Whenever you are looking at IT certifications, the sheer number of acronyms can be overwhelming. From the ACE all the way to the ZyXEL Certified Network Professional, there are literally hundreds of different certification options — and since there is quite a bit of overlap among them, it’s easy to get confused. And when two certifications appear to deal with the same skills and subject areas, the confusion is only compounded.

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One very good example of this is the CASP, aka CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner, and the CISSP, aka Certified Information Systems Security Professional. While these two certifications cover much of the same ground, they are not interchangeable, as some believe. There are some important differences to be aware of before you begin the process of earning either certification, from what the exams cover to what you can expect post-certification.

How the CASP and the CISSP Are Alike

We’ll begin with a discussion of how the two certifications are alike. Among the similarities?

  • Neither certification is vendor-specific, and therefore, tends to be more on the theoretical end of the spectrum than the technical. As some experts have noted, both the CASP and the CISSP ensure that professionals know what needs to be done and when, but doesn’t necessarily indicate that they know how to perform those tasks. Both certifications offer more of an overview of cybersecurity and show how everything is connected.
  • Both certifications must be renewed after three years and require continuing education credits to remain valid (120 credits in three years for the CISSP, 75 for the CASP).
  • Both certifications are approved by the U.S. Department of Defense to fulfill Directive 8570.01-M and 8140 requirements. Both are also good for DoD IAT Level III, IAM Level II, and IASAE 1 and II, and are compliant with government regulations under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).
  • Both certifications require passing an exam of similar topics. The CASP exam covers Enterprise Security, Risk Management and Incident Response, Research and Analysis, Integration of Computing, Communications and Business disciplines, as well as technical integration of enterprise components. The CISSP exam covers eight different domains, including Security and Risk Management, Asset Security, Security Engineering, Communications and Network Security, Identity and Access Management, Security Assessment and Testing, and Security Operations and Software Development Security.

However, these are where most of the similarities end.

How the CASP and CISSP Differ

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The CASP certification and CISSP certification, for all of their similarities, differ in a few key ways. One of the most significant differences, and a key reason that many IT professionals are opting to seek the CASP, is the experience requirement. (ISC)2, the sponsor of the CISSP, requires individuals to apply to take the CISSP exam, and submit proof of at least five years cumulative paid full-time work experience in two or more of the eight exam domains.

CompTIA, on the other hand, only recommends that CASP test takers have at least10 years of experience in IT administration, with at least five years of hands-on technical security experience. This is an important distinction, since many people have the knowledge required to pass the CASP exam before they hit the five or 10-year career mark, and therefore can earn the certification earlier in their careers. This can be important for a small business or a startup looking to score government contracts, since there may already be people on staff who are ready for the exam and do not require a few more years of experience.

That being said, it is widely believed that the CISSP exam is the more challenging of the two. It’s certainly more taxing — the CISSP exam consists of 250 questions that must be completed in six hours, while the CASP exam only has 80 questions and takes just under three hours to complete. And while again, most test takers report that both exams focus more on the theory than practice, CompTIA does note that the CASP exam is more focused on the technical aspects of cybersecurity.

In the end, both the CASP and the CISSP will help move your career forward and allow you to qualify for new opportunities. Currently, the CISSP is still the more recognizable credential, but the CASP is gaining momentum and will undoubtedly be well-recognized and sought-after within the next few years. If you want to get your feet wet before earning the CISSP, or have a great deal of technical knowledge, then the CASP is probably right for you now.