CEH vs CISSP: Which Is the Right Certification for Your Career?

CEH vs CISSP: Which Is the Right Certification for Your Career?

When charting your cybersecurity career path, two coveted credentials rise to the top – EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and ISC2’s CISSP. However, they represent vastly different focuses in the information security landscape.

This article will cover all key dimensions from exam content and requirements to career trajectories for CEH and CISSP holders. We’ll contrast technical, hands-on ethical hacking skills with broader security program management, governance, and risk assessment methodologies. The goal of this article is to equip you with clarity to determine which certification best supports your professional goals.

By mapping credential strengths to roles ranging from highly specialized penetration testers and security architects to CISOs overseeing organizational security policies and compliance, we’ll delineate where CEH shines versus where CISSP hits the mark. You can expect straightforward comparisons around exam specifics, requisite experience levels, cybersecurity domains covered, and career advancement opportunities.

By understanding the powers of each credential, you can make the savvy choice between acclaimed CEH and CISSP paths.

Understanding CEH and CISSP Certifications

Below, we have explained the key aspects and differences between the CEH and CISSP certifications.

Definition and Overview

CEH: The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) credential focuses specifically on technical skills and methodologies involved in performing penetration tests through ethical hacking mechanisms. The goal is validating the ability to actively identify vulnerabilities by safely attacking systems and networks, much like criminal hackers would, in order to strengthen security.

Image Source

CISSP: The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification covers a broader set of policies, concepts, tools, and best practices related to overseeing, governing, managing, and auditing organizational cybersecurity programs. It focuses more holistically on defining security requirements, risk management frameworks, and compliance controls vs specific technical cyberattack/defense capabilities.

Image Source

Comparison of roles and responsibilities

CEH holders are equipped to conduct highly technical security penetration tests, simulations, and attack scenarios as members of red teams hired to probe networks for weaknesses. They analyze gaps and recommend solutions. 

Whereas CISSP-certified professionals develop broad security policies, governance models, and programs applied organization-wide. They advise executives, ensure compliance, and manage teams executing cyber strategies based more on frameworks versus specific tools.

In summary, CEH maps to hands-on ethical hacking roles vs CISSP aligning to leadership overseeing cyber priorities across functions. But together, they provide layered defenses – with CISSPs governing security models and penetration testers like CEH uncovering root weakness causes.

CEH and CISSP: Comparison Table

The following table provides a comparison between CEH and CISSP based on various factors such as focus area, required experience level, exam details, cost, renewal requirements, and the best-suited audience for each certification.

Focus AreaHands-on technical penetration testing & ethical hacking expertiseBroader security program management, risk, audit, compliance
Required Experience Level2 years of infosec work experience5 years of direct security experience
Exam Details125 multiple choice + iLabs questions6 hr exam timeProctored at ECC test centers100-150 multiple choice3 hr exam timeCan take at Pearson VUE test center
CostExam voucher around $392Exam voucher around $699
Renewal120 CE credits every 3 years + ECC membership120 CPEs every 3 years
Best Suited ForPenetration testers, ethical hackersCISOs, security directors, risk managers, auditors

Purpose and Scope of Each Certification

This section will explain the purpose and scope of CEH and CISSP cybersecurity certifications. As we get into the details of each, you’ll see how they dovetail to equip candidates with comprehensive cyber skills.


The CEH focuses specifically on validating advanced skills and methodologies related to penetrating networks and systems by ethically hacking them. Its in-depth coverage of security threats, countermeasures, tools, techniques, and hands-on ability aims to prepare information security experts on both offensive and defensive capabilities.

