Discover the key to advancing your career in the ever-evolving field of network security with our comprehensive guide to the top network security certifications in the industry.
Not so long ago, most businesses never worried so much about network security, after all there was no compelling need to.
However, with the rapid increase in technology and the widespread use of the internet for business operations, the danger of cyber threats has become a significant concern. This is why organizations of all sizes are now prioritizing network security.
This prioritization also means that companies are aggressively looking for the most competent network security professionals. How do they distinguish and recruit the most qualified? One approach that has proven successful is through certification.
But in a world of a «million» options and only a few thorough ones, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and money if you started your journey by taking note of the top ones — and this is what this guide is about.
At IT Companies Network, we have the advantage of interacting and working with highly placed decision makers and stakeholders in the network security field. This has certainly given us that rare understanding of what companies consider when hiring network security experts for different roles. We are also deeply privy to the kind of credentials that organizations look for when shopping for cybersecurity services.
We always take great pleasure in using our experience and lessons to help our readers make the best decisions possible in their career or business. With this in mind, we are ecstatic to share with you what we consider to be truly the top network security certifications.
We’ve also included essential tips, for example how to choose the right certification and tricks to help you pass the exams.
What is network security and why is it valuable?
Network security refers to the set of technologies, processes, and practices designed to protect a computing network and its resources from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction. It aims to secure the network infrastructure and its data by protecting it from both external and internal threats.
Network security is more important than ever in today's interconnected world, as more and more sensitive information is being transmitted over networks.
Here is a quick glance at some of the top specific reasons why network security is increasingly becoming so important:
- Protecting sensitive information: Networks are used to transmit and store large amounts of sensitive information, such as financial data, personal information, and confidential business information. Proper network security ensures that this information is protected from unauthorized access and theft.
- Maintaining business continuity: With the right network security protocols in place, a company's operations can continue in the event of a security breach or a disruption. This helps to minimize downtime and the impact on the company's bottom line.
- Compliance with regulations: Many industries are subject to regulations that require companies to implement certain security measures and protect sensitive information. Network security helps companies to comply with these regulations and avoid costly fines. Common examples include HIPAA and PCI DSS
- Protecting reputation: A network security breach can have serious consequences for a company's reputation, as customers may lose trust in the company's ability to protect their sensitive information.. But with strong network security, the risk of reputational damage reduces drastically.
If you are new to the field of network security, please check out these comprehensive benefits of network security.
The critical components that make up network security
Network security can be as vast depending on the size of the company or the complexity of the infrastructure. But these here are the typical components that you’ll normally encounter in a typical organization’s network security infrastructure.
Firewalls act as a barrier between a company's internal network and the public internet. They protect against unauthorized access to the network, and can be configured to block specific types of traffic, such as incoming traffic from known malicious IP addresses. Firewalls can also be used to restrict access to specific parts of the network, based on the user's role and permissions.
There are different types of firewalls available, including hardware firewalls, software firewalls, and cloud-based firewalls..
2. Antivirus software
Antivirus software protects against malicious software, such as viruses, worms, and Trojans. It works by scanning files and network traffic for known malware signatures, and can also be configured to scan for potentially harmful behavior, such as changes to system files. The software can be run on individual computers or on a central server, and can be updated automatically to protect against the latest threats.
In addition to traditional antivirus software, companies may also use other security technologies, such as intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS) and sandboxing, to protect against malware. IDS/IPS systems monitor network traffic for signs of malicious activity and can be configured to block specific types of traffic. Sandboxing is a security technique that isolates potentially harmful software in a secure environment, where it can be analyzed and tested, without posing a threat to the rest of the network.
Encryption protects sensitive information as it is transmitted over the network or stored. It works by transforming data into a code that can only be decrypted with a secret key.
For example, encrypted email services can be used to encrypt emails and protect them from unauthorized access. Encryption can also be used to protect data at rest, such as on a laptop or mobile device, by encrypting the entire disk or specific files and folders.
4. Access controls
Access controls ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive information and network resources. The controls can be configured to grant different levels of access based on the user's role and permissions, and can include technologies, such as passwords, smart cards, and biometric authentication.
In addition to traditional access controls, companies may also use other technologies, such as multi-factor authentication, to further enhance security. Multi-factor authentication requires users to provide multiple forms of authentication, such as a password and a smart card or biometric authentication.
