10 Popular Cybersecurity Certifications [2021 Updated]

Written by Coursera • Updated on Aug 2, 2021

Elevate your career in information security with these in-demand credentials.

A man with glasses and a blue folder sits at a cybersecurity workstation with three computer screens.

Cybersecurity (sometimes called computer security or information security) is the practice of protecting computers, networks, and data from theft, damage, loss, or unauthorized access.

As our interconnectivity increases, so do the opportunities for bad actors to steal, damage, or disrupt. A rise in cybercrime has fueled a demand for cybersecurity professionals. Job outlook is expected to grow by 31 percent between 2019 and 2029 [1].

10 cybersecurity certifications companies are hiring for

While most cybersecurity professionals have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, many companies prefer candidates who also have a certification to validate knowledge of best practices. There are literally hundreds of certifications available, from general to vendor-specific, entry-level to advanced. 

Before you spend your money and time on a certification, It’s important to find one that will give you a competitive advantage in your career. 

We performed a search for more than 300 different cybersecurity certifications on three popular job boards, LinkedIn, Indeed, and Simply Hired. These 10 certifications appeared in the greatest number of total job listings in the United States (as of June 2021), suggesting that these are the certifications companies are actively hiring for. What’s more, the number of total job postings containing our top 10 certifications has grown by 33 percent since December 2020.

Read more: 10 Cybersecurity Jobs: Entry-Level and Beyond

CertificationLinkedInIndeedSimply HiredTotal
CISSP48,71113,4999,33371,543
CISA12,4666,1383,85922,463
CISM8,8604,0642,80615,730
Security+5,3713,5832,69811,652
CEH5,8942,4011,6979,992
GSEC3,6332,5151,8978,045
SSCP3,6822,4421,8597,983
CASP2,9182,0521,5006,470
GCIH2,8721,9021,2796,053
OSCP2,7981,9489495,695

Number of US job search results for each certification when searched on June 10, 2021

If you're just starting out in the world of cybersecurity, consider an entry-level credential, like the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate. You can build job-ready skills in less than six months while earning a shareable certificate from an industry leader.

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All salary data represents average US salaries sourced from Glassdoor in June 2021

1. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The CISSP certification from the cybersecurity professional organization (ISC)² ranks among the most sought-after credentials in the industry. Earning your CISSP demonstrates that you’re experienced in IT security and capable of designing, implementing, and monitoring a cybersecurity program.

This advanced certification is for experienced security professionals looking to advance their careers in roles like:

  • Chief information security officer - $170,793

  • Security administrator - $85,742

  • IT security engineer - $100,605

  • Senior security consultant - $111,250

  • Information assurance analyst - $82,070

Requirements: To qualify to take the CISSP exam, you’ll need five or more years of cumulative work experience in at least two of eight cybersecurity domains. These include Security and Risk Management, Asset Security, Security Architecture and Engineering, Communication and Network Security, Identity and Access Management, Security Assessment and Testing, Security Operations, and Software Development Security.

A four-year degree in computer science satisfies one year of the work requirement. Part-time work and paid internships also count.

Cost (US): $749

The path to CISSP

If you’re new to cybersecurity and lack the necessary experience, you can still take the exam to become an Associate of (ISC)². Once you pass the exam, you’ll then have six years to build the relevant experience for full CISSP certification.

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2. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

This credential from IT professional association ISACA helps demonstrate your expertise in assessing security vulnerabilities, designing and implementing controls, and reporting on compliance. It’s among the most recognized certifications for careers in cybersecurity auditing.

The CISA is designed for mid-level IT professionals looking to advance into jobs like:

  • IT audit manager - $122,254

  • Cybersecurity auditor - $69,083

  • Information security analyst - $99,372

  • IT security engineer - $93,526

  • IT project manager - $102,743

  • Compliance program manager - $92,829

Requirements: You need at least five years of experience in IT or IS audit, control, security, or assurance. A two or four-year degree can be substituted for one or two years of experience, respectively.

