CISA vs CISM – What are the Key Differences? Which One is For You?

Both CISA and CISM are certifications offered by the same certification body i.e ISACA ( Information Systems Audit and Control Association). There is a lot of confusion about which certification is best. Many people would recommend that you go for either of the two certifications because they consider both similar. However, this is not correct.


CISA and CISM are two entirely different certifications with different careers paths. Briefly speaking, CISA is the certification for auditors whereas CISM is a certification for information security managers and risk managers. According to ISACA itself, CISM is a certification that recognizes a professional who “manages, designs, oversees and assesses an enterprise’s information security.” Presently more than 32000 professionals have earned CISM credential. ¬†On the other hand, CISA recognizes an audit professional’s experience to “assess IS vulnerabilities, report on compliance and institute controls within the enterprise.” Presently more than 129,000 professionals hold CISA certification.

Initially CISA certification was also thought of a suitable qualification for information security managers but the role of an IS auditor and IS security manager are quite different. CISM is not a certification intended towards those who are information security practitioners. It is best suited for those who have grown up in the career to be at managerial positions and are making key information security management decisions. So while CISA is a certification meant for hands on information systems auditor, CISM is meant for those who manage the information security hands on professionals.

The domains knowledge of both the certifications is focused towards information security but there is a key difference. CISM is a certification tasked with ensuring enterprise’s information security whereas CISA is meant for professionals who provide assurance about information security controls.

Different job descriptions of CISA and CISM

Job description of CISA certification holders often focuses towards IT auditing, controls, regulatory compliance and a lot of time audit of IT infrastructure. On the other hand, most CISM job descriptions are related to information security management, business continuity planning, disaster recovery planning, information security risk analysis and business impact analysis etc.

Best way to understand the difference and similarities between CISA and CISM is to read the job practice areas of both the certifications as published on ISACA website. CISA has five job practice areas and CISM has four job practice areas. There are some similarities in the content but we must not lose sight of the fact that the key difference between CISA and CISM is that one is meant for IT audit professionals and the other is intended for managers of information security professionals.

So when choosing between CISA and CISM, keep in sight you main career. If you are working as a network administrator, system administrator or a professional with a similar background, then CISM is preferred for helping you become an information security manager. And if you are already one, you can showcase CISM as an evidence of your competence. And if your main job involves information systems auditing, compliance and assurance, then CISA should be your choice certification. Your peculiar situation may also help and it is not uncommon to cross-certify to further boost your prospects. But for choosing your first certification the above differences should guide your path and help you in choosing between CISA and CISM.

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