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Deciphering the Difficulty: CISA vs. CISM

  • What is harder CISA or CISM?
  • Published by: André Hammer on May 18, 2024

Cybersecurity certifications, such as CISA and CISM, are popular choices in the industry. These certifications offer great career opportunities.

Differentiating between CISA and CISM can be challenging. This article aims to help you understand the variances and choose the right certification based on your career objectives.

Overview of CISA and CISM Certifications

CISA and CISM are certifications in information security and audit. Where CISA focuses on information systems auditing, CISM is centred around information security management. Both certifications have specific training requirements and prerequisites for individuals with different skills and aspirations.

What is CISA?

Professionals aim to enhance their career opportunities with CISA certification in auditing, control, and risk management. The CISA exam covers auditing processes and information system controls, and CISA professionals typically work as information systems auditors.

What is CISM?

The Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification is valuable for professionals in information security management. It focuses on skills like security governance, risk management, and compliance. This equips individuals to design, implement, and manage effective security programs.

The Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification is more about auditing information systems. It involves assessing controls, conducting risk management, and ensuring policy compliance. CISA professionals review controls in place, while CISM-certified individuals manage and lead the information security program in an organisation.

Both certifications offer opportunities for career development. CISM is for those aiming for leadership roles in information security management, while CISA is more focused on auditing and compliance in information security.

Differences in Skillset and Knowledge Requirements

CISA Skillset and Knowledge

Professionals aiming for CISA certification should have expertise in information security, auditing, and control. This covers security program development, information systems operations, risk management, and IT auditing practices.

CISM, on the other hand, focuses on information security management, governance, and leadership roles. The key difference lies in the focus area: CISA is about audit processes and controls, while CISM stresses security program development and management.

Both certifications demand training in their areas and have strict prerequisites for aspiring auditors and managers. Individuals aspiring for these certifications need to decide if they are more aligned with auditing or management. This choice significantly impacts their training needs and future opportunities in the cybersecurity field.

CISM Skillset and Knowledge

Professionals pursuing the CISM certification require expertise in information security management, governance, risk management, and compliance. This entails skills in developing security programs, implementing policies, and assessing risks.

On the other hand, the CISA certification focuses on information systems audit, control, and assurance, requiring proficiency in auditing, IT operations, and information security.

CISM certification prepares individuals for leadership roles in security management, focusing on strategic planning and aligning security initiatives with business goals.

In contrast, CISA certification equips individuals for auditing roles, ensuring effective review and evaluation of information systems and controls.

The career aspirations of individuals determine the choice between CISM and CISA, with CISM catering more towards security management roles and CISA towards auditing positions.

The skillset and knowledge for CISM emphasize security program development and management, while CISA focuses on IT auditing and control review.

Exam Details and Structure

CISA Exam Details

The CISA exam tests professionals in security, audit, and control of information systems. It's for those interested in information security management and auditing.

  • The exam has 150 multiple-choice questions covering domains like information system auditing, governance, and risk management.

  • The CISM exam, on the other hand, focuses on information security management, leadership, and governance.

  • Both certifications require understanding of information security principles.

  • However, the CISM exam goes deeper into security management practices and strategies.

  • Professionals seeking CISA certification should be experts in information security, risk management, and IT auditing.

  • It's ideal for those aiming for roles like information security auditor or manager.

  • On the other hand, CISM certification is better for those wanting to enhance their skills in security management and governance.

  • The CISA exam offers opportunities for career development in information security.

  • But, the CISM exam concentrates on improving leadership skills in security management.

CISM Exam Details

The CISM exam is for information security management professionals. It tests their knowledge in areas like security governance, risk management, and security program development.

Candidates must understand security control design, implementation, and monitoring, as well as risk management principles to pass.

This exam focuses on security management, unlike the CISA exam, which is more about auditing in information systems.

To take the CISM exam, candidates need five years of information security experience, with at least three years in security management roles.

Getting certified can lead to career advancement, higher salaries, and leadership opportunities.

Domains Covered in Each Certification

CISA Domains Covered

The CISA certification covers domains like information systems auditing, information security, and governance.

CISM, on the other hand, focusses more on information security management, leadership, and security program development.

Professionals pursuing CISA certification need expertise in IT auditing, risk management, and compliance.

While those aiming for CISM should have skills in security management, policies, and operations.

Both certifications offer rewarding career opportunities in information security.

CISA professionals typically focus on assurance and audit roles.

Meanwhile, CISM professionals often take on security management and governance positions.

Training experts recommend that aspiring auditors and managers consider their career aspirations and the training requirements of each certification.

This helps determine which path aligns best with their goals in the cybersecurity field.

CISM Domains Covered

The CISM certification covers different domains. These include information security governance, risk management, program development, and management.

Professionals need expertise in security audit and assurance, and a good understanding of information security management to earn this certification.

