The CompTIA Security+ certification validates that you have the core skills necessary for a career in IT security. For many aspiring cybersecurity professionals, earning this popular entry-level certification can be a first step toward a rewarding, in-demand career.
What is Security+?
Security+ is the entry-level cybersecurity credential offered by non-profit trade association CompTIA. It’s often the first certification in information security that an IT professional earns. By showing potential employers that you have the core skills required for a cybersecurity role, you may find more job opportunities as a more competitive candidate.
What does the exam cover?
The CompTIA Security+ ranks as the most popular certification for cybersecurity professionals for good reason. It focuses on hands-on, practical security skills in six major domains. Preparing yourself for the exam gives you a broad base of practical knowledge and skills you’ll need to handle real-world security situations. Here’s a list of the domains and topics covered on the exam:
Threats, attacks, and vulnerabilities: This includes social engineering attacks, newer denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and vulnerabilities found in internet of things (IoT) and embedded devices.
Architecture and design: Expect focus on enterprise, cloud, and hybrid environments.
Implementation: This domain covers topics like identity and access management, cryptography, end-to-end security, and public key infrastructure (PKI).
Operations and incident response: This section tests your knowledge of incident response procedures, including threat detection, security controls, risk mitigation, and digital forensics.
Governance, risk, and compliance: Make sure to understand major risk and compliance regulations, including HIPAA, GDPR, SOC, NIST, CCPA, FISMA, and PCI-DSS.
There are no formal requirements to take the Security+ exam. CompTIA recommends that you have two years of experience in IT administration with a security focus. It may also be a good idea to have an up-to-date CompTIA Network+ certification first.
CompTIA Security+ exam details
Earning your Security+ certification requires passing a certification exam. Let’s take a closer look at the details of this exam, as of September 2023.
Types of questions on the Security+ exam
You’ll find two types of questions on the latest version of the Security+ exam, traditional multiple-choice questions and performance-based questions (PBQs). PBQs test your ability to solve security problems in a simulated environment; you might be asked to install and configure a firewall or set up a wireless network, for example.
PBQs often appear toward the beginning of the exam. If you get stuck on a question, you can flag it for review and return to it if you have extra time at the end of the exam. All of your work will be saved. Some PBQs may offer partial credit, so it’s a good idea to complete as much of the question as you can.
Complete the sample PBQ on the CompTIA website before your exam so you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.
Is the Security+ certification worth it?
Passing the Security+ exam often requires an investment of both time and money. The return on your investment will depend on your personal career goals. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity, having a credential like the Security+ on your resume could give you a competitive edge as you apply for jobs.
But there are other potential benefits as well. Preparing for the exam can be a good way to develop your cybersecurity skills, giving you greater confidence in your ability to handle real-world security threats.
Jobs that hire for Security+
Many jobs in the information security field use the skills and knowledge tested by Security+. Here’s a look at some available job titles on LinkedIn that request or require this certification, along with their average yearly pay in the US from Glassdoor (as of September 2023):
SOC analyst: $84,391
Systems administrator: $76,046
Vulnerability analyst: $91,615
Database administrator: $92,442
Cybersecurity consultant: $92,442
Information security analyst: $100,202
Information systems architect: $114,952
Cyber threat hunter: $133,905
Read more: 5 Cybersecurity Career Paths (and How to Get Started)
Other entry-level cybersecurity certifications
The Security+ isn’t the only entry-level certification worth considering. Here’s a quick comparison of some other popular options.
Read more: 10 Popular Cybersecurity Certifications [2023 Updated]
How to prepare for the CompTIA Security+ exam
There’s more than one way to prepare for the Security+ exam. How you choose to prepare will depend on your previous experience, current knowledge, and learning style. Here are some options to consider.
1. Exam prep courses
Several organizations offer exam preparation courses specifically for the Security+ exam (including CompTIA). Registering for a course can give structure to your learning and help ensure that you cover all the required topics. As you’re researching courses, make sure to find one that covers the latest version of the exam (SY0-601).
2. CompTIA Security+ practice tests
Taking a practice test can help you identify what topics you might need to study up on while giving you a feel for what it’s like to take the actual test. This could have the added benefit of calming nerves on test day. CompTIA offers a free practice test for the Security+, though you can find many others with a quick internet search.
If you’re preparing for the exam on your own, it might help to take a practice test early in your preparation to assess where you are, then again a couple of weeks before your exam date to determine where you still need to study.
3. Books, blogs, and websites
If you’d prefer to build your own program to prepare for the exam, you’ll find no shortage of resources out there to help you—everything from books and website articles to blogs and podcasts. Here are a few resources recommended by those who’ve passed the exam to get you started:
Professor Messer: This popular YouTube channel features 177 free videos specifically for the latest Security+ exam. They’re also available as a podcast.
CompTIA Security+ Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-601 Study Guide: This book by Darril Gibson, available as an ebook or paperback, covers the exam objectives with more than 300 practice test questions with detailed explanations.
Quizlet: Build your own set of flashcards to study acronyms.
4. Exam tips
No matter how you choose to prepare for the certification exam, here are some tips to help you do your best.
Print out the certification objectives and use them as your study checklist.
Use flashcards to help you memorize acronyms and port numbers.
Read all the answer options in multiple choice questions carefully, and eliminate the ones you know are wrong before choosing your answer.
If you’re unsure about a question, flag it for review and come back to it later if you have time.
Pay attention to words like “best,” “most,” and “least” in the test questions. These can sometimes help you narrow down your answer options.
Take sample tests from more than one vendor (if your budget allows). Continue preparing until you can reliably pass with an 80 or 90 percent.
Answer every question, even if you have to guess. CompTIA does not penalize your score for wrong answers.
You can reschedule your exam up to 24 hours before your appointment time. Feel free to take advantage if you feel you need more time to prepare.
Join the CompTIA groups on Reddit and Discord to connect with others studying for the exam.
What’s next: Cybersecurity certification paths
Earning your Security+ is a major accomplishment. It could also be the first step in a long career in cybersecurity. As you advance in the field, you may choose to pursue other certifications to qualify you for better opportunities. Read more about some of the most popular certifications (and how to get them).
Get started in cybersecurity
If you’re interested in starting a career in cybersecurity, consider the Google Cybersecurity Professional Certificate on Coursera. This program is designed to help individuals with no previous experience find their first job in the field of cybersecurity, all at their own pace. The courses cover topics such as security models, tools that are used to access and address threats, networks, and more.