Which is better – CISA or CISM?

Juliet D'cruz

Updated on:

Certified Information Systems Auditors (CISA) and Certified Information Security Managers (CISM) are the two certifications that are provided by the ISACA. ISACA is an Information Systems Audit and Control Association focused on IT governance. While the two may be offered by the same organization, they have more differences than they have similarities. Knowing what both the CISA course and CISM course have to offer, will help you make an informed decision as to which one will help you advance your career in the IT field. Both CISA and CISM have very different target audiences and hence it’s best to know which one provides knowledge about your role in the industry.

What is CISA?

Certified Information Systems Auditors sets a standard set for professionals in the field of information systems. It generally deals with control, security, and auditing. Candidates, who hold a CISA, display to the prospective employers that they possess the desired knowledge and skills to face the ever-evolving challenges in modern organizations. CISA candidates are required to undertake a comprehensive examination and must also have the essential work experience, which is at least five years of experience in the field. To keep their designation under the CISA, the candidates must take up 20 hours of training annually and are required to take up a minimum of 120 hours of training in three years. Continuing education is an essential element of CISA. To give the CISA examination, the candidate must have in-depth knowledge about the following topics-

  • Information Systems Acquisition, Development, and Implementation;
  • The Process of Auditing Information Systems;
  • Information Systems Operations, Maintenance, and Service Management;
  • Protection of Information Assets; and,
  • Government and Management of IT

The exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions and the marks are given within a range of 200 to 800, out of which 450 is required to be obtained by the candidate to pass the exam.

What is CISM?

CISM is an advanced certification that presents to prospective employers that the candidate holds the knowledge and experience to deal with the enterprise InfoSec (information security) program. It demonstrates to the employer that the candidate is a professional in handling, developing, and managing the information and security of the corporation. CISM is preferable for IT consultants and security managers. The topics included in the examination for CISM include-

  • Information security management;
  • Information security incident management;
  • Information risk compliance;
  • Information risk management; and,
  • Information security program management and development.

Apart from passing the examination, the candidates must also possess five years of relevant experience in the InfoSec field, within which 3 years must consist of experience in an InfoSec management position. The experience must be gained within 5 years of passing the examination or within 10 years preceding the application. To maintain CISM, candidates are also required to complete and maintain 20 hours of annual training.

Which certification should you opt for?

Before you make a decision on which certification to opt for to advance your career in the right direction, you must first know what makes the two courses differ from each other, what are the job descriptions of both courses, and which is the right choice, to give your career an upward trajectory. While both the courses prepare you for risk management positions very well, there are many differences to look into before deciding the right course for you.

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Difference between CISM and CISA

In the simplest of terms, CISA is for auditors assessing IS vulnerabilities, reporting on compliance, instituting controls, etc. and CISM is for information risk managers and information security managers overseeing, managing, designing, and assessing enterprise information security. CISM is better suited for professionals who have progressed at their job and are in managerial posts and are involved in imperative decisions relating to InfoSec management. CISM certification deals with assuring the security of the enterprises’ information while CISA is for assuring the controls of information security. 

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Job Descriptions

CISA certified professionals mostly deal with IT auditing, IT infrastructure auditing, control, and regulatory compliance, within their job roles. CISM holders are more related to business impact analysis, business progression planning, management of information security, planning for disaster recovery, risk analysis of information security, and many more responsibilities.

CISA consists of five domains or practice areas whereas CISM only consists of four, which are as follows:

Domains of CISA-

  • The Process of Auditing Information Systems
  • Governance and Management of IT
  • Information Systems Acquisition, Development, and Implementation
  • Information Systems Operations, Maintenance and Service Management
  • Protection and Information Assets

Domains of CISM-

  • Information Security Incident Management
  • Information Security Governance
  • Information Risk Management
  • Information Security Program Management and Development


Both certifications offer high compensation from employers and end up giving you an exponential rise in your salary. While CISA professionals earn around INR 1,504,535 per year, CISM-certified candidates can make almost INR 2,016,128 annually.


As both CISA and CISM have their areas of expertise and it cannot be said that any one of the certifications is better. While choosing between both the courses, you must keep in mind your primary career. Suppose you are employed in a job with a description such as a system administrator, network administrator, or any similar background, and would like to extend your career into information security management, CISM is preferred to help you excel at your job. If your field of job is compliance, assurance, and auditing, CISA will be a better choice for you.

It all comes down to your area of interest and your background. Which exam is easy for you and which course you find interesting will depend on the area in which you have experience. Both the courses offered by ISACA are equally interesting and challenging. The only difference is that CISA has a wider scope of exams than CISM, but to pass any of these certifications, in-depth studying of the topics and hard work is important.

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While choosing between CISA and CISM, the only thing you need to keep in focus is your career. If you want to excel at your job and aim to see yourself in leading positions in the IT industry then it is preferable and more helpful if you have both certifications. Having both certifications will help you in understanding both the domains more properly and establish that you have the authority to hold yourself at higher IT positions.