Part of:

CISSP CISM CISA: What’s the Difference Between Security Certification

Why Trust Techopedia

A security certification is a sought-after qualification in the IT job market. Evaluating which is best for you is the first step. 

Technological innovations evolve at varying rates, with some thriving and growing while others disappear. It can be difficult to predict which technologies will drive change in the future. One thing you can be sure about is the importance of change and adaptation in our increasingly dynamic lives.

The central place of the internet in our world and the deep shifts in society it brought about have created an opportunity to reinvent every industry. Well-qualified people are critical to this process, and so is implementing successful business practices.

However, companies and organizations across all business sectors reliant on employees with relevant IT and Security skills are struggling to fill critical roles. This talent gap can be felt worldwide, and governments, educational institutions, and businesses are taking steps to close it.

Moreover, existing employees with the discipline and willingness to learn new skills and who have gained a good working knowledge of IT may find themselves at an advantage in the recruitment process. Employers are looking to hire candidates prepared to develop themselves further via professional certification or higher education to help close this skills shortage. (Read also: Into the Future: The Outlook for Tech Careers.)

If you're an IT professional looking for a career change or a promotion, consider getting a master's degree in information technology. Opportunities to take up specialist and senior roles in information security exist, such as Cybersecurity SOC Analysis, InfoSec Management, Audit, and many others.

Scan current job postings, and you will discover many similar roles. Take note of the qualifications required for each role; it's usually: Degree, CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), CISM (Certified Information Security Manager), or CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor).


According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fields of computer and information technology are expected to grow at a rate of 11% in the next 10 years and the median salary is $91,250, which is nearly double that of annual wages for all occupations.

Why Is It Important to Have a Security Certificate?

In the cybersecurity world, it's not just what you know; it's how you know it. Organizations increasingly use recruitment services to vet potential candidates before offering them a position, utilize automated processes to sieve through resumes and reject candidates without the appropriate qualifications. (Read also: Smart HR: How AI is Transforming Talent Acquisition.)

Candidates with a strong academic background and relevant security certifications will be passed to hiring managers for further consideration. This ensures that businesses can hire the most qualified personnel to fill their key positions, allowing them to maintain a competitive advantage as they strive to become more secure in an ever-changing technological world that is always at risk from threat actors.

What is the difference between CISSP, CISM and CISA?

Each of these certifications is globally recognized and is widely considered top tier, with employers actively seeking out potential candidates who have attained one of these three certifications. If you are already working in a security-related field and have the burning desire to progress your career prospects, getting one of these three certifications will put you in a strong position to take your career to the next level.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional

(ISC)2's CISSP is one of the most respected credentials in information security and is often referred to as the Gold Standard in cybersecurity. CISSP is designed to provide information security professionals with a solid understanding of industry best practices and how to implement them.

Candidates who take the CISSP exam must have a minimum of five years of cumulative paid work experience in two or more of the eight domains of the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK). Earning a four-year college degree, regional equivalent, or an additional credential will satisfy one year of the required experience. Without the required experience to become a CISSP, passing the exam will certify you as an Associate. The Associate will then have a six-year window to gain the required five years of work experience.

Certified Information Security Manager

ISACA's CISM demonstrates mastery in information security management with hands-on capabilities. This certification is designed for experienced information security managers with the proven ability to design, implement, and manage an information security program. CISM holders are well-versed in risk identification, assessment, mitigation, policy development, management, and regulatory compliance. A 2-year waiver is available if you have earned either a CISSP, CISA, or a Post-graduate degree in information security or a related field.

Certified Information Systems Auditor

ISACA's CISA demonstrates the ability to audit and manage information systems. This qualification focuses on internal controls, information systems, telecommunications, and networks. However, CISA candidates should also be well versed in the cybersecurity side of things and understand how security impacts overall business controls.

Similar to the CISM requirements, a minimum of 5-years of professional information systems auditing, control or security work experience is required for certification. According to ISACA, substitutions and waivers may be obtained for a maximum of 3 years as follows:

  • A maximum of 1-year of information systems experience OR 1-year of non-IS auditing experience can be substituted for 1-year experience.
  • 60 to 120 completed university semester credit hours (the equivalent of a 2-year or 4-year degree) not limited by the 10-year preceding restriction can be substituted for 1 or 2 years, respectively, of experience.
  • A master's degree in information security or information technology from an accredited university can be substituted for 1-year experience.

How many should a person have, or is one enough?

Suppose you’re thinking about how many certifications a person should have. In that case, it's worth pointing out that the three certifications complement each other.

Candidates will often earn the CISSP first, then the CISM and CISA to deepen their understanding of information security.

In addition, if you are an auditor with a security interest, then the CISA would be an obvious certification. Likewise, CISM would fit the bill if you have been practicing as a security analyst and want to move into a leadership role in information security management to support the organization's business initiatives.

With technology always on the move, there's always something new to learn.

You may find candidates with a Master's of IT and either one or all three of the certifications discussed working in the roles listed:

  • Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Information Officer, Director of Security, IT Director/Manager.
  • Security Systems Engineer, Security Analyst, Security Manager, Security Auditor.
  • Security Architect, Security Consultant, Network Architect.

What does earning a security certification entail?

There are several study paths to follow, each with pros and cons – find what best suits your lifestyle and circumstances. Achieving any one of these certifications requires regular, planned study time. That means setting time aside, switching the TV off, and immersing yourself in the world of technology and academic study.

Keep in mind, obtaining a security certification can enable you to earn an above-average income and provide employment stability and an opportunity for a rewarding career. (Read also: Top 5 Highest Paying IT Certifications and How to Get Them.)


IT professionals who've earned any of these three certifications, plus a Master’s in Information Technology can use their education to distinguish themselves from the competition.

Earning your MSIT degree online from the University of Cincinnati is a convenient option for working IT professionals who want to advance their careers.

The program provides flexibility for working professionals with classes scheduled in the evenings and weekends, and UC's online learning environment provides students with a dynamic and interactive community.

Learn more about the UC Online Experience and what you can expect from a UC Online course.

Special thanks to UC student Daniel Glover for his help and insights for this article!


Related Reading

Related Terms

John Meah
Cybersecurity Expert
John Meah
Cybersecurity Expert

John is a skilled freelance writer who combines his writing talent with his cybersecurity expertise. He holds an equivalent level 7 master's degree in cybersecurity and a number of prestigious industry certifications, such as PCIP, CISSP, MCIIS, and CCSK. He has spent over two decades working in IT and information security within the finance and logistics business sectors. This experience has given John a profound understanding of cybersecurity practices, making his tech coverage on Techopedia particularly insightful and valuable. He has honed his writing skills through courses from renowned institutions like the Guardian and Writers Bureau UK.