AWS Training and Certification Blog

10 tips to study for the AWS Certified Security – Specialty Certification

This blog post compiles 10 tips about the specific topics that candidates should master in order to take the AWS Certified Security – Specialty certification exam. The reader will have a better idea of what to expect during the exam, and how to be ready for it. The post is geared toward Security Engineers who are pursuing the certification, and are looking for advice on their preparation to pass the exam.

I have more than 15 years of experience as a technical trainer, and have also earned industry certifications. I have come across hundreds of tips and tricks to pass the exams. Many of them were useful, but many others were less than helpful. Here I will share 10 tips that I believe will help you to obtain what I consider the most challenging certification exam I have faced, the AWS Certified Security – Specialty.

If you want to be AWS Certified and recognized for your security expertise, this post is for you; however, keep in mind that I’m not going through the basics. You can find general guides to prepare for any AWS Certification exam in a previous post and on the AWS Training and Certification webpage. If you’ve already read these and want some more tips for the security certification exam, keep reading.

Take into account that these tips do not replace diligent use of the recommended security learning path, and are not intended as the only source for your exam preparation. This additional information complements the trainings and documentation, and can help security engineers know where to focus preparation time.

1. Be paranoid

As a security engineer you are expected to consider the worst-case scenario for any possible threat; therefore, you should always choose responses with the solution that delivers the best level of security, or those that you think cover the majority of threats. Be careful with exam questions like, “What’s the simplest way?” or “What’s the most economical option?”. In those cases, you have to resolve the given problem, even if the option is not the best from the security point of view.

2. Know your AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies

AWS IAM is the first service that you should configure in any AWS account, and it’s widely used to give access control to AWS resources. That is why it is an extremely important service to know if you work in security. Understanding the policy evaluation logic, and all IAM policy elements is a must.

3. Embrace encryption

Encryption improves data security. If you are following the first tip, you should know that sensitive data has to be encrypted. This means you won’t see questions where you have to decide whether or not to encrypt data in an Amazon S3 bucket; instead, you will be asked about what’s the best location to encrypt the data, or the best key management solution to fulfill given requirements.

4. Security Groups vs. Network Access Control Lists (NACLs)

Network security is also critical in cloud environments, and there are several tools to avoid issues. Two of the most important tools are Security Groups and NACLs. Knowing the differences, use cases, and features of both will help increase your exam points.

5. Be ready to respond to incidents

Security Engineers are not only in charge of deploying and configuring the security tools to avoid intruders penetrating the systems, they also have to be ready to rapidly detect and respond to incidents, enabling detective capacities, and ensuring access to the necessary services.

6. That AWS Service does what?

There are several AWS security services available, each one focused on a specific use case, which gives you choice when raising your security posture. Even though you are not required to be an expert in every single one of them, you should know them all, their main features, their use cases, and their costumer benefits.

7. Don’t forget about the logs

One simple way to detect incidents, and to perform a forensic analysis of incidents is by reviewing the logs generated by infrastructure and applications. However, processing a large amount of log files could be an exhausting task. That’s why you should know the tools that facilitate logs capture and processing, and the recommended practices to centralize and secure your logs to avoid attackers who may manipulate or delete them.

8. Get your hands dirty

Definitely the best way to learn something is by doing it. You could read all available guides from top to bottom, and that couldn’t be enough for you to pass the exam. You need to practice your skills in a real environment, and see the services features with your own eyes. So, create an AWS account and use the free tier to explore the services, or use the labs provided by qwiklabs that allow you to learn and practice AWS skills.

9. Manage your time

During the exam you will have enough time to carefully read every question and its options. You will have 170 minutes to respond to approximately 65 questions. That means more than two and a half minutes for each question; however, some questions are more complex than others and, therefore, consume more time.

It could be a good idea to set yourself some time marks, for example, 20 minutes for every 10 questions, that will give you some time at the end to review the questions you weren’t sure. If you are about to get to your time mark and still have several questions of that 10-question block to evaluate, give quick answers to the remaining questions, mark them for review, and move to the next block.

Don’t forget to respond all questions, even if you have absolutely no idea. Make your best guess and respond. You still will have a chance to have a right answer, and there aren’t any penalties if you choose the wrong option.

10. Walk before you run

There are no requirements to take AWS Certification exams in a particular order. Meaning, you can take the AWS Certified Security – Specialty exam before obtaining any other AWS Certification. Nevertheless, foundational and associate-level certifications, such as AWS Cloud Practitioner and AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate, will help you understand the basics and familiarize you with the exam logistics, the types of questions, how to manage your time, your response strategies, etc.

In demand certification

The AWS Certified Security – Specialty certification allows experienced cloud security professionals to demonstrate and validate their knowledge about how to secure the AWS platform. Based on Global Knowledge’s 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report, the AWS Certified Security – Specialty certification is one of the top 10 most popular cybersecurity certifications of 2020. Additionally, the survey found that 96 percent of IT leaders believe team members with cybersecurity certifications add value to their organizations. If you’re considering pursuing this certification, you’re in good company. According to the survey, 48 percent of all IT professionals interviewed by Global Knowledge are actively pursuing a cybersecurity certification. Take it from me, it really is worth every penny and every second you invest to earn it.

As you’re beginning to prepare, start with the security learning path, and take advantage of our free Exam Readiness digital courses and virtual webinars. Everything I mentioned in this blog post is fully covered in the trainings. If you haven’t done it yet, sign up for a training account, and take the recommended courses. You will see the knowledge and insights of these tips throughout your studies. Good luck!