10 Best Pentesting Certifications of 2023: Your Ultimate Guide

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When it comes to the best pentesting certifications, we understand that there are numerous ones to choose from. The list can be long, making it hard to decide which ones to pursue. Of course, you want to focus only on the ones that make the most sense.

Whether you are just starting your pentester journey or have years of experience, our list has something for everyone, and a few may even surprise you. We’ve curated a list we consider to be a comprehensive guide to the essential penetration testing certifications matching your skills, goals, and experience level.

Our article will break down the best certifications into four categories—foundational, practical, specialized, and senior penetration testing certifications.

Let’s begin.

Best Pentesting Certifications

Penetration Testing Foundational Certifications

Our first set of certifications is for those looking for an entry-level exam to establish a baseline of knowledge before pursuing more advanced certifications. These foundational certifications validate core penetration testing skills and methodologies.

1. eLearn Security Junior Penetration Tester (eJPT)

Benefit: Best introductory certification.

eLearn Security Junior Penetration Tester Certifications

Details

eLearnSecurity Junior Penetration Tester (eJPT) is a certification that serves as a comprehensive introduction to penetration testing. It's designed to cover most of the penetration testing steps.

The browser-based, hands-on exam is designed to replicate real-world junior penetration tasks in a dynamic nature, challenging students to answer 35 questions and collect unique dynamic flags. This exam must be completed within 48 hours.

Dynamic flags in the exam environment are randomly generated and unique for every exam lab session, linking each answer to the specific value of the flag associated with the individual's lab session at the time of submission.

Requirements

There are no hard requirements for this certification.

Cost

$249

Why is this our choice?

The certification tests you on both knowledge and practical skills. Overall, eJPT is a solid entry point for aspiring pentesters, conforming to industry standards and providing valuable hands-on experience — an excellent certification to obtain before moving on to more advanced environments.

2. CompTIA PenTest+

Benefit: The best emphasis on foundational skills.

CompTIA PenTest Plus

Details

CompTIA PenTest+ is a comprehensive exam covering all stages of penetration testing and is DoD 8570/ANSI/IEC/ISO 17024 approved. The exam tasks you to prove your understanding of current trends, vulnerability management, and the latest techniques in cloud, hybrid environments, IoT, and traditional on-premises.

Passing the exam requires a score of 750 on a scale of 100-900. With a maximum of 85 performance-based and multiple-choice questions, the test lasts 165 minutes.

Requirements

Although no hard requirements are needed, CompTIA recommends already having Network+, Security+, or equivalent knowledge, with three to four years of hands-on information security or related experience.

Pentest Plus Exam Domains

Cost

$392 to write the exam and a renewal fee of $150 every three years.

Why is this our choice?

Covering all process stages, PenTest+ uniquely combines performance-based and knowledge-based questions to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the field. From planning and scoping to analyzing and reporting, this exam emphasizes current trends, vulnerability management, and the latest techniques.

Although not a guaranteed job ticket, this certification can validate your skills and make you a more attractive candidate with other pentesting certifications you hold.

See our comparison of the Penetest+ with the CEH exam in our article Pentest+ vs CEH 2023: Which Certification Is Best for You?

Practical Penetration Testing Certifications

Our next certifications go above the foundational level and let you use your practical skills in an advanced lab environment. By obtaining these certifications, you can prove to potential employers that you have the skills to do the job.  

3. Practical Network Penetration Tester (PNPT)

Benefit: The most realistic exam on the market

Practical Network Penetration Tester Certification

Details

Practical Network Penetration Tester from TCM Security is the most practical and realistic penetration testing exam on the market. The exam lasts up to five days, with another two days to complete a professional report.

To pass the exam, you will use OSINT to gain an initial foothold. Next, you must pivot into the internal network, where Active Directory awaits you. From here, you will use your skills to find your way to take over the Domain Controller with persistence.

Once completed, you must write and submit a professional pentester report as if you were doing it for a client. If successful, you will be asked to debrief staff from TCM about your findings, including how you were able to compromise the domain controller.

