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Penetration Testing Certification: Top 8 to Earn in 2022

Posted in Software Testing
Penetration Testing Certification

Penetration testing involves testing a computer system, network, or web app for potential vulnerabilities. Popularly known as pen testing, penetration testing can be performed manually or automated with the help of some tool(s), such as Selenium. Some penetration testers prefer a combination of manual and automated methods.

Professionals involved with penetration testing are often called pen testers. Pen testers can be responsible for assessing the overall security of a system and ensuring that a product has robust safety levels. They may also be tasked with carrying out a red team assessment, and so on. However, the roles and responsibilities of a pen tester may vary from organization to organization.

The demand for penetration testers continues to grow as more and more companies begin to recognize the importance of security. According to Indeed.com, the average salary of pen testers in the United States as of October 2022 hovers at $121,215 annually. However, if you would like to become a pen tester, there are a few qualifications you’ll need to have first.

One of the first things an employer will look for in your resume is whether you have a penetration testing certification. Certifications help demonstrate your knowledge on the subject and can inform potential employers what you are capable of.

But with so many certifications available, how do you know which one to earn first?

This article will show you the best pentesting certifications and how to choose the right one for you. We’ll also cover how to earn and maintain certifications. Ready? Let’s get to it!

Types of Pen Tester Certifications

The best pentesting certifications often have overlapping features that make it challenging to find a clear classification. You can easily find certs covering a majority of the required topics, though some more niche options allow you to get certified for mobile app pen testing or web app pen testing. Even with this distinction, it can be strikingly difficult to define “types.” As such, the best way to differentiate certs is skill level.

Certifications are usually available in three skill levels. Each skill level has certs that offer appropriate topics and challenges. The levels are as below::

  • Entry-level or Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced or Expert

Because pen testing certifications overlap and have varying options for each skill level, it’s not uncommon for security professionals to earn multiple. In fact, it’s generally preferred to have multiple certifications to show that you are knowledgeable and skilled in the subjects in question.

How Do Pen Testers Obtain Certification?

Earning a pen tester certification typically involves sitting for an assessment examination. Sometimes, you can do so after a period of self-study. However, most certifications may require you to also complete a course preparing you for your exam.

Professionals can obtain certifications from a small number of credentialing bodies. Some organizations are well-known and respected worldwide, while others are more known within continental or domestic borders. Some of the best credentialing bodies include CompTIA, GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification), EC-Council, and Offensive Security.

However, you can also join a course and earn your cert from a company that offers it. Not all companies have high-quality courses and trustworthy business practices, so it is generally recommended to use discretion when choosing your cert.

Best Penetration Testing Certification

Numerous organizations offer pen testing certifications. However, not all these organizations and certifications are great. If you decide to get certified for penetration testing, here are our picks for the best pen testing certifications you can choose from.

1. EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

Level: Expert

Offered by: EC-Council

Valid for: 3 years

Cost: Each option includes unlimited retakes. However, there is a $100 administration fee for each attempt. You are limited to 4 tries per year, with 14-day cool-off periods between each attempt.

  • On-Demand: $799
  • Unlimited On-Demand: $1,499
  • Live: $1,749
  • More information is available here

The Ultimate Ethical Hacking Certification is perfect for those who want to get into professional white hat hacking. Ideal for the penetration tester who wants to prove their skills, this certification covers:

  • Hands-on hacking challenges
  • Emerging attack vectors
  • Modern exploit technologies
  • Modern case studies and current events
  • Malware analysis
  • Cloud and IoT hacking
  • And other techniques, tricks, and tools

EC-Council designed the assessment to simulate and test out real-world scenarios and knowledge. The certification exam includes 125 questions over 4 hours. The test follows a multiple-choice format with questions drawn from varying question banks. After passing, you will acquire the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification.

Learn More About CEH

2. GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)

GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)

Level: Intermediate

Offered by: GIAC

Valid for: 4 years

Cost: $949 for the assessment only

Global Information Assurance Certification or GIAC designed the GPEN cert to validate an individual’s ability to perform a thorough penetration test in real-world scenarios. Penetration testers will prove their skills in the following areas:

  • Comprehensive penetration testing
  • Planning, scoping, and recon
  • In-depth scanning and exploitation
  • Post-exploitation and pivoting
  • Advanced password attacks
  • Attacking password hashes
  • Azure applications and attack strategies
  • Domain escalation and persistence attacks
  • Escalation and exploitation

GIAC Certification exams are taken through the web with an online proctoring system through PearsonVUE. The exam format is one proctored exam that includes 82 questions over 3 hours. A minimum passing score of 75% is required.

