September 21, 2020
CEH vs. OSCP: Which is Better?
When it comes to cybersecurity, the most realistic test of how hardened your system is coming at the hands of a hacker — either black or white hat. Ideally, you’re testing your system with certified ethical hackers.
White hat hackers intentionally probe to see where you're vulnerable to attack, penetration, and exposure. That’s called penetration testing. As with all things IT, there are multiple organizations that validate technical skills — and penetration is no different. The two industry leaders for penetration testing are the CEH and OSCP.
The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) cert from the EC-Council and the Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) accreditation offered by Offensive Security. While both of these certify someone's ability in penetration-related skill sets, they have different focuses and approaches.
It’s important to note that we’ll be comparing the OSCP to the original CEH, which EC-Council now refers to as the CEH ANSI, not the CEH Practical.
In this article, we'll dig into the CEH versus OSCP debate, specifically discussing exam requirements, career paths, and salary benefits.
What Is CEH Certification?
The CEH has long been the gold standard for offensive security professionals. The CEH is vendor-neutral and built to be in compliance with the NICE 2.0 Cybersecurity Framework, which is used by the U.S. federal government and private companies.
The CEH exam is a four-hour timed test that consists of 125 multiple-choice questions. The material is divided into seven sections that test 19 different modules:
- Introduction to Ethical Hacking
- Footprinting and Reconnaissance
- Scanning Networks
- Vulnerability Analysis – NEW!
- System Hacking
- Malware Threats
- Social Engineering
- Hacking Web Servers
- Hacking Web Applications
- SQL Injection
- Hacking Wireless Networks
- Hacking Mobile Platforms
- IoT Hacking – NEW!
- Evading IDS, Firewalls, and Honeypots
- Cloud Computing
The CEH was recently updated with the addition of the Vulnerability Analysis and IoT modules. Notice that the material is not evenly distributed among the sections. Three of them (Security, Tools/Systems/Programs, and Procedures/Methodology) cover more than three-quarters of the test material.
Certified Ethical Hacker (CEHv12)
What happens when the security of your information systems is vulnerable and being compromised? The best way to deal with on-going security threats in IT is to learn to hack. That’s right! This Certified Ethical Hacker cyber security training program is designed to help candidates learn better ways to deal with security breaches and to ensure a secure environment for the organization.
What Is the OSCP Certification?
The Offensive Security Certified Professional is an advanced, hands-on certification that validates a cybersecurity professional's ability to engage in various attacks successfully. To pass the exam, you have 24 hours to hack and gain control over 50 targets in three different networks and then write a report about what you did and how it was accomplished.
Someone with an OSCP has demonstrated their ability to hack networks and servers in various environments using several different approaches. As you can see from the list below, the information is far more focused on specific tools and methods than on an overview of what various attacks are or consist of.
Here’s a selection of the skills you’ll need to know on the exam:
- Bash Scripting
- Passive Information Gathering
- Active Information Gathering
- Vulnerability Scanning
- Web Application Attacks
- Introduction to Buffer Overflows
- Windows Buffer Overflows
- Linux Buffer Overflows
- Client-Side Attacks
- Locating Public Exploits
- Fixing Exploits
- File Transfers
- Antivirus Evasion
- Privilege Escalation
- Password Attacks
- Port Redirection and Tunneling
- Active Directory Attacks
- The Metasploit Framework
The cost of taking the OSCP is $999, with various options for increased lab access and exam retake fees.
CEH vs. OSCP: Exam Requirements
OSCP and CEH are entirely different exams. The CEH is theoretical. The OSCP is intensely (and famously) hands-on.
CEH focuses on a theoretical approach and assumes you don't have much offensive security experience. When describing various attack vectors and methods, the material is structured as an overview and focuses on the big picture rather than the finer details about executing an attack.
