Cyber Security Certifications

Written by Charles Martin
Charles Martin, Security+ (Plus) Certification, Bachelor of Arts (University of Virginia)
Last reviewed March 25, 2022
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Getting a certification in computer and network security is an excellent way to learn new skills within the IT fields. Certifications can demonstrate competency in certain fields (such as penetration testing). They can also show familiarity with specific products (such as a Cisco certification). When it comes to certifications, there are several options.

Universities across the country offer certification courses with varying prerequisite requirements. In many cases, pursuing certifications through a handful of courses is cheaper than enrolling in a degree program, while also taking less of a time commitment. Lastly, there are certifications that are not linked to a specific university and offer a general overview of a field, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) cert.

Are There Online Programs for Cybersecurity Certifications?

There are numerous online cybersecurity degrees, but there are also many online cybersecurity certificates for undergraduate, graduate, and vendor-specific cybersecurity certifications. They can be found at community colleges, large universities, massive open online courses (MOOCs), or courses that are provided by the same organizations who offer vendor and specialized certifications (for example, Splunk offers both the certifications and the courses needed to earn them).

Many vendor-specific certs do not have an education requirement, either for prerequisite work, or certification coursework. In other words, you may simply pay for the exam and take it, without enrolling in any courses. Bear in mind, however, that vendor-specific certs do require a certain amount of knowledge (as with general certs). We do not recommend simply taking an exam on a product with which you have little or no familiarity. Some vendors also require a certain number of years of experience before being allowed to take one of their certification exams.

Since undergraduate and graduate certifications have a smaller requirement of credit hours needed, many of these programs are offered in a convenient online format. This is more the case with graduate certifications, which typically take the curriculum of concentrations within an information technology discipline and offer them as separate certifications that students can complete.

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Online Experience

Prospective students should review any limitations when it comes to completing graduate certifications or equivalent programs through universities online. Not all programs are available across the country and may only be offered to students within a proximity of the university or select states. Vendor certifications are generally available nationwide.

Technical requirements should also be considered when pursuing the program online, having a modern desktop or laptop computer with high-speed internet access. Typically, a Windows or Mac operating system is required to access all course materials within the learning management system. Various applications, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader and Flash Player, and web browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, are also needed.

What Are the Steps to Getting A Certification?

Vendor and Association Certifications

CompTIA Certifications

One of the most popular certifications in this category is CompTIA Security+. This is one of the core offerings from the association, and while no prerequisites are required, there is a recommendation of completing the Network+ certification first. Individuals can take the exam directly if they have prepared on their own, or they can select one of many educational options from CompTIA directly, such as study guides and video training.

CompTIA also provides multiple certifications under cybersecurity, including Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+), Penetration Testing (PenTest+), and Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+). The analyst certification provides competency in detecting vulnerabilities within a system and meshes well with other certifications, such as Network+ or Cloud+. CASP+ is one of the top certifications for security-based government positions.

Google and Microsoft Certifications

Examples of vendor certification are the Professional Cloud Security Engineer certification through Google Cloud and the Microsoft Certified Azure Security Engineer Associate. This type of certification gives competency in particular products and services, like Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure, which gives individuals a competitive advantage when seeking an opportunity with an organization that uses these tools.

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Admission Requirements

Different requirements are needed to pursue undergraduate and graduate certifications offered by an institution. Typically, a high school diploma or GED equivalent is needed to get a certification at the undergraduate level. An undergraduate certification is equivalent to an associate degree offered at some colleges, but it does not require a full two years to complete and is completed with self-paced, part-time enrollment.

Graduate certifications have equivalent admission requirements to those looking into a Master’s degree. This means a full undergraduate program should have been completed at an accredited institution with high academic merit, such as a cumulative 3.0 GPA in the entire program or the major focus. Other needs may include a letter of recommendation, graduate-level test scores, and a resume showing professional experience.

Prerequisites may need to be met in order to get into a graduate certification as this education skips introductory topics within the discipline. For example, students looking at graduate certification within digital forensics may need to complete some coursework in computer systems, network architecture, programming, and analysis tools in order to understand the process of digital forensic investigations.

