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Why Should You Consider Passing the SCYBER Exam?

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Modern organizations rely on specialists to keep cyber criminals at bay. How can you demonstrate that you have the necessary skills to gain a desirable job in a security-related position? Joseph Muniz, co-author of Security Operations Center: Building, Operating, and Maintaining Your SOC, explains the value of achieving the Cisco SCYBER certification, which is designed around responding to cyber attacks.
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Many security-based certification options are available, but the average person has only a limited amount of time in the day to study. Popular certifications for security professionals range from conceptual security exams such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) to hands-on technical exams like the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).

Cisco offers many product-related exams, such as certifying in the Identity Services Engine (ISE), or configuration and architecture exams such as the Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP); however, these exams don't target the specific skills needed for responding to cyber attacks. For this reason, in 2014 Cisco introduced the Securing Cisco Networks with Threat Detection and Analysis (SCYBER) exam.

Why should you consider investing your time to achieve the SCYBER certification? To help you address this question, we'll begin by looking at the content of the exam and the security issues addressed by SCYBER certification.

Job Roles and Essential Skills Addressed by the SCYBER Exam

The purpose of the SCYBER exam is to validate that the candidate has a good understanding of cyber threat detection and mitigation. This means having the skills to use common data-collection and network-discovery tools; understanding the different types of alarms and event data analyzed by such tools; and being able to use that data to take the appropriate action on a security incident, based on the organization's incident response plan. Cisco's exam for cyber security specialists (600-199 SCYBER) focuses on testing the following categories, broken down into percentages of how the topics are approached on the exam:

  • Information Gathering and Security Foundations (13%)
  • Event Monitoring (16%)
  • Security Events and Alarms (16%)
  • Traffic Analysis, Collection, and Correlation (24%)
  • Incident Response (16%)
  • Operational Communications

Knowledge of cyber threat detection and mitigation requires a specific type of training that is currently in high demand. Most security operations centers (SOCs) need people who can work with popular data-collection tools such as SIEMs (security information and event management tools), interpreting event data for incident response purposes. Almost every organization—including smaller businesses that don't have dedicated security people—must have some level of security defenses, requiring an administrator who can use those tools. This is now a job requirement for almost every industry. Today's job market has many more openings requiring security analyst skills than people to fill them, making this a highly desirable skillset to obtain. Following are some of the job roles that could be related to the SCYBER certification:

  • Incident Response Examiner
  • Cyber Security Consultant
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Cyber Security Incident Handler
  • Security Analyst
  • Information Security Incident Responder
  • Security Engineer
  • Cyber Threat Analyst
  • Computer Security Specialist

When studying for the SCYBER exam, you should be prepared for questions about different protocols (SSH, NetFlow, DNS, etc.), intrusion prevention/detection alarms, event troubleshooting, security architecture, various types of common attacks, network forensics, common security tools, and incident response steps. This broad range of content seems like a lot to cover; however, these concepts are all related to tasks handled by the job roles previously mentioned. Also, in most cases, a basic understanding of the topic will be good enough for the exam. As an example, you'll probably be okay knowing at a high level what DNS is and how it works, versus being asked how to deploy and troubleshoot DNS. The goal of the exam is monitoring security events, rather than deploying products.

What You Need to Know to Pass the Exam

Cisco recommends taking the SCYBER training class in order to prepare for the exam, but industry knowledge and brushing up on the topics covered by the SCYBER class might be good enough for some people with equivalent job experience to pass the exam. I was able to pass without taking the official course, based on my work experience and on reviewing material related to what's taught in the SCYBER class. The SCYBER course is broken down into the following modules. If you won't be taking the course, I recommend spending time studying these essential concepts before you take the exam.

Module

Contents

1

Course Introduction: Overview of Network Security and Operations

2

Network and Security Operations Data Analysis

3

Packet Analysis

4

Network Log Analysis

5

Baseline Network Operations

6

Preparing for Security Incidents

7

Detecting Security Incidents

8

Investigating Security Incidents

9

Reacting to an Incident

10

Communicating Incidents Effectively

11

Post Event Activity

The exam itself is relatively short, made up of 50–60 questions, with an hour provided to complete the exam. In my opinion, the difficulty of the exam is between entry-level and mid-tier analyst, meaning that you won't have to train very hard to master the material. All questions are multiple choice, and typically a few answers are obviously incorrect. So the time you invest in preparing for this exam should be less than that for many other industry exams (depending on your current skill level and understanding of the content covered).

Let me give you an idea of the job role this exam is targeting. The following steps involve activities that a security analyst would expect when reacting to a security incident:

  1. The administrator notices an alarm from a signature-based or anomaly-based security solution, which could indicate a security event. This could also be a series of alarms correlated to an event generated by a SIEM.
  2. Based on the data captured, the administrator investigates the alarms, following steps from the organization's incident response plan. The actions taken can depend on the alarm type, location of the asset generating the alarm, sensitivity of data associated with the asset, and so on.
  3. The administrator identifies all associated systems and communication between such systems from the first alarm(s)—and possibly prior to the incident—to isolate the scope of the incident.
  4. Based on the event data, the administrator initiates steps to quarantine any systems impacted by the threat, creates a report to document the severity of the incident, and begins any other remediation steps as necessary, depending on the organization's incident response plan.

In this example, the results of the security analyst's research may determine that an outside party has breached the company, or that the event is a false alarm. It all depends on how the security analyst is able to view and understand the captured event data about the incident. Post-event activity is also covered in this exam, requiring an understanding of how to respond to a breach. For example, if you realize that a system has been breached, you must decide whether you will engage other authorities or handle the investigation internally.

Prerequisites for the SCYBER Exam

There are no prerequisites for SCYBER, although Cisco recommends having at least a CCNA, CCNA Security Plus, and basic Cisco IOS switching and router configuration skills. Before attempting this exam, I suggest you also get a little industry experience and some basic knowledge of how common security products work, such as SIEMs, firewalls, and intrusion prevention/defense solutions (IPS/IDS). The questions on the SCYBER exam are pretty general, so you won't have to spend hours memorizing specific details of technical concepts. However, training for interpreting log data will be a lot easier if you can spend a little time viewing events from a security solution, such as an IPS/IDS.

Recertification for the SCYBER Exam

The recertification process is standard for Cisco exams. You have a two-year period to either pass a 642 exam or higher, or perform one of the typical options that certifies most Cisco exams. Those options include passing the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) written exam, the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) written or practical exam, or the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) interview and board review. Passing the exam or recertifying is valid for two more years upon the date of passing the exam. (If you've already taken Cisco exams, this information should all be expected.)

Final Thoughts

Looking back at our original question ("Why should you consider passing the SCYBER exam?"), the answer can be addressed by any of the following additional questions:

  • Are you interested in a career in incident response, as required for most cyber security job roles?
  • Do your job responsibilities include ensuring that your company is protected from cyber threats?
  • Are you looking to invest time in incident response training, as well as gaining a certification that backs up your knowledge of this topic?
  • Is your organization investing in security technology such as data collection tools or breach detection solutions?
  • Does your organization need employees who are capable of enforcing your incident response plan in the event of a cyber attack?

If you answered these or related questions with yes, then the SCYBER exam would probably be ideal for your future certification goals. You can learn more about Cisco's SCYBER exam from the datasheet.

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