Cost: $575 for members, $760 for non-members

Get started with Coursera

Learn the fundamentals of information systems auditing with the Information Systems Auditing, Controls and Assurance course—a good starting point if you plan to pursue the CISA.

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3. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

With the CISM certification, also from ISACA, you can validate your expertise in the management side of information security, including topics like governance, program development, and program, incident, and risk management.

If you’re looking to pivot from the technical to the managerial side of cybersecurity, earning your CISM could be a good choice. Jobs that use the CISM include:

  • IT manager - $108,353

  • Information systems security officer - $96,568

  • Information risk consultant - $92,624

  • Director of information security - $173,387

  • Data governance manager - $119,816

Requirements: To take the CISM exam, you need at least five years of experience in information security management. Satisfy up to two years of this requirement with general information security experience. You can also waive one or two years with another certification in good standing or a graduate degree in an information security-related field.

Cost: $575 for members, $760 for non-members

Get started with Coursera

Get a head start toward building your managerial skills in cybersecurity by completing the Managing Cybersecurity Specialization

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4. Security+

CompTIA Security+ is an entry-level security certification that validates the core skills needed in any cybersecurity role. With this certification, demonstrate your ability to assess the security of an organization, monitor and secure cloud, mobile, and internet of things (IoT) environments, understand laws and regulations related to risk and compliance, and identify and respond to security incidents.

Earning your Security+ certification can help you in roles such as:

  • Systems administrator - $74,086

  • Help desk manager - $70,531

  • Security engineer - $109,863

  • Cloud engineer - $110,152

  • Security administrator - $85,742

  • IT auditor - $78,633

  • Software developer - $107,597

Requirements: While there are no strict requirements for taking the Security+ exam, you’re encouraged to earn your Network+ certification first and gain at least two years of IT experience with a security focus.

Cost: $370

The path to Security+

If you’re just getting started in information technology (IT), CompTIA recommends that you get your Google IT Support Professional Certificate first. You’ll build foundational skills in IT while preparing to pass the CompTIA A+ exams—the first step in the CompTIA certification path. 

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Read more: 6 Essential IT Certifications and Certificates 2021: Entry-Level and Beginner

5. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

Ethical hacking, also known as white hat hacking, penetration testing, or red team, involves lawfully hacking organizations to try and uncover vulnerabilities before malicious players do. The EC-Council offers the CEH Certified Ethical Hacker certification. Earn it to demonstrate your skills in penetration testing, attack detection, vectors, and prevention.

The CEH certification helps you to think like a hacker and take a more proactive approach to cybersecurity. Consider this certification for jobs like:

  • Penetration tester - $104,116

  • Cyber incident analyst - $86,454

  • Threat intelligence analyst - $90,269

  • Cloud security architect - $158,536

  • Cybersecurity engineer - $100,636

Requirements: You can take the CEH exam if you have two years of work experience in information security or if you complete an official EC-Council training.

Cost: $950 to $1,199, depending on testing location

Read more: How to Become a Penetration Tester: 2021 Career Guide

Get started with Coursera

Practice your penetration testing skills on WebGoat, a deliberately vulnerable application, by taking the Exploiting and Securing Vulnerabilities in Java Applications course from UC Davis on Coursera.

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6. GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)

This certification from the Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) is an entry-level security credential for those with some background in information systems and networking. Earning this credential validates your skills in security tasks like active defense, network security, cryptography, incident response, and cloud security.

Consider taking the GSEC exam if you have some background in IT and wish to move into cybersecurity. Job roles that use the skills demonstrated by the GSEC include:

  • IT security manager - $124,638

  • Computer forensic analyst - $85,121

  • Penetration tester - $104,116

  • Security administrator - $85,742

  • IT auditor - $78,633

  • Software development engineer - $116,252

Requirements: There are no specific requirements to take the GSEC exam. Set yourself up for success by gaining some information systems or computer networking experience first.

Cost: $2,499 (includes two practice tests)

The path to GSEC

GIAC also offers the Information Security Fundamentals (GISF) as its entry-level certification for those new to IT. If you’re still gaining experience with networking and information systems, this could be a good place to start.

