Difference between CompTIA Security+ SY0-401 and SY0-501?

Update: Click here for the Security+ SY0-501 Exam Objectives

So how different should we expect the new Security+ SY0-501 to be compared to the current SY0-401? We expect it to release in October of 2017. Update: Release date was October 4th.

Last year’s release of the new Network+ exam objectives was a very significant event. The then new (July 2015) official exam objectives went from 24 to 33 pages! Obviously, CompTIA thought a lot was missing in the old version… Cybersecurity advances have been no less significant over the last few years than the development of new technologies in computer networking. The themes added to the Network objectives can certainly offer some guidance. A+ has also recently seen new objectives (December 2015) and although A+ will be less useful in terms of divining the Security+ SY0-501 exam objectives, some of the new topics may apply to Security+.

The broad brush

Given that Security+ is on or about a mile wide and about an inch deep, we indeed need a very broad brush.  Obviously, the new material in CompTIA’s Certification Exam Objectives for Security+ SY0-501 aims at reflecting technologies used today that were not included in the objectives 3 years ago when SY0-401 was released.

The following will either see an enhanced focus and/or be added to the new Security+ SY0-501 exam objectives:

– Technologies that support cloud and technologies with an emphasis on cloud security
– Expansion of Virtualization and how to secure it
– Mobile device security and breach of
– Securing cart technology and payment systems
– More on monitoring tools and analysis of metrics obtained from monitoring and tracking tools
– Deepening of the understanding of network access control models
– Sideloaded applications and management of the process
– Verification and validation of sideloaded applications
– Possibly addition of Samsung, LG and/or other manufacturer specific issues

We also expect greater emphasis will be put on practical knowledge, this has been a trend at all the latest CompTIA updated exams. These are the sub-objectives that will start with “Given a scenario…” Today there are 12 of those sub-objectives in Security+ SY0-401, expect that number to grow. We are going to put our neck out and forecast that the new number will be somewhere between 18 and 22. Examples of that kind of objectives could be “practical approaches to troubleshooting” or “resolving various security issues” etc.

Should I take the Security+ SY0-401 now or wait for the SY0-501 exam?

The short answer is of course that you should take the version available at the time you need to be certified. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out! However, there are other considerations too. One is that although the “latest and greatest” always has its appeal. When it comes to CompTIA certification your certification is valid for three years from the date you pass the exam. It doesn’t matter if that date happens to be one day before the retirement date of the exam, you are still certified for three years no matter what. The other consideration is always a tendency to prefer “the devil we know”. There is predictability in committing to Security+ SY0-401 that the SY0-501 objectives can’t offer just yet. It seems pretty certain that if you are planning on getting certified in 2016 and even into spring of 2017 you will have to pick the current version.

CompTIA Security+ Practice Test

CertBlaster offers practice tests for Security+ SY0-401. The product includes 500 questions including what CompTIA refers to as the Performance Based Question (PBQ). Below is a screenshot of an important Performance Based Question type that you will face at the Security+ exam. This type of question puts you in a situation where you have been hacked, you get to see the script used and from analyzing that script you will be asked to figure out what server is under attack, by what type of attack and you will be asked to enunciate the best defense against that attack.


Performance Based Question Security+ SY0-401 Practice Test
Example of Performance Based Question in CertBlaster Security+ Practice Test



22 thoughts on “Expected difference between CompTIA Security plus SY0-401 and SY0-501?

    1. Hi Roger, we are expecting Security+ SY0-501 by next summer wuith a “garce period” for SY0-401 till the end of December 2017.

      1. Hi Rafi, the proper date is Oct. 25 for the release by CompTIA of the exam and by us of the test prep. We could not immediately find the Oct. 4th reference you are mentioning. If you could narrow it down or send us a screenshot that would be greatly appreciated!

          1. Thanks Dave! That date is supposed to be for CompTIA educational partner while the October 25 date is for the public. I was concerned we were flashing that date on our site…

  1. Hi ,

    I am planning for Security+ SY0-501(October 4, 2017), however there are no any books available till now.
    Is that fine if i will follow the book of Security+ SY0-401 ?.

    1. That is not going to be optimal. You can expect that there will be about a 30% difference between the new SY0-501 objectives and the current SY0-401 exam objectives. Considering that you will need on or about an 85% score to pass this would be a very risky bet. Understand that if you were to take SY0-401 now or in October it will still be valid for the exact same duration as the new SY0-501 i.e. 3 years from exam date.

  2. I am planning to take SY0-401 by October, 2017. Agreed it will be valid for 3 years.

    But what after 3 years? Will I have to take exam with SY0-501 or next launch to validate it again, or they can renew 401 by just paying the renewal?

    1. Actually, you have a lot longer than that. CompTIA gives you a six month “grace period” past the introduction of SY0-501 so, the good news is, you have until the 24th plus six months!

  3. I called CompTIA and asked which exam I should take given the release date of 501 version. I have been studying for the 401 Exam. They told me that I should take the one I have been studying for (401). They said that I had until July 2018 to take the 401. She did say that once the 501 is released and you go to purchase it, make sure and choose the appropriate one that you want (401 or 501)

  4. I am studying to take the test. my question isn’t so much about the test but prepping for it. I was looking over the page and then saw this

    “For Ever License”: Your license duration is literally for longer than you will need it i.e. for the life of the certification exam you are preparing for plus six months past its retirement date!

    -If i buy the cert blaster material for 401. it says its good for the lifetime of the test plus 6 months. I wont need it in the next year but I might need it in 3 years. would I have to pay the full price for 501 material?

    1. Yes John, SY0-401 will still be available until July 2018 at which time it will be retired. During this grace period, both exams will be available at the testing centers. Whichever exam you choose to take your Security+ certification will be valid for three years from your exam date.

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