Like it or not, data breaches are a part of our digital world. They are happening every day due to a number of factors. Splunk’s State of Security 2023 report found that 52% of organizations reported a recent data breach, and 87% reported being targets of ransomware. With statistics like these, it’s no surprise that the average cost of a data breach is an astounding $4.45 million.
With cybercrime on the rise and vulnerabilities constantly being exposed, it is imperative that organizations take a proactive stance to protecting assets and employing skilled cybersecurity professionals. In fact, CompTIA’s State of Cybersecurity 2024 report states that there were over 660,000 cybersecurity-related job openings in the United States between May 2022 and April 2023, representing a 28% increase from the same time period in 2020 and making it one of the fastest-growing fields.
And employers, from government to Fortune 500 companies, value CompTIA as an authority in cybersecurity certifications.
How To Get Into Cybersecurity
The CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Pathway helps IT pros achieve cybersecurity mastery, from beginning to end. When you earn cybersecurity certifications, you’re proving to employers that you are the best candidate for the job and have the skills needed to protect the organization from cyberattacks and threats.
Early-Career Cybersecurity Certification
CompTIA Security+ equips you with the core security skills necessary to safeguard networks, detect threats and secure data—helping you open the door to your cybersecurity career. With performance-based questions, it emphasizes the hands-on practical skills used by security specialists, systems administrators and security administrators.
Here are just a few of the skills that CompTIA Security+ validates:
- Assess the security posture of an enterprise environment and recommend and implement appropriate security solutions
- Monitor and secure hybrid environments, including cloud, mobile, Internet of Things (IoT) and operational technology (OT)
- Operate with an awareness of applicable regulations and policies, including principles of governance, risk and compliance
- Identify, analyze and respond to security events and incidents
Still have questions? Check out CompTIA Security+: Your Questions Answered
Mid-Career Cybersecurity Certifications
The CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) certification is for cyber professionals tasked with incident detection, prevention and response through continuous security monitoring. The certification covers tools such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems, endpoint detection and response (EDR) and extended detection and response (XDR).
As new methods in threat intelligence emerge, the security analyst job role has gained more importance, making these skills essential for most organizations.
- Detect and analyze indicators of malicious activity
- Understand threat hunting and threat intelligence concepts
- Use appropriate tools and methods to manage, prioritize and respond to attacks and vulnerabilities
- Perform incident response processes
- Understand reporting and communication concepts related to vulnerability management and incident response activities
Still have questions? Check out CompTIA CySA+: Your Questions Answered
While CompTIA CySA+ focuses on defense through incident detection and response, CompTIA PenTest+ focuses on offense through penetration testing and vulnerability assessment. It involves launching attacks on systems, discovering the vulnerabilities and managing them.
CompTIA PenTest+ is intended for cybersecurity professionals such as penetration testers and vulnerability assessment analysts who are tasked with scanning, identifying, exploiting, reporting and managing vulnerabilities on a network.
Here are just a few of the skills that CompTIA PenTest+ validates:
- Plan and scope a penetration testing engagement
- Understand legal and compliance requirements
- Perform vulnerability scanning and penetration testing using appropriate tools and techniques, and then analyze the results
- Produce a written report containing proposed remediation techniques, effectively communicate results to the management team and provide practical recommendations
Still have questions? Check out CompTIA PenTest+: Your Questions Answered
In the context of red team/blue team testing, security analysts primarily function as members of the blue team. They are responsible for monitoring and analyzing an organization's security infrastructure, detecting potential threats and responding to incidents. Penetration testers, also known as ethical hackers, typically form the core of the red team. Their primary objective is to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in an organization's systems, networks and applications, simulating the tactics and techniques used by real-world cyber attackers.
The progression from CompTIA Security+ to CompTIA CySA+ and/or CompTIA PenTest+ is logical because CompTIA Security+ assesses the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) an IT professional demonstrates after two years of cybersecurity field work, and CompTIA CySA+ and CompTIA PenTest+ assess three to four years of cybersecurity field work.
The latest version of CompTIA PenTest+ (PT0-002) includes newer penetration testing techniques for the latest attack surfaces, including the cloud, hybrid environments and web applications, as well as more ethical hacking concepts, vulnerability scanning and code analysis.
Advanced-Career Cybersecurity Certification
IT pros can pursue CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+) to prove their mastery of cybersecurity skills required at the 5- to 10-year experience level. CASP+ is the pinnacle of cybersecurity certifications and includes performance-based questions. The primary related job roles are senior security engineers and security architects who are charged with leading and improving an enterprise’s cybersecurity readiness.
It is intended for those who wish to remain immersed in hands-on enterprise security, incident response and architecture, for example, as opposed to strictly managing cybersecurity policy and frameworks.