In contrast to degrees and graduate certifications offered by institutions, vendor and association certifications do not have specific education requirements that limit individuals from taking the exam. They do not have to enroll into a program to receive their education or sit for the exam. All that is needed is registering for a time to take the certification exam and payment for the exam fee.

Some vendor certifications that focus on specializations within cybersecurity will need prior certification in a more fundamental area or recommends other certifications. For example, in order to be well prepared for the CompTIA Security+ exam, it is recommended that individuals already hold the Network+ certification and have two years of experience working within information technology administration.

Full-Time Versus Part-Time Enrollment for Certification

Regardless of academic or organization-specific certification that is being pursued by an individual, it does not require full-time studies. Vendor certification only has a requirement of taking the exam with optional self-paced studying materials. In college, both undergraduate and graduate certification only require around four to six courses to complete, which can be accomplished within a year when taking one or two courses at a time.

The amount of coursework varies depending on how much preparation is needed for the vendor certification. CompTIA provides study guides and online training for those that need it at an additional cost from the standard examination fee. In some cases, when individuals decide to take courses offered by the organization, or a college that prepares students for certain vendor certifications, there is a voucher to take the exam.

When considering enrollment at a university to pursue certification for a particular skill set or tools in cybersecurity, availability may be limited. Students should review when specialty courses are offered throughout the year to plan out their schedule. Some certifications may be available fully online, especially at the graduate level, even if the related full graduate-level degree can only be completed on campus.

Frequently, there is a time limit to gain credentials in these subjects. When paying for a vendor certification, the voucher to take the examination may expire in a year. Universities often limit how long students can pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree when studying on a part-time basis, and the ability to get a certification will typically be limited to two or three years.

Online Certifications for Cyber Security

Fairleigh Dickinson University

A Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity Administration is available through the School of Public and Global Affairs exclusively online. This certification utilizes courses from the Master of Science in Cyber and Homeland Security Administration that is also offered by the school. Completion of this certification can be transferred over into the Master’s degree at a later date if the student decides to take the full graduate program.

Students complete the certification in an asynchronous format, giving them the flexibility to complete the courses on their own time during the summer months. Each course requires students to meet specific deadlines and will take three weeks to complete. In total, two months during the season are needed to complete the graduate certification.

The courses students pursue with this certification are Introduction to Networking and Internet Traffic Flow, Infrastructure Security and Administration, and Cyber Forensics and Threat Mitigation. Introductory topics will explore how different hardware and devices connect with each other through different networks and the internet in general, and Infrastructure Security and Administration focuses on how to implement security measures on a cloud-based solution.

Other graduate certifications that are available online in a similar field include Homeland Security Administration, Homeland Security Leadership, and Global Security and Terrorism Studies. All of these certifications can also be earned at the Metropolitan campus in Teaneck, New Jersey, and graduate certification in computer security is available exclusively at the location.

Kennesaw State University

The Coles College of Business offers an undergraduate and graduate certification in Information Security and Assurance that can be completed online. Education in this program applies the skills needed to analyze and secure information systems in a variety of organizations. Students can transfer the credits from the graduate certification over to the Master of Science in Information Systems.

The following courses can be taken in the Information Security and Assurance concentration: Information Security Technologies, Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning, and Ethical Hacking and Proactive Management of IT Security. This is somewhat customizable for the certification. For example, a student can explore ethical and legal issues within information security.

On average, the college recommends students to spend between six to nine hours on coursework for a traditional course worth three credit hours. For the summer semester, a typical course term is truncated from 16 weeks to 8 weeks, and students must study longer hours to keep up with the pace of the course. Courses that are listed as 95 percent online mean there is an on-campus requirement, such as a lab session or exam, that must be completed.

For the online experience, students should have high-speed internet access and software that is required by the courses. A compatible web browser is required for all courses, but additional applications may include Windows Media Player, Microsoft Office, and video webconferencing software. Some courses may also require a webcam and/or microphone for virtual interaction with faculty members and other students.

