By Dr. Andre Slonopas  |  11/21/2023

cybersecurity certifications

Certifications bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. As a result, workers should find and earn the best certifications for cybersecurity.

The cybersecurity landscape is dynamic and ever-changing, driving the need for aspiring security professionals to constantly update their skills and receive additional training. This need for continuous self-development is met with certifications in cybersecurity, which have become an integral part of the industry.

Why? Cybersecurity is multifaceted. This domain is expansive, ranging from software development security to threat analysis. Consequently, certifications such as Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) provide workers with a set of specialized skills that may be highly valued by organizations.

The diversity of available cybersecurity certifications is impressive. For example, Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) are two examples of certifications that typically appeal to distinct niches. Obtaining some of the most prestigious certifications in cybersecurity demonstrates not only your commitment to your craft, but also your ability to meet contemporary challenges.

As a cybersecurity professional and a senior-level leader, I notice a stark difference between employees who possessed cyber education and those who supplemented their knowledge with a cybersecurity certification. While the degree was a sign of comprehensive education, many of the new hires were missing the practical expertise that comes from cybersecurity certifications.

It became evident to me that certifications showcased hands-on ability and in-depth knowledge to tackle real-world challenges, setting certified individuals apart in their field. From this experience and given that hundreds to thousands of applications pour into job openings, an easy discriminator is to filter applicants by their certifications. 

In addition, given the rapid evolution of the cyber environment, certifications ensure that cybersecurity professionals are aware of the most recent advancements in the industry. The Certified Information Systems Auditor certification, for example, may concentrate on auditing, control, and assurance, whereas the Certified Ethical Hacker delves into the complexities of discovering and patching vulnerabilities.

The community component of pursuing these certifications cannot be overlooked. Through certifying organizations, cybersecurity professionals who join peer networks, seminars, and events gain access to a wealth of shared knowledge and experiences.

While education can lay the groundwork for cybersecurity professionals, certifications such as Certified Information Security Manager and Offensive Security Certified Professional serve as its pillars. They are not merely improvements, but essential benchmarks for those seeking excellence in their discipline.


Unpacking the Layers: Cyber Degrees, Micro-Credentials, Cyber Courses, and Cyber Certifications

Understanding the distinct layers of cybersecurity education – cyber degrees, micro-credentials, cyber courses, and cybersecurity certifications – is crucial for students.

A cyber degree provides an in-depth understanding of information security. It explores topics spanning from network security to software development security and provides a well-rounded foundation for learners. With the proliferation of threats in fields such as cloud security and mobile security, these degrees are perpetually expanding to include a wide range of subjects.

Micro-credentials provide specialized qualifications in particular fields. A micro-certification in risk management or security assessment, for instance, could be invaluable for security engineers or those who specialize in security and risk management. These concise, targeted programs ensure that professionals can keep up with the rapidly transforming cybersecurity landscape.

Cyber courses serve as intermediary learning platforms. These courses may include penetration testing, ethical hacking, and security architecture. Even if they do not carry the same level of formal recognition as full-fledged cybersecurity certifications, courses on certified ethical hacker (CEH) or offensive security techniques can be exceptionally insightful.

For many in the field, cybersecurity certifications are the crown jewels. They are formal validations of someone’s proficiency in crucial areas of the cybersecurity domain.

For instance, a cybersecurity certification such as Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), and CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner attest to a person's skills. Each certification exam is arduous, requiring theoretical knowledge and practical skills in areas such as security operations, asset security, and even specialized disciplines such as penetration testing. Certifications such as Information Security Manager (CISM) and Systems Security Professional (CISSP) are among the finest cybersecurity certifications for professionals seeking advancement.

Whether you’re investigating the fundamentals of information security through a degree, honing specific skills with micro-credentials, navigating nuances with cyber courses, or validating expertise with sought-after cybersecurity certifications, the path is diverse. It's a journey where each step, whether it's comprehending the depth of cloud security or the complexities of security architecture, provides security professionals with immense and valuable knowledge.

