Thinking about taking the Security+ Certification?
You’re not the only one, but how exactly do you earn this valuable credential?
Follow along as we give a better understanding of the exam, how much it costs, and whether this is a certification worth pursuing!
What is the Security+ Certification?
The Security+ certification, developed by CompTIA in 2002 as an entry level cybersecurity certification, validates a person’s knowledge of basic IT security concepts. If you’re looking for an alternative to the Security+, some have opted to take the GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC).
The Security+ certification exam covers topics such as network security, cryptography, risk management, compliance and operational security, threats and vulnerabilities, as well as application, data, and host security.
For many aspiring cybersecurity professionals, earning this popular entry-level certification can be a first step toward a rewarding, in-demand career.
Is CompTIA Security+ Certification Worth It?
Anyone with IT experience can tell you that of the countless number of certifications, the Security+ Certification is arguably one of the best known.
Since 2011, CompTIA has awarded over 2.3 million certifications globally that are ISO 17024 & ANSI accredited.
To give you a sense of how well respected this certification is in the security industry, according to a 2021 Global Knowledge IT Skills and Salary Report by Skillsoft, of the 9,325 IT decision makers, the Security+ certification ranked in the top ten of the most widely held IT certifications in the world.
If that still holds true, it puts the number of IT professionals that hold the Security+ certificate at well over 500,000!
Just to give you a bit more insight into the matter, in 2015 CompTIA conducted a study called HR Perception of IT Training and Certifications to better understand how HR personnel perceive IT certifications.
Between the years 2011 and 2014, the perceived value of IT certifications increased from 76% to 93%; that’s a 17% increase in only three years!
It also found that the Security+ ranked as the 13th highest paid IT certification averaging $108k.
Security+ Certification is an Advantage
In addition to showing employers that you have baseline knowledge of network security concepts and principles, passing the Sec+ exam is sure to make you a more attractive candidate for a number of entry level cybersecurity jobs.
That’s because recruiters have so many candidates to sift through, they’re more likely to advance your resume to the next stage if you make it easier on the recruiter to identify your skillset.
And while not all security jobs require a certification, keep in mind that you’re competing for a role, and the candidate with a Security+ cert already has the advantage.
CompTIA Security+ Job Positions
Even better, the Sec+ is applicable to many sectors of the economy.
This certification makes you a valued candidate for many entry-to-mid-level cybersecurity jobs across large portions of the economy such as: healthcare, finance, retail, telecommunications, education, etc.
As a side note, if you’re a government employee or current military that’s required to obtain an entry level security certification, then you’ll be pleased to know the Security+ is an approved IAT Level 2 or IAM Level 1 DoD 8570/8140 baseline certification satisfying your agency’s certification requirements.
Because Security+ professionals can take their careers in just about any direction, they can obtain positions ranging from junior analyst roles, where you’ll be responsible for assisting network administrators, to mid-level cyber security specialists who will help protect a company’s information systems, often with major budgeting responsibilities.
In short, if a company has an IT infrastructure, there’s a very good chance they need qualified cybersecurity professionals, and there’s no doubt that a Security+ can help promote that qualification.
CompTIA Security+ Certification Requirements
There’s no formal education required for taking the CompTIA Security+ exam, but you do need to be aware that this exam is not designed for absolute newcomers to cybersecurity.
There are many questions on the exam related to networking and network security concepts, so you might be better off attempting the CompTIA Network+ certification first.
And, while there’s no experience required to take the Security+ exam, CompTIA does recommend that you have a minimum of two years IT security related experience.
CompTIA Security+ Exam Structure
As of the date of this article, there are currently two versions of the exam, SY0-501…the older exam and SY0-601…the newer version.
I suggest you take the exam that you were originally intending to take and are most comfortable with; however, that’s totally up to you.
To give you a quick overview of the SY0-601 exam structure:
It’s a 90-minute exam with 90 multiple choice and performance-based questions with a passing score of 750 out of 900.
The exam consists of five domains with the following concentrations in each.
|Domain 1: Attacks, Threats, and Vulnerabilities (24%)|
|Domain 2: Architecture and Design (21%)|
|Domain 3: Implementation (25%)|
|Domain 4: Operations and Incident Response (16%)|
|Domain 5: Governance, Risk, and Compliance (14%)|
I won’t waste space listing the details of the entire exam here; however, I provided for you the exam objectives and a sample 10-question practice test.
In it you’ll find a comprehensive list of each of the subdomains which are then further broken down to the exact topic being covered.
The questions aren’t given to help you study, there simply there to help you understand how the questions on the exam are structured and give you a feel for how the real exam should look.