Forsyth Technical Community College

At the undergraduate level, this community college offers a Systems Security and Systems Security Cyber Defense certification. This foundation-focused curriculum can help individuals get a career as security analysts, information security officers, and network specialists. Students can also consider the Associate in Applied Science in the same discipline, and all opportunities are available online.

16 total credit hours are needed for the Information Technology certification in Systems Security. Students can complete these courses in one fall and spring semester, which will require five total courses. Examples of what students can pursue in this program include Technology Crimes and Law, Ethics and High Technology, and Data Recovery Techniques.

With the addition of cyber defense courses, the college implements a two-year plan where students can complete two courses in the first two semesters, and one course in the final two semesters. Examples of these courses include Network and Security Foundation, Network Vulnerabilities, and Security Administration. All courses account for three credit hours, making the total program with 18 credit hours.

University of Denver

Certification is available within the concentration of Information Systems Security. Students can gain competency in how to design stronger security solutions for an organization and will attempt to figure out problems through real-world scenarios in their studies. This program provides an ability for students to prepare for the CISSP certification.

There are two different certifications that students can choose from – Specialized Graduate Certificate and the traditional Graduate Certificate. The specialized version requires the following four courses: Principles of Information Security, Identity and Access Management, Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning, and Information Systems Security with a laboratory session.

For the traditional program, an additional two electives are needed in addition to the four concentration courses. These are courses that are chosen by the student through the Information and Communications Technology program, or other schools that are approved by the program director. Each course is distributed in an online format or available on-campus in he evening, and are completed in 10-week modules.

Students can complete this program between six months to a full year. Those pursuing certification in just a half year will be taking two or three courses in each of the quarter terms. This can stretch out to one or two courses through all four quarter terms in an academic year.

University of Louisville

The JB Speed School of Engineering offers a Cybersecurity graduate certification that stretches over 12 credit hours and can be completed fully online. This can be accomplished over a span of one year and can be transferred over into a Master of Science in Computer Science that is also offered by the school. Various topics within data science, such as gathering information and storing it securely, can be explored in this curriculum.

In total, four courses will be taken in the certification process. All students must take a general overview course of information security, and they choose between computer forensics or cryptography. The remaining two courses are electives, such as Mobile Computing, Database Security, Data Mining, or a special topics course that varies per semester and must be approved by a faculty member.

Three different start dates for the fall, spring, and summer term are available to begin the program. To gain entry into the program, applicants must submit an official transcript that showcases the completion of a Bachelor’s degree with a 2.75 GPA or higher. The university does not require applicants to submit their Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores or equivalent.

Prerequisite courses include understanding a programming language such as C++ or Java, computing structures, and foundational concepts in computer engineering. Potential students that do not meet these prerequisites can show how they have competency in these topics already or take them early in the program with no credit accounted toward the certification.

University of Texas at San Antonio

The College of Business offers a Graduate Certificate in Cyber Security that can be completed within a year conveniently online. A total of 12 credit hours are needed to complete the courses in the program, which give students the ability to analyze problems in cybersecurity and understand the legal and ethical issues in the field.

As the graduate certification is geared toward individuals without professional experience in cybersecurity, these credit hours earned cannot be implemented in the Master of Science in Information Technology offered by the college. There is a separate concentration in Cyber Security within the program with advanced topics in the computer and network security field.

All courses can be completed in an online format with some availability at the main campus location. Examples of courses available for this certification include Digital Forensic Analysis, Web Application Security, and Information Assurance and Security. Telecommunication Systems is the exclusive course that all students must take when pursuing the certification.

Admission requirements include submitting unofficial transcripts that show the completion of a Bachelor’s degree and GRE or GMAT scores. The application must be submitted along with a fee in order to be processed. There are three different start times for those administered into the program – fall, spring, and summer semesters.

Old Dominion University

The College of Sciences and the Department of Computer Science features a graduate certification in cybersecurity that can be pursued in a convenient online format. Students will take two courses in the fall and spring semester, which will complete the program in less than one year. Should the student take the Master of Science in Computer Science at a later date, these credit hours can be transferred into the program.

