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The vendor-neutral security certification landscape, September 2002 update

Ed Tittel provides an overview of available vendor-neutral security certs.

By virtue of a new and welcome agreement with, I will now update these "security certification landscape" articles every six months. Since the last update occurred in March 2002, it's only natural that September 2002, would witness a revision to this piece (as well as to the companion vendor-specific landscape survey). As usual, the landscape has changed a bit, including the introduction of what may indeed be a major player in the entry-level portion of this landscape — namely CompTIA's Security+ certification (currently in beta test and due for commercial release in November 2002). I've also re-evaluated the importance of at least one element of the landscape as you'll read in the analysis portion at the end of this survey.

New additions to the survey are numerous. They include the Investigations Professional (IP) and Physical Security Professional (PSP) credentials from ASIS, as well as the System Security Certified Professional (SSCP) credentials from ISC-squared (which I omitted by oversight from earlier versions of this survey), the forthcoming Field Certified Professional Associations security credential (due out in 2003), plus three vendor-neutral forensics certifications I learned about recently. That's a total of seven new entries that are offset by three removals. The removals include the Pine Mountain Group's NetAnalyst-Security credential and both of the advanced TruSecure credentials (TICSE and TICSP), which are either no longer offered or have been de-listed temporarily from their home Web sites.

As is my usual practice, I list all the vendor-neutral security certifications I am able to find, along with information to help you evaluate programs covered. After all these adjustments, this vendor-neutral security certification landscape features more security certifications than ever listed before (a total of 33, counting all individual GIAC credentials). That's why it's important to understand what's worth supporting for employee development and what's not. But if your organization has significant investments in vendor technologies (such as those available from Cisco, CheckPoint, RSA and so forth), don't overlook the possibility that those vendors might also offer their own more focused security certifications as well. You'll find them covered in a companion survey on the vendor-specific security certification landscape, which will run in's Oct. 9 Expert Advice Tip.

To begin, let's revisit this great big bowl of alphabet soup by exposing all the security-related certification programs -- and their inevitable acronyms -- that occupy this landscape. For each program, I provide a brief explanation and a pointer to more information so you can learn more if you like.

BIS -- Brainbench Internet Security Certification
Seeks to identify individuals with a good working knowledge of Internet security practices, principles and technologies. Aimed at full-time network or system administrators who must manage systems with Internet connections or access.
Source: Brainbench

BNS -- Brainbench Network Security Certification
Seeks to identify individuals with a good working knowledge of network security practices, principles and technologies. Aimed at full-time network administrators who must deal with external threats through boundary devices like routers, firewalls or intrusion-detection systems, as well as more typical internal threats.
Source: Brainbench

CCCI -- Certified Computer Crime Investigator (Basic and Advanced)
The CCCI is one of two computer forensic certifications aimed at law enforcement and private IT professionals seeking to specialize in the investigative side of the field. Basic requirements include two years of experience (or a college degree plus one year of experience), 18 months of investigations experience, 40 hours of computer crimes training and documented experience from at least 10 cases investigated. Advanced requirements bump experience to three years, four years of investigations, 80 hours of training and involvement as a lead investigator in 20 cases with involvement in over 60 cases overall.
Source: High Tech Crime Network certifications

CCFT -- Certified Computer Forensics Technician (Basic and Advanced)
The CCFT is one of two computer forensic certifications aimed at law enforcement and private IT professionals seeking to specialize in the investigative side of the field. Basic requirements include two years of experience (or a college degree plus one year of experience), 18 months of forensics experience, 40 hours of computer forensics training and documented experience from at least 10 cases investigated. Advanced requirements bump experience to three years, four years of investigations, 80 hours of training and involvement as a lead investigator in 20 cases with involvement in over 60 cases overall.
Source: High Tech Crime Network certifications

CCISM -- Certified Counterespionage and Information Security Manager
To prepare individuals to study potential sources of threat, defeat attacks and manage information security at an organizational level. CCISM is a management-level certification, where CCISMs generally manage, work with or consult IT organizations, technical specialists and other IT security professionals.
Source: Espionage Research Institute

