Certifications / Cloud

Is the AWS Security Specialist Cert Worth It?

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Published on January 11, 2022

Is the AWS Security Specialty Worth it?

Asking whether any IT certification is worth it is a difficult question to answer. It depends on what the certification is and why you want it. For instance, the CompTIA A+ certification is a must-have for anyone trying to break into the IT industry. But, on the other hand, something like the PCEP-30 (Python certification) is best used as a learning experience rather than a demonstration of knowledge. So, it seems reasonable to ask if the AWS Security Specialty is worth it. That is precisely what we will discuss in this article.

What is the AWS Security Specialty?

The AWS Security Specialty certification is an intermediate certification offered by Amazon for IT professionals that test and demonstrate that an IT professional has the knowledge and capability to deploy and secure AWS cloud resources.

The AWS Security Specialty specifically focuses on:

  • Specialized data classifications in AWS

  • AWS data protection mechanisms

  • What data encryption methods are available in AWS

  • How to implement data encryption methods in AWS

  • Which secure internet protocols AWS offers and how to implement them

  • Knowledge of AWS security services

  • Competency checks for understanding the trade-offs between costs, how complex a deployment strategy might be, and security

  • Security operations and risk management in a cloud environment

AWS recommends that you have at least two years of experience working with security protocols inside of AWS before attempting the AWS Security Specialty certification. Amazon also recommends that you understand how security controls work with workloads in AWS. In addition, it is good to have at least five years of experience in the IT industry designing and implementing security solutions.

The certification test costs $300 USD, consists of 75 multi-choice or multiple response questions, and takes 170 minutes. The certification test for the AWS Security Specialty is proctored at either a licensed testing center or online.

What Does the AWS Security Specialty Test?

The AWS Security Specialty exam tests for working knowledge of security best practices with AWS products. Please think of this certification like the CompTIA Security+ certification, except it is specific to AWS. As a result, much of what you learn for the Security+ accreditation will apply to the AWS Security Specialty test.

The AWS Security Specialty certification will test participants to see how to implement security protocols in AWS products. Amazon includes a wide array of tools for enterprise-grade security operations. Unfortunately, these security protocols are not often easy to configure.

For example, suppose you need to deploy a HIPAA compliant server in AWS. In that case, you need to understand how to provision an independent server and encrypt all data at rest on it. You couldn’t use your standard EC2 instance for this. Likewise, you need to understand how to secure all communications coming in and out of that server.

What if you need to use one of Amazon’s managed database services? How do you secure data on those managed database products while still being HIPAA or HITECH compliant?

Of course, those questions are only rhetorical and meant to give you enough pause to understand what kind of operations this certificate covers. Though the AWS Security Specialty certification covers security far beyond HIPAA and HITECH compliance, having a working knowledge of the security mechanisms that AWS offers will make deploying secure workloads easier. You should also be able to understand the cost of deploying secure workloads against using non-secure environments.

How Much Does the AWS Security Specialty Exam Cost?

The AWS Security Specialty costs $300 USD. It consists of 65 multiple choice and multiple answer questions. Candidates will have 170 minutes to complete the exam. The AWS Security Specialty exam can be taken at one of numerous licensed testing locations or online.

What Experience Do You Need for the AWS Security Specialty?

The AWS Security Specialty certification is a mid-tier certification. Therefore, you will need prior IT experience to be able to pass the exam for this cert.

AWS recommends that you have at least two years of experience working with AWS security protocols. This includes things like configuring web application firewalls, adding encryption layers to data, securing data in products like S3 and EC2, configuring secure networking between AWS products, configuring IAM policies, implementing proper access control mechanisms and more.

You should also have five years or more of IT experience. Your professional IT experience should include a general working knowledge of cyber security operations. For example, it will help if you have experience with encryption, segmenting networks, configuring firewalls, configuring antivirus policies, implementing access control, etc…

Who Should Take the AWS Security Specialty?

The AWS Security Specialty certification is a broad certification surrounding security inside of the AWS ecosystem. So, it would seem evident that any IT professional who works with AWS would benefit from this certification. Nonetheless, there are a few job titles that benefit from AWS certifications more than others.

For instance, if you are a cloud engineer, the AWS Security Specialty certification is for you. A cloud engineer’s entire job is to build and maintain cloud-specific infrastructure. That means deploying products and services that meet the organization’s needs most cost-effectively and securely. That process isn’t always easy. There are a lot of stakeholders and procedures that need to be considered when building an IT infrastructure. Deploying your IT environment in the cloud is more straightforward than building it out on-premise. Still, cloud products require extra care when securing them.

DevOps engineers benefit significantly from the AWS Security Specialty certification as well. One of the biggest goals for development operations is to automate and streamline as much of the building, testing, and deployment phases as possible. AWS has a lot of good products geared explicitly towards DevOps. For example, AWS can automatically pull and push code from a git repository. Still, it can also ensure that the deployment of that code adheres to strict guidelines. As a result, the entire DevOps toolchain can be secure from development to production with AWS.

Finally, system administrators may want the AWS Security Specialty certification, too. Where cloud engineers focus on building cloud infrastructures, system administrators need to deploy, manage, and support both on-premise and cloud-based IT infrastructure. This includes user management and training as well. A lot of businesses are moving their IT systems to the cloud in a hybrid environment. Sysadmins need to understand how to make that cloud architecture operate and securely communicate with on-premise architecture.

Of course, these are not the only IT positions that benefit from this certification. These are only three examples. Many other IT positions could benefit from earning this AWS cert, too.

Is the AWS Security Specialty Worth It?

So, is the AWS Security Specialty worth it? Suppose you are an IT person that works with cloud providers. In that case, the AWS Security Specialty certificate is very much worth the effort to obtain.

First, studying for and learning the disciplines needed to earn the AWS Security Specialty cert will teach you a lot about securing the cloud environment while weighing costs and complexity. Even though AWS is the most popular cloud service, the simple truth is that Microsoft’s Azure and Google Cloud Compute (the following two largest cloud providers) work very similarly to AWS.

Likewise, the whole point of certification is to prove that you have a specific skill set and understand how to use it. In this case, that skill set is being able to secure AWS products and services. Because AWS is the largest cloud provider in the world, there’s a good chance that having this certificate will come in handy in the future, even if your current employer doesn’t require it.

If you are a couple of years into your IT career, you may want to start thinking about studying for the AWS Security Specialty. It is a certification that will teach you a lot of new skills and serve as a great centerpiece to your resume. Learn AWS Security Specialty today with CBT Nuggets!


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