5. Incident response and reporting
Incident response refers to the process of identifying, containing, and resolving security incidents, such as data breaches or unauthorized access to sensitive information. Reporting involves documenting incidents, analyzing their cause and impact, and communicating the results to stakeholders.
A well-defined incident response plan enables companies to respond fast to security incidents, reducing their impact and helping to prevent future incidents.
Incident reporting also provides organizations with valuable information about the types of incidents that are occurring, the causes, and the impact. This information can be used to improve the overall security posture of the network, by addressing known vulnerabilities and implementing preventative measures.
What is a network security certification?
Network security certification is a professional recognition given to professionals who have demonstrated their expertise and knowledge in the field of network security, by passing relevant examinations. The certification validates the professional’s ability to understand and apply the latest network security technologies, practices, and standards in order to protect and secure organizations’ networks.
These certifications are usually awarded by organizations that specialize in information security and are recognized globally as a benchmark of competency in the field of network security.
A network security certification can help professionals build their careers, increase their earning potential, and demonstrate their commitment to the industry.
Top network security certifications
Here now are the top network security certifications that are in high demand among professionals who are looking to specialize in the network security field at the highest level of their chosen line.
These certifications are in very high demand because companies are likely to give a lot of weight to professionals who have acquired the certifications, depending on the type of role they are hiring for.
Whether you are an aspiring IT professional or simply looking to expand your knowledge and build a business, one of these certifications can advance your profile in the realm of network security.
Please note that the order of this list does not suggest any kind of ranking in terms of importance.
1. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) is a popular certification that is designed to demonstrate an individual's knowledge and skills in ethical hacking and penetration testing. The certification was created by the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants (EC-Council), a leading information security organization that provides various certifications, training programs, and conferences for information security professionals.
To recertify, you must have earned 120 credits during the validity period)
The CEH certification covers a wide range of topics related to ethical hacking, including mobile security, cloud security, internet of things (IoT) security, and more. It also covers various techniques and methodologies used by ethical hackers to identify and exploit network vulnerabilities in a target system, such as reconnaissance, scanning, enumeration, social engineering, and exploitation.
The CEH certification exam is designed to test the candidate’s ability to apply ethical hacking methodologies, tools, and techniques in real-world scenarios.
Training for the certification takes 5 days where 20 modules are covered. You will be exposed to over 3500 hacking tools and learn hacking tricks on multiple operating systems.
The exam is divided into two sections: The Knowledge Exam and the Practical Exam. The Knowledge Exam consists of 125 multiple choice questions and lasts 4 hours. The Practical Exam takes 6 hours and consists of 20 scenarios where you will be required to prove your capabilities. The passing score is 70%.
2. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is a globally recognized information security certification that is designed to validate a professional’s knowledge and skills in information security. The certification is developed and maintained by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, also known as (ISC)², a non-profit organization that focuses on providing education and certification in the field of information security.
International System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)²
To recertify, you must have attained 120 hour CPE credits during the validity period
The CISSP certification exam covers eight domains as follows:
- Security and Risk Management (15%)
- Asset Security (10%)
- Security Architecture and Engineering (13%)
- Communication and Network Security (13%)
- Identity and Access Management (IAM) (13%)
- Security Assessment and Testing (12%)
- Security Operations (13%)
- Software Development Security (11%)
The examination consists of 250 items which are a mix of multiple choice and advanced questions. The pass score is 700 out of 1000 points. In terms of languages, the examination is available in English, Chinese, German, Korean, Japanese, and Spanish.
If you don't have the requisite work experience, you can still do the exam and become an ISC² associate as you pursue the work experience.
(ISC)² runs a certified members program where members pay an annual membership fee of $125, regardless of the number of certifications one has. Associates on the other hand pay $50 annual membership fee.
3. Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)
The Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP) is ideal for those who need an in-depth understanding of cloud security models and protocols. It focuses specifically on cloud security, including topics such as encryption principles, cloud architecture, and designing secure clouds.
It also covers fundamental cloud-based computing tasks like operations, communications, testing, auditing, and governance.