Some key areas within the scope of CEH knowledge/skills tested:

  • In-depth expertise with hundreds of penetration testing tools/platforms
  • Exploiting networks, web apps, wireless systems, mobile devices, IoT
  • Executing virus attacks, DDoS attacks, trojans, malware
  • Social engineering and physical security breaches
  • Intrusion detection and prevention systems
  • Security policy creation and audits


Unlike the technical exposure provided by CEH, the CISSP validates competency to effectively design, manage, and govern overarching cybersecurity programs for organizations. Some domains covered within its Common Body of Knowledge include:

  • Security engineering principles/architecture
  • Communications, network, and system security
  • Identity and access management (IAM) models
  • Security assessments, testing, and operations
  • Software development security
  • Security policies, auditing, and compliance

So, in summary, CEH provides granular ethical hacking abilities while CISSP covers big-picture program direction, risk assessment, and team leadership abilities.

What are the Similarities Between CEH and CISSP?

While the CEH and CISSP focus on rather different domains of cybersecurity expertise as discussed – with CEH honing in on technical proficiency in tools and techniques to conduct penetration tests vs CISSP governing overarching organizational security models and compliance…

There are some core similarities between the two premier infosec certifications when it comes to program foundations:

Both CEH and CISSP are:

  • Vendor-neutral certifications ensuring knowledge/skills apply across platforms
  • ANSI-accredited certs adhering to rigorous exam development
  • Globally recognized as the gold standards in their respective niche and general areas
  • Require set amounts of related experience before attempting exams
  • Maintain credential validity through ongoing education credits

Additionally, you could argue high-level security principles represent common ground between the hands-on, tool-focused CEH and higher-order CISSP concentrating more on frameworks, policies, and risk management methodologies. Concepts like the CIA triad securing confidentiality, integrity, and availability of systems apply to technical penetration testers and governing program architects alike, even if manifested differently across duties.

But in their essence, the CISSP and CEH represent diverging domains of cybersecurity expertise – one broad and managerial, the other highly technical and specialized. Their exam structures, career trajectories, and day-to-day roles then logically differ as well to align. Professionals pursuing mastery in infosec do tend to complement depths with breadth by stacking credentials like these over time to ensure both bases are covered!

How Do CEH and CISSP Differ?

While both are highly respected in the cybersecurity landscape, the CEH and CISSP have a number of key differences when it comes to the following:

Focus Areas

CEH intensely concentrates on specific tools, techniques, vulnerabilities, and methodologies related to identifying security gaps through hands-on ethical hacking simulations and attack models. CISSP more broadly covers designing, managing, and governing information security systems, policies, operations, and risk management programs across organizations.

Experience Levels

Given its deep technical, hands-on nature, the CEH requires 2 years of specific information security experience to qualify for the exam. CISSP asks for 5 years of direct professional security experience covering its wider set of domains like architecture, access controls, auditing principles, etc. The difference reflects depth vs breadth.

Exam Format & Length

The CEH exam is proctored at EC Council centers, lasting 6 grueling hours with 125 multiple-choice questions plus cyberattack simulations to perform. CISSP is taken via typical test centers, running 3 hours with 100-150 questions assessing concepts application.

Career Trajectories

CEH-certified experts tend to work as penetration testers, vulnerability assessors, and ethical hackers hired to probe weaknesses. CISSPs pursue careers as CISOs, security directors, risk analysts, and compliance officers – often managing CEHs!

So, in essence, while sharing the “gold standard” reputation in security, the CEH and CISSP diverge considerably when drilling down into domains covered, experience levels tested, exam types administered, and typical job roles pursued thereafter. CEH deals with exploits, while CISSP deals with corporate policy.

Advancement Opportunities

Below, we have discussed advanced opportunities for those looking to advance their careers in the EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and CISSP.


The CEH provides advancement opportunities for hands-on security professionals to level up their penetration testing and ethical hacking skills to take on more complex organizational security challenges.

