Why Seasoned Professionals Fail the CPENT Exam

Why Do People Fail the C|PENT Exam?

EC-Council’s Certified Penetration Testing Professional (CPENT) exam has been labelled by the most accomplished professionals as insanely difficult! 

We admit. They are right. We are guilty as charged. 

We made the exam difficult to ensure that we produce the best of class penetration testers that the world needs today. That is why we strongly recommend you attend the course before taking the exam.  

EC-Council’s CPENT program is a multi-disciplined, comprehensive course with the latest curriculum that is needed to make you a world-class pen tester. This program sharpens your skill like no other! Join us to acquire some of the finest skills that no one is willing to teach you.  

With CPENT, you can learn advanced windows attacks, pen test IOT and OT systems, bypass filtered networks, write your own exploits, single and double pivoting, conduct advanced privilege escalation as well as binary exploitation! CPENT teaches a penetration tester how to perform an effective penetration test in a real-world enterprise environment. Each network must be attacked, exploited, evaded, and defended.

As statedPenetration testing is a multidisciplinary skillset. You need more than exploitation and attack tools, and application of a professional methodology. This is where CPENT exam differs from other pen-testing exams available. In this article, we reveal 9 Reasons why seasoned penetration testers with many other industry certifications fail the CPENT exam. 


 #1. Inability to Ping Networks Effectively!

Many professionals with other industry certifications miss this basic point. In most cases, in an enterprise architecture ICMP is not allowed, even the Windows Defender firewall blocks ICMP by default. The CPENT exam is meant to test your penetration testing skills in the real world.

What would you do?

Answer: Use another protocol to discover the live targets

#2. Unable to Gain Machine/Network Access.

This is real world testing. Not all machines will have access or points that you can leverage to gain access. Many professionals with other industry certifications fail to analyze what the network is showing them and prioritize the targets. (Tip: “Go Deeper” and take what the network shows you).

#3. Failure to Prioritize.

The CPENT is like no other in that it prepares you to be part of teams and participate in engagements, a key component of this is to manage the scope and prioritize your testing.

Many professionals with other industry certifications fail to plan their strategy and practice it using the EC-Council Labs or the EC-Council Practice Range. Instead, they jump right into hacking, hack, hack. Unfortunately, this is not how it is done in the real world.

Go Deeper!

a. Ensure you practice using different methods to egress data from protected and filtered networks.

b. Practice recording of the information and extracting the data efficiently for the report.

c. Preference is to have an extensive target database BEFORE starting exploitation.

#4.  Failure to Implement Systematic Process

Just like an actual engagement, read the entire scope of work, take notes as required, identify what network addresses are part of the scope of work and create the target database template. Many professionals with other industry certifications do not use custom, tuned scans to discover the targets, they do not look at the network traffic at the packet level to see what the network is showing them. When they attempt to discover targets that they suspect are filtered or have a filter, many use default scans instead of a custom scan against a firewalled and non-firewalled target and so, many do not know what works and doesn’t work.

#5. Scans are taking a very loooooooooooong time!

In the CPENT, you must let the network show you the way. If you are running default scans and intense scans of all ports, then the scans could take a long time. Many professionals with other industry certifications are not able to understand what the network is telling them. (Tip: Let the packets show you the way).

#6. Just can’t seem to find any OT Machines!

Many professionals with other industry certifications were unable to get anywhere close to the OT machines in the exam! In the real world, the OT network is not normally directly reachable, so professionals have to identify a weakness to a machine that has access to the OT network. Once they do it, they need to find the communication between the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and the slaves and just like any other communications on the network it is in TCP/IP packets.  Can you analyze them?

#7. Failure to Attack Active Directory.

As with any network you have to identify the targets, then think “what would I see in an Active Directory environment?” Many professionals with other industry certifications were unable to take what the network gave them, let alone look for Kerberos weaknesses and see if they can compromise a ticket.

#8. Inability to Extract Firmware from the IOT Zone.

Many professionals with other industry certifications were unable to check the syntax and  verify  that they have entered the options correctly. They failed to have privileges to write to the folder where they were extracting the firmware file system to.

#9. Making Wrong Assumptions.

As with any real-world engagement, the task is to analyze what is on the network and from that analysis try to find a weakness and gain access. Many professionals with other industry certifications were unable to take what the network showed them, analyze it and find a way to gain access. (Instead, they made assumptions…. bad ones)

Tip: In a real-world assignment, you will not gain access to every machine every time.