Learn More About GPEN

3. GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN)

GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN)

Level: Expert

Offered by: GIAC

Valid for: 4 years

Cost: $949 for the assessment only

The GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN) certification is an advanced certification that validates an individual’s ability to perform sophisticated levels of penetration testing and exploit research across even a complex and well-fortified network. Penetration testers will prove their skills in the following areas:

  • Accessing the network
  • Advanced fuzzing techniques
  • Advanced stack smashing
  • Client exploitation and escape
  • Crypto for pen-testers
  • Exploiting the network
  • Fuzzing introduction and operation
  • Introduction to memory and dynamic Linux memory
  • Introduction to Windows Exploitation
  • Manipulating the network

The exam format is one proctored exam that consists of 60 questions. The exam takes 3 hours, with a minimum passing score of 67%. You take your assessment within the CyberLive system, a hands-on system designed to replicate real-world systems and real-world applications. This system creates a laboratory environment with real programs, code, and virtual machines.

Learn More About GXPN

4. CompTIA PenTest+

CompTIA PenTest+

Level: Intermediate

Offered by: CompTIA

Valid for: 3 years

Cost:

  • Exam Voucher Only: $392
  • Basic Bundle: $565 (includes a retake and the official study guide e-book)
  • Exam Prep Bundle: $720 (includes everything in basic plus CompTIA CertMaster Practice for PenTest+)
  • eLearning Bundle: $977 (includes a retake plus CompTIA Integrated CertMaster Learn and CompTIA Labs for PenTest+)

CompTIA is a renowned IT security certification provider. One of its important certifications for penetration testing is the PenTest+ certification.

The assessment for this cert involves 85 questions that are a mix of multiple-choice and hands-on, performance-based questions. The CompTIA PenTest+ exam covers the following five domains:

  • Attacks and exploits
  • Info-gathering and vulnerabilities identification
  • Pentesting tools
  • Planning and scoping
  • Reporting and communication

CompTIA PenTest+ certification assesses a candidate for basic management skills besides fundamental penetration testing skills. It also demonstrates the knowledge of performing pen testing in cloud-based and mobile-based environments in addition to desktop and server environments.

Candidates can opt for the examination offline at one of the Pearson VUE testing centers or proctor online. The total duration for taking the CompTIA PenTest+ certification exam is 165 minutes, and the minimum passing score is 750 (out of 900).

Learn More About CompTIA PenTest+

5. EC-Council Licensed Penetration Tester Master (LPT)

EC-Council Licensed Penetration Tester Master (LPT)

Level: Expert

Offered by: EC-Council

Valid for: 2 years initially, then annually thereafter

Cost: $250

LPT or Licensed Penetration Tester is an expert-level penetration testing certification from EC-Council. The exam for LPT certification is 18 hours long. Divided into three parts, called levels, each contains a trio of challenges based on real-life scenarios.

Six hours are given for candidates to complete each level. You are required to work in a multi-layered network architecture having defense-in-depth controls.

While maneuvering through the network and web apps for exfiltrating data, candidates need to decide fast as to choosing the approaches and exploits to use. The certification gauges a candidate’s ability in:

  • Multi-level pivoting
  • OS vulnerabilities exploits
  • SSH tunneling
  • Web server and web app exploitation, including arbitrary local and remote file upload, parameter manipulation, and SQL injection

LPT is a unique certification. To pass, you must score at least 90% — a high bar. However, even if you don’t pass the LPT certification, getting 70% will earn you a CPENT cert. Certified penetration testers will tell you that this cert is one of the best available today.

Learn More About LPT

6. EC-Council Certified Penetration Testing Professional (CPENT)

EC-Council Certified Penetration Testing Professional (CPENT)

Level: Expert

Offered by: EC-Council

Valid for: 3 years

Cost:

The CPENT assessment is incredibly grueling, taking 24 hours to complete. This performance-based exam is hands-on, and you can choose to either take it in one 24-hour sitting or two 12-hour blocks. Earning this certification proves that you have the knowledge and skills to do pen testing in enterprise network environments.

