Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is an ethical hacking tactic that helps companies protect themselves. Penetration testers try to break into clients' digital systems to find weaknesses before a black hat hacker does. This is a growing field as companies seek to prevent the high profile data breaches that have happened in recent years. The top penetration testing certifications can help you get into this field.
Top Penetration Testing Certifications
Entry Level, 4 Hour Multiple Choice Exam With 125 Questions, Optional 6 Hour Practical Exam
The Certified Ethical Hacker Certification is recognized the world over as a standard for ethical hackers. You will need to know about the latest hacking and malware tactics to help your future clients prevent security breaches to pass this certification. The course offered by Alpine Security will not only prepare you for the EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker Exam, but we also guarantee you will pass the exam. The four hour test has 125 questions, and establishes your knowledge of the topic at hand. After you receive that certification, take the 6 hour practical exam to show you really know your stuff.
Entry Level, 3 Hour Exam with 82-115 Multiple Choice Questions
GIAC's (Global Information Assurance Certification) GPEN certification is a simple proctored exam with multiple choice questions that takes place over three hours. This test might seem easy compared to the days long practical tests offered by other companies, but the questions cover a range of topics. The proctored test covers not only technical questions about ethical hacking and penetration testing, but also legal topics as they relate to pen testing and other non-technical questions.
Entry Level, 2 Hour Multiple Choice Exam With 50 Questions, Practical Exam (30 Days to Complete)
The CPT Certification is from the IACRB - the Information Assurance Certification Review Board. This is a flexible exam that is proctored both in different locations around the world, or a proctor can come to you as long as you have a group of 10 people who wish to take the text. It tests your knowledge of penetration testing in general, and specifically Windows, Unix & Linux vulnerabilities, wireless security and web application exploits among other things. The exam is multiple choice and as long as you score 70% or better, you will pass. This certification is only valid for four years due to the fact that technology changes so quickly, so if you get this one, make sure you stay current with it. Luckily, getting re-certified is completely free.
Intermediate, 2.75 Hour Long Test with up to 85 Practical & Multiple Choice Questions
PenTest+ is one of the certificates offered by CompTIA, a "vendor-neutral" IT certification organization. The tests take place a Pearson VUE testing centers, which are heavily controlled computer based centers. This exam is generally considered an intermediate exam that tests your ability to assess weaknesses in a system and your ability to suggest strategies to ameliorate weaknesses, with both test questions and a practical portion. Prepare for this exam with Alpine Security's PenTest+ penetration testing training course, which comes with an exam pass guarantee.
Intermediate, 4 Hour Multiple Choice Exam & 12 Hour Practical Exam
The EC Security Council is one of the top certification organizations in the penetration testing industry, and this is their moderate test. They have created several certifications to ensure stability and competence across the industry. There are two exams for this certification. First, there is a four hour multiple choice test with 150 questions. The other exam is a 12 hour test that proves your practical penetration testing skills. As part of the exam, you will be given an actual organization's network to work with. Throughout the 12 hours, you must demonstrate your knowledge of network scans, vulnerability analysis and other important facets of a penetration test. Alpine Security's ECSA ethical hacking training course will prepare you for both tests and the cost of the exam is included with access to the class.
Advanced, 2 Hour Exam with 50 Multiple Choice Questions, Practical Exam (30 Days to Complete)
The Certified Expert Penetration Tester is an advanced exam from the IACRB. This test shows your ability to manipulate shellcode and exploit code, perform reverse engineering tasks and other advanced penetration testing techniques. It is similar to the CPT exam in that it is only valid for four years, and it is a multiple choice test. This one has 50 questions administered over 2 hours.
Advanced, 18 Hour Practical Exam
LPT is the most advanced certificate offered by the EC Security Council. Those with this certificate are typically considered experts in the field. The LPT practical exam is a whopping 18 hours long. Alpine Security's APT (Advanced Penetration Testing) course will prepare you to pass the rigorous test, which is considered by some industry experts to be one of the most challenging test of its kind.
Advanced, 24 Hour Practical Exam
Offensive Security is an IT certification company that focuses on Penetration Certificates. The exam consists of a real world situation that you have 24 hours to examine. The test measures your ability to gather information about the network, and then submit a detailed report with notes and screenshots to back up your findings. The test rewards points based on the difficulty of vulnerabilities you find, and their level of access. It's a tough practical exam but having this certification is definitely worth losing a night of sleep over if you want to become a successful penetration tester.
Advanced, 48 Hour Practical Exam
The OSCE exam is a doozy. It takes place over 48 hours and is an advanced certificate offered by Offensive Security. This test will really challenge you and prove that you are ready to do good work in the real world. The exam is tiring, but will show via practical methods that you know how to evade anti-virus software, use creative problem solving skills and identify vulnerabilities that might be hard for a lesser qualified ethical hacker to find. Stock up on coffee and get ready for one of the most rigorous tests in the industry.
Penetration Testing Career Paths
Any of these certificates will help you get started on the ethical hacker career path. If you're a beginner in the field, try starting with some of the easier ones and then work your way up to the ones that make you lose sleep for a day or two and prove that you're an expert. Keep in mind that while any certification is a positive addition to your resume, employers tend to favor practical certifications that show you truly know your stuff and can work under pressure. Sign up for any of Alpine Security's certification preparation courses to make sure you pass!
It is well known that careers in tech are a great path that could lead to a stable income and a thriving job history. Entry level penetration testers with some cybersecurity experience can start out at around $50,000 per year, which is a great starting salary, while the median salary for the field is about $82,000. Those later on in their careers will typically earn closer to $100,000 per year.
The career path of a penetration tester generally follows other IT and tech careers. You may start out in general IT, but then decide to specialize in pen testing by getting one of the aforementioned ethical hacking certifications, and work your way up to becoming a junior ethical hacker or penetration tester. Once you have proven yourself at that job, you can move into a more senior position involving challenging projects or managing those with less experience than you. Getting any of the previously described certifications can help you move onto the next step in your penetration testing career whether your title is penetration tester, vulnerability tester, security analyst or one of the many other titles in this exciting and relevant field.