SSCP Certification: Overview and Career Path
Are you now—or want to become—an information security (InfoSec) professional and are not sure what certification to pursue? Well, an option might be the Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP), which could be the right credential to launch your cybersecurity profession.
Founded in 1989, the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)², is a non-profit organization that specializes in training and certifications for cybersecurity professionals. Since then, over 130,000 professionals have been certified through their credentials that are recognized worldwide.
The SSCP exam and certification are geared towards professionals who are building their foundation in InfoSec or are already employed in hands-on IT positions. This credential has met the requirements of ANSI/ISO/IEC Standard 17024 and is now also listed as one of the baseline certifications that allows professionals to meet the requirements of US Department of Defense Directive 8140 and DoD 8570.01-Manual. As cybersecurity gets more complex, the U.S. federal government, and not only, need a qualified workforce and have identified the needs to establish minimum knowledge requirements for their resources when employed in a variety of IT security-related positions. SSCP fulfills requirements for IA Technical (IAT) functions at levels I, II, and CSSP Infrastructure Support.
So, wherever you are in the cybersecurity or InfoSec journey, to jumpstart your career or give yourself a competitive edge, you might want to think about getting SSCP certified.
What is the SSCP Certification?
The (ISC)² SSCP certification is often compared to Security+, which is CompTIA’s entry-level IT security certification, but this credential offers an in-depth, real-world practice that can be readily applied in a professional’s day-to-day work activities and is actually often regarded as a great way to prepare for CISSP. This certification is vendor-neutral and gives testers a way to stay up-to-date on emerging security threats as well as provide them with a general overview not only of technical topics related to a career in information security but also to important subjects like risk management and business continuity planning.
So, by pursuing the SSCP, professionals can distinguish themselves with a globally recognized credential that can validate their computer-related security knowledge, expertise, and skillsets. Not only aspiring InfoSec or cyber security professionals interested in entering the field that seek to advance their career might find this qualification worth pursuing, but also IT security practitioners already in the field can benefit from acquiring this certification: There are system administrators, analysts, consultants, and engineers as well as network security engineers and database administrators, for example, whom all pursued this cert to receive the recognition they deserve.
What Experience Do You Need to Apply for the SSCP?
SSCP is targeted at security practitioners with at least one year of experience in one or more of the domains of the Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) that (ISC)² feels are most important for aspiring IT security professionals to know. A minimum of 34 hours/week for four weeks is necessary to accrue one month of work experience or 2080 hours of part-time work. The experience requirement can also be satisfied by candidates who have a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited institution in a cybersecurity program to be evaluated and approved. Pre-approved degrees include Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Computer Systems Engineering, Management Information Systems (MIS) and Information Technology (IT). Qualifications are randomly checked.
Those that do not have the required work experience yet can still take the SSCP exam and, if passed, they can earn an Associate of (ISC)2 designation; this is an alternative to normal certification processes and enables someone to have up to two years to complete the endorsement process and become SSCP certified.
Paid or unpaid internship is also acceptable to apply for the SSCP but does require the company/organization confirming the position.
Getting SSCP Certified
The first step for applicants is to gather as much information as possible on the exam by downloading the free material available on the official certification webpage. Test demonstration demos are also available on the Pearson VUE website. It is important to be familiar not only with the actual content of the test and its domains that emphasizes topics but also with all the administrative requirements to prevent any problems or grounds not to be successfully passing the SSCP examination in getting certified.
Applicants will then need to sign in to their Pearson VUE account, select their preferred test location and date as well as pay the required fees. Pearson VUE will then transfer the information to (ISC)². A phone registration option is also available.
All certifications provided are centered on the Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) created and maintained by (ISC)² and based on global industry standards and best practices in information security. A Job Task Analysis (JTA) is performed periodically to make sure the exam remains aligned with the actual duties and responsibilities of professionals in the field. The latest review has prompted a new version of the exam and a change in the weight of the domains it covers, effective November 1, 2018:
Domain 1: Access Controls (16%) – Stays the same
- Implement and maintain authentication methods
- Support internetwork trust architectures
- Participate in the identity management lifecycle
- Implement access controls
Domain 2: Security Operations and Administration (15%) – Drops from 17%
- Comply with codes of ethics
- Understand security concepts
- Document, implement, and maintain functional security controls
- Participate in asset management
- Implement security controls and assess compliance
- Participate in change management
- Participate in security awareness and training
- Participate in physical security operations (e.g., data center assessment, badging)
Domain 3: Risk Identification, Monitoring and Analysis (15%) – Up from 12%
- Understand the risk management process
- Perform security assessment activities
- Operate and maintain monitoring systems (e.g., continuous monitoring)
- Analyze monitoring results
Domain 4: Incident Response and Recovery (13%) – Stays the same
- Support incident lifecycle
- Understand and support forensic investigations
- Understand and support Business Continuity Plan (BCP) and Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) activities
Domain 5: Cryptography (10%) – Up from 9%
- Understand fundamental concepts of cryptography
- Understand reasons and requirements for cryptography
- Understand and support secure protocols
- Understand Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) systems
Domain 6: Network and Communications Security (16%) – Stays the same
- Understand and apply fundamental concepts of networking
- Understand network attacks and countermeasures (e.g., DDoS, man-in-the-middle, DNS poisoning)
- Manage network access controls
- Manage network security
- Operate and configure network-based security devices
- Operate and configure wireless technologies (e.g., Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi)
Domain 7: Systems and Application Security (15%) – Drops from 17%
- Identify and analyze malicious code and activity
- Implement and operate endpoint device security
- Operate and configure cloud security
- Operate and secure virtual environments
The SSCP exam has a cost of USD 249, EUR 230, or GBP 199 depending on the student’s location; additional fees include:
- Rescheduling Exam: 50USD/35£/40€
- Canceling Exam: 100USD/70£/80€
The test consists of 125 multiple-choice questions with four choices each and uses a computer-based format. Candidates will need to travel to a Pearson VUE testing center.
