Real-World Expertise Security Professionals

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The great frustration that senior managers have with some security certifications is that the skills and knowledge they test are not the ones needed to do the important work that protects computers and networks. SANS Institute’s Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) eliminates that frustration.

What made such a strong reputation possible was the realization that one general certification was highly unlikely to measure the specific knowledge needed by people at each level of their careers and by people with strikingly different responsibilities. Medical professionals provide a useful parallel — physicians undergo a testing regimen that makes them the most highly respected professionals in America.

1. They have different tests at each stage of their career development.
2. The tests measure knowledge and skills specific to their specialty.
3. Those tests are constantly updated and measure up-to-the-minute knowledge such as the newest drugs and the most promising procedures.
4. Physicians must retake the tests periodically because knowledge in their field constantly is advancing.

GIAC certifications parallel medical certification in all four aspects: testing of up-to-the-minute knowledge, different tests for each level of their career and a requirement to retest (not just attend classes) to maintain the certifications. And most importantly, GIAC has tests that measure skills and knowledge in each subspecialty of security practice — from security essentials to advanced intrusion detection, from auditing to forensics, from Windows to Linux, from hardening to penetration testing.

Together, SANS Institute courses and GIAC certifications offer a complete family of IT security training and certification opportunities that follow every step of a security professional’s career from entry level to the most advanced technical practitioner, and they even follow career growth through transitions into management and senior-level executive responsibilities.

GIAC’s assurance of IT security competency consistently is recognized all around the world — although the largest concentration of certified GIAC professionals resides in North America, GIAC certification holders span the globe. Up until the addition of the fall 2006 class of highest-level certification candidates, those seeking GIAC Security Expert (GSE), GIAC Security Malware (GSM) and GIAC platinum certification holders were more concentrated in Europe than any other continent.

One key aspect of GIAC certifications that is highly satisfying for certification candidates is its open grading policy, as well as its practice of continually improving exam questions and process. While certification candidates are taking exams, they get real-time feedback after answering each question as to whether their answer is correct.

If candidates feel any exam question is flawed because more than one answer could be correct, they can select that question for review by the exam development team. After the exam is complete, candidates are asked to provide additional information concerning contested questions.

If they demonstrate knowledge of the material in question, certification candidates are awarded credit for any contested exam question later proven to need adjustment. Grades are immediately presented to the test taker. GIAC also offers free practice tests, so candidates can become familiar with the basic requirements of the exam system and specific exam format before taking live exams.

GIAC’s core undertaking is to assess and ensure competence and mastery of the practical application of knowledge in information technology security. GIAC offers base certifications for 18 job-specific responsibilities that reflect the practice of information security, and the platinum-level certifications affirm competency in multiple related areas of security responsibility.

GIAC uses continual improvement processes to ensure it has the world’s largest and most relevant pool of knowledge assessment, practice tests and live exam questions. Because of its open-question policy, real-time grading and feedback mechanisms that derive input from candidates, its advisory board members and its board of directors, GIAC ensures the quality of exams and of its exam process will continue to keep pace with a rapidly changing security threat condition.

Career Growth and GIAC Certifications
GIAC plays two roles in helping people more confidently move up through the ranks. Its primary role is to give both security practitioners and their employer greater confidence that they have the right skills and knowledge to do important security jobs at whatever level their certifications allow. GIAC’s second role, in close cooperation with SANS to provide appropriate training, is to help people move up the organizational ladder by preparing them for the next job.

Most people in IT start in entry-level positions straight out of high school or college, and then they develop more detailed technical- and practical-based skills. At some point, an employer typically will reward individuals for being a competent technical member of the team by offering some management responsibilities.

Other employers recognize some technical people will make their greatest contribution without taking on management responsibilities. SANS training and GIAC certification together help people acquire good management skills and also stay up to date on the technical skills from entry level to management.

At the entry level, SANS offers the Security 309 training course and GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GSIF) Certification for people who need to learn the terminology and concepts of IT security. People who transfer into security but have an IT background will find the more advanced Security 401 training course and GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC) a more challenging but more rewarding fit.

GIAC has conducted extensive job task analysis studies and assembled feedback from subject-matter experts around the world to establish the GSEC credential. The GSEC certification is a prerequisite for anyone with hands-on IT responsibilities that have security ramifications. The most widely held GIAC certification, GSEC is respected in the industry as a standard that ensures individuals are able to actually harden the systems with which they work.

As individuals become more proficient and established in security, they move into more advanced and also more specialized positions such as firewall analysts, intrusion analysts or security systems administrators. The new job is often critical, with entire components of the enterprise depending on the person for security. Most employers want to help the employee master the new job through training. With SANS and GIAC, the employer can be sure the employee got the most up-to-date training available, and that the employee actually mastered the important skills and knowledge.

More proof that the course and certifications reflect the leading edge of security practice is that SANS operates the Internet Storm Center (ISC) — the Internet’s early-warning system. ISC cases provide the most up–to-date training scenarios available anywhere in the industry. To parallel this specific higher-level job function specialization, SANS offers 500- and 600-level courses, and GIAC offers corresponding certifications that assess and validate the practical application of task-specific knowledge.

As employees continue to develop, they usually want to expand the number of areas of security they have mastered — a very valuable employee is one who can develop security solutions that have a positive impact on other departments. Organizations increasingly are expecting security professionals to understand and relate well with all other parts of an organization such as operations and auditing.

SANS Institute courses and GIAC certifications include

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