Requirements

No requirements are needed for this exam.

Cost

$399 with training, which includes a free exam retake.

Why is this our choice?

The exams provided by TCM are gaining more recognition in the industry as more and more companies are asking for this certification when posting jobs. Although not as recognized as the OSCP, it is gaining traction in the industry.

This exam will prove to potential employers that you understand how to perform a penetration test from beginning to end. There are no flags to find, no proctoring (although they do have mechanisms to prevent cheating), and you are free to use any tool you want.

4. OffSec Certified Professional (OSCP)

Benefit: The most recognized certification in penetration testing

Offsec Certified Professional

Details

OffSec Certified Professional (OSCP) from OffSec is a 24-hour grueling exam. Although not exactly mimicking a real-life penetration test, it holds significant value for someone looking to start a job as a pentester.

The exam is similar in nature to a Capture The Flag (CTF) competition, where you need to find flags hidden amongst numerous machines. Students must score 70 points out of 100 to pass the exam and provide a detailed report, including screenshots, to demonstrate their findings and methodologies.

The exam consists of three standalone machines and a three-machine Active Directory environment. The Active Directory portion must be fully compromised, and no partial points will be awarded.

You can earn ten (10) bonus points toward your OSCP exam. To qualify for these bonus points, you must provide correct solutions for at least 80% of the topic exercises across all subjects in the PEN-200 course and submit 30 correct proof.txt hashes within the OffSec Learning Platform.

Requirements

No requirements are needed to write OSCP. The exam includes training you can choose to use if you want. You can not purchase a standalone exam.

Cost

  • Option one: $1,599 for the course, one exam attempt, and 90 days of lab access or
  • Option two: $2,499 for the course, a year subscription to the lab, access to Proving Grounds Practice, two exam attempts, and access to their Kali Linux Certified Professional and Offensive Security Wireless Professional courses/exams

Why this is our choice?

We would be doing you a disservice if we did not include this certification in our list. Although not a true-to-life penetration testing exam and more in line with a CTF, it does help you get past gatekeeping in the industry. And if you want to break into the industry as a penetration tester, no certification holds more weight than OSCP.

Specialized Penetration Testing Certifications

Once you have obtained a practical certification as a penetration tester, you can move on to more specialized roles, and the certifications we’ve listed below are some of the best.

5. eLearnSecurity Mobile Application Penetration Tester (eMAPT)

Benefit: The best mobile app pentesting certification

eLearn Security Mobile Application Penetration Tester Certification

Details

The eMAPT certification from eLearnSecurity is an intensive hands-on certification for Mobile Pentesting, reflecting advanced Mobile application security knowledge.

The exam focuses solely on Android application exploitation. The student has 7 days to exploit, create, and submit an exploit .apk and the source code of the exploit application. It involves understanding weaknesses in two vulnerable Android applications and creating an exploited Android application from scratch.

Requirements

There are no hard requirements to write the exam.

Cost

$400 with one free retake.

Why is this our choice?

Mobile app penetration testing certifications are rare yet increasingly vital. As companies seek well-rounded penetration testers, who can navigate network, web, and mobile app testing, understanding this area becomes essential.

In today's world, where almost everyone owns a mobile phone, the skills to test and exploit mobile apps will only grow in importance. The eMAPT certification stands out, reflecting the growing need for expertise in mobile application security.

6. Burp Suite Certified Practitioner (BSCP)

Benefit: The best web app penetration testing certification.

Burp Suite Certified Practitioner Certification

Details

Burp Suite Certified Practitioner is a four-hour exam in which you must pentest two web applications, each containing three stages: foothold, privilege escalation, and data exfiltration. To complete each application, you must find and submit the contents of /home/carlos/secret.

Each application has an administrator account with the username "administrator" and a lower-privileged account, often named "carlos."

In each application, one active user may be logged in as a regular user or an administrator. This user will likely visit the site's homepage every 15 seconds and click on links in emails sent by the application.

