We all know that security is an extremely important area of
IT these days—one that affects every organization and every administrator, no
matter what the business. There’s no doubt about it: Security expertise is
becoming increasingly valued in the IT world.

That’s why many people looking to earn industry
certifications are focusing more and more on security-related certs. If you’re
considering pursuing such a certification, I recommend looking into the Cisco
Certified Security Professional (CCSP)
certification. Let’s take a closer
look at the CCSP.

Know your options

In general, Cisco offers three certification paths:

  • Associate: This is the most entry-level
    line of Cisco certifications, which includes Cisco Certified Network
    Associate (CCNA) and Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
  • Professional: This is the
    mid-level line of Cisco certifications, which includes Cisco Certified
    Network Professional (CCNP), Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP), Cisco
    Certified Security Professional (CCSP)
    , Cisco Certified Internetwork
    Professional (CCIP), and Cisco Certified Voice Professional (CCVP).
  • Expert: This is the highest level of
    Cisco certifications, which includes five variations of the Cisco Certified
    Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
    certification: Routing and Switching,
    Security, Service Provider, Storage Networking, and Voice.

Choose your path

Of course, there’s a long-time debate over the value of
certifications. While proponents claim certs help “prove” your
experience, others argue that a piece of paper doesn’t prove anything. But I
don’t want to start debating whether certifications are “worth it” in
this article.

However, if you do decide to pursue certification, you
should be clear on the benefits you expect to gain. In my opinion, the CCSP
certification offers the chance to prove to yourself and others that you know
what you’re talking about when it comes to Cisco security issues. In many
cases, this “proof” could mean the difference in a job offer, a
raise, or added responsibility.

These days, most companies have built out and stabilized
their networks, and the largest network changes typically involve the areas of
security and voice over IP (VoIP). Because of this, CCSP and CCVP
certifications are growing in hype and popularity. In fact, security-specific
certifications hold three of the spots on CertCities.com’s list of the 10
Hottest Certifications for 2006
, and the CCSP certification is fourth on
the list.

Earn your cert

The CCSP certification is one of the five mid-level
certifications. The prerequisite for the CCSP is valid CCNA certification. The
CCSP is equivalent to the better-known CCNP certification under the Routing and
Switching track; they’re both mid-level certifications.

To obtain CCSP certification, you must pass five tests:

Passing these certification exams exhibits that you’re
knowledgeable in the following areas:

  • Securing
    a network
  • Configuring
    common security features, such as logging, IDS/IPS, access control lists,
    and AAA
  • Configuring
    security on Cisco routers and switches
  • Configuring
    a Cisco PIX firewall and Cisco ASA security appliance
  • Configuring
    a Cisco intrusion prevention system
  • Configuring
    either Cisco Security Agent or Cisco VPN concentrators

After earning CCSP certification, you can choose to pursue
the CCIE Security certification. However, it’s important to note that the CCSP
is not a prerequisite for the CCIE Security certification.

Do you have any Cisco certifications? What do you think
about the CCSP certification? Which certifications would you look for when
hiring someone? Post your comments in this article’s discussion.

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David Davis has worked
in the IT industry for 12 years and holds several certifications, including
CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of
systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and
performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.