International System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)²
To recertify you must have accumulated 90 credits during this period as well as pay all applicable maintenance fees
The CCSP certification is particularly suitable for those keen to work in the following positions”
- Cloud Architect
- Cloud Engineer
- Cloud Consultant
- Cloud Administrator
- Cloud Security Analyst
- Cloud Specialist
- Auditor of Cloud Computing Services
- Professional Cloud Developer
The CCSP examination tests a candidate's competencies in the following six areas, which are essentially the topics you need to work on as you prepare for the exam:
- Cloud Concepts, Architecture and Design
- Cloud Data Security
- Cloud Platform & Infrastructure Security
- Cloud Application Security
- Cloud Security Operations
- Legal, Risk and Compliance
The exam duration is 4 hours where you will be examined on 150 items, all multiple choice questions. The passing score is 700 out of 1000 items. The examination is available in English, Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. The examination is conducted by Pearson VUE, online or their Testing Center.
4. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
The Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) is designed to ensure that professionals working in information security and auditing have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their duties effectively. The certification requires applicants to pass a rigorous exam that covers topics such as audit processes, risk management, security controls, and compliance.
$760 (non members)
To recertify, you must have accumulated 120 hour credits during this period as well as pay all applicable annual maintenance fee
According to ISACA's own statistics, 70% of the professionals who have acquired this certification have experienced improved performance in their roles while 22% have received a pay increase.
The certification covers the following areas:
- Information systems auditing process
- Protection of information assets
- Information systems acquisition, development and implementation
- Information systems operations & business resilience
- Governance and management of information technology
The examination is offered in English, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish.
5. COBIT 5 Certification Training
COBIT 5 (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology) is a framework for managing and governing enterprise IT. COBIT 5 provides a comprehensive and integrated set of guidelines, processes, practices, and models for effective IT governance and management.
No strict formal qualifications, but you must have recognizable experience in IT.
COBIT 5 is suitable for business managers, IT governance professionals, IT management consultants, and auditors.
Some of the topics you'll learn include:
- IT governance concepts and benefits
- COBIT 5 framework, principles, and enablers
- Relationship between stakeholder needs and governance
- Implementation approach for using COBIT 5
- Structure of COBIT 5 process reference model
- Governance and management domains
- Components of COBIT 5 processes
- Need for capability assessments
Training takes three days to complete.
6. CompTIA Network+
This entry-level certification is recognized worldwide and teaches the basics of computer networking plus safety protocols. With this credential, you can build your expertise and become a sought-after specialist in this field.
Renewable through training, recertification exams, or completing several relevant activities as specified by CompTIA
The certification covers a wide range of topics related to network architecture, network operations, network security, and network troubleshooting, making it a comprehensive certification for individuals who work in network administration, network support, and network engineering roles.
The Network+ credential will provide you with a foundational understanding of how networks work and how to protect them from various threats.
The certification is recognized globally as a standard of excellence for network technicians and administrators. It is accepted by a wide range of employers in the IT industry and is highly valued in the job market.
The certification earns you these top skills:
- Networking Fundamentals
- Network Implementations
- Network Troubleshooting
- Network Operations
- Network Security
Top companies have sponsored their employees to undertake this certification. Some of the companies include HP, RICOH, Verizon, Intel, Dell and Apple.
The certification is suited for professionals working in the following jobs:
- Network Engineer
- Cable Technician
- Junior Network Administrator
- System Administrator
- Datacenter Support Technician
- NOC Technician
The examination consists of 90 multiple choice and performance based questions and takes 90 minutes to complete. In terms of languages, the examination is available in English, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. The testing provider is Pearson VUE.
7. CompTIA+ Security+
The CompTIA+ Security+ certification is an internationally recognized certification, designed to help anyone working in IT security prove their expertise in this field. As one of the most popular certifications for those aspiring to become network security professionals, it's definitely worth your time and effort to get this one under your belt.
No strict requirements, but CompTIA recommends two or more years of IT administration experience, with a focus on security, as well as earn CompTIA's Network+ certification.
You can renew through training, recertification exams, or completing several relevant activities as specified by CompTIA
You'll learn the following top skills:
- Architecture and Design
- Operations and Incident Response
- Governance, Risk and Compliance
Some of the jobs where hiring managers are likely to ask for CompTIA Security+ include:
- Security Administrator
- IT Auditors
- DevOps / Software Developer
- Systems Administrator
- Security Engineer / Analyst
- Network / Cloud Engineer
- Helpdesk Manager / Analyst
The examination consists of 90 multi choice and performance based questions. The duration of the exam is 90 minutes and is available in English, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Portuguese.
