are going to appeal to different people, depending on their ideal career path. However, CompTIA Security+ stands out for its global recognition and versatile application across the Information Security field. Here are our top reasons you might consider it a valuable undertaking:
- US DoD Approved – Interested in ever working for the government? Security+ is compliant with ISO 17024 standards and approved by the US DoD to meet directive 8140/8570.01-M requirements. This means the certificate’s validity is recognized by the federal government and its vendors and contractors, which opens up tens of thousands of job opportunities
- Low Risk, High Reward – The certification is one of the cheapest on the market, compared to the GISF, CISM, or CISSP. The “one and done” exam format means you can add something valuable to your resume at a low cost relatively quickly. Plus, you can retake the exam as many times as you need.
- No Experience Required – If you’re an ambitious learner, it’s absolutely possible to acquire the skills you need to pass this test all on your own or in prep courses that take as little as one week to complete. If you’re looking to level up quickly, this can be a huge advantage
- Universal Training and Universal Recognition – Sometimes it pays to be an industry leader. Security+ is so popular that training is built into almost all college and university programs, as well as bootcamps. There is also no shortage of online resources available at any price point. You’ll never have to explain what a Security+ Certification is to any recruiter or on a resume; the cert is widely accepted and quickly connotes the industry knowledge you possess.
Beginning a Career in Cybersecurity
We hope this article serves as an excellent starting point to diving into the CompTIA Security+ exam and the greater world of information and 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 an efficient way to learn the real-world skills these exams test on at an affordable price point. Many bootcamp providers partner directly with certification organizations and create curriculums geared towards preparing students to ace the exam! If you’re looking for help beyond the test, these programs also often offer career services like resume review, 1:1 mentorship, and networking opportunities to help students land a promising post-grad role.
Be sure to browse our complete listings of cybersecurity bootcamps or take a look at our additional resource pages!
- Learn everything you need to know about becoming a professional in the field, in roles like Cybersecurity Specialist, Cloud Architect, Database Administrator, Network Engineer, and Systems Architect
- Check out the most in-demand technology jobs for 2022 and the highest paying tech jobs
- Compare the CISM, CISSP, and CEH certifications and determine which one might be right for you
- Discover more about white hat hacking and black hat hacking
- Become prepared for the job search with tips on creating the perfect technical resume and acing your technical interview