Together, they’re both a great way to understand the totality of what’s being covered and whether you’re up to the task.
CompTIA Security+ Exam Costs
The price of just the exam itself is $381 USD.
This doesn’t include any of the study guides, practice exams, labs, or any other training materials.
Now, if you’re going to spend the money on the exam, there’s no point in taking the exam without also having the relevant study materials available.
The most effective way to prepare for any IT certification is by working through practice tests and taking advantage of the various learning tools.
Traditionally, students have gotten by with just the study guide $159 USD and practice exams $199.
So, if you don’t do anything else, the study guide and practice exams are an absolute must.
However, if you want the full experience and have the money to spend, you can also purchase the CertMaster Learn for $529 USD, the CertMaster Labs for $199 USD, or you can just opt for the $2,499 USD Online Instructor-Led Training which basically includes everything.
CertMaster Learn is the elearning / online learning platform that lets you go through videos, flash cards, performance-based questions, and even has a practice test included.
CertMaster Labs lets you practice your knowledge in a virtual environment which may be helpful for those that need more of a hands-on approach to learning. For the price you pay and the experience you gain, this is definitely an affordable third option.
You can purchase all the exam materials ala-carte, but the wiser thing would be to take advantage of CompTIA’s Security+ Certification Exam Bundles.
If you just stick with the study guide and practice exam, you should be able to save a bit of money by purchasing the “Exam Prep Bundle” for $699 which includes the two I mentioned plus an exam voucher and exam retake voucher, just in case.
Maintaining the Security+ Certification
Unless you were one of the lucky few to pass the “Good-for-Life” version of the Security+ all those years ago, the certificate you’ll receive only remains valid for 3 years from the date you pass your certification exam.
You may already be aware that most security certification programs require either recertification or by obtaining continuing professional education or continuing education units (CPE/CEU) to maintain your certification, that’s if you don’t want your Security+ certificate to expire in 3 years and have to retest…ouch!
Using CompTIA’s continuing education (CE) program, you can renew your Security+ cert and extend it for additional three-year period by paying the $150 USD maintenance fee plus recording any of the “units” you accumulate.
Usually these CPE/CEU’s are granted for attending various training sessions, or other security-related activities as prescribed by CompTIA.
Luckily, CompTIA requires the Security+ certificate holder to submit only 50 CEUs for every three-year cycle, which is significantly less than other types of certificates.
The good thing about earning your CEUs is that there are so many options, there’s no excuse not to find an activity that suits your learning style.
Just capture all your CEUs the first year, pay your maintenance fee, and your set for the next three years!
CompTIA Security+ Exam Preparation
Exam preparation is very much a personal choice.
CompTIA offers multiple choices that I previously touched upon and is suited to offer different learning styles for different people.
Some people prefer the traditional style of book reading, others prefer learning by trial and error, so they take practice tests, others learn via hands-on practice.
And then there’s having to decide between self-taught vs instructor led.
Self-Study options can allow you to take as much time as you need to complete all of the materials, whether that’s weeks, months or even years.
On the other hand instructor-led training has its own advantages as you get trained in a dynamic learning environment with the supervision of qualified instructors. Only the instructor-led training offered by CompTIA is an online learning environment. There may be authorized training centers that offer in-person training sessions.
If you’re interested in pursuing CompTIA certification, the first thing to do is figure out what learning style suits you best.
It’s worth considering all the available study methods before making a decision on which one works for you.
Certainly, some methods are cheaper than others and you may have to select a method to fit your budget; but at the end of the day, it all comes down to whatever method you feel most comfortable with and will help you pass the certification with the highest score.
By the way, when it comes to certifications, I ALWAYS recommend the official practice and study guide materials, or those that have been officially authorized, as no other source is the authority. The test is always subject to change, and you’ll never know if any unauthorized training materials or facilities are updated to reflect such changes, so it’s best to stick with what’s been authorized by CompTIA.
In today’s article we talked about the Security+ certification, the advantage of having this prestigious certification and where it leads, the structure of the exam and certification requirements, how much the exam and supporting material costs, the methods of preparing for this exam, and whether the exam is worth your time.
The Sec+ certification is an industry-standard designed to validate your knowledge of IT security and is certainly a must-have for any IT professional looking to work in cyber security.
Earning a CompTIA Security+ cert opens more job opportunities across the economic spectrum including professionals working with government agencies or the military.
And while Security+ is not a substitute for real-world experience, it is an essential tool in developing that expertise and getting your foot in the door. It’ll set you apart from other candidates during an already competitive job search and can help you secure an entry level cybersecurity job.
by Amit Doshi
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