8. Certified Information Security Manager (MISC)
The Certified Information Security Manager recognizes the knowledge and skills of individuals in the field of information security management. The certification focuses on the management and leadership aspects of information security and covers topics such as risk management, information security program development and management, and incident response.
Five years of experience in information security within the decade. Three years must be in management experience across information security.
Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
$575 for members
$760 for no members
Renewable with 120 continuing professional education (CPE) credits and payment of maintenance fees
According to ISACA, 70% of the professionals who have acquired this certification have realized remarkable improvement in terms of experience in their jobs. On the other hand, 42% have received a pay increase!
What will you learn?
- Information security governance
- Information security program
- Incident management
- Information security risk management
9. Advanced Security Practitioner (ASP)
The Advanced Security Practitioner (ASP) certification is designed for those who wish to go beyond the basics and develop an advanced understanding of network security principles.
This certification is suitable for experienced network administrators and engineers, as well as IT professionals looking to stay on top of the latest trends in network security.
Renewable with at least 75 CEU (Continuing Education Units)
This certification covers a wide range of topics, including cryptography, malware defense, packet inspection and advanced techniques for analyzing threats. With this certification you'll learn how to create secure systems that protect against malicious attacks and prevent data breaches.
Benefits of acquiring the ASP certification include:
- Learn how to identify weaknesses in your network infrastructure and design effective defenses
- Understand cutting-edge concepts such as cloud security, IoT security, mobile device security and more
- Gain an edge over other IT professionals in the competitive job market
- Boost value when seeking new networking roles or negotiating salary increases
- Get access to exclusive webinars & virtual labs
- Stay at the forefront of emerging technologies & best practices
According to CompTIA, this is the only certification that enables technical leaders to assess an enterprise's security readiness, design and implement the correct solutions.
The certification is ISO 17024 compliant and is approved by the US DoD.
The Advanced Security Practitioner is ideal for professionals working in jobs such as Senior Security Engineer, SOC Manager, Security Architect and Security Analyst.
The examination is provided by Pearson VUE and comprises 90 multi-choice and performance based questions, lasting 165 minutes. The test has no pass mark. It's either you pass or fail. It's available in English, Japanese to follow.
10. GIAC Incident Handler Certification
The GIAC Incident Handler Certification is designed to help the certified professionals address cyber security incidents on the network in the most effective way possible — and that means having knowledge and understanding of networks, system analysis, incident response, digital forensics, securing computer networks and more.
Relevant experience or training in the security field.
Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
Average exam cost
Renewable with 36 credits accumulated over this period
This certification covers the key concepts, processes, and techniques involved in incident response and focuses on areas such as incident handling, threat analysis, and incident response planning. It is designed for individuals who work in the field of cybersecurity and are responsible for responding to security incidents.
The key areas covered include Incident Handling and Computer Crime Investigation, Computer and Network Hacker Exploits, Hacker Tools specifically Nmap, Metasploit and Netcat.
You’ll learn how to:
- Effectively respond to cyber security incidents
- Develop strategies for identifying and mitigating security threats
- Develop a framework for managing network security risks
- Create a plan for monitoring network traffic and responding to alerts
- Utilize digital forensics tools for recovering evidence
- Identify potential malicious activity on networks
- Deploy remediation tactics for preventing future incidents
- Formulate an effective incident response plan
The certification is suitable for those working as Incident handlers, Incident handling team leads, System administrators, Security architects and any security personnel that are first responders.
The exam consists of 106 questions and lasts 4 hours. The passing score is 70%.
11. GIAC Security Essentials certification (GSEC)
For those looking for a versatile security certification, the GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) is a great option. This certification is appropriate for any IT professional involved in the day-to-day security operations of an organization. The GSEC certification provides you with a broad base of knowledge to build upon, and it also meets various industry requirements and standards.
Relevant experience or training in the security field.
Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
Average exam cost
Renewable with 36 credits obtained during this period
The examination consists of 106-189 questions, lasts 4-5 hours and the passing score is 73%.
This certification covers topics like:
- Cryptography ( basic concepts, algorithms and deployment)
- AWS fundamentals and Microsoft cloud
- Linux fundamentals, hardening and securing
- Data loss prevention
- Web communication security
- Endpoint security
- Defensible network architecture
- Network devices and protocols
- Risk analysis and management
GIAC is known for its rigorous certification standards and is widely recognized in the industry as a trusted provider of cybersecurity certifications.