Four courses account for the 12 credit hours that are needed in this program, which are Cybersecurity Fundamentals, Cryptography for Cybersecurity, Networked Systems Security, and Information Assurance. Fundamental topics include detecting vulnerabilities, threats with different types of network connections, firewall capabilities, and internet protocol stack.

Students will typically not meet at a specific time, allowing online students to complete their coursework and view lectures on demand. They must follow assignment deadlines and exams, which are similar to the on-campus format. Any lab sessions that are needed within information technology may be completed at a student’s local community, such as an affiliated school or within their place of work.

ODU utilizes the Blackboard learning management system along with the web conferencing applications, Webex and Zoom. All of these tools will work on computer systems that have a Windows or Mac operating system, and there is compatibility with mobile devices that use an application for these products. It is recommended that students have modern computers with access to high-speed internet access.

University of South Florida

There are three different graduate certifications that students can pursue through USF in cybersecurity: Cyber Intelligence, Digital Forensics, and Information Assurance. Depending on the program, between 12 to 18 credit hours are needed to fulfill certification requirements. All courses are available conveniently online and are completed in eight-week modules.

Cyber Intelligence is a process that looks to get ahead of cyber attacks, ensuring that the platform does not have vulnerability and penetration testing has occurred to verify any potential issues. Having this intelligence within the organization will help professionals make data-driven decisions that best protect information and overall processes.

On a similar note, Information Assurance focuses on the integrity of information systems and ensures that data moving through the network is authentic and remains confidential. Two courses are required for all students: Basics of Information Security and Risk Management, and Decision Processes for Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery. The program concludes with two elective options that customize the certification.

To gain entry into these programs, students should have a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a discipline in computer engineering, information technology, or a related field. Since the certification has specific advanced courses in these topics, students should already have familiarity with more foundational topics in computer science, including operating systems, C or C++ programming, and data structures.

Stanford University

The Stanford School of Engineering has a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate that offers a customizable curriculum with a handful of core topics in the field and specialty topics, such as national security and blockchain technology. On average, students will complete this program in one to two years, and there is a three-year limit to finish the curriculum.

Within the curriculum, students will understand cryptography skills and techniques that give organizations an upper hand over attackers, policy and legal issues involved with securing private information, and penetration testing. The free initial course, Introduction to Web Security, does not count toward the curriculum. All courses must be completed with a B grade or higher.

In order to get into the program, students must have completed a Bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 cumulative GPA or higher. Applicants will need to create a profile at My Stanford Connection and submit their official transcripts and proof of identity through the platform. An application submission does require a fee in order to be processed.

Typical Coursework for a Certification

The curriculum with a graduate certification can change drastically depending on if the student is studying an overview of the cybersecurity field or diving into a specialization, such as cryptography. Vendor courses will either be affiliated with a school or distributed through a MOOC service, such as Coursera or edX. Here are some courses that can be found within graduate certification programs.

Fundamental Topics in Cyber Security

Information Assurance

These courses emphasize the concept of protecting information systems in an organization and maintaining their integrity. This includes being up to date on various technological innovations to ensure that there are no compromises to the hardware and that sensitive information is not leaked to hackers or rogue programs that are connected to the network.

Network Security

Students explore the various security measures needed within the network itself, including internet protocols, firewalls, and intrusion detection products. This includes reviewing case studies and solutions that have been developed from previous attacks. The goal is to create a successful network system from the ground up and as more organizations transition to a cloud-based system.

Application Security

Not limited to the hardware itself, it is important to add strong security solutions to software that operates with the information system. Students may review situations where applications have been compromised that have led to intrusion and data breaches. Other topics can include the different security tools used to create protection for programs, cryptography, and the evolution of improving program security.

Database Security

Separate from protecting the network itself, some courses may specifically focus on security measures on the database management system itself. Students can examine the structural security techniques that are used at organizations, and tools that manipulate these databases, including MySQL and Oracle products. Typically, having foundational education in database architecture and programming is required for this course.

