This article compares the CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Network+ certifications, and outlines which you should consider taking first. If you need information on the best study resources for the Security+ or the Network+, you can see our guides here. To see our advice on how to pass the Security+, check out our article here.
A lot of people have asked me whether they should take the CompTIA Network+ or CompTIA Security+ certification exam. Both exams are certainly well known in the industry, but for those only interested in sitting for one and looking for a strategy regarding which of these certifications to pursue (or pursue first), I decided to put some information together to help you make a good choice that works best for you.
Should you choose the CompTIA Network+ or Security+? The CompTIA Security+ certification is a better choice than the CompTIA Network+ certification for most people looking to enter into the IT or cybersecurity fields because it validates a higher level of skill and knowledge, commands a higher salary, and offers more career options.
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Of course, this only tells part of the story, so in this article, I’ll go into more detail about why the Security+ is such a good choice for most of us, and when the Network+ also makes sense to sit for. Here we go.
Why the Security+ is Probably Your Best Option
For almost everyone entering into a job that would call for the Network+ or the Security+, the Security+ is going to be the better option if you only have the time to pursue one of these. There are many reasons for this. For example:
Reason #1: DoD recognition.
For those of us that live in areas that are near U.S. federal government facilities, we have lots of options for federal government jobs that are in the technical fields. The U.S. Department of Defense places a high value (and recognition) on the Security+ when you’re entering into jobs that are cybersecurity-based. In fact, most entry-level cybersecurity positions that are DoD-related will probably require it. (For these positions, you’ll probably need a security clearance too. We cover security clearances in this article.) And this doesn’t just apply to the federal government, but the private sector as well.
Reason #2: Security+ is a tried-and-true route to a real cybersecurity job.
Make no mistake about it, the Network+ is good to have (we’ll get into that in a little bit), but the Security+ is the easiest cybersecurity-based certification that CompTIA offers, and therefore is a clear gateway into a cyber job. Those folks that have the A+ or the Network+ (or both) but don’t have the Security+ have an uphill climb to convert into a cyber job, where the pay is higher and the opportunities are more readily available. The Security+ is an easy gateway to get us to the cybersecurity field if that’s what we’re after. It’s just that much harder to get into cyber without it.
Reason #3: Higher pay.
I’ve alluded to this earlier, but I’ll mention it again. Cybersecurity jobs tend to pay more, and the Security+ certification tends to command more pay because of that. This is certainly the case when comparing the Security+ with the CompTIA A+, but it holds true as well when comparing it to the Network+ too. Not that pay is everything, but it’s important to consider that you may be leaving money on the table if you choose to avoid the Security+ certification in favor of the lower-level Network+, no matter what position you’re in or applying for.
Reason #4: Private sector employers prefer it as well.
It’s interesting how private sector employers view certifications. Some think they’re worthless, while others won’t hire a candidate without one. Regardless, for those that do see value in certifications, the Security+ is simply going to hold more weight. Consider this: If an employer has two candidates that are exactly the same, but one is Security+ certified and the other is Network+ certified, who are they going to choose? Exactly! Any employer with common sense will choose the Security+ because it has more value, and they assume that if you’re qualified on the Security+, that automatically assumes you can handle the Network+ concepts as well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way around though, so only the Security+ can prove that security knowledge.
Reason #5: All tech jobs have a security component now.
This wasn’t the case years ago, but with the continual breaches and hacks that are occurring, security responsibilities are now being written into general IT, helpdesk, and network administrator jobs. It’s gotten to the point where everyone on an IT team needs to be aware of security and be able to contribute if a security incident occurs. Having the Security+ proves you have that awareness, and at the very least, removes some pressure from IT managers that have to plan for these types of security incidents. And research we’ve seen shows that the demand for cybersecurity-related jobs is going to continue to be strong.
When You Should Take the Network+ Before the Security+
Of course, taking the Security+ first isn’t going to work for everyone. Some of us will really benefit from taking the extra time to pursue the Network+ before we take a stab at the Security+. Here are some examples to consider.
Reason #1: Your networking knowledge is weak.
If you look at the exam objectives of both certifications, you’ll see a lot of overlap. Perhaps 60% of the content between the two exams is overlap content, meaning that you’ll need to understand some security concepts to pass the Network+, and in order to pass the Security+, you’ll need to be solid on networking. And that’s the catch.
If you are starting from a place where your networking knowledge is rather limited, you really should put your focus there first. (Check out our recommended resources for learning networking here.) For example, if you’re not solid on the OSI model, subnetting, layer two switching and layer three routing, and how routing occurs, you’ll need to focus on getting knowledgeable on that content first, regardless of which exam you choose to take.