Conversely, OSCP is very focused on the technical aspects and specific methods employed in various attacks. To pass the exam, you must demonstrate that the techniques you've studied are ones you can replicate in a real-world environment and that you did so intentionally. The report is structured so that you have to identify the specific actions you took and why they worked, so it's not something you can pass by accident.
To be eligible for the CEH exam, you need to have two or more years of work experience as an information security professional or have attended an official EC-Council training. The OSCP has no formal experience prerequisites, but it’s a tough exam even for highly experienced white hats.
CEH vs. OSCP: Career Path
Here’s the biggest question: Which certification should I pursue: CEH or OSCP? And that’s a personal decision that should be based on your career goals.
Ultimately, the CEH versus OSCP career debate comes down to management versus practical.
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CEH = Management
CEH is not a very technical exam. It covers technical material, but not practically. EC-Council recently launched the CEH Practical exam, which is much closer to the OSCP. But the CEH ANSI is a 4 hour, multiple-choice exam.
If you enjoy leading people and projects while managing resources, then you're more likely headed toward the leadership side of cybersecurity. In this case, CEH is a better fit because it provides the overall context of hacking, how it's done, and what it can do to various systems.
OSCP = Hands-On
OSCP is a very technical, difficult exam that will lead a challenging, hands-on life as a penetration tester and offense security professional. The entire point of the OSCP is to test your mettle as an actual hacker.
If you feel like being hands-on is something you never want to give up, then OSCP will likely prove to be a more valuable certification for your career path. Doing the actual offensive testing yourself requires a unique set of skills that are validated by OSCP.
To answer this for yourself, you need to identify where your natural interests and abilities will take you. However, It’s important to note that neither of these locks you into a particular career path. CEH and OSCP are more complementary certifications than competing ones. If you decide to get both, CEH is what you should pursue first and build on that body of knowledge to train for and earn your OSCP.
CEH vs. OSCP: Salary
The average salary for someone with a CEH is $82,500, while the average pay for an OSCP is much higher at over $92,000. To put that in perspective, the median income for an IT professional is $62,500. Both CEH and OSCP are profitable certifications to earn, but OSCP provides a more considerable immediate salary boost.
Remember, though, these are snapshots and average rates. Depending on your career path, CTOs and CIOs who have a CEH will likely outpace expert techs with OSCPs in the long run. Pick the career path that most appeals to you, then pursue certifications that will support that.
Who Should Take the OSCP?
If you have an established career in cybersecurity and hands-on hacking experience, OSCP is likely a better fit for you. For information security professionals who want to get their hands dirty for the duration of their career, earning an OSCP is a worthwhile investment of your time and resources.
Offensive Security recommends that you have a solid understanding of TCP/IP networking, reasonable experience with Windows and Linux administration, and familiarity of Bash scripting with basic Python or Perl is a plus.
Who Should Take the CEH?
Any cybersecurity professional whose job will involve pen testing will benefit from earning a CEH. The conceptual basis of the CEH certification forms a solid foundation for a cybersecurity career, and any more specific certs will simply build on that groundwork.
If you're unsure whether you want to be involved in the offensive side of information technology, or if you already know you prefer the defensive side, CEH will be a better cert for you. For those who plan a career in cybersecurity that involves leadership or management roles, a CEH will serve you well.
Read more: Everything you need to know about Certified Ethical Hacking
CEH vs OSCP: Which Is Better?
That’s a tough question because the CEH and OSCP test the same general knowledge base in different ways. Ultimately, the CEH and OSCP certifications are complementary instead of competing.
CEH does a better job of establishing a broad, foundational basis for penetration testing, while OSCP validates the technical skills you need to execute offensive white hat hacking. They’re both valuable certifications that provide an immediate salary boost and benefit your long-term career prospects. At the end of the day, better questions to ask would be whether CEH or OSCP is a better fit for you or whether you should get CEH or OSCP first.
Connect with our experts for counseling on your next step to succeed as a cybersecurity professional.
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