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7. Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)

With this intermediate security credential from (ISC)², you can show employers that you have the skills to design, implement, and monitor a secure IT infrastructure. The exam tests expertise in access controls, risk identification and analysis, security administration, incident response, cryptography, and network, communications, systems, and application security.

The SSCP is designed for IT professionals working hands-on with an organization’s security systems or assets. This credential is appropriate for positions like:

  • Network security engineer - $95,997

  • System administrator - $74,086

  • Systems engineer - $76,112

  • Security analyst - $77,662

  • Database administrator - $82,167

  • Security consultant - $97,516

Requirements: Candidates for the SSCP need at least one year of paid work experience in one or more of the testing areas. This can also be satisfied with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a cybersecurity-related program.

Cost: $249

Get started with Coursera

Prepare to sit the SSCP exam with the (ISC)² Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) Specialization through Coursera. Work through the six courses at your own pace as you gain confidence to sit and pass the exam.

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8. CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+)

The CASP+ is designed for cybersecurity professionals who demonstrate advanced skills but want to continue working in technology (as opposed to management). The exam covers advanced topics like enterprise security domain, risk analysis, software vulnerability, securing cloud and virtualization technologies, and cryptographic techniques.

The CASP+ can open up opportunities for advanced roles in architecture, risk management, and enterprise security integration. Possible job titles include:

  • Security architect - $152,732

  • Security engineer - $109,863

  • Application security engineer - $110,660

  • Technical lead analyst - $109,766

  • Vulnerability analyst - $80,475

Requirements: There’s not a formal prerequisite for taking the CASP+ exam. CompTIA recommends it only for experienced cybersecurity professionals with at least ten years of IT administration experience (including five years of broad hands-on experience with security).

Cost: $466

The path to CASP+

Learn more about CompTIA’s cybersecurity certification path with our IT Certification Roadmap.

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9. GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)

Earning the GCIH validates your understanding of offensive operations, including common attack techniques and vectors and your ability to detect, respond, and defend against attacks. The certification exam covers incident handling, computer crime investigation, hacker exploits, and hacker tools.

This certification is meant for anyone working in incident response. Job titles might include:

  • Incident handler - $92,833

  • Security architect - $152,732

  • System administrator - $74,086

Requirements: There are no formal prerequisites for taking the GCIH exam, though it’s a good idea to have an understanding of security principles, networking protocols, and the Windows Command Line.

Cost: $2,499 (includes two practice tests)

Get started with Coursera

Start building the technical skills you’ll need as an incident responder with the Cyber Incident Response Specialization from Infosec.

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10. Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)

The OSCP from Offensive Security has become one of the most sought-after certifications for penetration testers. The exam tests your ability to compromise a series of target machines using multiple exploitation steps and produce detailed penetration test reports for each attack.

The OSCP is a good option for jobs like:

  • Penetration tester - $104,116

  • Ethical hacker - $100,742

  • Threat researcher - $65,148

  • Application security analyst - $92,005

Requirements: There are no formal requirements to take the exam. Offensive Security recommends familiarity with networking, Linux, Bash scripting, Perl or Python, as well as completion of the Penetration Testing with Kali course.

Cost: From $999 (Basic package includes Penetration Testing with Kali Linux (PWK/PEN-200) course, 30 days of lab access, and one exam attempt)

Is a cybersecurity certification worth it?

A survey by (ISC)² found that 70 percent of cybersecurity professionals surveyed in the US were required to have a certification by their employers. Security certification can also come with a salary boost of $18,000, according to the same study. The right credential can also make you more attractive to both recruiters and hiring managers [2].

How to choose a cybersecurity certification

Earning a certification in cybersecurity can validate your hard-earned skills and help you advance your career. Here are some things to consider when choosing which certification is right for you.

  • Your level of experience: Start with a certification that matches your current skill set. Invest in a certification you know you can achieve, and use it to advance toward more challenging certifications later in your career. If you're new to IT, take a look at these beginner IT certifications and certificates.

  • Cost: Getting certified typically costs several hundred dollars (or more), plus the additional fees to maintain it. The right certification can open up better job prospects or higher salaries, but it’s important to invest wisely.