CCSA -- Certification in Control Self-Assessment
Demonstrates knowledge of internal control self-assessment procedures, primarily aimed at financial and records controls. Of primary interest with those professionals who must evaluate IT infrastructures for possible threats to financial integrity, legal requirements for confidentiality and regulatory requirements for privacy.
Source: Institute of Internal Auditors

CFCE -- Computer Forensic Computer Examiner
One of a growing number of law enforcement related forensic IT credentials, the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) offers this credential to law enforcement and private industry personnel alike. Candidates must have broad knowledge, training or experience in computer forensics, including forensic procedures and standards, as well as ethical, legal and privacy issues. Certification includes both hands-on performance-based testing as well as a written exam.
Source: Computer Forensic Certification

CFE -- Certified Fraud Examiner
Demonstrates ability to detect financial fraud and other white-collar crimes. Of primary interest to full-time security professionals in law, law enforcement or those who work in organizations (such as banking, securities trading or classified operations) with legal mandates to audit for possible fraudulent or illegal transactions and activities.
Source: Association of Certified Fraud Examiners

CIA -- Certified Internal Auditor
Demonstrates knowledge of professional financial auditing practices. Of primary interest to financial professionals responsible for auditing IT practices and procedures, as well as standard accounting practices and procedures to insure the integrity and correctness of financial records, transaction logs and other records relevant to commercial activities.
Source: Institute of Internal Auditors

CISA -- Certified Information Systems Auditor
Demonstrates knowledge of IS auditing for control and security purposes. Of primary interest to IT security professionals responsible for auditing IT systems, practices and procedures to make sure organizational security policies meet governmental and regulatory requirements, conform to best security practices and principles, and meet or exceed requirements stated in an organization's security policy.
Source: Information Systems Audit and Control Association

CISSP -- Certified Information Systems Security Professional
Demonstrates knowledge of network and system security principles, safeguards and practices. Of primary interest to full-time IT security professionals who work in internal security positions or who consult with third parties on security matters. CISSPs are capable of analyzing security requirements, auditing security practices and procedures, designing and implementing security policies, and managing and maintaining an ongoing and effective security infrastructure.
Source: International Information Systems Security Certifications Consortium (aka (ISC)2 pronounced "ISC-squared")

CIW Security Analyst
Individuals who take and pass the CIW-SP exam, and who hold one of the following certifications qualify as a CIW Security Analyst (CIW-SA):
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) 4
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) 2000
Certified Novell Engineer (CNE) 4
Certified Novell Engineer (CNE) 5
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
Linux Professional Institute (LPI) Level 2
SAIR Level 2 LCE
Individuals who hold this credential can carry out security policy, identify and handle security threats, and apply countermeasures using firewalls, intrusion detection and related systems. The program's Web focus also includes coverage of online payments, transaction processing and related security matters.
Source: Prosoft Training

CIW-SP -- Certified Internet Webmaster-Security Professional
Demonstrates knowledge of Web- and e-commerce-related security principles and practices. Of primary interest to Web administrators who must implement and manage a secure and working Web presence that may also include e-commerce capabilities.
Source: Prosoft Training, Inc.

CPP -- Certified Protection Professional
Demonstrates thorough understanding of physical, human and information security principles and practices. The most senior and prestigious IT security professional certification covered here, the CPP requires extensive on the job experience (seven to nine years), as well as a profound knowledge of technical and procedural security topics and technologies. Only those who have worked with and around security for some time will be able to qualify for this credential.
Source: American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS)

Certified Web Professional (CWP) Security Specialist
This vendor-neutral, Web-oriented program includes a CWP Security Specialist credential. Obtaining this credential requires passing the CIW Security Professional exam and meeting additional work experience requirements. Please see the CIW-SP listing for more information.
Source: International Webmasters' Association (IWA)

FCSS -- Field Certified Security Specialist
Still under development, this set of performance-based certifications permits individuals to specialize in Cisco, CheckPoint, or cross-platform topics (which is why we list it in both the vendor-specific -- though the parent organization points out that these certs are "vendor-independent" -- and vendor-neutral surveys). Check the Web site for more information on this emerging program, which is scheduled for release in 2003.
Source: Field Certified Security Specialist (FCSS) Certification Information

GIAC -- Global Information Assurance Certification
Demonstrates knowledge of and the ability to manage and protect important information systems and networks. The SANS organization is well-known for its timely, focused and useful security information and certification program. A rising star on the landscape, the GIAC is aimed at serious, full-time security professionals responsible for designing, implementing and maintaining a state-of-the-art security infrastructure that may include incident handling and emergency response team management.

Certifications available include the following:

Entry-level/basic pre-requisite:
GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)

Mid-level specializations:
GIAC Certified Firewall Analyst (GCFW)
GIAC Certified Intrusion Analyst (GCIA)
GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)
GIAC Certified Windows Security Administrator (GCWN)
GIAC Certified UNIX Security Administrator (GCUX)

Senior-level (all specializations, plus additional exams and work):
GIAC Security Engineer (GSE) track

Role-oriented credentials:
GIAC Information Security Officer -- Basic (GISO -- Basic)
GIAC Systems and Network Auditor (GSNA)

Source: Global Information Assurance Certification

IP -- Investigations Professional
A high-level certification from the American Society for Industrial Security (also home to the CPP and PSP certifications) for those who specialize in investigating potential cybercrimes. Thus, in addition to technical skills, this certification concentrates on testing individuals' knowledge of legal and evidentiary matters required to present investigations in a court of law, including case management, evidence collection and case presentation. Requires seven-to-nine years of investigation experience, with at least three years in case management (a bachelor's degree or higher counts for up to two years of such experience) and a clean legal record for candidates.
Source: ASIS International: Certified Protection Professional

IT Security Certificate Program
Entry-level credential for basic and advanced internetworking security technologies, this program aims to certify general IT security knowledge and ability. Aimed primarily at network and system administrators with some (but not heavy) security responsibilities.
Source: Colorado Computer Training Institute (CCTI)

NSCP -- Network Security Certified Professional
Demonstrates ability to design and implement organizational security strategies, securing the network perimeter and component systems. An intermediate level IT security certification aimed at network or systems administrators with heavy security responsibilities or those who work full-time on IT security matters.
Source: Learning Tree International

PSP -- Physical Security Professional
Another high-level security certification from ASIS, this program focuses on matters relevant to maintaining security and integrity of the premises and access controls over the devices and components of an IT infrastructure. Key topics covered include physical security assessment, and selection and implementation of appropriate integrated physical security measures. Requirements include five years of experience in physical security, a high school diploma (or GED) and a clean criminal record.
Source: ASIS International: Physical Security Professional

SCNA -- Security Certified Network Architect
This is a mid- to senior-level security certification that focuses on concepts, planning and implementation of Private Key Infrastructure and biometric authentication and identification systems. Individuals who attain this certification will be able to implement either or both of these technologies within organizations or as consultants to such organizations.
Source: Security Certified Program

SCNP -- Security Certified Network Professional
This is an entry- to mid-level security certification that focuses on two primary topics: firewalls and intrusion detection. Related curriculum and exams cover network security fundamentals and network defense and countermeasures. Individuals who attain this certification will be able to work as full-time IT security professionals with an operations focus.
Source: Security Certified Program

This is an entry-level security certification that focuses on important security fundamentals related to security concepts and theory but also related to best operational practices as well. The buzz is growing on this exam, which is rumored for possible inclusion in Microsoft and other security certification pre-requisites, in addition to functioning as a standalone exam. For an excellent review of the current beta exam, check the newsletter archive for the Sept. 7 edition of "Must know news" for Robert Shimonski's review at
Source: CompTIA Security+ Certification Overview

SSCP -- System Security Certified Professional
The entry-level precursor to the ISC-squared's CISSP covered elsewhere in this survey, this exam covers seven of the 10 domains in the CISSP Common Body of Knowledge and focuses more on operational and administrative issues relevant to information security and rather less on information policy design, risk assessment details and other business analysis skills more germane to a senior IT security professional (and less so to a day-to-day security administrator, which is where the SSCP is really focused).
Source: (ISC)2 SSCP Certification

TICSA -- TruSecure ICSA Certified Security Associate
Demonstrates basic familiarity with vendor-neutral system and network security principles, practices and technologies. An entry-level security certification for network or system administrations and for those interested in climbing the first rung in a security certification ladder suitable for full-time IT security work.
Source: TruSecure ICSA Practitioner Certification

Obviously, there is no shortage of options for would-be computer security experts to choose from. Today, the CISSP, the SANS GIAC and the CPP are probably the best-known and most widely-followed IT security certifications (or programs, since GIAC includes numerous certs). Numbers of certified individuals in these programs vary from a low of 3,000 to a high of 9,000. Broader programs such as the CISA or CFE (which cover more than information security topics) have populations as large as 30,000.

Now that the TICSA (formerly known as the ICSA) has been available for nearly nine months, uptake has been lower than expected. Based on current numbers, this program may never reach the same population levels as other programs mentioned in the preceding paragraph. The pending introduction of Security+ could change the entry-level security certification landscape forever, especially if it attains the kind of uptake that popular CompTIA certs such as A+ and Network+ enjoy (both have certified populations over 100,000). Thus, Security+ bears watching, and it may very well be added to the entry-level recommendations that follow in the next revision of this landscape survey.

Today, the entry-level credentials with the most "oomph" are the SANS GSEC (GIAC Security Essentials Certification) and the ISC-squared's SSCP (System Security Certified Professional). For the time being, the CISSP and the SANS GIAC remain the best bets for those seeking more senior security credentials, where the CPP is restricted to the most senior members of the security community, simply because it requires seven-to-nine years of work experience in the security field to qualify for the exam!

Given this landscape, I can also recommend a "security certification ladder" that individuals can start at any point (depending on current knowledge, skills and experience) and climb from there:

  • Start out gentle with the BrainBench Internet and network security exams. You'll find them listed at; they're cheap, provide good basic coverage of the subject and will get you motivated to make progress. This should take you two-to-four months.
  • Next, tackle the Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) Security Professional exam. Combined with your MCSE (or similar credential), passing this exam makes you a CIW Security Analyst and may enhance your "merit badge count." This is a good entry-level exam on basic Internet, network and systems security. This will take you another two-to-four months to complete.

After that, a broader, more formal, but still entry-level security cert is what you should tackle. This could be any of the following credentials, any of which will provide you with an excellent and thorough background in computer security theory, operations, practices and policies:

  • ISC-squared's System Security Certified Professional (SSCP)
    The International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium is also home to the best-known senior level security certification (see below). If you're of a mind to go that route, the SSCP is a great way to prepare.
  • ·
  • SANS GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)
    The SANS Institute is a growing powerhouse in the security industry. Likewise, its certifications are gaining increased visibility and acceptance. The GSEC opens the door to other certifications in the SANS GIAC program.

Finally, you'll be ready to tackle a premium or senior-level security certification. Most such certifications require three or more years of relevant, on-the-job experience. Many require submitting papers or research results in addition to passing exams; some also require taking specific classes. Of these, two are particularly worthy of mention and pick up where the previous three leave off:

  • ISC-squared's Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
    CISSP is the best-known senior-level security certification in North America and the one most often requested by name in job postings and classified ads.

  • SANS GIAC Security Specialist Certifications
    The SANS Institute offers numerous topical specializations that extend on the GSEC including firewalls, incident handling, intrusion analysis, Windows and Unix administration, information security officer, and systems and network auditor certs. A topical, timely and highly technical program based on outstanding training online or at SANS conferences.

Please let me know if my revised survey of this landscape has missed anything. I can't claim to know, see or be able to find everything, so all feedback -- especially if it adds to this list -- will be gratefully acknowledged. As always, feel free to e-mail me with comments or questions at

About the author
Ed Tittel is the president of LANWrights, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tittel has been working in the computing industry for 20 years and has worked as a software developer, manager, writer and trainer. As an expert on, he answers your infosec training and certification questions in our Ask the Expert feature
This was last published in September 2002

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