Some potential CEH job role progressions include:

  • Penetration Tester → Lead Pen Tester → Director of Security Testing
  • Security Analyst → Vulnerability Assessment Specialist → Chief Hacking Officer
  • Network Admin → Cybersecurity Specialist → Cybersecurity Consulting/Red Team

Since the CEH focuses so intensely on technical abilities, it best lends itself to leading cybersecurity ops, serving as advanced penetration testers, and securing high-level cyber risk/vulnerability management positions requiring deep hands-on technical knowledge. Salaries scale aggressively.


Given its broader, organizational security program orientation focusing on risk, audit, access controls, and leadership, some common CISSP job advancement paths are:

  • IT Director → Information Security Director → CISO
  • Security Analyst → Compliance Lead Analyst → Head of Risk Management
  • Network Engineer → Security Architect → Director of Cybersecurity Strategy

So CISSP feeds roles managing Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance (GRC). Chief-level and senior cybersecurity executive positions establishing organizational policies and regulations alignment also benefit greatly from the expansive CISSP knowledge areas. It indicates the ability to apply security to corporate objectives. Salaries climb rapidly into the high hundreds of thousands for top positions.

In summary, while CEH and CISSP offer advancement in cybersecurity along technical vs governance tracks, respectively, they both enable progress into c-suite executive tiers leading major initiatives.

Job Opportunities

This section will cover the job opportunities in CEH and CISSP. The opportunities out there are growing in this field – let’s explore how CEH and CISSP can help position you to seize them.


Image Source

CEH-certified ethical hackers are highly sought after, given intensifying threats and skill scarcity. Penetration testing roles abound across industries to probe networks/apps for companies and clients. Some prime CEH job openings include:

  • Penetration Tester: Assess vulnerabilities, conduct simulations, recommend solutions
  • Cybersecurity Consultant: Audit defenses for clients as a private sector red team member
  • Cyber Risk Analyst: Model organizational risk levels to attacks and propose mitigations
  • Cybersecurity Defense Specialist: Oversee 24/7 response to external and insider threats
  • Vulnerability Assessment Manager: Lead scanning projects uncovering network/system weaknesses
  • Cyber Forensics Investigator: Analyze data breaches, provide incident reports

Salaries start around $90K for entry-level CEH roles like junior pen testers and commonly exceed $150K+ for senior ethical hackers leading expansive teams, and serving executive advisory capacities.


Due to the high-level managerial approach grounded in extensive security frameworks, certified CISSP professionals reliably move into cybersecurity leadership roles such as:

  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
  • Director of Cybersecurity Programs
  • Head of Information Security Governance and Compliance
  • IT Security Architect
  • Security Operations Center (SOC) Director
  • Cybersecurity Program Strategist

With compensation ranging from low 6 figures to multi-hundred thousand packages, the CISSP signals readiness for oversight and upper management beyond individual contributor roles — vastly expanding options.

Exam Structure and Requirements

In this section, we’ll examine the requirements and exam specifics to help decide which certification lines up better with your background and career aims. By breaking these certifications down, you can weigh up if one certification outshines the other or if it makes sense to take on both sequentially as you build up your skills. 

Let’s analyze key exam structure and prerequisite details when comparing the vetting processes for the hands-on CEH vs the managerially-oriented CISSP.


To qualify for the grueling 6-hour, 125-question CEH exam assessing ethical hacking tools and methodologies, those without 2+ years of specific infosec work experience must complete official $850+ training covering penetration testing concepts. 

Otherwise, applicants can submit eligibility forms and non-refundable $100 fees in an attempt to demonstrate requisite experience levels. Either training or experience serves to ensure baseline abilities are met before testing. No endorsements are necessary post-exam.


Alternatively, CISSP demands 5 years of cumulative experience spanning domains like security engineering, comms/network security, identity access management, risk management, and more even prior to its 100-150 question, 3-hour adaptive exam testing governance principles application. 

Reductions apply for approved certs/degrees. Those passing are designated Associates until securing an endorsement from current CISSPs within 9 months. This stresses mentoring and field proof.

