Decoding the Toughest Cyber Security Certification

  • What is the hardest cyber security certification?
  • Published by: André Hammer on Jan 29, 2024

Cyber security can be complex to navigate. The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is even more challenging. CISSP is considered one of the most difficult certifications in the cyber security field. This article explores the reasons behind CISSP's toughness and what it takes to decode this certification. Whether you're aiming for a career in cyber security or simply intrigued by digital security, understanding CISSP is worthwhile.

Understanding the Cybersecurity Certification Pathway

From Fundamentals to Specialised Roles

To achieve the highest level of cybersecurity certification, candidates must understand advanced concepts. They need to perform hands-on tasks and have a lot of experience.

Certifications like Certified Information Systems Security Professional , Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) are very challenging. They require skills in security and risk management, software development security, and ethical hacking.

Earning these certifications involves practical experience, study, and passing tough exams.

As cyber threats become more complex, these roles help organisations protect their important data and assets.

The Progression from Entry-Level to Expert Certifications

Cybersecurity certifications are ranked based on the level of technical expertise and hands-on experience needed. Advancing from entry-level to expert certifications involves gaining practical experience, understanding system vulnerabilities, and learning how to handle potential threats.

As individuals progress, they may face challenges such as adapting to rapidly changing technology, advancing problem-solving skills, and specializing in a niche within the cybersecurity industry. Expert certifications also require a deep understanding of complex security concepts, the ability to plan long-term security solutions, and the capacity to adapt to new threats.

All of these factors make expert certifications in cybersecurity quite challenging.

What is the Hardest Cyber Security Certification?

Criteria for the Hardest Cybersecurity Certifications

Cybersecurity certifications are considered the most challenging. This is based on criteria like the depth of knowledge needed to pass the exam, years of experience required, and the strict renewal process.

Certifications such as CISSP, CISM, and CRISC assess expertise through extensive hands-on experience. This includes a minimum number of years in the cybersecurity field. These certifications also require ongoing professional education and the successful completion of a comprehensive examination that covers various security domains.

Advanced certifications like CISM, CISA, and CRISC are challenging due to their focus on risk management, governance, and control assurance. Professionals need a comprehensive understanding of complex security concepts. They also encompass a broader understanding of the business aspects of security, applying cybersecurity solutions to real-world scenarios. Furthermore, these certifications are about supporting and managing organizational capabilities in achieving security goals.

Certifications that Define Cybersecurity Expertise

A cybersecurity certification is considered "hard" for different reasons. These include the depth of knowledge required, the difficulty of the exam, and the range of subjects covered.

Certifications that show expertise in cybersecurity usually focus on technical skills like penetration testing, secure coding, and digital forensics. However, they also emphasize ethical and professional conduct.

Showing a deep understanding of ethical hacking and adhering to a strict code of conduct is a key part of many cybersecurity certifications. These certifications aim to ensure that cybersecurity professionals not only have the technical skills to protect digital assets but also act with integrity, honesty, and professionalism.

Ethical and professional conduct are very important in shaping the mindset and actions of cybersecurity professionals, and they define the industry's standard of expertise.

Overview of Entry-Level Cybersecurity Certifications


Cybersecurity professionals often seek the hardest certification, Security+. This certification has rigorous training and a comprehensive examination, covering various cybersecurity topics. It provides a solid foundation in cybersecurity principles like network security, compliance, and operational security.

Moreover, it emphasizes the importance of professional conduct, ethical decision-making, and the impact of ethical standards in the cybersecurity field.

Professionals who obtain this certification are equipped with the knowledge and skills to handle security incidents and adhere to the code of ethics for security professionals.

By focusing on ethical standards, Security+ certification helps professionals uphold the integrity of the cybersecurity field, making it a challenging yet highly respected certification in the industry.

CompTIA Network+ and Its Role in Cybersecurity

CompTIA website

CompTIA Network+ is important in cybersecurity. It provides foundational knowledge and skills for a successful career. The certification covers networking concepts, security best practices, and the latest technologies. This ensures individuals are prepared for real-world security challenges. It demonstrates the ability to design and implement networks, identify and mitigate security threats, and use industry-standard tools to secure data and devices.

Professionals can showcase their expertise in areas like network architecture, network operations, and security, setting themselves apart in a competitive job market.

The Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) Information Security Fundamentals (GISF)

GIAC website

The Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) Information Security Fundamentals (GISF) is known as one of the toughest cybersecurity certifications. This is because of the extensive material covered, the difficulty of the exam, and the high standards of professional conduct required.

The GIAC Security Expert (GSE) certification is seen as an elite certification and requires a rigorous and comprehensive exam process, demanding a high level of expertise and experience in cybersecurity.

Both certifications highlight the importance of ethical behaviour and professional conduct when dealing with sensitive information.

The Journey to Becoming a Certified Cybersecurity Professional

CompTIA's Cybersecurity Pathway

CompTIA offers a range of cybersecurity certifications for professionals at different career stages. It starts with entry-level certifications like Security+, then progresses to more advanced ones like CySA+ and CASP+.

