Microsoft to introduce security certifications

Microsoft Corp. announced this month its first set of certification credentials for IT administrators and engineers who specialize in security in a Windows environment.

Dan Truax, director of business and product strategy for training and certification at Microsoft, noted that the company has offered security courses for years. But he said Microsoft decided to take the extra step of creating a formal credential in recognition of the number of customers that now specialize in that type of job.

The formal announcement of the new certifications was set to be made during a keynote address by Scott Charney, Microsoft’s chief security strategist, at the company’s TechEd 2003 conference earlier this in Dallas.

The more rigorous of the two certifications being introduced is the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE): Security on Microsoft Windows 2000. To achieve that status, an engineer must pass six core exams and demonstrate a “security specialty” by taking a test on Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000 or an exam administered by the Computing Technology Industry Association, better known as CompTIA.

The requirements are essentially the same as for an ordinary MCSE certification, except the security candidate has to take the core security design exam and a security implementation exam that Microsoft introduced in January, along with the ISA Server or CompTIA exam.

The other new certification – Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA): Security on Microsoft Windows 2000 – requires the four exams needed for a typical MCSA certification, plus one additional exam. One core exam on the client operating system and two on networking systems are mandated along with the security implementation exam and either the ISA Server or CompTIA exam.

Certifications aren’t yet available for Windows Server 2003, but they’re expected to become available later this year, according to Truax.

Truax said Microsoft was first approached last summer about creating a special security credential. Customers and partners subsequently advised the company not to create credentials similar to any that already exist in the industry, but rather to focus on offering a certification specific to the Microsoft software environment, he said. “Our goal was to complement what exists in the industry, not to compete with it,” Truax said.

How important the new certifications will be to IT shops is unclear. Charles Emery, senior vice president and CIO at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey in Newark, said he views the new Microsoft programs as positive for the industry. But he also noted that Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield doesn’t use certifications as hiring criteria, because it has often found that certification holders have no practical experience.

Mike Lines, an Indianapolis-based manager of technical integration at Bell Industries Tech.logix Group, said that as a provider of outsourced IT services, his company requires all of its engineers to carry the MCSE credential. Lines said he definitely will have a couple of engineers take the new security certification exams.

But one certified Microsoft trainer, who asked not to be identified, said it’s difficult for any vendor to develop a security curriculum for its own products. He said third parties, such as the SANS Institute, tend to take a more critical and thorough approach.