So, while CISSP sets higher bars around tenure before attempting mastery of its broader organizational focus, the CEH allows more flexibility for those newer to infosec to lock down its specialized penetration testing concepts through training. Both ensure credibility – the CEH via hands-on abilities and CISSP across years managing programs, validated by veteran supervisors. The vetting aligns with job demands.

Exam Difficulty

When choosing between the CEH and CISSP cybersecurity certifications, it’s important to break down the key aspects and differences between the two exams in order to make a decision. Candidates should weigh the experience and depth of knowledge they currently hold against what each exam covers before signing up.


The CEH maintains a narrow scope centered exclusively around technical methodologies and tools involved in hands-on penetration testing and ethical hacking simulations. With potentially fewer linear-format questions focused solely on core hacking concepts, it is generally considered less difficult than the CISSP exam.

The CEH allows returning to skipped questions and focuses more on specialized abilities to probe networks for vulnerabilities versus broader governance knowledge like models ensuring confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data systems.


With its broader focus spanning eight domains of information security and concentration on governing organizational cybersecurity programs, the CISSP caters to seasoned professionals managing complex initiatives.

The adaptive CAT exam format heightens intensity by raising question difficulty in areas answered correctly, demanding advanced proficiency across risk management, asset security, security architecture, and more. Test takers must exhibit comprehension of applying security principles across scenarios.

So, in essence, while the respected CEH validates penetration testing expertise, the CISSP signals proficiency in creating and leading comprehensive cybersecurity programs – a markedly more difficult feat requiring bridging technical abilities with business objectives and risk planning.

The exams and accompanying jobs align appropriately with these depth and breadth levels. But mastering just CISSP or CEH alone leaves exposure on either operational or strategic fronts.

Cost and Recertification Process

Keeping up with the latest developments in ethical hacking requires going through the recertification process for CEH and CISSP. Professionals looking to renew their certifications need to brush up on recent advances in the field by studying new material and taking updated exams.

Here is a detailed overview of the costs and recertification requirements associated with maintaining the CEH and CISSP credentials:


CEH Costs and Recertification The CEH exam voucher is $950 if purchased via EC-Council or $1,199 through Pearson Vue test centers. To even qualify for the exam, you must either complete a $850 CEH training course or submit a $100 application demonstrating 2+ years of infosec experience that may be rejected. Retake vouchers run $499 if they fail initially.

To recertify every 3 years, CEHs must:

  • Pay $80 in annual EC-Council membership dues
  • Earn 120 Continuing Education (CE) credits through activities like training, conferences, and certifications.

So, both earning and renewing CEH is a larger upfront investment but more affordable than full-price if retaking the exam.


The upfront CISSP exam is higher cost at $749 per attempt through Pearson Vue. No discounts exist for those needing to retake after failing to pass. This single exam fee represents the only major cost for credentialing.

For renewing every 3 years, CISSPs must:

  • Pay $125 in annual maintenance fees ($50 for associates)
  • Earn 120 Continuing Professional Education credits by activities similar to CEH to stay current

So CISSP has lower hurdles to clear for initial credentialing, but equally rigorous professional development and yearly charges apply post-certification. Budgeting for both primary costs and upkeep fees allows professionals to maintain these top-tier certifications.

The CEH and CISSP clearly demand investments to first obtain and then retain through ongoing learning and annual dues. But the doors they open to advancement in cybersecurity leadership or technical streams make the efforts well worthwhile for ambitious infosec careers.

Average Salary

Many cybersecurity professionals are passionate about the field and not solely motivated by salary. However, competitive compensation serves as an additional incentive on top of intrinsic motivation.

CEH Salaries

Entry-level CEH certificate holders can expect to earn an average annual salary of around $92,639. This provides a benchmark for beginning salaries.

CISSP Salaries

CISSPs bring tremendous value and expertise to organizations which is reflected in higher salaries – often over $100,000 annually for those with experience.