Here are just a few of the skills that CASP+ validates:
- Architect, engineer, integrate and implement secure solutions across complex environments to support a resilient enterprise
- Use monitoring, detection, incident response and automation to proactively support ongoing security operations in an enterprise environment
- Apply security practices to cloud, on-premises, endpoint and mobile infrastructure while considering cryptographic technologies and techniques
- Consider the impact of governance, risk and compliance requirements throughout the enterprise
Still have questions? Check out CASP+: Your Questions Answered
The latest version of CASP+ (CAS-004) qualifies the advanced skills required of security architects and senior security engineers to effectively design, implement and manage cybersecurity solutions on complex enterprise networks.
Ready to Start Your Cybersecurity Career?
Get started with CompTIA Security+! Your first step is to download the exam objectives so you know what topics the exam covers. Next, start studying. You can use a self-study resource like CompTIA CertMaster – purchasing the eLearning bundle seamlessly integrates the interactive lessons of CertMaster Learn with the hands-on practice of CertMaster Labs – or you can take a class, like CompTIA’s Live Online Training for Security+. Before your exam, build your confidence with CertMaster Practice.
The Building Blocks of Cybersecurity
But how do you get into cybersecurity with no experience? If you have limited experience in IT and aren't quite ready to start with CompTIA Security+, then you’ll want to start earlier on the pathway.
CompTIA A+ validates the skills employers look for in new and aspiring IT support professionals. In addition to covering today's core technologies in operating systems, cloud, data management and more, the CompTIA A+ core series covers baseline security skills at the end point device level, including malware detection and removal, privacy concerns, physical security and device hardening.
Where CompTIA A+ considers connectivity from the perspective of the user and their device, CompTIA Network+ focuses on the connections from (and between) the core systems to the endpoint devices. It validates the essential knowledge and skills needed to design, configure, manage and troubleshoot wired and wireless networks. To best support and ultimately secure the systems that exchange information on your network, you must first understand how the network functions.
CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ follow a progression consistent with the KSAs an IT professional exhibits as they move from an early career technical support role with 9-12 months of general IT experience to one with 1-2 years of general IT experience, and with a significant part of that specific to network support and administration.
CompTIA Network+ is also an important and strongly recommended prerequisite to CompTIA Security+. Before you can secure a network, you must understand how it functions. In other words, you shouldn’t skip algebra and start with calculus. Otherwise, you are learning security skills and applying them to a network you don’t understand.
Now that we’ve covered the IT certifications in the cybersecurity pathway, let’s explore some of the common questions surrounding it.
Questions About the CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Pathway
Where should I start on the CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Pathway?
The pathway is intended to help people get into the field of cybersecurity. IT pros can enter at any point, depending on their IT experience, existing certifications or course of study.
There are no required prerequisites for these CompTIA certifications. For example, if you have two years of IT security experience or equivalent knowledge, you might start with CompTIA Security+ to prove your knowledge. If you already have CompTIA Security+, you can move ahead to CompTIA CySA+, CompTIA PenTest+ or CASP+.
Find your place on the CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Pathway
Do I need to take these certifications in order? Do I need to take all of them?
No. This is a recommended pathway, but it’s not a requirement. Your pathway will vary depending on your job needs or interests. In general, the pathway follows a hierarchy of skills needed for IT security; each certification builds upon the skills from the previous one.
Can I take these exams with no IT or cybersecurity experience?
Yes, you can. However, we recommend a minimum amount of hands-on experience before taking any of our certifications. (Each one has different recommendations, found in the exam details section of the certification webpage.)
But hands-on experience doesn’t have to be on-the-job experience. It could mean any hands-on work, including practical experience gained while taking a class or through self-study, like with official CompTIA training products. CompTIA develops these solutions from the ground up and rigorously evaluates them to ensure in-depth coverage of the exam objectives. Then, take what you’ve learned to the next level by helping friends, family or local nonprofits with their IT and cybersecurity issues.
CompTIA certifications mirror the current job roles of IT professionals, so it makes sense to earn these certifications to validate the knowledge and hands-on skills currently being used in the workforce, whether you have job experience or not.
Do these certifications replace on-the-job experience?
If you are an IT professional or an employer, you understand the value of on-the-job experience. IT certifications are a great place to start, but they do not replace hands-on experience. If you have CompTIA certifications and on-the-job experience, you have the best of both worlds.
The recommended CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Pathway offers guidance for IT pros, employers, instructors and students. You can start wherever it makes sense, depending on your personal background, job requirements or course of study. The pathway is unique because it offers vendor-neutral skills for IT professionals to achieve cybersecurity mastery, from beginning to end.
Is your next move a CompTIA cybersecurity certification? Download the exam objectives for free today.
Patrick Lane, M.Ed., Network+, MCSE, CISSP, directs cybersecurity workforce certifications for CompTIA, including Security+, PenTest+, CySA+ and CASP+. He assisted the U.S. National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCSA) to create the “Lock Down Your Login” campaign to promote multi-factor authentication nationwide. He has implemented a wide variety of IT projects as a network, security and server administrator, security analyst and architect. Patrick is an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) lifetime member, born and raised on U.S. military bases, and has authored and co-authored multiple books, including Hack Proofing Linux: A Guide to Open Source Security.
Jen Blackwell also contributed to this article. She is a products marketing director at CompTIA and oversees the certifications along the CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Pathway.