5 Ethical Hacking Certifications to Bolster Your Career

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Ethical hackers find vulnerabilities and ways to strengthen defences. Pursuing in-demand ethical hacking certifications can help your cyber security career.

[Featured image] An ethical hacker works from home on his laptop.

As reliance on technology increases, the risks from cyber attacks grow. To protect against vulnerabilities to black-hat hackers, many organisations are adding ethical hackers to their ranks. 

As an ethical hacker, you help safeguard government agencies, defence departments, business networks, and more. You can find and fix holes in an organisation’s defences and help it remain compliant, avoid costly penalties, and minimise unexpected downtime.

Ethical hacking is a high-demand and highly competitive field. Although you are attempting to hack into a system with permission, you otherwise need to think like the bad actor. These preventative tactics are called offensive cybersecurity because you are attempting to thwart attacks before they happen, as opposed to defensive cybersecurity measures, which take action after an attack is made. 

Several certifications are available to develop your offensive cybersecurity skills. Certifying as an ethical hacker is also a way to: 

  • Validate your skills to potential employers

  • Enhance your resume

  • Qualify for new job opportunities

  • Boost your confidence on the job 

In this article, we’ll outline five popular certification options for ethical hackers. Learn more about what to expect from each exam and get tips to prepare yourself for certification success. 

The cybersecurity market in India is projected to grow by over 8 percent to have a market value of $3,543.37 million USD by 2027, according to Research and Markets [1]. The following five well-respected cybersecurity certifications are particularly relevant for careers in ethical hacking, penetration testing, and other areas of offensive cybersecurity.  

1. Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

The EC-Council’s ethical hacking certification ranks among the top cybersecurity certifications companies seek. The CEH is designed to help you think like a hacker and build skills in penetration testing and attack vectors, detection, and prevention.  

Skills you learn include: Information gathering and vulnerability scanning, hacking web servers and applications, wireless networks, and mobile platforms.

Requirements: To qualify for the CEH exam, you need two years of IT security work experience. Otherwise, you can take the EC-Council’s Free Cyber Security Essentials Series to gain the foundations required to pursue mid-level certifications like CEH.

Tips for passing the exam: The EC-Council doesn’t publish pass rates for the exam, but typical pass rates globally range from 60 per cent to 80 per cent. The EC-Council offers a free CEH Exam Blueprint which outlines the topics covered in the multiple-choice test. You might also take practice exams and/or join online CEH communities to learn new tips for tackling the exams.

2. CompTIA PenTest+

The PenTest+ exam from CompTIA features both multiple-choice and performance-based questions (questions that test your ability to solve problems in a simulated environment). The exam covers your ability to perform penetration tests in a variety of situations, including cloud, hybrid, web application, onsite, and internet of things (IoT) environments.

Skills you learn include: Planning and scoping, information gathering and vulnerability scanning, attacks and exploits, reporting and communication, tools, and code analysis.

Requirements: Network+, Security+, or equivalent knowledge. Minimum of three to four years of hands-on information security or related experience. While there is no required prerequisite, PenTest+ is intended to follow CompTIA Security+ or equivalent experience and has a technical, hands-on focus.

Tips for passing the exam: CompTIA offers several resources to help students pass the exam. These include an eLearning module, exam study guides, virtual labs, and instructor-led training. You can also search online for previous test takers’ blogging on how they passed or find boot camps devoted to PenTest+ exam prep.

3. GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)

Earning your GPEN demonstrates your ability to perform penetration tests with the latest techniques and methodologies. You’ll test in a lab environment proving your knowledge, understanding, and skill using actual programmes and code with virtual machines. 

Skills you learn include: Test planning, scoping, and recon; scanning and exploitation; password attacks; and web application pen testing.

Requirements: There are no prerequisites for taking the GPEN exam.

Tip for passing the exam: Take advantage of the two practice tests included when you register for the exam. Designed to simulate the actual exam environment, these can help you know what to expect. GIAC also points to live and online training options such as the SANS course, SEC560, in enterprise penetration testing.

4. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) 

Offered by (ISC)² the CISSP demonstrates your proficiency in designing, implementing, and managing cybersecurity programmes.

Skills you learn include: Threat intelligence and incident management, systems life cycle management, contingency management, risk management 

Requirements: (ISC)² suggests the CISSP for experienced security practitioners, managers, and executives interested in proving their knowledge across a wide array of security practices and principles.

Tips for passing the exam:  (ISC)² provides plenty of exam prep resources. You might also take practice tests online or participate in a boot camp when your test date draws near.

5. Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)

The OSCP tests your ability to breach a series of target machines and produce detailed reports for each attack.

Skills you’ll learn: Passive and active information gathering, vulnerability scanning, web application attacks, password attacks, and active directory authentication.

Requirements: There are no formal requirements to sit the exam, though Offensive Security recommends that you be familiar with networking, bash scripting, Perl or Python, and Linux.

Tips for passing the exam: Join an online community for people testing for OSCP. Take online practice exams—as many as you can. 

Roles that might need an ethical hacker certification

There are many different cybersecurity roles you can apply for with an ethical hacker certification. These include:

  • Information security analyst/administrator

  • Information assurance security officer

  • Information security manager/specialist

  • Information systems security engineer/manager

  • Information security professionals/officers

  • Information security/IT auditors

  • Risk/threat/vulnerability analyst

  • System administrators

  • Network administrators and engineers

Get started in cybersecurity

If you’re just getting started in cybersecurity, start learning from industry experts with the Google Cybersecurity Professional Certificate on Coursera. Build skills in virtual lab environments as you earn a credential for your resume. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Article sources

  1. Global News Wire. "India Cyber Security Market Report 2022: A $3.54 Billion Market by 2027 - Competition, Forecasts & Opportunities, https://www.globenewswire.com/en/news-release/2022/09/01/2508326/28124/en/India-Cyber-Security-Market-Report-2022-A-3-54-Billion-Market-by-2027-Competition-Forecasts-Opportunities.html." Accessed April 13, 2023.

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