So, while CEH provides a good foundation in ethical hacking skills, CISSP continues to be an industry-leading certification that signals advanced knowledge and translates to higher salaries on average.

Salary Factors

Here are some key factors related to salary for the CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) and CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) certifications:


CEH salaries tend to be higher in industries like finance, aerospace, defense, technology, and healthcare where security is critical. Jobs in government and cybersecurity consulting also pay well.

As with most IT roles, larger metropolitan areas and major technology hubs tend to pay CEHs the highest salaries. For example, salaries in Silicon Valley or New York City outweigh other regions.


CISSPs in technical roles in industries like finance, aerospace, and healthcare tend to receive higher-than-average salaries. Government and defense jobs pay well, too.

Major metropolitan cybersecurity hotspots boast the highest CISSP salaries, given the competition for talent. For instance, salaries in Silicon Valley, NYC, and D.C. substantially outweigh the median.

Choosing the Right Certification

Determining whether to pursue the technical CEH or managerial CISSP comes down to honestly assessing your current skills and experience against future career ambitions in cybersecurity.

In the sections below, we’ll explore the factors to keep in mind as you assess your qualifications and identify your career targets on the road ahead.

Assessing your skills and experience

Are your strengths rooted in hands-on ethical hacking capabilities or broader organizational security models? CEH requires working penetration testing knowledge, while CISSP prioritizes policy/framework comprehension. Outline your proficiencies – years securing networks and systems or managing enterprise initiatives? Play to experience while acknowledging growth areas.

Also, weigh existing credentials like Security+, CySA+, or SSCP. They indicate readiness to uplevel into intermediate CEH or advanced CISSP certifications respectively. Identify gaps impeding progression.

Identifying your career goals

What role do you aim for long term? CEHs tend to become lead pen testers, vulnerability management heads, and cyber risk consultants needing deep technical chops. But CISSPs often ascend to CISO, Director of Cyber Security, or GRC leadership positions aligned to models like NIST, requiring a 30k foot view.

Plot your aspirations and identify the certification catering to those outcomes. For instance, current security analysts looking to elevate into architecture or as advisors benefit more from CISSP’s broad positioning. While associate consultants targeting lead penetration tester roles leverage CEH’s specialized ethical hacking tools mastery.

Outlining existing abilities against future milestones clarifies whether to prioritize a CEH or CISSP journey at this stage. Course-correcting certification paths reinforces growth.

Considering Industry Demand and Salary Potential

In this section, we’ll delve into two prime cyber certifications, CEH and CISSP, to get a handle on where demand is heading and how salaries are shaping up.

CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker)

The demand for ethical hackers and penetration testers is growing rapidly as companies seek to secure their systems and assets from cyber threats. Several reports predict strong growth upwards of 20-30% in the coming years for CEH roles.

On average, CEH certification holders can expect salaries between $75,000 to $125,000 in the US, with senior-level roles paying over $150,000. The high salaries reflect the advanced specialized skills and shortage of qualified ethical hackers.

CEHs are employed in roles like penetration tester, cybersecurity analyst, vulnerability assessor, ethical hacker, and chief hacking officer. Top industries hiring include cybersecurity vendors, managed security service providers, large corporations, and government agencies.

CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)

CISSP continues to be one of the top, most in-demand cybersecurity certifications with a growth of over 10% annually. It develops the well-rounded expertise needed by leaders directing infosec teams.

Average salaries for CISSPs range from $95,000 to $160,000+ in the US, with high-level positions going up to $200,000+. The credential indicates advanced technical proficiency as well as managerial competence.

CISSPs take up roles like CISO (Chief Information Security Officer), Security Architect, Security Engineer, Security Analyst, Security Manager, and Cybersecurity Consultant. Industries include technology, IT, telecom, banking and financial services, and large corporations.

In summary, both CEH and CISSP have bright outlooks and high salary ceilings owing to the massive cybersecurity skills gap the industry is facing. The specialized CEH is suited for penetration testing roles, while the broad-based CISSP is ideal for leadership paths.