The CISM exam focuses on information security management, control, and audit professionals' roles. It highlights the importance of risk management.

By obtaining the CISM certification, individuals gain skills in cybersecurity and information security. This helps them advance their careers in security management and governance.

CISM holders are well-prepared to tackle security challenges. The certification's training covers various aspects of information systems audit and control.

Job Roles and Salary Potential

CISA Job Roles and Salary Potential

Professionals with CISA certification work in various roles such as information security auditor, IT auditor, compliance auditor, and risk management professional. These roles offer competitive salaries, with information security auditors earning between £45,000 to £70,000 annually.

On the other hand, individuals with CISM certification often hold positions like information security manager, IT security manager, security consultant, or security director. The salary potential for these roles is higher, with information security managers earning between £75,000 to £110,000 per year.

CISM certification focuses more on information security management and leadership positions, which tend to have higher salary potential compared to CISA-certified roles. As a result, job roles and salary expectations differ based on the certification's focus and the expertise required in security management.

CISM Job Roles and Salary Potential

Professionals with a CISM certification have many job opportunities in information security management roles. These include security management, governance, auditing, and risk management.

These positions need skills in implementing security controls, developing security policies, and ensuring compliance with security standards.

CISM-certified individuals often earn higher salaries due to their specialized knowledge. They have more earning potential and leadership opportunities compared to those with CISA certification.

As organizations emphasise cybersecurity and risk management, the demand for CISM professionals is increasing. This creates a promising career path in information security with room for growth and advancement.

Obtaining the CISM certification and meeting training requirements can help fulfil career aspirations in information security management roles.

Preparation Tips for Both Certifications

Individuals preparing for CISA and CISM certifications should focus on understanding the key domains and knowledge areas.

For the CISA exam, concentrate on information systems audit and control. For CISM, emphasis should be on information security management.

Understanding the roles of IT auditors and security managers is crucial.

Practical experience in security program development, operations, and governance is also essential.

Reviewing policies, controls, risk management, and compliance practices is recommended.

Developing expertise in auditing and security management can enhance career opportunities in cybersecurity.

Consider prerequisites and training requirements to ensure adequate preparation for the exams.

Key Differences Between CISA and CISM

CISA and CISM certifications have different focuses.

  • CISA emphasises audit skills.

  • CISM focuses on management expertise.

CISA professionals learn IT auditing, risk management, and control. CISM professionals focus on security program development, operations, and leadership.

  • The CISA exam covers auditing.

  • The CISM exam looks at governance, risk management, and compliance.

Job roles differ as well.

  • CISA certified professionals work as auditors.

  • CISM certified individuals hold managerial positions in security management.

CISM holders tend to have higher salary potential due to leadership roles.

In summary:

  • CISA certification is for aspiring auditors.

  • CISM certification is for security managers seeking career advancement.

Key takeaways

CISA and CISM are certifications in information security. They have different focuses.

CISA is about auditing and control. CISM is more about management and strategy.

To get certified, you need to pass exams and meet experience requirements. But CISM usually needs more experience.

Choosing between CISA and CISM depends on your career goals in information security.

Readynez offers a 4-day CISM Course and Certification Program, providing you with all the learning and support you need to successfully prepare for the exam and certification. The CISM course, and all our other ISACA courses, are also included in our unique Unlimited Security Training offer, where you can attend the CISM and 60+ other Security courses for just €249 per month, the most flexible and affordable way to get your Security Certifications.

Please reach out to us with any questions or if you would like a chat about your opportunity with the CISM certification and how you best achieve it.


What is the difference in difficulty between CISA and CISM certifications?

CISA certification tends to focus more on auditing and information systems, while CISM certification is more about managing and overseeing information security programs. CISM is generally regarded as more difficult due to the deeper technical knowledge and emphasis on strategic planning.

Which certification is considered more challenging - CISA or CISM?

CISA is generally considered more challenging than CISM due to its focus on technical skills and audit processes. For example, CISA requires a deeper understanding of information systems auditing, control, and security compared to CISM's emphasis on information security management.

Do CISA and CISM require different skill sets to pass?

Yes, CISA primarily focuses on auditing, control, and assurance skills, while CISM concentrates on information security management. CISA candidates need to understand processes and controls, whereas CISM candidates must be proficient in developing security strategies and managing risks.

Are there any overlapping topics between the CISA and CISM exams?

Yes, there are some overlapping topics between the CISA and CISM exams, such as information security governance, risk management, and compliance. Both exams cover these areas in-depth to ensure candidates understand their importance in the field of information security.

What are the key factors to consider when deciding between pursuing a CISA or CISM certification?

The key factors to consider when deciding between pursuing a CISA or CISM certification include career goals (e.g. audit vs. security focus), job role requirements, desired skillset development, and industry demand for each certification.

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