Learn more about this credential for early to mid-career security professionals.
The SSCP, or Systems Security Certified Practitioner, is a certification for cybersecurity practitioners tasked with monitoring information systems and reacting to security incidents. Becoming an SSCP could demonstrate to potential employers that you have the technical skills needed to advance in your cybersecurity career.
If you’d like to work hands-on with an organization’s security, becoming a SSCP could be a good step toward achieving your goal. You may find it particularly suitable if you’ve already gained a year or two of work experience in cybersecurity, or if you’ve recently graduated from a cybersecurity or computer science degree program.
The SSCP is designed for security professionals that work with operational security. Here are just a few of the job titles on LinkedIn that request or require SSCP certification:
Network analyst: $66,837
Systems administrator: $76,356
Security analyst: $78,533
Threat intelligence analyst: $90,585
Systems engineer: $92,340
DevOps engineer: $105,004
Security engineer: $111,656
Salary data represents average US salary according to Glassdoor (September 2021)
Becoming a SSCP comes with several potential benefits for the right candidate, including the possibility of a high-paying, in-demand position. By achieving SSCP status, you could also:
Learn new skills that you can use on the job
Validate your skills and commitment to cybersecurity to recruiters and hiring managers
Enhance your resume to make you more marketable
Fulfill requirements for security clearance
Gain access to a community of fellow cybersecurity professionals
The SSCP is one of seven certifications approved by the US Department of Defense as an information assurance (IA) baseline certification. Earning this certification meets the minimum certification requirement for IAT Level II and CSSP Infrastructure Support jobs .
Becoming a SSCP requires passing a certification exam designed to test your knowledge in seven different security topics. Here’s a quick look at the SSCP exam details.
|Number of questions||125|
|Type of questions||Multiple choice|
|Time to complete||180 minutes|
|Passing score||700 out of 1000 points|
|Prerequisites||1 year cumulative work experience|
|Testing locations||Pearson VUE Testing Centers|
Taking and passing the SSCP exam is an accomplishment you should feel proud of, but it’s only the first step in the certification process. Let’s take a look at the four steps you’ll need to take in order to get fully certified.
1. Pass the certification exam: At the time of writing, you’ll need to score 700 of an available 1,000 points to pass the exam. You can take the exam up to four times in a 12-month period, though you’ll have to wait 30, 60, and 90 days between respective attempts.
2. Complete the endorsement process: Getting endorsed requires submitting an online application endorsed and digitally signed by another (ISC)²-certified professional, like a coworker or manager. If you don’t know anyone personally, (ISC)² can act as an endorser. You have nine months from your exam date to complete this step.
3. Agree to the Code of Ethics: Before becoming a certified SSCP, you’ll need to commit to four canons of ethical practice. These are:
Protect society, the common good, necessary public trust and confidence, and the infrastructure
Act honorably, honestly, justly, responsibly, and legally
Provide diligent and competent service to principals
Advance and protect the profession
4. Pay the annual maintenance fee: You’ll need to pay a $125-fee upon certification and each year on the anniversary of your certification. If you earn additional certifications from (ISC)², you only need to pay the fee once per year.
To qualify to take the SSCP exam, you need at least a year of paid work experience in one more of the exam domains. This could include full or part-time work, as well as paid or unpaid internships.
Earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science, computer engineering, computer systems engineering, management information systems, or information technology (IT) also satisfies the work experience requirement.
Considering a computer science degree? Check out these programs from top universities that allow you to learn from anywhere with an internet connection, at your own pace.
The SSCP exam covers seven different topic areas, called domains, in cybersecurity. Each domain accounts for 10 to 16 percent of the exam score. The domains are as follows:
Security operations and administration
Risk identification, monitoring, and analysis
Incident response and recovery
Network and communications security
Systems and application security
The SSCP will transition to a new exam outline on November 1, 2021. While the seven domains will remain the same, the domain weights will change to reflect the most important issues in cybersecurity. Incident response and recovery and security operations and administration will be weighted more heavily, while access controls and cryptography will have their weights reduced.
The best way to set yourself up for success on the SSCP exam will depend on previous experience, current knowledge, and learning style. Here are some resources that you may find helpful as you prepare.
Several companies offer training courses specifically for the SSCP exam. While it’s possible to study independently, you may find the structure of a course helpful in ensuring you cover the required content from the exam. Before you enroll in a course, make sure it’s covering the latest version of the exam outline.
Prepare for the exam at your own pace with the (ISC)² Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) Specialization, offered by (ISC)² on Coursera. You get 120-day access to courses covering the latest exam domains, and save when you bundle them together.
Taking a practice exam can help prepare you for what to expect on exam day, as well as highlight any areas where you may need additional study. (ISC)² has a book of some 700 practice questions with explanations for purchase, but you can also find a variety of practice exams online.
Here are some additional tips for preparing for and taking the exam:
Give yourself adequate time to prepare. Depending on what you already know, this might mean a few weeks or a few months.
Make flashcards to learn acronyms and port numbers.
Read each exam question more than once. You’ll have a minute and a half to answer each question within the allotted time.
Use the “Flag for review” option to flag questions you’re unsure of. You can return to them later.
Answer all the questions. There’s no penalty for incorrect answers.
Both the SSCP from (ISC)² and the Security+ from CompTIA are common certification options for those just starting out or early in their cybersecurity career. Depending on your goals and experience, one may be a better fit than the other.
Generally speaking, if you’re working toward your first job in cybersecurity and you either don’t have a degree or have a degree in an unrelated subject, then the Security+ might be a better option. If you already have some experience or a cybersecurity or computer science degree, you might consider the slightly more advanced SSCP.
If you’ve already gained some experience working in cybersecurity, you might be deciding between the SSCP and the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), both from (ISC)².
In this case, which certification you choose to pursue could likely come down to your amount of experience. If you’ve already been working in cybersecurity for five or more years, it might be worthwhile going for the CISSP, ranked among the most popular and respected credentials. Otherwise, earning SSCP status could open up opportunities to build the experience needed to earn the CISSP in the future.
|Cost||$370||$249 (US)||$749 (US)|
|Number of questions||90||125||100 to 150|
|Types of questions||Multiple choice and performance based||Multiple choice||Multiple choice and advanced innovative|
|Test length||90 minutes||180 minutes||180 minutes|
|Required years of experience||None||1 year||5 years|
|Best for||Entry level||Early career||Advanced|
Start preparing for the SSCP exam with the (ISC)² Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) Specialization on Coursera. Curious to learn more about cybersecurity? Enroll in the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate to start learning job-ready skills—no prior experience required.
While not as rigorous as the more advanced CISSP exam, the SSCP exam still requires preparation for success. Training site CBT Nuggets included it as the only entry-level certification on their list of most difficult IT security certifications.
While the SSCP is generally considered an entry-level cybersecurity certification, you will need either a year of cumulative work experience or a degree in cybersecurity to qualify for certification.
Whether becoming a SSCP is worth the certification cost and preparation time will depend on your career trajectory and goals. It could be a good investment if you’re looking to advance into a technical security role in your organization, or if it’s required or requested for a job you’re interested in applying for.
1. DoD Cyber Exchange Public. "DoD Approved 8570 Baseline Certifications, https://public.cyber.mil/cw/cwmp/dod-approved-8570-baseline-certifications/." Accessed September 9, 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.