So, which certification is right for you – CEH or CISSP? The answer depends on your specific career goals and interests. Those looking to dive deep into ethical hacking and penetration testing may find more value in CEH, while CISSP offers broader management-focused cybersecurity skills.

Ultimately, continuing education should be an ongoing effort as the field continues advancing rapidly. CCS Learning Academy offers training for both CEH and CISSP certifications, led by expert instructors with real-world cybersecurity experience. Our courses allow you to learn at your own pace, with flexible online options as well as intensive boot camps.

As threats evolve, so must cybersecurity professionals through never-ending education. Advance your career, open new opportunities, and keep pace with the latest risks by enrolling in CCS today. The decision you make now can chart the course for your future.


Q1: What are CEH and CISSP certifications?

Answer: CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) is a certification focused on ethical hacking skills, offered by the EC-Council. It covers penetration testing, attack detection, and various hacking techniques. CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) is a more advanced certification offered by (ISC)², focusing on overall information security management and practices.

Q2: What are the main differences between CEH and CISSP certifications?

Answer: CEH is primarily technical, focusing on hands-on hacking skills and techniques. CISSP is broader and more strategic, covering a wide range of information security topics, including risk management, security architecture, and governance.

Q3: Who should pursue the CEH certification?

Answer: CEH is ideal for IT professionals who want to specialize in ethical hacking and penetration testing. It’s suitable for roles like security analysts, penetration testers, and network administrators who need to understand hacking techniques to better defend against them.

Q4: Who is the CISSP certification designed for?

Answer: CISSP is designed for experienced security professionals seeking to advance into roles like security managers, CISOs, IT directors, or security architects. It’s for those who want to develop a more strategic view of information security.

Q5: What are the prerequisites for CEH and CISSP?

Answer: For CEH, a strong understanding of networking and a basic knowledge of security concepts are recommended. For CISSP, a minimum of five years of cumulative, paid work experience in two or more of the eight domains of the CISSP CBK is required.

Q6: How do the exam formats for CEH and CISSP differ?

Answer: The CEH exam is primarily multiple-choice, focusing on technical aspects of ethical hacking. The CISSP exam is also multiple-choice but covers a broader range of topics, focusing on managerial and strategic aspects of information security.

Q7: What career opportunities can CEH and CISSP certifications lead to?

Answer: CEH can lead to technical roles in cybersecurity, such as an ethical hacker, penetration tester, or security analyst. CISSP opens doors to higher-level, managerial roles in information security, like security manager, CISO, or security consultant.

Q8: How are CEH and CISSP certifications perceived in the industry?

Answer: Both certifications are highly respected. CEH is known for its technical depth in ethical hacking, while CISSP is recognized for its comprehensive coverage of information security and its emphasis on management and strategy.

Q9: Can I do both CEH and CISSP certifications?

Answer: Yes, many professionals choose to do both certifications. CEH can provide a strong technical foundation, while CISSP can expand your knowledge to include strategic and managerial aspects of cybersecurity.

Q10: How do I decide which certification is right for my career?

Answer: Consider your career goals and interests. If you’re more interested in hands-on technical roles, CEH might be more suitable. If you’re aiming for managerial or strategic positions in cybersecurity, CISSP would be a better choice.

Q11: What is the cost difference between CEH and CISSP certifications?

Answer: Generally, CISSP is more expensive than CEH, considering both the exam fees and the potential costs of meeting its experience requirements. However, costs can vary based on training materials and courses you may choose to take.

Q12: How long are CEH and CISSP certifications valid, and what are the renewal requirements?

Answer: Both CEH and CISSP certifications require renewal. CEH certification is valid for three years and can be renewed through earning EC-Council Continuing Education (ECE) credits. CISSP also requires renewal every three years, with a requirement to earn and submit Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits.