New Cisco Certs: CCNA CyberOps vs CCNP Security
NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect both the February 24, 2020 CCNP Security changes and also the more recent name and curriculum change to the CCNA CyberOps, now called the Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate certification. Cisco will retire the 210-250 SECFND and 210-255 SECOPS exams on May 28, 2020, and replace them with one exam, 200-201 CBROPS.
The Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate is regarded by many as a great starting point for cyber security professionals. For instance, it offers enough entry level fundamental concepts such as cryptography and Security Operations Center (SOC) basics. One of the best things about this cert is the fact that it doesn't have any prerequisites.
Why then think about earning Cisco CCNP Security certification? It doesn't seem like a valid comparison to the Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate at first glance. For one, CCNP certifications are more advanced and they've traditionally had steep requirements before candidates could take the CCNP exam. This is soon going to change though. More on that later.
Let's take a closer look at both of these certifications and discuss why you would choose one or the other.
Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate: Pros and Cons
For someone looking to break into cybersecurity, the Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate makes sense. It covers key concepts around Cisco hardware and software, but not in too much detail. Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate also teaches you about security operations and is a good way to land a junior analyst role in a SOC.
And because there are no requirements to go down the CyberOps path it means that you can jump straight to the 210-250 SECFND Security Fundamentals exam, which leans more toward security technologies such as host-based intrusion prevention systems, monitoring, and other hands-on technologies.
The second exam, 210-255 SECOPS, focuses on computer forensics and teaches candidates how to correlate data with suspicious activities and determine signs of an attack. It also covers skills relating to incident response and handling, and prepares candidates for roles built around cybersecurity principles.
Note that the new, streamlined 200-201 CBROPS exam goes live on May 29, 2020. The 200-201 CBROPS exam combines the two 90-minute exams into one 120-minute exam with greater emphasis on security concepts and analysis. While the new exam may have dropped the explicit exam objectives that cover networking fundamentals, expect any Cisco exam to require a good handle on those topics. That's particularly the case with network security certifications.
It is worth noting that the CyberOps Associate certification is terminal. That means that this is the furthest you can go with that particular security track. So, it could be somewhat of a dead end if you plan on using the certification as leverage to study further.
Bottom line, this cert helps you master the frame of mind that you need for a cybersecurity role. It's definitely a solid choice if you are starting out.
Cisco CCNP Security: Pros and Cons
If you haven't heard already, Cisco is revamping its certification program in February. We've got all the details right here. The way that the CCNP Security certification has been restructured means that you can take the CCNP Security (300-701 SCOR) exam with no prior certification, which is huge.
Breaking into CCNP territory would traditionally take much longer as you had to pass through several levels of CCNA exams to get there. After you have passed that exam, you can choose a specialization certification. This helps you to focus on an area in security that will take your career where you want it to go.
Figure Out Where You Want to Go
Knowing about certifications is one thing, but where do they get you? The end result of getting certified should be a job that you are going to enjoy and at the very least find challenging. As people that are trying to get into cybersecurity we need to think about the advantages of one certification over the other.
Exam difficulty shouldn't really be a deciding factor when you are looking at which certification path to take, but it is a factor. When comparing the CCNP Security with the Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate certifications we need to understand who each of them are aimed at. You might have gathered from the Associate-level Cisco Certified and CCNP designations on the exams that they are aimed at two very different experience levels.
If you get into cybersecurity with a junior analyst role, either of these certifications makes sense. Neither has a prerequisite exam, so you could jump right into one of these exam tracks for your first Cisco cert. If you are like myself, who recently earned CompTIA Sec+ certification, you could think about pursuing a SOC position where monitoring and analysis of logs is a big part of the job. This is a good starting point.
The Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate can provide the fundamental knowledge and skills needed to work in such an environment. It also goes more in-depth in areas such as incident response than the Security+ does. However, once you take both CyberOps exams (or one after May 2020), you've reached the end of the road as far as certification goes.
However, if you are more experienced and want to focus on a more specialized cybersecurity role, then you might lean more toward the CCNP Security certification. There are a few reasons for that. Like the Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate, there is no barrier to entry. You can study for the core exam to show competence in key concepts and technologies, and then pivot into a specialization that can facilitate a promotion or a better job.
Finally, you wouldn't have to stop with one specialization exam either. If there's a need to go another direction or learn some valuable skills, you can easily make changes and go a different route.
Everyone is different, especially when looking at career objectives. Those with a lot of IT administrative experience might find that starting with the Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate is beneficial. However, the roles that you will land are going to be entry level to mid-range security roles depending on your experience and practical knowledge in such environments.
If you are already working in SOC or in a monitoring environment then you might consider the CCNP Security as a better career option. It teaches a wide range of skills and has no shortage of career progression options.
If you factor in work experience with your desired destination, then your choice becomes much easier. If you want to secure your first position in a cybersecurity role, the Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate can help make that a reality. If you want to kick things up a notch and move onto better prospects, then the CCNP Security will get you there — with the added bonus of having career path options that the Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate simply can't offer you at this point.
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