Participants will have three hours to complete the SSCP examination. Results of your test will be released by (ISC)² via an email, as real-time results may not be available. To pass this test, a minimum score of 700 on a 1000-point scale needs to be obtained to apply for SSCP certification; the applicant will also need to be endorsed by another (ISC)² certified professional in good standing before the cert can be awarded.
What is the Best Way to Train for the SSCP Exam?
The SSCP exam consists of experience-based questions that cannot be learned by studying alone, but there are a number of online resources that can help students master the content that will be tested. The (ISC)² website offers some training options including the Official (ISC)² Training Seminars with courses offered in four formats, in person or online, to best suit the needs, schedule, and learning style of students.
In addition to the available (ISC)² training, there are also options for self-study, including the Official (ISC)2 Guide to the SSCP CBK®.
A great option, however, is available by the training courses available through Intense School with its SSCP Boot Camp class apt to train and prepare for the certification exam. Also, the InfoSec Institute’s award-winning Information Security Training Course can teach students looking to learn the basics of this profession and grasp the fundamental skills needed to analyze internal and external security threats against a network.
Those who are ready to embark on a career in IT security but are in need of financial aid that will cover the training costs associated with a SSCP certification might consider the (ISC)² Undergraduate Cybersecurity Scholarship program that is administered by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education that aims to bring more talent to fill in the shortage gap. Those interested can apply via the (ISC)² Scholarship Application Portal. Alternatively, the Cyberwarrior Scholarships Program that awards scholarships to US military veterans empowers former servicemembers to prepare to become certified for a career in cybersecurity by including training classes, textbooks and materials and exam vouchers for the (ISC)²® certification of their choice.
How Can I Earn CPEs to Maintain My SSCP Certification?
To maintain the SSCP credential, professionals need to abide by the (ISC)² Code of Ethics and earn and register a minimum of 60 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits within the three-year certification cycle. Professionals will also be asked to pay an annual maintenance fee of $65 to retain the qualification.
So, how can CPEs be earned? A number of educational events and online seminars would qualify. SSCP credential holders can receive CPE credits by attending conference sessions, seminars, workshops and training courses, like the Infosecurity Europe, 5 – 7 June 2018 at Olympia Conference Centre in London, with theme “Building Tomorrow’s Cybersecurity Today” and where (ISC)² can be found at stand A180; at the moment, however, no (ISC)² Security Workshops has been announced like the one that was available to participants of the Infosecurity Middle East conference back in March with a speaker that discussed Incident Response and Recovery in an (ISC)² SSCP Training Seminar.
Information Security Events and Conferences are an effective way to stay abreast of newest trends in the cyber threat landscape today, with the opportunity to hear from recognized expert speakers and the prospect of networking with peers in the field.
Is the SSCP Certification Worth the Effort? Salary and Job Outlook
The SSCP certification can potentially make a professional more desirable to employers. As stated on the (ISC)² website: “The SSCP shows you have the technical skills to implement, monitor and administer IT infrastructure[s] using information security policies and procedures. You’re skilled in protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data.” A certification can help have access to other positions, promotions, and higher paying jobs. It is also an excellent way for any IT practitioners to expand their cybersecurity knowledge and keeping up-to-date in the field.
The SSCP® certification from (ISC)2® is among the best beginner-level qualifications and gives professionals the specialized learning and hands-on involvement needed to execute organizations’ data security approaches and techniques. Professionals with SSCP certifications can earn up to $114,000 depending on their position and residence.
The SSCP can validate an entry-level professionals’ skillset in an occupation, industry, or technology. Moreover, because certification is one of the best ways to match the right people to the right job, an SSCP can give them the competitive edge they need to start off a lucrative IT security career on the right foot.
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