Studying for the Network+ will force you to do that. In fact, most people that have sat for the Security+ would tell you that CompTIA is wording questions on that exam in a way that makes the assumption that you already know the underlying networking concept. In other words, the Security+ exam will not ask you about a networking concept, but how to apply a security approach to a networking concept they assume you already know. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you don’t even understand the underlying concept for an exam question that is asking you about something even higher level than that.
Reason #2: You just passed the Cisco CCNA with ease.
Another reason to consider knocking out the Network+ quickly, and before prepping for the Security+, is if you happen to have just passed another networking-based certification, such as the Cisco CCNA. If you’ve done that in the very recent past, and the networking knowledge is still fresh in your mind, then the CompTIA Network+ will be an easy kill. You can safely assume you can pass that without a tremendous amount of extra preparation, so why not spend the money and earn another quick certification to add to your resume?
Why You Should Take Both Network+ and Security+
Reason #1: You pass one exam and found it easy.
For some of us, and most of us eventually, getting both certifications is a good idea. If you take one of these exams and find it rather painless, a good strategy would be to continue to study up on the other without a break and knock out the second one within a week or so. As I mentioned above, the overlap between these two exams is substantial enough that the study you put into one will certainly greatly help you with the other. If you have good success when passing one, jumping to the other quickly while your study is still fresh in your mind is a good way to go.
Is it okay to take the Network+ and Security+ out of order? Of course. In fact, that’s exactly what I did. I passed the Security+ and felt good enough about it (and my networking knowledge) that I decided to sit for the Network+ right away – less than a week later. This was a good move on my part because I was well prepped for the Security+, which made the Network+ a walk in the park.
Reason #2: You’re already in the field and an expert on the technology.
Another example of those that should take both certifications would be those of us that are in the field currently and have been for a while. A lot of people in the field that work with this technology on a daily basis can sit for one of these exams and pass them with minimal study effort at all. Some people are fluent enough with security or networking (or both) that they could sit for an exam and pass it with less than 24 hours notice. If that is you, and you choose to take and pass one of these exams, you really should consider dropping the extra money and getting the second cert right away. In this case, it’s almost too easy not to do it.
Reason #3: Earning two is better than one.
All of this, of course, leads to the important point that two certifications are better than one, just like how one certification is better than none. Adding each of these certifications to our resumes is going to be a benefit at some level and at some point. The only thing that we really need to consider is which strategy is the best way for us as an individual to earn them. We talk about the best entry level certifications and a roadmap for those here.
Reason #4: CompTIA makes renewal fairly easy.
Another important point to make is that once you have both of these certifications, your focus needs to be on renewing the Security+ only (or moving on to a higher-level certification such as the CySA+), since renewing that will renew the Network+ as well. In a way, the Security+ insulates you from having to think about the Network+ again, while you still get to keep the credential.
Should I Consider the CompTIA A+ As Well?
The A+ has been around for a long, long, long time, and it has its place, but it has its challenges too, most notably that it takes two exams to pass (which slows your career and certification track down), and it leads primarily to lower paid helpdesk and computer technician jobs. Anyone that wants to make their way into cybersecurity will want to look beyond that, and it’s doubtful that the A+ will do much to help you once you get to the higher level jobs. Some employers may disagree, but that’s what I’ve witnessed. If you think about it, how many employers will have a Security+ certified individual and ask them to go back and earn the A+? It’s not going to happen. Because of this, if you’re on a cybersecurity career track, bypassing the A+ if probably in your long term best interest. Your money and time may be better used elsewhere.
What Kinds of Jobs Can I Get With the Security+?
A look on any job postings website shows that the Security+ seems to be listed in many cyber and IT related positions. In my search, I found positions with titles such as Cybersecurity Analyst, Information Security Specialist, Senior Information Security Specialist, and even Network Engineer require Security+ while not even listing Network+ as a requirement. On the other hand, jobs that appeared to be lower level, such as Service Desk Specialist and Technical Support Specialist requested both.
What I’ve noticed from my search is that several of the Security+ required jobs also preferred higher level skills as well, and were certainly security based in nature, but very interestingly, they allowed the Security+ to serve as the gateway to get into the position at an entry-level. And that’s where the benefit of the CompTIA Security+ lies.
Note: If you’re ready to get started on your path to a cybersecurity career, check out our guide on how to get into cybersecurity here.