Best SOC Analyst Certifications (2024’s Expert Picks)

Best SOC Analyst Certifications

With dozens of options out there, how do you know which is best for your pursuit of becoming a certified SOC analyst?

Take the guesswork out of choosing your next certification by reading up on the best SOC analyst certifications on the market.

We’ll detail the most respected SOC analyst-specific certifications and discuss the material each focuses on, exam details, cost, and what makes each certification valuable.

Before investing time, energy, and money into studying for one of these exams, be sure to read about each certification in-depth and consider which can best help you achieve your career goals.

What Does a SOC Analyst Do?

SOC analyst stands for security operations center analyst. A SOC analyst works within an internal team to monitor and protect IT infrastructure from cyber attacks.

A SOC analyst is often the first person to detect threats and begin to take the necessary steps to address incidents.

Popular SOC analyst tasks include:

  • Threat and vulnerability analysis
  • Monitoring IT assets
  • Research, document, and report on IT security issues and trends
  • Prevent network attacks
  • Designing disaster recovery and incident response plans

Each SOC analyst has specific duties dictated by the tier that the analyst belongs to. The tiers can be broken down as follows:

  • Tier 1: Triage Specialist
  • Tier 2: Incident Responder
  • Tier 3: Threat Hunter
  • Tier 4: SOC Manager

Best SOC Analyst Certifications

Obtaining any of the listed SOC analyst certifications below will better prepare you for the position of SOC analyst. However, some certifications better prepare you for certain tiers than others.

1.CompTIA Security+

Security+ is a beginner cyber security certification that covers a wide range of cyber security-related topics. It’s administered by CompTIA, a widely respected and known IT certifications and training company.

The exam is broken down into five knowledge domains.

  • General Concepts (12%) - Covers the CIA triad and security controls.
  • Threats, Vulnerabilities and Mitigations (22%) - Focuses on identifying and understanding threat actors and vectors, integrating threat intelligence and common vulnerabilities.
  • Security Architecture (18%) - Explores systems architecture, data types, classifications, and other security architecture aspects.
  • Security Operations (28%) - The bulk of the certification covers day-to-day operational security analysis tasks such as understanding logs and carrying out vulnerability scans. 
  • Security Program Management and Oversight (20%) - The last domain Security+ covers dives into governance aspects of cyber security.
Security+ domains

Exam Details

The exam has a maximum of 90 questions. The majority of questions are multiple-choice however, you will also be asked a maximum of 10 performance-based-questions (PBQs).

You will receive 90 minutes to answer these questions.

To pass the exam, you’ll need at least a score of 750/900 (83%).

Once passed, the certification will be valid for three years. It can be renewed by obtaining a more advanced certification such as CySA+ or by earning continuing education units (CEU)s.

The exam costs $392. No discount is applied should you fail and wish to take the test again.

Why You Should Obtain It

CompTIA certifications are widely known and valued. Take a look at SOC analyst positions via LinkedIn or Indeed and many will be asking for CompTIA Security+.

This is a perfect certification for aspiring cyber security professionals hoping to break into the field. Passing the exam proves that you understand foundational cyber security concepts.

2.CompTIA CySA+

The other CompTIA certification we consider to be one of the best SOC analyst certifications is CySA+. CySA+ is CompTIA’s cyber security analyst certification.

If you want to become a securityoperations center analyst and have already obtained CompTIA’s Security+, a logical next step would be to take the CySA+ exam.

CySA+ will test you on an array of subjects, including incident detection, cyber security prevention, and incident response through security monitoring.  

The exam can be broken down into four knowledge domains, including:

  • Security Operations (33%) - Cover network architecture, SOC concepts, IoCs, popular security tools and techniques, as well as threat intelligence and threat-hunting concepts.
  • Vulnerability Management (30%) - Tests your understanding of vulnerability scanning, vulnerability assessment tools, and security controls.
  • Incident Response and Management (20%) - Covers attack methodology frameworks, incident response activities and threat intelligence.
  • Reporting and Communication (17%) - Details the importance of vulnerability management reporting and communication.
CySA+ knowledge domains

Exam Details

There are a maximum of 85 questions on the CySA+ exam. The majority of which are multiple-choice. However, you may be asked up to 10 PBQs.