Tips to pass network security certification exams
Passing network security certification exams requires a combination of preparation, focus, and effective test-taking strategies. Here are some tips to help you succeed:
- Study the exam content thoroughly: Make sure you understand the exam objectives and the types of questions you will encounter. Familiarize yourself with the format and style of the exam, and practice answering questions in a timed setting to simulate the real exam experience.
- Practice with practice exams: Utilize practice exams and study materials to reinforce your understanding of the exam content and to identify areas where you need additional practice.
- Use mnemonics and acronyms: Mnemonics and acronyms can help you remember key concepts and facts that are frequently tested.
- Manage your time effectively: Network security certification exams are timed, so it is important that you manage your time effectively during the exam. Pace yourself and don't get bogged down on any one question. If you are unsure of an answer, move on to the next question and come back to it later if you have time.
- Eliminate obviously incorrect answers: When presented with multiple-choice questions, eliminate obviously incorrect answers to increase your chances of guessing correctly.
Why is network security certification so important?
- Demonstrates competence: Certification provides a formal recognition of a professional’s knowledge, skills, and experience. It demonstrates to employers and clients that you have the necessary skills and expertise to perform the job effectively.
- Increases credibility: Certification provides credibility to your qualifications and abilities. Employers and clients are more likely to trust and rely on a network security professional who holds a credible certification.
- Improves job prospects: The right certification can improve your job prospects and lead to career advancement. Most employers often consider certifications when making hiring and promotion decisions, and talent with certifications are often preferred over those without.
- Enhances professional growth: Certification programs often require continuous learning and development, which can help individuals stay current with the latest trends and advancements in their field. This can lead to personal growth and development, as well as improved job performance.
Choosing the right certification in network security: what should you consider?
As you evaluate different network security certification options, be keen to consider the alignment of the certification with your personal and professional goals. Is the certification relevant to your current role or the role you aspire to have in the future? Does the certification have a good reputation and is it widely recognized in the industry? These are important considerations that can influence the value of your certification in the long run.
It's also essential to keep an eye on the future of network security and the evolving needs of the industry. Choose a certification path that will not only meet your current needs but also equip you with the skills and knowledge required for future advancement in the field. A certification that is flexible and adaptable, and one that provides opportunities for continuous learning and growth, will be more valuable in the long run.
Here is a break down of the most important factors to consider:
- Relevance to your career goals: Consider the certification's relevance to your career goals and the type of network security job you hope to pursue.
- Reputation and credibility: Consider the reputation and credibility of the certification. Look for certifications that are recognized and respected in the industry. Research the experiences and opinions of other professionals who have earned the certification.
- Level of difficulty: Consider the level of difficulty of the certification and whether it is appropriate for your current skill level. Some certifications may require a higher level of experience and knowledge, while others may be more suitable for beginners.
- Continuing education requirements: Are there any continuing education requirements associated with the certification. Some certifications may require ongoing training or continuing education in order to maintain the certification.
- Cost: Consider the cost of the certification, including exam fees, study materials, and any associated costs. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the total cost before committing to the certification.
- Employer recognition: Is the certification recognized by your target potential employers? Will it be valued in the job market? Research the job postings for positions you are interested in and see if the certification is listed as a requirement or preferred qualification.
Top network security jobs in the US plus salaries
This list may not be exhaustive but overall gives a fair picture of the top network security jobs in the United States right now.
Network Security Job
Average Annual Salary (USD)
Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
Network Security Engineer
Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst
Digital Forensics Examiner
Network Security Administrator
Organizations of all sizes now rely on technology to operate and succeed, and the need for skilled professionals to secure these networks is only growing. With the increasing number of cyber attacks, data breaches, and other security threats, the importance of network security certification cannot be overstated.
According to a report by Cybersecurity Ventures, there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs globally by 2025, and the demand for certified professionals is only growing. Additionally, ISACA observes that certified professionals are more likely to earn higher salaries and are more likely to be promoted than their non-certified peers. With all these positives, it’s easy to see why network security certification is so popular
Most importantly, the pursuit of certification is more than just a means to an end. It is a journey of self-discovery and personal growth, where you have the opportunity to challenge yourself and expand your knowledge. By taking this journey, you will develop a deeper understanding of the complex network security environment — and ultimately excel.