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A CPENT Student’s Successful Career Journey:

What is your current position, in which company?

Designation: CEO, Cyber Security Consultant and External Data Protection Officer
Roles: Penetration Tester and Ethical Hacking Instructor

What courses and programs did you enroll in?

CEHv10, CEH Practical, CND (Certified Network defense), and CPENT (Certified Penetration Testing).

How were you first introduced to the CEH program, and what caught your attention?

Last year I took the OSCP and learned about the CPENT Challenge. CPENT was much harder than OSCP, so I took the challenge and completed my certification.

How was your CPENT learning experience?

I did some online research and completed iLabs simultaneously.

How difficult was the CPENT certification for you? What was the most challenging part of the exam?

  • In lack of practical experience, you’ll need to practice before taking the exam.

The hardest part was doing the binary analysis for a 64-bit system. I also found the part where you have to debug the code on Linux difficult since I was not that familiar.

What are three things that you really liked about the CPENT program.

  • CPENT covers a wide range of topics compared to other exams.
  • CPENT also touches upon IoT and the OT. Apart from a flat network and isolation system, they also have a multi-layered network with security measures in place. The firewall access control list and 2nd point protection software also proved challenging.
  • I really liked the exam structure because you can choose between taking a 24- hour exam or two 12-hour exam sessions.

What was your lab experience in the program?

As CPENT is a practical exam, I practiced a lot in the iLabs because there are about 100 ilabs. It is a good solution to get familiar with the tools. If you are comfortable with the exam, you can also go for the Cyber Practice Range. This is a simulation of a real-world cyber-attack that will help you see where you stand concerning your preparation.

What tools or topics from the program do you use on a day-to-day basis?

  • I set up multiple notebooks with my tools before starting the penetration test.
  • I always use WireShark for pentesting as it gives you also a good idea about the hosts you have on the windows network. It also helps you debug when you are expecting some return but not getting any.
  • I use Nmap for manual penetration testing and Metasploit for exploitation.

I have learned about these tools during the penetration testing exam.

How has CPENT benefitted your career?

  • I am a self-employed penetration tester for some years, and CPENT is like a feather in my cap.
  • My understanding of operational technology integrated into the IT environment proves helpful as I face this task daily.
  • I was also one of the first in the world to achieve this certification.
  • It has also benefitted me as I am an instructor for several ATCs in Germany. I am now ready to teach other CPENT aspirants.

How would you compare the CPENT program with its counterparts?

  • Apart from CPENT, I only have experience with OCP. The main difference between both is that in the CPENT exam, you don’t have an isolated host where you have to get root access or system access.
  • You have the whole network compromised of more than 15 hosts, and these are interconnected.
  • You are also required to find a way into the first server and then go from there.
  • The usage of tools is not much restricted in CPENT compared to others. You are free to use the device of your choice. On most machines, there are multiple ways to get in and so you are completely free.

What is your advice for other CPENT Aspirants?

  • The best advice is to have a good methodology. You need to have a systematic approach to identify your hosts and service to differentiate the vulnerable services from the rabbit holes.
  • Ensure that you have set up your own virtual machine, either Kali, Linux, or Parrot, before starting the exam.
  • Access the exam and challenge the practice range environment via open VPN.
  • Ensure that you take notes during your learning sessions, as it will come in handy during the test.

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An Exciting Career Awaits A CPENT

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Time of Completion

40-hour course + 24-hour exam

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Jobs Available

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Average Salary

$116,478  in the U.S.

Spend just 40-hours and align your career to the growing demand for Penetration Testers. With CPENT, you will cover advanced penetration testing tools, techniques, and methodologies most needed right now.

CPENT Maps to the following Industry Job Roles:

  • Ethical Hackers
  • Penetration Testers
  • Network Server Administrators
  • Firewall Administrators
  • Security Testers
  • System Administrators and Risk Assessment professionals
  • Cybersecurity Forensic Analyst
  • Cyberthreat Analyst
  • Cloud Security Analyst
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Application Security Analyst
  • Cybersecurity Assurance Engineer
  • Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst
  • Technical Operations Network Engineer
  • Information Security Engineer
  • Network Security Penetration Tester
  • Network Security Engineer
  • Information Security Architect