You will have 165 minutes to complete the exam.

To pass, you’ll need a score of at least 750/900 or 83%.

Once obtained, the certification will be valid for three years. You can renew the certification by obtaining a more advanced certification or by pursuing continuing education units.

Why You Should Obtain It

CySA+ is a more advanced and targeted certification than Security+. Passing the exam demonstrates that you have the knowledge to identify and analyze indicators of compromise and effectively respond to cyber threats. These are skills that employers want certified SOC analysts to have on day one.

CySA+ is a widely respected certification that many employers want applicants to have.

3.GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GISF)

GISF stands for GIAC Information Security Fundamentals and as such, tests you on cyber security basics such as networking, basic cryptography, computer hardware, and other cyber security technologies.

Obtaining this certification proves your ability to understand and identify threats and risks and how best to respond and protect from cyber security threats.

Some of the material you will be tested on include:

  • AAA and Access Controls
  • Application Security
  • Fundamentals and History of Cryptography
  • Network Addressing, Protocols, Security, and Attacks
  • Risk Management
  • Systems Security
  • Wireless Security Technology

Exam Details

The exam has a total of 75-79 questions. All questions are multiple-choice. 

You have 120 minutes to complete the exam.

To pass the exam you’ll need to answer at leats 71% of the questions correctly.

The GISF costs a total of $979.

You have the option of taking this test in person or at a testing site. Once you pass the test, the certification is valid for four years.

All GIAC exams are open-book. This means test takers may bring hardcopy books as well as notes into the testing area. The only unauthorized materials are practice tests and digital notes.

Why You Should Obtain It

GISF is a great entry-level cyber security certification. If you’re still getting your feet wet in the field of IT security you may want to consider obtaining this certification. Doing so will provide you with the foundation needed prior to learning more complex SOC analyst-specific knowledge and tools.

4.GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC)

GSEC is a more advanced certification than GISF. It goes a step further than simply memorizing terminology and basic security focus concepts. Obtaining GSEC demonstrates that holders of the certification are ready to take on hands-on security roles.

While GSEC doesn’t cover as much material as GISF it does so in a more in-depth fashion. The material you’ll want to be comfortable with prior to the exam includes:

  • Defense in Depth
  • Access Control and Password Management
  • Cloud Computing, AWS Fundamentals, and Microsoft Cloud
  • Defense Network Architecture
  • Linux Fundamentals
  • Incident Handling
  • SIEM
  • Web Communication Security
  • Virtualization
  • Windows Access Controls, Automation, Auditing, and Forensics

Exam Details

GSEC has between 106-180 exam questions. The number will depend on how many lab questions you are asked. As lab questions are more weighted than multiple choice, the more lab questions, the fewer multiple choice and thus overall questions you will receive.

You will have between four and five hours to complete the test. You will be given the option of taking a 15-minute break.

The minimum passing score is 73%.

The exam cost is $949. If you already have a GIAC certification you need only pay $499. To retake the exam, you’ll have to pay $849 (or $399 if you have an active GIAC certification).  

It’s worth repeating that all GIAC exams are open-book. Test takers may bring hardcopy books as well as notes into the testing area. The only unauthorized material are practice tests and digital notes.

Why You Should Obtain It

Even though GSEC is entry-level, it’s still considered one of the best SOC analyst certifications. Obtaining it showcases your abilities as a skilled cyber security professional with the know-how to secure assets and defend against an array of attacks.

GSEC is an internationally recognized certification that will add that little bit of luster to your resume to catch the eye of the hiring team.

5.CISA Certified Information Systems Auditor

Administered by ISACA, CISA is a mid-career certification designed to test one’s ability to monitor, audit, control, and assess a company’s IT and business assets.