American Public University is a higher education institution that recently developed a partnership with the EC-Council, which is one of the most recognized and respected cybersecurity certifying organizations. The University’s cybersecurity program is uniquely situated to provide cyber degrees, cyber courses, and cyber certifications to its students. Our cybersecurity program is also actively working to create micro-credentialing programs, targeted specifically towards professionals who may be looking for cutting-edge knowledge in a specialized area of cybersecurity. 



The Computing Technology Industry Association Fundamentals+ (CompTIA IFT+) certification functions as an introduction to the fields of information security and information technology. As one of the preliminary stages prior to delving into the best cybersecurity certifications, CompTIA ITF+ assists cybersecurity professionals in understanding the fundamental technical concepts that underpin advanced security operations.

Examination Details

The CompTIA ITF+ certification exam assesses foundational knowledge in areas such as risk management, security operations, and information systems. Through multiple-choice questions, candidates will be evaluated on risk identification, fundamental security knowledge, and the functionality of various computer components.


While CompTIA provides a variety of official training resources, many cybersecurity professionals also rely on third-party vendors for a wide range of learning materials. Participation in practice exams is crucial, as they provide insight into potential areas for improvement and gauge your overall preparedness for the certification exam.

Post-Certification Requirements

The CompTIA ITF+ certification is valid for a lifetime and does not require recertification. To maintain their technical expertise, however, professionals are frequently encouraged to pursue more specialized cybersecurity certifications, such as CompTIA Security+.

Community and Networking

CompTIA ITF+ certification offers access to a large community of cybersecurity specialists. This network for security personnel offers forums, seminars, and other venues for sharing, learning, and professional development.

Return on Investment (ROI)

As an entry-level certification, CompTIA ITF+ can serve as a stepping-stone for professionals aspiring to seek the most prestigious cybersecurity credentials in the future. With the ever-increasing emphasis on information security in today's digital era, even this basic certification is useful. The acquired knowledge acts as a catalyst for cybersecurity professionals, enhancing security knowledge and helping them prepare to seek positions in security and risk management.


CompTIA Security+

CompTIA Security+ is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious certifications for cybersecurity, providing a firm foundation for both experienced and inexperienced cybersecurity professionals. This certification is intended for individuals seeking to validate their technical skills in combating cyberattacks and implementing robust information security protocols.

Examination Details

The CompTIA Security+ certification exam covers a variety of crucial cybersecurity topics. The test is exhaustive, ranging from cloud security, access management, and the implementation of information systems operations to the nuances of information security program development. It combines multiple-choice and performance-based queries to ensure that both security engineers and administrators demonstrate practical knowledge.


CompTIA Security+ requires comprehensive preparation. While CompTIA provides exam-specific study materials, many seasoned security professionals also utilize third-party resources. Regular engagement with practice tests is essential, as they help identify areas requiring additional knowledge and align with the objectives of the exam 

Post-Certification Requirements

This cybersecurity certification is valid for three years following its acquisition. Renewal requires the accumulation of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) through training or other activities. Another option is to pass an advanced certification examination.

Community and Networking

CompTIA Security+ certified professionals acquire access to a thriving community of cybersecurity experts. This community provides forums, webinars, and numerous networking opportunities for security engineers, administrators, and other specialists, fostering interaction and collective development.

Return on Investment

CompTIA Security+ is unquestionably one of the finest available cybersecurity certifications. This investment can be worthwhile for cybersecurity professionals, as it demonstrates their dedication to upholding the highest information security standards.


EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

The EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) is often regarded as one of the finest certifications for cybersecurity. Its primary objective is to validate a professional's proficiency in ethical hacking – a proactive approach to protecting information systems control – for seasoned cybersecurity professionals. By comprehending hacking techniques, cybersecurity professionals can defend themselves against malicious threats more effectively.

Examination Details

The CEH certification exam is a comprehensive evaluation of a candidate's cybersecurity knowledge across multiple domains. From network security, intrusion prevention systems, and access management to incident response, the examination verifies that the candidate possesses the necessary technical abilities to act as an ethical hacker. In addition to their theoretical knowledge, candidates are evaluated on their practical application of that knowledge.