This cert will test your knowledge in subjects including but not limited to:

  • Advanced Windows attacks
  • Bypassing a filtered network
  • Evading defense mechanisms
  • Weaponizing your exploits
  • Pentesting Operational Technology (OT)
  • Accessing hidden networks w/ pivoting
  • Attacking IoT systems

CPENT is a unique certification. To pass, you must score at least 70%. However, if you go above and beyond and earn a score of 90%, you also get the prestigious LPT certification!

Learn More About CPENT

7. Offensive Security Certified Professional PEN-200 (OSCP)

Offensive Security Certified Professional PEN-200 (OSCP)

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Offered by: Offensive Security

Valid for: OSCP is unique as once you earn it, you keep your certification indefinitely — no recertification required

Cost:

  • Individual Course - $1,499 (self-guided learning, 90-day lab access, one exam attempt)
  • Learn One - $2,499 (self-guided learning, one-year lab access, two exam tries, and exclusive content)
  • Learn Unlimited - $5,499 (all the online courses, one-year lab access, unlimited assessment attempts, and exclusive content)

If you’re new to pen testing and still need to pick up the fundamentals, consider Offensive Security’s Fundamentals bundle. This bundle includes various online cybersecurity fundamentals courses, including PEN-100 for pen testing basics.

The PEN-200 course and online lab are designed to prepare individuals for the OSCP certification test. The OSCP certification ensures that individuals have the skills to secure a network properly. This course, intended for infosec professionals, pen-testers, security professionals, network administrators, and other technology professionals, includes:

  • Penetration testing
  • Command-line control
  • Practical tools
  • Bash scripting
  • Passive information gathering
  • Web application attacks
  • Buffer overflows
  • Linux buffer overflows
  • Client-side attacks
  • Public exploits
  • File transfers
  • Antivirus evasion
  • Password attacks

Offensive Security designed the OSCB certification exam to simulate a live network on a private VPN. Test-takers have a total of 23 hours and 45 minutes to finish the exam. Individuals are advised to go through a one-month or two-month lab before they attempt the OSCP certification exam. The PEN-200 course provides this lab.

Learn More About OSCP

8. Offensive Security Advanced Pentesting Training PEN-300 (OSEP)

Offensive Security Advanced Pentesting Training PEN-300 (OSEP)

Level: Expert

Offered by: Offensive Security

Valid for: OSEP is unique as once you earn it, you keep your certification indefinitely — no recertification required

Cost:

  • Individual Course - $1,499 (self-guided learning, 90-day lab access, one exam attempt)
  • Learn One - $2,499 (self-guided learning, one-year lab access, two exam tries, and exclusive content)
  • Learn Unlimited - $5,499 (all the online courses, one-year lab access, unlimited assessment attempts, and exclusive content)

PEN-300 Offensive Security Evasion Techniques and Breaching Defenses, or OSEP, is an advanced-level certification. It is a grueling proctored assessment that takes 48 hours to complete, which is why it makes sense to prepare as best you can beforehand. 

This course and assessment designed for OSCP-level professionals will test your ability to penetrate systems with hardened defenses. During the course, you’ll delve deeper into topics including but not limited to:

  • Operating system & programming theory
  • Bypassing networking filters
  • Linux and Windows lateral movement
  • Microsoft SQL attacks
  • Intro to and advanced evasion of antivirus software
  • Client-side code execution using Office and JScript
  • Application whitelisting

Learn More About OSEP

How Often Must Certifications Be Updated?

The vast majority of cybersecurity certifications are valid for around two to three years. After this validity period, you’ll then need to recertify. The reason behind this frequent recertification is the speed at which developments occur in the cybersecurity world. Information you learned two years ago can be obsolete today, which is why most credentialing bodies recommend that you keep your certs updated.

Because of the frequent recertification, most certs have “versions.” An excellent example is CEH, which is now on its 11th version. Being CEH certified isn’t enough — you must also be reasonably updated. Showing up to a job interview with a CEH v5 certification is unlikely to get you a call-back, as your knowledge and skills would be incredibly outdated today.

Not all certifications follow the same cycle of validity. It’s a good idea to check how often you need to recertify as this will mean you’ll need to prepare time to study and take the exam. Additionally, there will also be recertification costs to think about.