The expert-level certifications, like CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+), require a deep understanding of enterprise security, risk management, and research & analysis. For cybersecurity managers, there are certifications such as CompTIA Security Analytics Expert (CSAE) and CompTIA Certified Security Professional (CCSP), focusing on strategic planning, risk management, and integrating information security across the organization.

These certifications validate the skills and knowledge needed to secure an organization's critical systems and data against evolving cyber threats.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The CISSP certification is considered very challenging in cybersecurity. To get certified, you need at least five years of full-time work experience in two of its eight domains and to pass the CISSP exam. Other important cybersecurity certifications include Certified Ethical Hacker and Certified Information Security Manager (CISM).

When obtaining these certifications, professionals must adhere to a strict code of ethics and professional conduct. This emphasizes the importance of integrity, confidentiality, and other ethical values in handling sensitive information. Certified professionals are not only knowledgeable in technical aspects of cybersecurity but also uphold ethical standards in their professional practice.

Advanced Cybersecurity Certifications and Their Challenges

Certified Information Systems Security Manager (CISM)

The Certified Information Systems Security Manager certification is well-known worldwide. It is designed for individuals who manage, design, oversee, and assess an enterprise's information security.

CISM focuses on the relationship between an information security program and the larger business objectives of an organization. Compared to other advanced cybersecurity certifications, CISM is considered one of the most challenging. This is because it places emphasis on governance, risk management, and compliance.

To attain CISM certification, individuals must have at least five years of experience in information security management. They must also meet other criteria, such as adhering to the Code of Professional Ethics and passing the CISM exam.

Successfully obtaining the CISM certification demonstrates an individual's ability to manage, design, and oversee efficient information security programs. As a result, it is a highly sought-after qualification for cybersecurity professionals.

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

The Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certification is important in the cybersecurity certification pathway. It shows that an individual is skilled in assessing vulnerabilities, managing compliance, and ensuring the effectiveness of information security controls.

Obtaining CISA certification has challenges such as meeting work experience requirements, passing a rigorous exam, and maintaining ongoing professional education. Candidates must also adhere to a strict code of professional ethics and conduct.

CISA certification is significant as it validates an individual's knowledge and skills in identifying and addressing cybersecurity issues within an organization. It provides a comprehensive understanding of information systems auditing, control, and security, which are essential for safeguarding critical business and personal data.

This certification is recognised globally and is highly regarded as a benchmark for demonstrating proficiency in cybersecurity auditing and control.

Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

To get the CRISC certification, you need at least three years of work experience in IT risk management and a passing score on the CRISC exam. It tests your ability to identify and manage IT and business risks, and implement information systems controls.

To become certified:

  • Apply for the exam
  • Study the CRISC Review Manual
  • Pass the exam

After passing, you must follow the ISACA Code of Professional Ethics and show evidence of relevant work experience within five years. The CRISC certification is known as one of the toughest in cybersecurity due to its thorough evaluation of risk management and information systems control expertise.

Specialised Penetration Testing Certifications

CompTIA PenTest+

Being a critical component in the field of cybersecurity, CompTIA PenTest+ is regarded as one of the most difficult certifications due to its rigorous examination process and the depth of knowledge required to pass. This certification focuses on penetration testing and vulnerability assessment, requiring a deep understanding of network security, tools, and techniques.

The hands-on nature of the exam necessitates a practical understanding of real-world scenarios, making it particularly challenging.

Additionally, the constantly evolving nature of cyber threats means that professionals seeking this certification must stay current with the latest trends and technologies in order to succeed. The demanding nature of the certification, along with the high level of expertise required, sets it apart as one of the most difficult in the cybersecurity realm. Furthermore, this underscores the critical role that ethical behaviour and codes of conduct play in the world of cybersecurity, ensuring that professionals adhere to industry standards and principles of fairness and accountability.

Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT) by EC-Council

The Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT) by EC-Council is a challenging cyber security certification in the UK. It requires in-depth knowledge of penetration testing and practical experience. The exam is tough, testing candidates' ability to identify and exploit vulnerabilities within networks and systems. It also includes a grueling 18-hour hands-on test.

Compared to other certifications like CompTIA PenTest+ and GIAC's Certified Penetration Tester (GPEN), the LPT is considered more rigorous and covers a wider range of information security topics.

Due to its difficulty, few individuals achieve the LPT, making it an elite certification. However, it remains popular among cyber security professionals looking to showcase their expertise in the field.

Certified Penetration Tester (GPEN) by GIAC

The Certified Penetration Tester by GIAC is seen as one of the toughest cybersecurity certifications. This is because it has strict requirements, including a tough exam that tests a candidate's ability to exploit networks and systems.

Compared to other advanced cybersecurity certifications like the Certified Information Systems Security Manager and the Certified Information Systems Auditor , the GPEN certification focuses specifically on penetration testing and ethical hacking. This makes it uniquely challenging in its own way.

In the world of specialised penetration testing certifications, earning a GPEN certification shows a high level of expertise and practical skills in finding and fixing network vulnerabilities. This earns the respect of peers and employers.

What is the Hardest Cyber Security Certification?