There are five knowledge domains CISA tests on, including:

  • Information Systems Auditing Process (21%)
  • Governance and Management of IT (17%)
  • Information Systems Acquisition, Development, and Implementation (12%)
  • Information Systems Operations and Business Resilience (23%)
  • Protection of Information Assets (27%)
CISA Exam Domains

Exam Details

The CISA exam is comprised of 150 multiple-choice questions.

You will have four hours to complete the exam.

Once passed, the certification will be valid for three years. 

The minimum passing score is 450 out of a possible 800 points.

The exam has a cost of $760. 

After passing the exam, you are also required to pay a $50 application processing fee and demonstrate that you have at least five years of IS audit, control, assurance, or security experience.

Why You Should Obtain It

Employers want to know that hires for senior positions can come in and contribute on day one. Securing an advanced SOC analyst certification such as CISA proves beyond doubt that the applicant can contribute in a hands-on fashion on day one.

Whether you’re looking for a pay increase at your current position or want to further your career in cyber security, having CISA to your name clearly showcases your in-depth understanding of the tools and techniques needed for auditing and assessing IT systems.

6.CISSP Certified Information Systems Security Professional

CISSP bills itself as the world’s premier cyber security certification. While other certification-issuing bodies might dispute this claim, we believe it’s a fair one.

Earning CISSP proves your ability to create, carry out, and manage complex cyber security systems. CISSP is an advanced cyber security certification designed for professionals interested in becoming managers, security analysts, directors, and c-suite professionals.

CISSP is by far the most in-depth cyber security certification you’ll find on this list.

The knowledge domains you’ll be tested on include the following:

  • Security and Risk Management (15%)
  • Asset Security (10%)
  • Security Architecture and Engineering (13%)
  • Communication and Network Security (13%)
  • Identity and Asset Management (13%)
  • Security Assessment and Testing (12%)
  • Security Operations (13%)
  • Software Development Security (11%)
CISSP domains

Exam Details

CISSP is comprised of 125-175 multiple-choice and advanced innovative questions.  

To pass this advanced exam you’ll need a score of at least 70%.

The cost of the exam is $749.

The CISSP exam uses computerized adaptive testing (CAT) to test students. This means the questions you will see are dictated by your understanding of cyber security information based on previous exam questions. Questions become harder the more you answer correctly.

After passing the exam you’ll also need to supply the issuing body ISC2 with proof that you have five years of relevant work experience as well as an endorsement from a fellow cyber security professional.

Earning CISSP

Why You Should Obtain It

CISSP is the holy grail of cyber security certifications. As one of the most advanced certifications it proves to employers your ability to address the most technical and complex tasks a cyber security professional may be tasked with solving. It’s viewed as the equivalent of having a master’s degree in cyber security, particularly in the UK.  

This certification is unique in that it tests your ability to think and behave like a cyber security manager.

Obtaining CISSP will unlock a myriad of professional doors, allow you to advance within your company, and compete for the most prized cyber security positions on the market.  

Conclusion

You have no shortage of security operation center analyst certifications that can be obtained to further your career as a cyber security professional.

The certification you decide to study for depends on what stage you are in your knowledge and career as well as your professional aspirations.

If you’re still getting your feet wet you may consider taking Security+ or GISF. If you’re already a seasoned professional you may consider a more advanced certification such as CISA or CISSP.

Regardless of your professional background and currency knowledge of the material covered, you will always benefit from diligently studying prior to the exam.

To gain access to over 1,000 courses and labs many of which cover the material you’ll need to know for the aforementioned certifications join our Accelerator Program. You’ll also have access to personalized study roadmaps, unlimited career mentorship, our community, mentorship program, and more.

To start studying for the best SOC analyst certifications consider studying with the help of these SOC analyst training courses:

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  • Spencer Abel

    Spencer is part cyber security professional and part content writer. He specializes in helping those attempting to pivot into the vast and always-changing world of cyber security by making complex topics fun and palatable. Connect with him over at LinkedIn to stay up-to-date with his latest content.

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