The 5 Most Popular (and Lucrative) Cyber Security Certifications of 2017 [in 10 charts]

The 5 Most Popular (and lucrative) cyber security certifications of 2017

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Whether you’re looking to transition from an existing IT role into cyber security, have some technical experience and want to take the leap into a new career, or are trying to advance up the ladder in cyber security positions, professional certifications are some of the best ways prove to employers that you know your stuff. As with many tech-centered fields, experience and your portfolio of work may often substitute for garnering a full-fledged degree in a technical discipline. For those who want some sort of verifiable proof of their skill set, and who aren’t willing to head back to school for longer (and more expensive) degree programs, professional certifications can be a great alternative. Below we’ve looked at the five most popular information assurance/cyber security-related professional certifications in terms of job openings and the time/money cost of the certification. In obtaining our data for our study we surveyed over 10,000 historical and current cyber security job openings.

Key takeaways:

  • Most cyber security jobs aren’t actually in Silicon Valley
  • Over 15% of job openings listing any of the following certifications are in the top earnings bin
  • Entry, mid, and senior level positions can all benefit from the following cyber security certifications
  • Security+ Certification is the most in-demand cyber security certification among entry level workers
  • GIAC Certification is the most in-demand cyber security certification among mid level workers
  • Security+ Certification is the most in-demand cyber security certification among senior level workers

CISSP Certification

Certified Information Security Professional (CISSP) certification professionals must hold a minimum of 5 years of work experience in at least 2 of 8 of the (ISC)² work subject areas. Students may then elect to study and pass the exam, though we would recommend some serious studying before hand. Many who have passed the exam have noted that they studied for a cumulative 3-4 weeks, using most of a work day to study for the exam. Certificate seekers may elect to use online study materials, attend in-person meetups, or simulation exams.

If this sounds daunting, take heart that the payoff for passing the CISSP exam is high. In fact, CISSP certification holders make an average of $17,526 more than the average cyber security job holder. The average salary for those holding a CISSP certification is $93,010. While part of a larger learning process, a $599 exam that requires several weeks of preparation is still a much more time and money efficient pursuit than heading back to school for an advanced degree.

Job Openings by Location
  • Washington, DC:572
  • New York, NY:378
  • Atlanta, GA:248
  • Arlington, VA:240
  • Chicago, IL:225
  • Colorado Springs, CO:190
  • San Diego, CA:188
  • Herndon, VA:172
  • Chantilly, VA:171
  • San Francisco, CA:165
  • San Antonio, TX:147
  • Seattle, WA:141
  • Huntsville, AL:140
  • Dallas, TX:135
  • Reston, VA:135

CISA Certification

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certified professionals are required to have 5 years of professional information systems auditing, control or security work experience (per the CISA job practice areas). One note is that there are a number of substitutes for years of work experience, including working across many domains of information systems auditing. Up to three years may be taken off of the five, which makes CISA one of the most lucrative certificates that can be taken early on in a career.

The CISA exam is slightly more affordable than other certifications on the list, clocking in at $595 for final registration of $565 for pre-registration. The price is small, however, when compared to the average additional earnings of $10,754 per year for CISA certification holders. The average salary of those holding CISA certification is currently $86,238.


Job Openings by Location
  • New York, NY:326
  • Washington, DC:202
  • Atlanta, GA:157
  • Chicago, IL:148
  • San Francisco, CA:131
  • Seattle, W:97
  • Boston, M:96
  • Charlotte, N:91
  • Dallas, T:87
  • Houston, T:79
  • McLean, V:73
  • Tampa, F:61
  • Los Angeles, C:60
  • Philadelphia, P:59

CISM Certification

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certified professionals are required to have worked 5 years (of the last 10 years) in information security management. Work must be completed in approved Job Practice Areas, though substitutions may be made to take a total three years of experience off of the required five. Up to three years may be taken off for qualified managers who have worked in specific disciplines or have already achieved other certifications.

The current cost of the CISM exam is $595 for non pre-registered entrants. The fee is entirely manageable, however, compared to the time and money cost of returning to school for a full-fledged degree. Furthermore, the average job opening preferring CISM certification pulls in a whopping $19,966 more than the average cyber security job. The average salary for jobs listing CISM certification in their description is $95,450.


Job Openings by Location
  • New York, NY:168
  • Washington, DC:156
  • Atlanta, G:99
  • Chicago, I:84
  • Arlington, V:76
  • Seattle, W:73
  • San Francisco, C:67
  • Dallas, T:61
  • Houston, T:58
  • Fort Belvoir, V:48
  • McLean, V:46
  • Herndon, V:45
  • Austin, T:40
  • San Diego, C:39

Security+ Certification

Security+ Certification is offered by the longstanding leader in technical certification, CompTIA. Subject matter in the exam is vendor neutral, and is one of the most widely acknowledged cyber security certifications. Perhaps due to entry requirements and it’s affordable price, Security+ is one of the most common cyber security certifications. Though two years of experience in security-centered IT role are recommended, anyone may sit for the exam.

At $320, and with the ability for anyone to take the Security+ test, Security+ certification has perhaps the lowest barrier to entry of certifications we’ve looked at. Though the average cyber security job opening specifying Security+ certification earns right at the average for all cyber security jobs, that is largely due to the wide range of cyber security professionals who obtain the certification early in their career. The average salary for cyber security jobs noting Security+ certification is $75,484.


Job Openings by Location
  • Washington, DC: 3200
  • Dallas, TX: 1741
  • New York, NY: 1593
  • Chicago, IL: 1326
  • San Francisco, CA: 1255
  • Atlanta, GA: 1253
  • San Diego, CA: 1249
  • Houston, TX: 1229
  • Arlington, VA: 1174
  • San Antonio, TX: 1059
  • Los Angeles, CA: 1002
  • Tampa, FL: 867
  • Jacksonville, FL: 830
  • Austin, TX: 821

GIAC Certification

The Global Information Assurance Certification comes in a number of varieties, of which we’ve provided the numbers for the most common: the GIAC Security Essentials Certification. GIAC exams have no entry requirements, and anyone may sit for GIAC testing provided that they pay the testing fee. With that said, one of the best ways to prepare for GIAC exams is through having several years of practical experience in one of their certification objective and outcome subject areas. Passing participants are expected to have hands-on experience, rather than simple conceptual understandings of subject material on the test.

The current cost for taking the GIAC Security Essentials Certification exam is $689. This is but a small fee, however, when considering that this is one of two certifications without any 100% necessary prerequisites. Add to that the fact that the average job opening mentioning GIAC Security Essentials Certification makes $6,147 more than the average cyber security job opening and that’s quite a deal! The average salary for cyber security job openings listing GIAC Security Essentials Certification is $81,631.


  • Washington, DC:112
  • New York, NY:51
  • Chicago, IL:46
  • Atlanta, GA:40
  • Austin, TX:35
  • Arlington, VA:34
  • Martinsburg, WV:32
  • Seattle, WA:31
  • Herndon, VA:28
  • San Diego, CA:26
  • San Francisco, CA:26
  • Dallas, TX:24
  • Raleigh, NC:21
  • Charlotte, NC:20