Tip: Some employers will help pay for your certification, so it’s always a good idea to ask first. According to the (ISC)² survey, 40 percent of respondents said that their organization covered the cost of their courses, exam, and fees [2].

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  • Area of focus: If you’re just getting started in cybersecurity or want to move into a managerial role, a more general certification might be a good choice. As you advance in your career, you might decide to specialize. A certification in your concentration area can validate your skills to potential employers.

  • Potential employers: Check some job listings of employers you may want to work for (or job titles you plan to apply for) to see what certifications are commonly required.

Just getting started in IT?

Consider one of these beginner IT certifications or certificates to build entry-level skills and advance your career.

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How to get into cybersecurity: First steps

Many of the most coveted certifications require (or at least recommend) some previous experience in cybersecurity or IT. If your career goals include a job in this in-demand industry, there are some steps you can take now to start gaining the experience you need.

Get a degree in computer science.

While you don’t need a degree to enjoy a successful career in cybersecurity—eight percent of surveyed professionals only reported a high school diploma—it can help you build a strong foundation [2]. Many of the most prestigious certifications will waive some of the work experience requirements if you’ve earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science or a related field. 

The University of Pennsylvania offers an Ivy League Master of Computer and Information Technology degree designed especially for students without a computer science background. Try a course before you apply to see if this program is a good fit.

Start with an entry-level job in IT. 

Hands-on experience is often the most effective way to prepare for certification exams. Start accumulating work experience with an entry-level role as a cybersecurity analyst. Many cybersecurity professionals start off in more general IT roles

Learn more: How to Get a Job in IT: 7 Steps

Get an entry-level IT certification.

Enhance your resume and make yourself more attractive to hiring managers with a certification that doesn’t require previous experience.

Entry-level IT certification options include lower-level credentials from some of the companies listed above. You can also build job-ready skills with no previous experience with the Google IT Support Professional Certificate and IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate through Coursera.

Cybersecurity frequently asked questions (FAQ)

How do you get certified in cybersecurity?

Getting a cybersecurity certification typically involves passing an exam (sometimes multiple exams). Some certifications also require you to sign a code of ethics. To maintain your certification, you’ll need to complete a specified amount of continuing education.

How long does it take to get certified in cybersecurity?

The length of time you’ll need to prepare for a certification exam will depend on what you already know and what you’ll need to learn. Preparing could take anywhere from a week to several months (assuming you meet the work prerequisites).

What cybersecurity certification should I get first?

If you're just starting out in cybersecurity, consider the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate to build foundational skills and get hands-on experience with cybersecurity analyst tools. Once you've established familiarity with cybersecurity technology and best practices, the CompTIA Security + is considered among the best entry-level, vendor-neutral credentials.

Does cybersecurity require coding?

You probably won’t need to know how to code for most entry-level cybersecurity jobs. The ability to read and understand code becomes increasingly helpful as you advance in the field. Some programming languages you might consider learning include JavaScript, HTML, Python, C, and C++.

Is cybersecurity a good career?

If you’re interested in computers, networks, and how they work, a career in cybersecurity could be a good fit for you. Jobs in the field tend to be in-demand and high-paying. The median salary for an information security analyst, for example, is $103,590 per year [3].

What skills do I need for cybersecurity?

The skills, practices, and technologies you’ll use as a cybersecurity professional will continue to evolve along with computer and network technology. The desire to learn, ability to problem solve, and attention to detail will serve you well in this field. Other, more technical skills and technologies to learn include:

  • SIEM tools (security information and event management)

  • Firewalls, Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)

  • Digital forensics

  • Mobile device management

  • Data management

  • Application security development

  • Audit and compliance knowledge

Related articles

Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Information Security Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm." Accessed June 24, 2021.

2. (ISC)². "Cybersecurity Workforce Study, https://blog.isc2.org/isc2_blog/2021/01/cybersecurity-workforce-study-certifications-boost-salaries-by-an-average-of-18000.html." Accessed June 24, 2021.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Information Security Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm." Accessed June 24, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Aug 2, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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