Cyber Law

Among the legal and ethical types of courses in many cybersecurity-focused certifications is understanding law and policy that is developed by the federal government and the organization itself. These courses cover privacy protection for information that an organization holds and what happens in situations where sensitive data is leaked to the dark web.

Digital Forensics

One of the common specializations that can be earned through an undergraduate or graduate certification is investigations that take place on computer systems and storage devices. This is known as digital forensics, which attempts to recover damaged or deleted data that can be restored and used in a court of law. Courses may focus on prior cases, tools that are used, and techniques to successfully recover information.


A popular tool used to protect information as it is moves from one place to another is through encryption. Cryptography is the study of both the encryption and decryption process that is used in many situations, including accessing a web site, sending an email to another person, and purchase transactions with a debit or credit card. Students may have an overview on the concept and review the history and adoption of this process.

Penetration Testing

This specialization within cybersecurity is a popular course or certification that can become an individual’s primary job position. Penetration testing is using a controlled environment within the network and purposely exposing it to a variety of attacks to determine its security strengths. Students may learn how to analyze these situations and create reports, or how to create and stabilize the environment itself for the activity to occur.

Incident Response

When an unauthorized intrusion occurs, it is important to react immediately and eliminate any further damage that may take place. Incident response focuses on mitigating disaster and the recovery techniques used to restore valuable information and get processes running smoothly again. Courses may focus on a particular aspect of this response or give a general overview and recent innovations in this activity.

Tuition Costs for Certifications in Cyber Security

Costs for certification in cybersecurity and information assurance are very different when looking at graduate certification or designation within a skillset. When looking at the CompTIA Security+ or Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate certification, the examination itself is typically found within $200 to $1,000 per attempt. This means that if the student does not meet the passing requirement, they must pay the fee again to retake.

In some instances where the vendor or association involved offer online courses and self-training modules, these can be added for an additional fee. They may partner with organizations that provide massive open online courses, such as Coursera or edX. Costs will vary based on the amount of training the individual desires, which can range from a few hundred dollars into the thousands.

Some vendors may provide free study guides and hands-on training labs, such as the Google Cloud Platform, in order to gain some experience with the hardware and software. Individuals should review what recommendations are given by the vendor to determine if they have the education and professional experience to have success on the certification exam.

Graduate Certification Costs

To receive graduate certification in the specialty of cybersecurity, students will need to complete four to six courses on average. As an example, Old Dominion University charges $551 per credit hour for students that have residency in the state of Virginia, and this jumps to $595 to out-of-state students. With four total courses needed, equating to 12 credit hours, students will need to spend $7,140 total on the program.

Tuition rates for graduate certification can vary between $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the length of the program and where the institution is located. Students that keep their education local, or select an online format that does not add on out-of-state tuition costs, can significantly lower their amount. Generally, students can spread their graduate certification curriculum out to take courses one at a time, but they must complete the program within a specific time frame.

Scholarship Options for Certifications

There are few scholarship opportunities for students that are looking at vendor and graduate certifications within cybersecurity. Due to the length of these programs and limited amount of credit hours, graduate certifications typically would not qualify for many scholarships distributed by the college. Some associations may provide scholarships or funding to students that are looking at certification options.

Students will need to determine if the college they are applying to allows for student aid if scholarships are not available for the graduate program. Federal student aid may be accepted if the student provides evidence that the certification will give them further employment. If the certification is not necessary for the student, then they will not be accepted for the financial aid award.

Some vendor and associate certifications may offer a deal when looking at virtual training sessions prior to attempting the examination. When purchasing a package of courses that can help in preparation, this may provide a voucher for the examination and/or additional attempts to take the exam if the individual did not pass on the first try.

The Cisco Global Cybersecurity Scholarship gives individuals an opportunity to gain free training and preparation for the Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate certification. Individuals must be at least 18 years old, hold foundational competency in information technology, and need to complete the training process within three months. The applicant must be going into a position within information technology to qualify.

What Can You Do With a Certification in Cyber Security?

