Skip to main content

Are Security Qualifications Important?

Over the years I, like many IT professionals, have amassed a fair few number of qualifications.  Some vendor specific (MCSA, CNE, CCNA), some process related (PRINCE2, ITIL) and some security related (CISSP, CISA).  But in reality, has it been worthwhile pursuing them and have they made a difference to my career?

Well, there are a few ways to look at this.  Many people start out within IT either straight from college or university with a basic theoretical understanding of information systems or computer science principles.  Whilst this provides a basic understanding of some of the key technical and non-technical aspects of computing, I think it really acts to lay a foundation for how the person can pick up new information going forward, either through professional study or simply via on the job exposure.

When someone junior starts a new role, often, their main aim is to get promoted or gain a pay rise.  This can happen in a few ways - either through longevity (simply working in a role for x-number of months/years will result in a pay rise) or through being good at the role you're in.  Now, being 'good' is entirely subjective, unless some decent objectives and attainment targets are placed in a personal development plan.  One thing that 'good' can't argue against, is an industry qualification that relates to your role.  If an individual is qualified as good as an industry 'outsider', there are two implications for gaining a pay rise.  One, is that if the employer doesn't pay you the 'going rate', you are more likely to be able to leave and get employment elsewhere.  Secondly, if you do leave, the employer would find it difficult to replace you with someone with an industry qualification unless the salary increases.  The economics of salaries isn't really what I want to discuss, but ultimately, the chances of a pay rise will obviously go up.

On a practical aspect, does that industry qualification warrant the pay rise?  Will the qualification improve your ability to do the job, either through efficiency or via being able to complete more tasks and give more value?  This part becomes more subjective and depends largely on the qualification and how it relates to the everyday tasks.

From a security aspect there are several of the high-level umbrella style certifications that many employers ask for, or at least are added onto a recommended nice-to-have list.  I am thinking CISSP, CISA, CISM and CEH.  In addition there are numerous domain specific qualifications for things like penetration testing and forensics, but many are really assuming that a strong basic understanding of all aspects of security has been gained, either from one those 'big-4' qualifications or from 6+ years on the job experience.

There are numerous self-study approaches to passing each of the those 'big-4' qualifications, which in reality may help you pass a physical exam, but probably wont help with the real world issues those exams are aimed at solving.  Whilst some of the technical aspects can be consumed - thinking things like basic cryptography, risk assessment frameworks, network protocols and so on - the real world scenarios that require those skills to be implemented are very rarely picked up.  Whilst something like the CISSP is generally described as being an inch deep and a mile wide (referring to the fact the content is extremely broad but not in much detail), this can certainly help with picking up new factual knowledge in a range of areas.

But does being a CISSP for example really help with managing information security in an organisation or giving strong industry level advise to clients?  The answer is obviously subjective and as many positions require a candidate to have the exam passed it becomes a vicious circle.

I think the most important part is not necessarily the obtaining of the exam, but how the exam was obtained.  By this I refer to the training and preparation.  Some of the leading penetration testing exams, like for example the CPPT, have a much more hands-on approach to learning, with real-world simulations, labs and so on, taken over say 3-4 months.  This is certainly has a few benefits.  Not only do you approach the learning in a pseudo real-world setting, but you also have several months to cover the vast amount of material, avoiding that dreaded boot camp scenario.

As information security, not to mention IT in general, is a relatively immature profession in comparison to something like law or accountancy, qualifications certainly aim to help standardise the broad range of approaches and learning that is available.  I think the major concern is that how they are administered and viewed.  As with any qualification without experience they can become a dangerous tool, that only detailed interviewing and on the job monitoring can reproach

(Simon Moffatt)












Popular posts from this blog

Top 5 Security Predictions for 2016

It's that time of year again, when the retrospective and predictive blogs come out of the closet, just before the Christmas festivities begin.  This time last year, the 2015 predictions were an interesting selection of both consumer and enterprise challenges, with a focus on:


Customer Identity ManagementThe start of IoT security awarenessReduced Passwords on MobileConsumer PrivacyCloud Single Sign On
In retrospect, a pretty accurate and ongoing list.  Consumer related identity (cIAM) is hot on most organisation's lips, and whilst the password hasn't died (and probably never will) there are more people using things like swipe login and finger print authentication than ever before.

But what will 2016 bring?


Mobile Payments to be Default for Consumers

2015 has seen the rise in things like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay hitting the consumer high street with venom.  Many retail outlets now provide the ability to "tap and pay" using a mobile device, with many banks also offer…

The Role of Identity Management in the GDPR

Unless you have been living in a darkened room for a long time, you will know the countdown for the EU's General Data Protection Regulation is dramatically coming to a head.  May 2018 is when the regulation really takes hold, and organisations are fast in the act on putting plans, processes and personnel in place, in order to comply.

Whilst many organisations are looking at employing a Data Privacy Officer (DPO), reading through all the legalese and developing data analytics and tagging processes, many need to embrace and understand the requirements with how their consumer identity and access management platform can and should be used in this new regulatory setting.

My intention in this blog, isn't to list every single article and what they mean - there are plenty of other sites that can help with that.  I want to really highlight, some of the more identity related components of the GDPR and what needs to be done.

Personal Data On the the personal data front, more and more org…

Customer Data: Convenience versus Security

Organisations in both the public and private sector are initiating programmes of work to convert previously physical or offline services, into more digital, on line and automated offerings.  This could include things like automated car tax purchase, through to insurance policy management and electricity meter reading submission and reporting.

Digitization versus Security

This move towards a more on line user experience, brings together several differing forces.  Firstly the driver for end user convenience and service improvement, against the requirements of data security and privacy.  Which should win?  There clearly needs to be a balance of security against service improvement.  Excessive and prohibitive security controls would result in a complex and often poor user experience, ultimately resulting in fewer users.  On the other hand, poorly defined security architectures, lead to data loss, with the impact for personal exposure and brand damage.