How to Choose the Best Pen Test Certification

Whether you’re entirely new to cyber security or an experienced professional looking to shift into penetration testing, there’s no denying that there are many pen testing certifications available today. Choosing the one that suits your specific situation can be challenging, especially if you aren’t sure where to begin. Luckily, there are a few factors to consider when selecting a pen tester certification, such as:

  1. Cost - Certifications come in various price ranges, some much more affordable than others. Some certs will allow you to do self-study and then let you take the assessment exam when you feel ready. These certifications typically cost less, as you generally only pay for the assessment. On the other hand, some certifications may require you to also pay for a preparatory course to teach you what you need to know for the examination.
  2. Your Skill Level - Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced IT professional, choosing a pentest certification that suits your skill level is essential. Going for a certification several steps out of your league will likely just make you waste your time and money. Start with the certs within your grasp, then start earning ones that are higher skill-level when you reach that point.
  3. Certification Requirements - Each cert has its requirements. If you don’t meet the criteria, you pretty much can’t even try to take the assessment. Eliminate certs you don’t yet qualify for and save yourself some time.
  4. Recertification Requirements - When you earn a security testing certification, you might notice that the cert is only valid for a certain amount of time. Although some certs may be valid forever, those are few and far between. It’s more likely that you’ll need to recertify every year (or every few years) due to the rapid developments in the field of cyber security. And so, as you consider which pen testing cert to go for, you may want to look into recertification requirements and their associated costs.
  5. Quality - Not all certs are equal. Some are better than others and are more respected in the industry. It may benefit you to look into a certification’s reputation to see whether it’s something in-demand in the field. It’s a good idea to earn certs that are positively viewed in the industry and avoid any with shady or non-existent reputations.
  6. Credentialing Body - Last but not least, you should always look into the credentialing body. Just like you’ll want to see whether a cert is respected in the industry, you’ll also want to look into the credentialing body to ensure they’re high-quality and above board. Avoid credentialing bodies or program providers with shady business dealings to avoid wasting your time and hard-earned money.

Conclusion

We hope that this list of the best penetration testing certification you can earn in 2022 has helped you figure out a starting point for your career. If you still aren’t sure where to begin or if you are an absolute beginner and still need to learn the basics, you can consider starting with Offensive Security’s PEN-100, a program that covers the fundamentals.

And that’s it! That completes our list of 11 of the best penetration testing certs you can earn in 2022. Combined with experience, a certification can help you make a better impression on potential employers. Prepare well for your interview, and you can increase your chances of landing a job in the field even further. 

So, which certification would you like to go for from this list? Let us know in the comments below!

Interested in learning software testing? Try some of the best software testing tutorials curated by the Hackr.io community.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which certification is best for penetration testing?

The best penetration testing certifications will be the ones that suit your budget and skill level. They must also come from reputable firms that are recognized in the industry. You can check out pen testing certifications from Offensive Security and EC-Council. Alternatively, you can also try GIAC.

2. What qualifications do I need to become a penetration tester?

You’ll need technical skills and working knowledge of operating systems, programming, scripting, and so on. You will also need to understand IT and how security systems work to be able to test for vulnerabilities and attack points successfully. Knowing how to use pen testing tools such as Kali Linux is also beneficial.

3. Is certification enough to hire a penetration tester?

Pen testing certification can help you land a job in the industry, but it’s not the only qualification you need. Potential employers will likely look for a mix of experience and certification, as without verifiable experience, it can be challenging to determine your knowledge and skill level. Employers will also look for the required technical skills, but you must also be trustworthy, especially since pen testers often have access to sensitive data.

4. Which is better, CEH or OSCP?

Both CEH and OSCP are high-quality pen testing certs. However, it appears that CEH is better for IT pros who want to expand their knowledge in cyber security without necessarily making a career around ethical hacking and penetration testing. OSCP, on the other hand, is more suited to IT professionals who want to start a career as a pen tester.

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Akhil Bhadwal

Akhil Bhadwal

A Computer Science graduate interested in mixing up imagination and knowledge into enticing words. Been in the big bad world of content writing since 2014. In his free time, Akhil likes to play cards, do guitar jam, and write weird fiction. View all posts by the Author

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Geg
Geg

Number 4 and Number 9 are the same thing...

Ben
Ben

Hi, any idea what certification for pen would be best for OT networks specialization? Industrial control platforms is OT for power plants, water water, SCADA, etc...

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