The Elite GIAC Security Expert (GSE)

The Elite GIAC Security Expert certification requires hands-on experience, advanced knowledge, and the ability to solve complex security challenges in the cyber domain.

The certification process involves a comprehensive, multi-tiered examination that evaluates practical skills, theoretical understanding, and real-world application of cybersecurity principles. This ensures individuals with the GSE certification possess a deep understanding of cybersecurity and expertise to address sophisticated security threats effectively.

The GSE certification stands out due to its rigorous assessment methodology, which includes practical, scenario-based examinations and a focus on advanced technical skills. Additionally, its global recognition highlights its reputation as one of the most challenging and prestigious cybersecurity credentials available, making it an essential qualification for demonstrating advanced expertise in the field.

Proving Your Mettle: The GSE Examination Process

Cybersecurity professionals often pursue the Global Information Assurance Certification Security Expert designation to prove their expertise. This certification is regarded as one of the most challenging in the industry, requiring candidates to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and abilities across various cybersecurity domains.

The GSE examination process evaluates the candidate's technical abilities, problem-solving skills, and depth of understanding in areas such as network security, incident response, and penetration testing. To obtain this certification, cybersecurity managers must meet strict prerequisites, including holding multiple GIAC certifications, demonstrating hands-on experience, and obtaining professional endorsements.

The GSE certification is a comprehensive assessment of an individual's cybersecurity knowledge and capabilities, making it one of the most respected certifications available for cybersecurity professionals aiming to validate their expertise.

Certification Options for Cybersecurity Managers

What Makes a Cybersecurity Manager?

A Cybersecurity Manager needs to have a solid background in information technology. They also need strong leadership and communication skills to effectively manage a team of professionals and handle the complexities of IT security.

The Certified Information Security Manager certification is important for their professional development. It equips them with the necessary knowledge and skills to manage, design, and assess an enterprise’s information security.

Ethical and professional conduct are also crucial for Cybersecurity Managers. They handle sensitive information and are responsible for ensuring that their organization complies with legal and regulatory requirements.

Adhering to codes of ethics, maintaining confidentiality, and acting with integrity are fundamental aspects of their role. These reflect the ethical standards expected in the cybersecurity profession.

Certified Information Security Manager (CISM): A Closer Look

To get the toughest cybersecurity certification, you need deep theoretical knowledge, practical skills, and to pass a tough exam.

The Certified Information Security Manager is well-respected in cybersecurity for its focus on information risk management and governance. It requires a strong understanding of the business impact of security programs, not just technical skills.

Compared to other advanced certifications like Certified Information Systems Security Manager (CISSM), Certified Information Systems Auditor , and Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC), each has its own challenges and specific requirements.

CISM focuses on information risk management, CISA on auditing, CRISC on risk management, and CISSP on a broader range of information security topics. This means the difficulty and requirements of these certifications vary based on their specific focuses in cybersecurity.

The Role of Ethics and Professional Conduct in Cybersecurity Certifications

Ethical considerations and professional conduct are important for cybersecurity certifications. They ensure that professionals follow ethical principles in their work. This helps to build trust and reliability.

For example, professionals uphold client confidentiality and privacy rights, keeping sensitive data secure. Ethical competence and professional conduct also enhance the reputation and credibility of cybersecurity professionals. Ethical principles guide decision-making, leading to responsible actions that prioritise security and privacy. Trust and credibility are crucial for success in the cybersecurity industry.

Over to you

The CISSP is a tough cyber security certification. It's globally recognized and needs at least five years of professional experience in the industry. You also need to pass the CISSP exam.

The curriculum covers security and risk management, asset security, security architecture and engineering, communication and network security, and identity and access management.

Readynez offers a comprehensive portfolio of Security courses, including the above mentioned CISSP, CISA, CRISC and GIAC GPEN. You have a full course list here and you find all the Security courses included in our Unlimited Security Training license here, where license holders can attend all these security courses for FREE.


What is the toughest cyber security certification?

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional is widely considered one of the toughest cyber security certifications.

What are the requirements for obtaining the toughest cyber security certification?

The requirements for obtaining the toughest cyber security certification, such as the Offensive Security Certified Professional , include completing the PWK course, passing a 24-hour hands-on exam, and submitting a penetration testing report.

How long does it take to prepare for the toughest cyber security certification?

The time it takes to prepare for the toughest cyber security certification varies depending on individual experience and background knowledge. On average, candidates spend 6-12 months studying and practicing for certifications like Certified Information Systems Security Professional or Offensive Security Certified Professional.

What are the benefits of obtaining the toughest cyber security certification?

Obtaining the toughest cyber security certification enables individuals to demonstrate expertise, gain credibility, and increase job opportunities. For example, CISSP certification can lead to higher-paying roles and better career advancement.

What are the job opportunities available after obtaining the toughest cyber security certification?

Some job opportunities available after obtaining the toughest cyber security certification (like CISSP or OSCP) include roles such as security analyst, cybersecurity engineer, penetration tester, and vulnerability researcher.

Two people monitoring systems for security breaches

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