CISA vs CISSP: Which One is Right For You?


People often become confused about which certification they should pursue - Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). This leads to questions about CISA vs CISSP. The answer to this question is that it depends upon the kind of needs and requirements that one has.

In this article, we will discuss the various differences between the two and will outline which certification is right for which kind of professional, beginner, or aspirant.

What is the focus of the two certifications? CISA vs CISSP

As the name implies, the CISSP certification is focused more on the work and functioning of security professionals. The CISA certification is focused more on the meta aspects of security systems, such as their proper running and auditing.

So the CISSP certification can be understood to be more of an engineering-related certification. The CISSP certification deals with the spectrum of the actual design, implementation, and execution of security systems. The CISSP course covers all these aspects of cybersecurity in great detail.

For eg. If a cybersecurity architect were designing a new software application related to e-commerce, he would use the skills, knowledge, and abilities provided in the CISSP certification. He would have to design the inventory listing of the e-commerce application, the authentication system of the e-commerce application, the payment portal page of the e-commerce application, and many other aspects.

He would have to design the payment gateway – meaning that he would have to set up an infrastructure through which customers and clients will be able to make payments of real money in a secure and easy way.

He will also have to design a system in which clients and customers will be able to give feedback about the various products and services which they purchase from the e-commerce website or application. So for these kinds of activities, the cybersecurity architect will need the information and knowledge which the CISSP certification provides.

However, the CISA certification deals with a completely different realm of cybersecurity. The CISA certification deals with how to monitor an existing security infrastructure.

For instance, if the e-commerce website we talked about above has been running for 10 years and now a security auditor wants to make an audit of its systems to make sure that it is following the latest and the best security design principles and practices – that would come under the domain of the CISA certification.

The CISA certification teaches how to verify whether an existing security infrastructure is following the latest and best security principles and practices. It does this by using various cybersecurity tools to carry out extensive testing of the security infrastructure of a software application or of a website.

Through this testing, it is able to determine whether there are any security exploits or loopholes present in the software application or website. It is also able to determine whether the software application or website needs to be updated to meet the latest security standards or not.

A security auditor’s job is to monitor the current status of the software application or website – how it is running, what is the health of its various system functions, whether it is actually meeting all the standards which it is claiming to uphold, whether it is respecting the security and privacy of the data of its clients, etc. 

What is the target audience of the two certifications?

The target audience of the CISSP certification is -

  • Security Consultant
  • Security Manager
  • Security Architect
  • Security Analyst
  • Security Systems Engineer
  • Chief Information Security Officer
  • Network Architect

The target audience of the CISA certification is -

  • IT Consultants
  • Auditors
  • Privacy Officers
  • Information Security Officers
  • Chief Compliance Officers
  • Network Administrators
  • Security Engineers

As we can see from the above two lists, the target audience of the CISSP certification is very different from the target audience of the CISA certification. The CISSP certification targets cybersecurity professionals who deal with the hard engineering aspects of cybersecurity.

They have to design, implement, and execute complex blueprints of cybersecurity technologies and cybersecurity services. They also have to lay out the cybersecurity services in such a way that they can interact with each other in a clean and elegant way.

For this, they must have a clear idea of the way in which the various cybersecurity services are interconnected with each other and they should be able to pinpoint the intersections between the functioning of all of these services.

So the CISSP certification teaches cybersecurity professionals how to do all of these things in an efficient, time-bound, and easy way without making things too complicated or difficult. There are always a lot of little details and nitty-gritty involved in the hard engineering aspects of cybersecurity but the CISSP certification teaches how to deal with this in an easy manner.

The CISA certification however is geared more towards security auditors. From the above list, we can see that it is geared towards Privacy Officers and Information Security Officers, and Chief Compliance Officers.

What is the subject matter covered in the two certifications?

CISSP syllabus -

  •  Access Control
  •  Telecommunications and Network Security
  •  Information Security Governance and Risk Management
  •  Software Development Security
  •  Cryptography
  •  Security Architecture and Design
  •  Operations Security
  •  Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning
  •  Legal, Regulations, Investigations, and Compliance
  •  Physical Security
  • Security and Risk Management.
  • Asset Security.
  • Security Architecture and Engineering.
  • Communications and Network Security.
  • Identity and Access Management.
  • Security Assessment and Testing.
  • Security Operations.
  • Software Development Security.

CISA syllabus -

Information System Auditing Process(21%)

A. Planning

  •     IS Audit Standards, Guidelines, and Codes of Ethics
  •     Business Processes
  •     Types of Controls
  •     Risk-Based Audit Planning
  •     Types of Audits and Assessments

B. Execution

  •     Audit Project Management
  •     Sampling Methodology
  •     Audit Evidence Collection Techniques
  •     Data Analytics
  •     Reporting and Communication Techniques

Governance and Management of IT(17%)

A. IT Governance

  •     IT Governance and IT Strategy
  •     IT-Related Frameworks
  •     IT Standards, Policies, and Procedures
  •     Organizational Structure
  •     Enterprise Architecture
  •     Enterprise Risk Management
  •     Maturity Models
  •     Laws, Regulations, and Industry Standards affecting the Organization

B. IT Management

  •     IT Resource Management
  •     IT Service Provider Acquisition and Management
  •     IT Performance Monitoring and Reporting
  •     Quality Assurance and Quality Management of IT

Information Systems Acquisition, Development, and Implementation(12%)

A. Information Systems Acquisition and Development

  •     Project Governance and Management
  •     Business Case and Feasibility Analysis
  •     System Development Methodologies
  •     Control Identification and Design

B. Information Systems Implementation

  •     Testing Methodologies
  •     Configuration and Release Management
  •     System Migration, Infrastructure Deployment, and Data Conversion
  •     Post-implementation Review

Information Systems Operations and Business Resilience(23%) 

A. Information Systems Operations

  •    Common Technology Components
  •     IT Asset Management
  •     Job Scheduling and Production Process Automation
  •     System Interfaces
  •     End-User Computing
  •     Data Governance
  •     Systems Performance Management
  •     Problem and Incident Management
  •     Change, Configuration, Release, and Patch Management
  •     IT Service Level Management
  •     Database Management

B. Business Resilience

  •     Business Impact Analysis (BIA)
  •     System Resiliency
  •     Data Backup, Storage, and Restoration
  •     Business Continuity Plan (BCP)
  •     Disaster Recovery Plans (DRP)  

Each of the topics of the CISSP syllabus is explained in-depth in the CISSP training.

What is the salary that you can get from the two certifications?

The average starting salary for someone who has acquired a CISSP certification is 156,000 USD per annum and the starting salary for someone who has acquired the CISA certification is 94,000 USD per annum. So we can easily see that the CISSP certification is much more lucrative and profitable.

If someone is approaching these two certifications from the perspective of which one will offer higher monetary benefits there is really no doubt about the answer to the question: Which one is better, CISA or CISSP?

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