Insider’s View of Certified Expert Penetration Tester (CEPT)

| January 15, 2008

iacrb_logo.jpgWhen approaching security industry luminaries over the course of the last year about the CEPT certification, the typical first response I have received is usually quite blunt: "Oh great", "YET ANOTHER CERTIFICATION. Just what the security industry needs".  And, to this point, I do have to agree, the security industry does not need another certification that:

  • Tests a basic level of knowledge of INFOSEC subjects (ala the CISSP, SECURITY+, SCNP, ad infinitum.)
  • Only tests the ability to regurgitate memorized information over a 2-6 hour time period
  • Is easily compromised by cheaters downloading actual exam questions for $59.90 from "teh interwebs"
  • Or, even worse, cheaters that cheat the exam cheater companies by pirating a copy of exam questions from bittorrent

All of this results in a large group of people that have achieved a specific certification, but, in reality, have no real understanding of the subjects tested OR, more importantly, the ability to perform job duties that the certification is CERTIFYING in the first place!

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The only way to fix this problem, is to offer a certification that not only tests book knowledge, but also tests the candidate's ability to PERFORM a specific job duty. Or, better yet, perform the task multiple times under heavy scrutiny. When a medical doctor gets attempts to get a medical license, they have to go through 3 exams, one of which involves actually diagnosing a sick patient (actually, it's a paid actor simulating a disease process, but you get the idea). Because this process is difficult, and requires more than l33t bitorrent skillz, the M.D. actually means something. Would you see a medical "doctor" without an M.D. when you are sick?

The idea of the Certified Expert Penetration Tester (CEPT) offered by the IACRB is to establish a meaningful certification for expert-level penetration testers (or ethical hackers, red teamers, tiger teams, etc. whatever marketing term you want to use for legal hacking).

The CEPT consists of two phases or parts. The first phase (usually delivered onsite at a training company or via the internet) is your standard multiple choice, true/false exam. The exam covers the following subject areas:

  • Penetration Testing Methodologies
  • Network Attacks
  • Windows Shellcode
  • Linux & Unix Shellcode
  • Reverse Engineering
  • Memory Corruption/Buffer Overflow Vulnerabilities
  • Exploit Creation – Windows Architecture
  • Exploit Creation – Linux/Unix Architecture
  • Web Application Vulnerabilities

This first phase serves a very simple purpose, to weed candidates out of the process that don't belong there in the first place. If you can't pass this multiple choice exam, we don't want you advancing to the next phase, which takes up the valuable time of our volunteer exam proctors (such as myself) and is costly to our non-profit organization. 

If you pass the first phase (70% correct), you are then delivered the second phase of the exam, which currently consists of three challenges. . They are as follows:

Challenge #1: Discover and create a working exploit for Microsoft Windows Vulnerability.
Challenge #2: Discover and create a working exploit for Linux Vulnerability.
Challenge #3: Reverse engineer a Windows Binary.

You get it now? Why our industry NEEDS this certification? In order to be an "expert penetration tester", we believe you should be able to find vulnerabilities and write exploits. So, in order to get the Certified Expert Penetration Tester, you have to find vulnerabilities and write exploits. Makes sense to me: candidates are certified that they can do a job-relevant task, and THEY CAN ACTUALLY DO WHAT THEY ARE CERTIFIED TO DO! 

That's the CEPT. If you have it, you know pen testing in and out. Backwards and forwards. No doubt about it.

Here is an email I received from a candidate that recently passed the CEPT process:

     The certification package has arrived and thank you very much for ensuring that it got here.  I must say that the CEPT was the most challenging test/practical I've had to take for a long time.  In all honesty, I will respect anyone who has this certification.

Alan Orlikoski, CEPT, CISSP, CEH, ECSA
Booz Allen Hamilton

If you are interested in learning more about the IACRB CEPT process, visit our home in the internet:

If you are looking for training to prepare for the CEPT, you can attend ChicagoCon 2008s, or an InfoSec Institute Advanced Ethical Hacking Course:

If you would like to host the CEPT exam, or work for a training company and would like to become a training partner, contact us at exams at iacertification dot org.

David Renwald
Senior Volunteer Exam Proctor
Information Assurance Certification Review Board

In the interest of full disclosure, ChicagoCon is presented by The Ethical Hacker Network. The IACRB is an educational sponsor and the InfoSec Institute is a Partner of the event.

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