The type of certification an individual chooses to pursue has an impact on what they can do. Certifications typically showcase the knowledge and abilities of many aspects of cybersecurity, or a particular subject, such as digital forensics, information assurance, or cryptography. Certification is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to gain employment in the sector, but typically requires an individual to have knowledge in computer science, operating systems, and programming.

Certifications can also focus on specific security tools for software and hardware solutions through the vendor. For example, an individual can take a certification exam through Microsoft, Cisco, or Google, and receive verification that they are an expert in using these products. This does not necessarily mean that individuals are limited to job opportunities that only use these products, but they may need to take additional education or complete another certification through the employer.

Associations provide authentic certification that verifies their expertise at a particular level. For example, the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is an established credential that is distributed by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, which is frequently shortened to (ISC)^2.

For individuals that have a different academic background, pursuing a certification can be the simplest process to changing their career pathway. If they already hold general education requirements from an undergraduate program and hold a Bachelor’s degree, they can apply for a graduate certification as long as they meet certain prerequisites that the program requires.

Further Education Opportunities

Holding association certification often requires additional education in the future in order to renew their credentials. For example, the CISSP requires an annual fee and continuing education credits in order to stay informed on new innovations in the cybersecurity field. This education can typically be earned online through special programs offered by institutions or MOOCs that are verified by the association.

Gaining graduate certification can be a quicker way for individuals to get specific knowledge in cybersecurity instead of pursuing a full Master’s degree. It is important to hold an undergraduate degree that has a discipline in cybersecurity or related field in order to be familiar with courses that the certification offers. In many cases, students can use credits earned from the graduate certification and pursue the full Master’s degree in cybersecurity at a later time.

Career Opportunities

Many career options at various levels can be pursued through certification. Gaining these credentials at the undergraduate level opens up entry-level positions, such as cybersecurity assistants or analysts that review the information systems and ensure that processes are running smoothly and data remains protected. Graduate certifications can lead to more specialized and advanced positions in various industries.

Some jobs may require certification in order to get the job. This is more common at larger organizations or companies that handle more sensitive information, such as medical health records or banking information. It is important to review the job listing to determine what skill set is needed for the position and if there are any credentials, or equivalent achievements, needed to get the job.

At the federal government level, many positions within the Department of Defense or National Security Agency require an advanced certification prior to gaining employment. This is a requirement due to the demanding needs that these jobs require and the comprehensive information systems that will be maintained. In addition to CISSP, other credentials that meet these requirements include CompTIA Security+, and the Federal IT Security Professional suite.

Salary Estimates for Cyber Security Certifications

Getting an undergraduate or graduate certification can be beneficial for entry-level and mid-level security positions within information technology. This can generally be enough if the student is already familiar with particular aspects of cybersecurity or have a background in computer science or computer engineering. Individuals with these credentials should not expect executive or managerial roles as this requires further higher education and work experience.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, information security analyst make a mean annual wage of $104,210 across the United States. Based on the certification that a professional has gained, this amount can change wildly. Looking at the overall range, the lowest 10 percent make $57,810 annually and the top 10 percent make $158,860.

The top two states in the country are New York and New Jersey, which are both estimated at over $121,570 annually for cybersecurity jobs. When adding both of these states together, there is estimated employment of over 11,240 workers implementing security in various industries. On the West Coast, the state of California has an annual mean wage of $114,620.

In addition to the state of Virginia having the most employment opportunity in any state with over 15,000 employed, the annual estimated wage across the state is at $114,760. For the District of Columbia alone, there are 2,000 workers represented and estimated $119,160 made annually. This also makes the largest metropolitan area in terms of employment when adding in the cities of Arlington and Alexandria with Washington DC.

Between the coasts, there are large amounts of employment in Texas, Colorado, and Illinois. Looking at Texas specifically, they are the second-highest in security employment with approximately 10,430 workers. Salary estimates statewide are at $108,810 annually, and the locations with the highest-paying opportunities are in the Dallas, Austin, Houston, and Beaumont metropolitan areas.