Career Insights with Upasana Gupta

Government's Top 10 IT Security Certifications

At a time when there is heightened demand for cybersecurity professionals within the U.S. federal government, the value of IT security certifications ranks high as a criterion for hire.

IT security certifications in areas such as network security and cyber defense support professionals in getting a job, according to a joint study of more than 1,600 security-cleared technology professionals by and, the IT job site.

Of the survey respondents, 38 percent of security-cleared professionals indicate that certification not only made them a contender, it helped them earn a new position.

What's interesting is that security certifications have transformed from 'nice- to- have' to being mandatory for positions within government agencies, such as the Department of Defense and all defense contractors, which require IT security professionals today to be certified in order to have privileged access to federal computer networks. This condition, in part, pushes the need for certified professionals in this space. has determined a list of its top 10 IT security certifications held by government technology professionals with security clearance.

"Combinations of both defensive and offensive skills related to network security are in demand," says Evan Lesser, director of "This trend will continue with increased focus on cybersecurity offense attacker roles and areas like ethical hacking, reverse engineering and malicious code analysis."

Top 10 Certifications

  1. CompTIA's Security+: Held by one in five (21 percent) security-cleared professionals who hold any certifications. Security + is the basis for competency in system security, network infrastructure, access control and organizational security, and as such is very popular within government agencies.
  2. CompTIA's A+: provides a solid foundation for any network technician in areas including installation, preventative maintenance, networking, security and troubleshooting.
  3. CompTIA's Network+: proves a technician's competency in managing, maintaining, troubleshooting, installing and configuring basic network infrastructures. Both A+ and Network+ are held by 10 percent of security cleared professionals.
  4. ITIL: The Information Technology Infrastructure Library is held by 7 percent of security-cleared professionals and clearly shows the adoption of this U.K.-based framework by government agencies in the U.S. The ITIL certification demonstrates the expertise of professionals in information technology services management, IT development and IT operations.
  5. CISSP: the popularity of the Certified Information Systems Security Professional is high within the IT security community, as it provides the basis of security knowledge. Around 6 percent of surveyed respondents hold this designation, which demonstrates their understanding of security concepts, principles and methodologies.
  6. PMP: 5 percent of IT professionals surveyed indicate they hold the Project Management Professional Certification to prove they have the knowledge and skills necessary to manage multiple projects successfully, given the constraints of time, resources and budget.
  7. MCSE: Microsoft's Certified Systems Engineers is in great demand and held by 5 percent of surveyed respondents. The certification shows proven expertise in design, implementation and administering technology infrastructures using Microsoft server platforms. This knowledge base fits in a variety of different positions, including systems engineers, technical support engineers, system analysts, network analysts and technical consultants.
  8. MCP: The Microsoft Certified Professional (held by 4 percent) allows developers, trainers, system architects and other IT professionals to spotlight their expertise with a range of Microsoft technologies.
  9. CCNA: Cisco Certified Network Associates is held by 4 percent of professionals, who demonstrate their ability to install, configure, run and troubleshoot medium-sized routed and switched networks. Practitioners with this expertise also have capabilities to work with a number of protocols within security and wireless technologies.
  10. MCSA:The Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator certification (held by 2 percent) allows IT professionals to show their expertise in systems administration and troubleshooting networks that use the Windows Server operating environment. It's earned by systems administrators, network administrators, network operations analysts, network technicians, and technical support specialists, among others.

To me, what stands out from the list is that we see a greater focus on functional-based certifications that include more in-depth coverage of a certain domain vs. awareness certifications that are broad and do not particularly go deep into any one domain. This goes hand-in hand with what we see in the industry in terms of demand for specialized cyber professionals. And, as Lesser points out, the trend for both jobs and certifications will likely be in areas where people are more specialized.

Do you agree with the list of top 10 certifications? What would you add or subtract from the list?

About the Author

Upasana Gupta

Upasana Gupta

Contributing Editor, CareersInfoSecurity

Upasana Gupta oversees CareersInfoSecurity and shepherds career and leadership coverage for all Information Security Media Group's media properties. She regularly writes on career topics and speaks to senior executives on a wide-range of subjects, including security leadership, privacy, risk management, application security and fraud. She also helps produce podcasts and is instrumental in the global expansion of ISMG websites by recruiting international information security and risk experts to contribute content, including blogs. Upasana previously served as a resource manager focusing on hiring, recruiting and human resources at Icons Inc., an IT security advisory firm affiliated with ISMG. She holds an MBA in human resources from Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa.

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