Requirements

You must have a copy of Burp Suite Professional, which retails for $499.

Cost

$99

Why is this our choice?

Burp Suite Certified Practitioner (BCPT) is steadily gaining recognition as a top certification for web application pentesters. BCPT focuses deeply on Burp Suite tools, the industry standard for testing web apps.  The exam realistically simulates pentesting actual web applications rather than just answering multiple-choice questions.

Compared to similar certifications like OSWE or GWAPT, the BCPT exam is also more affordable. For those pursuing a career as a web app penetration tester, the Burp Suite Certified Practitioner certification is the perfect credential that combines value and hands-on expertise for web application penetration testers.

7. GIAC Cloud Penetration Tester (GCPN)

Benefit: The best cloud penetration testing certification

GIAC Cloud Penetration Tester Certification

Details

The GIAC Cloud Penetration Tester (GCPN) certification covers cloud penetration testing fundamentals, environment mapping, service discovery, AWS/Azure attacks, cloud-native apps, containers, and CI/CD pipelines.

The exam is 75 questions over 2 hours with a 70% passing score.

By earning the GCPN certification, students demonstrate their ability to effectively evaluate the security of cloud-based systems, which is essential in today's rapidly evolving threat landscape.

Requirements

The GIAC Cloud Penetration Tester exam requires no prerequisites and can be taken without formal training. However, the SANS Institute does offer optional prep courses tailored to the GCPN certification for those interested

Cost

The cost of the exam without training is $949. A renewal fee of $469 is due every four years.

Why is this our choice?

Cloud penetration testing certifications are still relatively scarce in the market. Although we would prefer to recommend a more hands-on exam, there aren’t any.

However, as cloud computing continues to evolve rapidly, having the skills to properly test and validate the security of a company's cloud infrastructure is becoming increasingly important. With as many as 89% of companies now utilizing a multi-cloud approach, the demand for qualified cloud pentesters is growing.

Obtaining a certification like GIAC Cloud Penetration Tester demonstrates expertise in assessing the security of public cloud platforms, which are being adopted at scale across organizations.

8. Certified Red Team Professional (CRTP)

Benefit: The best hands-on pentesting certification for Active Directory

Certified Red Team Professional

Details

The Certified Red Team Professional certification from Altered Security is a comprehensive, hands-on Active Directory (AD) security exam. It's an intensive 24-hour exam with a grace period of one hour to account for potential start or restart time in the lab. The exam consists of a five-machine Active Directory network.

However, it's not just about demonstrating technical skills; Students will have 48 hours to submit a comprehensive report afterward. This report must detail the paths to exploitation, tools used, references where applicable, and remediation steps. Including the reporting aspect ensures that students can conduct penetration tests effectively, communicate their findings, and suggest solutions.

The exam centers almost entirely on PowerShell-based enumeration, exploitation, and post-exploitation techniques within Windows environments. Using tools like Bloodhound, PowerView, PowerUp, Mimikatz, Rubeus, and many more, students must manually navigate Windows misconfigurations rather than relying on automated exploits.

Students need to be familiar with attacks such as Pass the Hash and Kerberoasting and have a good grasp on Windows privilege escalation, requiring a comprehensive understanding of how Windows domains work, as most traditional exploits cannot be used in the target network.

Requirements

No hard requirements are needed for this certification.

Cost

$249 with 30 days of lab access. Exam retakes are $99.

Why is this our choice?

The CRTP certification stands out as a strong choice. With Active Directory being used by over 95% of Fortune 1000 companies, understanding how to attack it is crucial in today's penetration tester job market.

The skills proven in this certification are highly valuable for red teaming and penetration testing roles.

Senior Penetration Testing Certifications

Our next certifications are aimed at boosting your career and your earning potential. These certifications are aimed at those with many years of experience as a penetration tester.

9. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Benefit: The best salary-boosting certification

Certified Information Systems Security Professional

Details

The CISSP exam is a four-hour, 125-175 question examination consisting of multiple-choice questions and advanced innovative items. The advanced innovative items are performance-based questions similar to the ones you would encounter on CompTIA exams.

The student will need a 700 out of 1000 score across eight domains to pass the exam.

CISSP Exam Domains

Requirements

To earn the CISSP certification, candidates need five years of paid work experience across two or more domains. A four-year degree or another (ISC)2 approved certification substitutes for one year of experience. Associates who pass the exam but lack experience have six years to gain the five years required. Part-time and internship experience also counts.

Flow Chart To Become CISSP Certified

Cost

$749 to write and a yearly membership fee of $125.

Why is this our choice?

Although not a penetration testing certification, CISSP is a certification that will boost not only your career but also your income, with an average CISSP salary of $129,000 in the United States.

CISSP is a certification employers ask for in senior-level pentester roles, as companies expect this role to include managerial responsibilities.

CISSP demonstrates a broad understanding of cyber security principles and mastery of managerial aspects like risk management, security operations, and governance.

Even for hands-on penetration tester roles, CISSP lends credibility and shows commitment to the profession.

10. OffSec Certified Expert 3 (OSCE3)

Benefit: The best for a comprehensive understanding of penetration testing

Offsec Certified Expert 3

Details

OffSec introduced the OSCE3 certification to replace the now-retired OSCE certification previously granted upon completing the Cracking the Perimeter (CTP) course and associated exam.

To earn the new OSCE3 certification, students must pass three advanced OffSec exams: OffSec Exploit Developer (OSED)OffSec Experienced Pentester (OSEP), and the OffSec Web Expert (OSWE) certification. There is no additional exam required beyond passing these three exams.

Requirements

The only requirement for the OSCE3 is passing the OSED, OSEP, and OSWE exams.

Cost

There are two pricing options to purchase access for each of the three exams required for the OSCE3 certification:

  • $1,599 provides the course material, 90 days of lab access, and one exam attempt.
  • $2,499 provides the course, 1 year of lab access, and two exam attempts.

Alternatively, you can purchase the $5,499 option, which grants unlimited course access to all courses, one year of lab access, and unlimited exam attempts for all certifications.

The total cost for OSCE3 will vary based on the purchase option chosen:

  • At the low end, buying the $1,599 option for each of the three exams and passing them all on the first attempt will cost $4,797.
  • At the high end, purchasing the $2,499 one-year access for all three exams and needing both attempts on each will cost $7,497.
  • Opting for the $5,499 unlimited access package would result in a single fixed cost if you can pass them all within one year.

Plan for the total investment to earn the OSCE3 certifications to be between $4,800-$7,500, depending on the options selected and number of exam retakes required. The $5,499 unlimited access can provide a more predictable one-time cost.

Why is this our choice?

With OSCE3, you can demonstrate exceptional mastery across key offensive security domains by requiring advanced skills in Windows exploit development, antivirus evasion/lateral movement, and attacking web applications. It replaces OSCE as OffSec's premier expert-level certification. In summary, the OSCE3 certifies one as an expert-level penetration tester at the top of the field.

Conclusion

There are numerous certifications related to penetration testing, and it's impossible to list them all here. Whether you're starting, looking to expand your skills, or seeking to boost your career with years of experience, there is likely a pentesting certification to fit your needs.

We have included options that cater to various stages of your journey, from beginners to seasoned professionals. Our selection covers the field's most affordable, sought-after, and specialized certifications.

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  • Richard Dezso

    Richard is a cyber security enthusiast, eJPT, and ICCA who loves discovering new topics and never stops learning. In his home lab, he's always working on sharpening his offensive cyber security skills. He shares helpful advice through easy-to-understand blog posts that offer practical support for everyone. Additionally, Richard is dedicated to raising awareness for mental health. You can find Richard on LinkedIn, or to see his other projects, visit his Linktree.

  • Mohammad Irfan Urfi says:

    Nice Job !

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