CISA vs CISSP: Which One is Right for You?
| certifications | security - Erik Mikac

CISA vs CISSP: Which One is Right for You?

Both the CISA and CISSP certifications level up your security skills and can help you land a great job. Due to the ever increasing number of cyber attacks, a candidate with either certification would be highly valued. The CISSP and the CISA are vendor-neutral certifications, and are critically important for validating your IT security credentials. While there are certainly some similarities between the two, the focus of each cert is different.

A striking similarity between the two certifications, however, is the difficulty level of the exams. With that in mind, we’ll delve into both of the CISA and the CISSP to determine which one is right for you. After all, you want to take the exam that is most in line with your day-to-day operational duties. Additionally, this post will discuss who should get which cert, the core differences between the two, as well as their similarities.

CISA vs. CISSP

The CISSP, which stands for Certified Information Systems Security Professional, is focused primarily on information security, while the CISA is focused squarely on auditing IT systems. CISA stands for Certified Information System Auditor. The CISSP is governed by (ISC)2 , while CISA is governed by ISACA. The CISA consists of five domains, while the CISSP focuses on eight of them.

If you are a professional IT auditor, it would be best to get a CISA. If you are an IT cybersecurity professional, then it may be best to get the CISSP. However, as with everything else in life, determining which certification to earn can be a bit more nuanced than that.

One con to both certifications is that there is an annual fee associated with both of them. The CISA charges $45 a year, while the CISSP charges a whopping $125 a year. A pro associated with both certificates is that they are both approved by the United States government. So if you want a federal job, then you can’t go wrong with either of these certs.

The CISSP is generally considered the more difficult certification to get out of the two. Not only that, it is considerably more expensive. Let’s start by taking an in-depth look into the CISSP, and whether or not it is right for you.

What is the CISSP?

The CISSP is arguably the most prestigious IT security certification in existence. That is not hyperbole, the CISSP is a highly sought after cert. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cybersecurity jobs are growing at an astonishing rate — 31 percent through 2029. This means a candidate with a CISSP on their resume would be a shoo-in for a job. While the CISSP is a great certification to obtain, it may not be of much value to a junior software developer or a data analyst.

The CISSP is geared toward IT security professionals and their managers. In fact, if your day-to-day duties even hints at security, it is a 100% must. Earning a CISSP will greatly increase your odds of landing a new job, or getting promoted at your current organization. One thing to keep in mind though is that the CISSP requires five years of professional experience. So if you are green to IT security, then you may want to hold off on the exam for now. Now that we know who the cert is for, let’s get down to brass tacks and discuss price and difficulty.

The CISSP is as prestigious as it is difficult. The exam takes around four hours to complete (though you are provided six hours) and it’s around 125 questions long. A candidate taking the exam is expected to address the following eight domains:

  • Security and Risk Management
  • Asset Security
  • Security Architecture and Engineering
  • Communication and Network Security
  • Identity and Access Management
  • Security Assessment and Testing
  • Security Operations
  • Software Development Security

In addition to passing the exam, a candidate must have at least five years of experience in a cyber security related field. Not only that, but a (ISC)2  certification holder in good standing must endorse the candidate. Now that we’ve talked about the certification’s requirements, let’s discuss how it will affect your bottom line.

The CISSP is a whopping $700 per exam. You’ll see later that the CISA is considerably less. Do not let the price tag stymie your ambition, because the CISSP salary is over $125,000 a year. With a salary that high, a $700 price tag may not be too much to quibble about. Another thing worth mentioning is that most organizations are willing to reimburse employees who take the exam. Now let’s delve into the CISA.

What is the CISA?

If IT auditing is your bread and butter, then the CISA certification is for you. The CISA focuses squarely on auditing IT systems, and ensuring organizations are maintaining best practices with regards to data governance. Candidates vying for a CISA certification are generally those who conduct large scale audits or forensics on a corporate IT system. Professionals investigating fraud and other cyber related criminal activity will certainly benefit from a CISA as well.

Just like with the CISSP, a candidate aiming for a managerial position would greatly benefit from earning this certification. So there are certainly benefits to earning a CISA, but how difficult is it to become certified? Let’s find out.

The CISA is by no means easy, however, it is generally considered less demanding than the CISSP. The CISA covers the following five domains:

  • Information System Auditing and Processing
  • Governance and Management of IT
  • IS Acquisition, Development, and Implementation
  • IS Operations and Business Resilience
  • Protection of Information Assets

As you can see, the amount of domains in the CISA is considerably less than the CISSP. Additionally, there is considerable overlap between the certifications respective domains. It’s clear that CISA covers all major objectives of information system auditing, while the CISSP focuses on design and architectural implementation.

The CISA certification cost is considerably less than the CISSP. The CISA only costs $415 for ISACA members, and $575 for non-members. While that may seem expensive, the good news is that the average salary of a CISA-certified profession is well over 100,000 a year. With a salary that high, a $575 exam fee doesn’t seem like much after all.

While passing the exam may be the biggest obstacle to getting the certification, there are also numerous other requirements ISACA asks of their candidates. First off, and just like the CISSP, ISACA requires a CISA applicant to have at least five years of on-the-job experience. It is important to note that numerous waivers exist that can reduce the time needed in the field. For instance, a Master’s degree in an IT-related field can knock two years off the wait mandate.

ISACA wants to ensure that their certificate holders are truly the best in the field. After all, a certificate is only as good as the people who possess it. That is why ISACA requires all CISA-certified members to continue their training. They call this Continuous Profession Enhance (CPE) hours. All CISA holders are required to do at least twenty hours of CPE annually.

Luckily ISACA makes this easy, and has numerous ways of fulfilling these expectations. For instance, a certificate holder can go to an ISACA approved conference or training session. This will be logged as CPE time.

Final Thoughts

Which certification is right for you? The CISSP focuses more on information security. It is far more expensive, but commands a higher salary. The CISA on the other hand, focuses on auditing, is less expensive, and has far lower annual fees. If your job is to plan out the cyber security infrastructure of an organization, it may be best to focus on CISSP. If you are auditing an existing system, then CISA is definitely the way to go.

Remember that a proper auditing mechanism is the backbone of any IT company, so it would be remiss to claim that the CISSP is better than the CISA. Ultimately, both of these certifications would make you invaluable to your organization. So, whichever certification you choose is more than likely the right choice.

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