Saturday, February 20, 2021

Is Security Certification a New Year's Resolution?

Wow, New Year’s Eve has come and gone, and many of us are reflecting on our goals. It’s traditional to plan events as the calendar rolls over to a new year. It’s great to dream big and visualize these goals, it’s quite another to actually reach them. So let’s talk professional goals, the NCMS’ ISP Certification and CDSE's ISOC are great ones to strive for.

It’s one thing to dream and another to plan. The difference is what you do from the vision to make it a reality. Here are some deliberate actions you can use to help develop a plan to become ISP Certified.

1.  Begin at the NCMS, ISP Certification information website @ There you can find ISP Certification testimonials, brochures, application and other information about the certification. When you review the qualification, study and application information, begin with the end in mind. If your goal is to become ISP Certified
, gather all the data needed and determine the possibility. If the application, approval and study timeline is too timely, consider changing your goal the next year. The goal is to study the requirements and build a realistic plan to achieve your goal. Let preparation set the way and not a calendar date. Once you determine how long it will take to get prepared (6 months, 1 year, etc.) build a plan based on the date and work backward.

If your goal is ISOC certification, begin at the CDSE website

2. Understand the application process. There are minimum experience requirements that applicants must meet as well as administrative tasks built into the process. If an applicant does not meet minimum requirements, they can begin study, but will have to wait to meet those requirements before applying. This should be built into the timeline. Applicants who meet the minimum, should build in the administrative tasks into the timeline. This includes filling out applications, payment, getting approval to take the exam and setting up a test date.

3. Understand the testable topics. Gather the relevant test information from the website. Understand the requirements and get a feel of where you are professionally and any gaps you need to breach to bring your knowledge of NISPOM and ISP or ISOC  Certification categories to where it needs to be. It’s not necessary to be an expert in all areas or to be able to quote regulations and requirements. What’s important is a knowledge of where to find information in source documents and apply that knowledge to question based scenarios. In other words, understand where the information can be found and applied to the situation in a quick manner. For example, a person appointed as FSO may have substantial experience with personnel and contract security after working those areas exclusively for many years. However, they are still responsible for understanding information security as outlined in the NISPOM. This means that they will need to spend some time understanding where to find topic related information and answer questions in context.

4. The following are some things that you can do to prepare to fill those knowledge gaps:

a. Study the NISPOM and other reference document structure and understand where to find topic related information. Also, become familiar with key industry standard words found in the source documents. Some of these words are original classification authority, government contracting agency, DCSA, security clearance, cognizant security agency, and etc. The NISPOM and source documents are available in print and electrons and can be used in the exam. Understand where certain information can be found or how to search an electronic copy is a very good technique for real life and test based scenarios.

b. Join a study group. There you can study their material, ask questions and get feedback.

c. Find a mentor. They understand the stress of working full time and studying for a professional level exam. Mentors can calm fears, answer questions, put rumors to rest, and put the right perspective on stress, studying and life in general.

5. Set a date.  Once that date is set and approved, you have a certain amount of to take the test before having to reapply. Setting the date will keep you motivated to study and stay focused.

Dreaming is one this, but achieving is another. The best way to ensure success is to build a plan and follow it. Begin with the end in mind, understand the limitations, meet those limitation, set a date and stay focused. 

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 Jeffrey W. Bennett, ISP is the owner of Red Bike Publishing Red Bike Publishing . He regularly consults, presents security training, and recommends export compliance and intellectual property protection countermeasures. He is an accomplished writer of non-fiction books, novels and periodicals. Jeff is an expert in security and has written many security books including: "Insider's Guide to Security Clearances" and "How to Get U.S. Government Contracts and Classified Work", "ISP(R) and ISOC Master Exam Prep", and NISPOM/FSO Training".

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