The EC-Council provides official training and study resources for optimal preparation. While these resources are immensely beneficial, seasoned security professionals also frequently utilize third-party practice tests and materials to improve their comprehension of ethical hacking.

Post-Certification Requirements

CEH-certified individuals are urged to improve their abilities over time. While there is no set recertification period, it is common to pursue more advanced certifications (such as the CEH Master) or to delve deeply into specific areas, such as incident response.

Community and Networking

Obtaining the CEH certification connects individuals to a thriving community of ethical hackers and security analysts. Networking events, workshops, and specialized forums provide a collaborative space for sharing, learning, and staying current with the swiftly evolving cybersecurity landscape

Return on Investment

The CEH offers undeniably substantial ROI as one of the finest cybersecurity certifications. Like other certifications, it is useful for cybersecurity professionals.


EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA)

The ECSA is the pinnacle for seasoned cybersecurity experts who wish to advance their knowledge of security analysis. This certification goes well beyond traditional methodologies, delving deeply into security engineering, enterprise security, and the intricate nuances of information systems operations. With a strong emphasis on security, the ECSA educates professionals on advanced vulnerability assessment techniques, augmenting business resilience protection.

Examination Details

The ECSA exam is a rigorous examination that assesses candidates' comprehensive knowledge of information systems auditing, security administration, and information systems implementation. The examination covers a variety of topics, including identity management and security systems as well as comprehensive enterprise security strategies. Candidates must demonstrate their ability to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios 


Preparation for the ECSA includes both official EC-Council materials and lab access replicating real-world environments for hands-on practice. Considering the scope and depth of topics covered by the certification, such as information security management, this pragmatic approach is essential.

Post-Certification Requirements

After obtaining the ECSA, professionals are expected to maintain a current understanding of the ever-changing cybersecurity landscape. For proficiency maintenance, seminars, training, and more recent certifications, such as the global information assurance certification, can be pursued as there is no set renewal period.

Community and Networking

ECSA certification introduces professionals to a worldwide and elite society of security analysts and cybersecurity experts. The certifications grant access to forums, seminars, and exclusive EC-Council events, enabling networking, the exchange of insights, and the advancement of security disciplines.

Return on Investment

The ECSA represents a significant increase in credibility and expertise for cybersecurity professionals. This advanced certification demonstrates a professional ability to ensure comprehensive security and resilience.


EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)

The CHFI, widely regarded as one of the top certifications for cybersecurity, is intended for seasoned cybersecurity professionals who wish to delve deeply into the domain of forensic investigation. With a strong emphasis on security, this certification equips professionals to detect cyberattacks, collect vital evidence, and respond to incidents effectively. The primary objective is to guarantee that professionals can discover and analyze cybercrime and security breach evidence with proficiency.

Examination Details

The CHFI certification exam thoroughly evaluates a candidate's network security, security engineering, and information systems operations implementation skills. The emphasis is on real-world scenarios, and participants are challenged to demonstrate their proficiency in managing complex forensic situations, evidence collection, and incident response. This intensive exam requires a comprehensive understanding of these fundamental topics.


Aspirants can take advantage of EC-Council's official training modules to prepare for the CHFI. Due to the complexity of the material, particularly in areas such as security engineering and network security, hands-on laboratories and real-world case studies are essential components of the preparation strategy.

Post-Certification Requirements

Once the CHFI certification has been obtained, professionals are encouraged to stay apprised of the rapidly changing cyber forensic landscape. Continuing education, seminars, and possibly the pursuit of additional advanced certifications can assist cyber professionals in maintaining and enhancing forensic expertise.

Community and Networking

The CHFI certification integrates professionals into a dynamic network of cybersecurity experts. This community provides dedicated forums, seminars, and networking opportunities to facilitate the exchange of forensic knowledge and evolving best practices among peers.

Return on Investment

The CHFI is indisputably a valuable asset for any cybersecurity professional. As cybercrimes increase, organizations place a premium on the knowledge of forensic investigators. The rigorous training and recognition provided by the CHFI can prove highly useful to a cybersecurity professional.


EC-Council Certified Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

The CISO certification from the EC-Council is a preeminent cybersecurity credential designed to transform experienced security professionals into executive leaders of the highest caliber. It bridges the gap between the technical realm of information security and an organization's overall strategy and operations. CISO aims to cultivate holistic, business-focused cybersecurity leaders who can shape and drive an organization's security vision, going beyond the domain of certified information systems security.

Examination Details

The CISO certification exam is a comprehensive examination that covers a vast array of leadership-related topics across five domains:

  • Governance
  • Security Risk Management, Controls, and Audit Management
  • Security Program Management and Operations
  • Information Security Core Competencies
  • Strategic Planning, Finance, Procurement, and Vendor Management

The scope and depth of this examination are designed to evaluate not only candidates’ technical knowledge, but also their management skills and strategic vision.


For CISO aspirants, the EC-Council provides official training materials that provide a comprehensive overview of the leadership domains covered in the exam. To ensure comprehensive preparation, candidates must integrate their foundational cybersecurity certification knowledge with real-world managerial experiences and case studies.

Post-Certification Requirements

After obtaining the CISO certification, professionals are urged to remain current with the ever-changing cybersecurity leadership landscape. Regular participation in seminars, conferences, and continuing education is essential to maintaining the certification's relevance and value.

Community and Networking

CISO certification enables individuals to join an elite group of cybersecurity executives. Access to exclusive EC-Council events, forums, and networking opportunities fosters collective development, the exchange of strategic insights, and collaboration.

Return on Investment

Earning the CISO certification can be a significant asset for cybersecurity executives seeking to reach the pinnacle of their profession.


An Academic Partnership for Holistic Cybersecurity Education and Certifications

American Public University strives to stay on top of academic rigor and relevance in the cybersecurity realms. To this end, the University became an academic partner of the EC-Council, an organization that is a global authority in cybersecurity certifications. This partnership aims to equip students with the practical skills that can be further honed after their education at the University.

The central foundation of our in-depth curriculum in the cybersecurity domain focuses on the examination of the field's theoretical components. The secondary goal of the University’s curriculum is to expose students to the practical components of cybersecurity.

Our University’s academic rigor is bolstered by EC-Council's globally recognized certification programs. By incorporating EC-Council's industry-focused practical content into courses, the University equips students not only with theoretical know-how but also with practical skills through our B.S. in cybersecurity and the M.S. in cybersecurity studies.

Becoming EC-Council’s academic partner enables our students to pursue EC-Council's prestigious and in-demand cybersecurity certifications at a significantly reduced cost. In recognition of the financial barriers that frequently serve as barriers for students from obtaining these desired certifications, our partnership enabled making those certifications more accessible.

For instance, the partnership with EC-Council offers benefits such as 

  • Student discounts for multiple certifications and training material
  • Free certifications for faculty members
  • Permission for the University to run certification bootcamps

This partnership also demonstrates our commitment to the highest academic rigors and ensuring that our courses exceed industry standards. EC-Council's cyber training expertise ensures that our curriculum is current, relevant, and consistent with the most recent industry trends and requirements.

The University and EC-Council's partnership bridges the gap between academic theory and practical application. This partnership increases the value of a cybersecurity degree and provides an opportunity for students with both credentials and practical skills.

By leveraging the assets of both institutions, the University is ideally positioned to influence and education the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. APU seeks to provide its students with an education of the highest caliber and the knowledge to pursue internationally recognized certifications.

CompTIA ITF+ is a registered trademark of the Computing Technology Industry Association, Inc.
CompTIA Security+ is a registered trademark of the Computing Technology Industry Association, Inc.

About the Author
Dr. Andre Slonopas
Dr. Andre Slonopas is an Assistant Department Chair in the Department of Strategic Intelligence. From the University of Virginia, he holds a B.S. in aerospace engineering, a M.S. in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He also holds a plethora of relevant certifications, including Certified Information Security Manager (CISM®), Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP®), Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA) and Project Management Professional (PMP®).

CISM is a registered trademark of Information Systems Audit and Control Association, Inc.
CISSP is a registered trademark of International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc.
PMP is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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