OSCP Certification: All you need to know

Hello ethical hackers! In this episode, you will learn everything related to OSCP certification. What is OSCP? Why is it a strong certification? What sets it apart? What are the requirements? How to properly prepare for the exam? What to do the day of the exam? And what’s next once you earn your OSCP certification?

OSCP Certification introduction

OSCP stands for Offensive Security Certified Professional, it is Offensive Security‘s most famous certification. Everyone in the industry respects it, and for good reason. In fact, it proves that its holder can perform a penetration testing assignment using a methodical approach and can write a professional pentest report to deliver to the client. Moreover, it demonstrates that its holder can work under pressure and think outside the box when conducting penetration testing. By the way, the motto of OSCP is Try Harder!

OSCP Syllabus, course material, the lab and more

This certification has a syllabus that covers key aspects of penetration testing, it comes with the PWK course, a lab for training and a video package to support the course.

OSCP Syllabus

OSCP covers many penetration testing areas, from information gathering to exploitation. You get to apply your knowledge on various Linux distributions and Windows versions. These machines run a plethora of services. But perhaps the most important aspects I really enjoyed learning was SSH tunnels, privilege escalation and buffer overflows.

With the new 2020 update, this certification offers even more value, especially with the introduction of Active Directory hacking and Empire, which are essential in most real-world infrastructure penetration testing.

PWK course and videos

You won’t pay for the certification voucher only, the price covers the PWK course, which is a PDF file that goes from the basics to the advanced hacking techniques throughout the different chapters. You will learn some Linux commands to work in the terminal, most of the basic web application vulnerabilities, basics of buffer overflow, Active Directory hacking, SSH tunnelling, etc. Each chapter or section comes with a set of exercises that help you apply your knowledge. Besides, if you join the solutions to your final report, you will get 5 extra points.

To support the course PDF, you will get a set of videos that go through the whole concepts in the PDF and demonstrate the concept in practice.

The OSCP lab, price and why I chose it

When I wanted to get certified, I had many certification options. However, I chose OSCP because it provides many key points I was looking for:

  1. It has a hacking lab to practice the course material: I love learning through practice and the lab in the OSCP course is amazing. You will have to breach the perimeter, then work your way through until you own the entire infrastructure.
  2. The exam involves performing actual penetration testing on a new lab and write the report: I wanted to get a great value for the price I am paying and the OSCP exam is also practical, which means that I will apply what I have learned in yet another lab.
  3. With the previous points, the price is reasonable compared to other certifications.
  4. It is respected in the security community: This is reflected in both job offers and the salary. Almost all security offers from junior to senior level include OSCP among the other security certifications. This means that you don’t get a piece of certifying paper, but you actually increase your value in the job market.

Alright, now that you have a general view of what the OSCP is, let’s see what do you need to get it.

OSCP requirements before you apply for it

Although you don’t need prior hacking knowledge to go through this certification, I highly recommend you get comfortable at lease with the basics. OSCP is not for the faint of heart. If you under-estimate it, I doubt you will stand for long.

These are the things I recommend you learn:

Get yourself comfortable working with the terminal

You will spend most of your time on the lab working on remote machines which are only accessible through SSH. Even the Windows machines won’t be exploitable unless you use the command prompt to run your exploitation scripts. Therefore, it is essential to learn at least the basic Linux terminal commands that will help you navigate through the filesystem, install software, copy files around and connect to remote servers.

Learn the basics of web

There is a considerable amount of web applications in the lab, so I advise you to learn how they work. Take your time to understand how the HTTP Protocol works, what is the difference between the client and the server, etc. This will ease your way through the course as you will already have a general view of what they are talking about.

Learn and practice basic hacking techniques

Although the OSCP course teaches you the hacking techniques and concepts from the beginning, I recommend you learn them beforehand. That way, you can quickly go through them and focus on more advanced concepts like exploit development, SSH tunnelling and looting all the machines in the lab. There are many hacking websites which will help you achieve that. They offer great challenges that you can play with, solve and learn along the way. Feel free to read the dedicated article about it.

Practice your skills on boot2root machines

Once you feel comfortable with the hacking challenges, I encourage you to take more time to root some machines. This will allow you to adapt to the kind of hacking activity that you would find during the OSCP lab and the exam. The article I mentioned earlier contains a list of the websites where you can achieve that.

Code something with Python

Many exploits are available in python, and sometimes you will have to modify them to work for your situation. Therefore, knowing Python will help you take full advantage of the labs and speed up your hacking process. Besides, since Metasploit is forbidden in the exam apart from one shot, you have to convert one or two modules to your own Python scripts as a means of practice during your exam preparation.

Understand basic C code

The OSCP course contains a full chapter on Buffer Overflows. Although the concepts are basic, you will still have a hard time understanding and building your exploits if you don’t know anything about the C language. Besides, some machines require you to customize some C code in order to successfully exploit the vulnerability.

The process of applying for OSCP

Do you already have what it takes? Good! You can apply for it online and receive your package. You have three options, either 1, 2 or 3 months of lab access. I recommend you take the 3-month package so that you give yourself enough room for practice.

Expect to present a proof of identity and to use a corporate email. If you don’t have the latter, you can contact the support and tell them that you have no corporate email.

Once the payment is processed, you will get your package containing the course PDF, videos and the VPN access for the lab.

OSCP preparation for the exam

Preparation for the exam starts right when you receive your course material. See, there are some key points I want you to know from the beginning.

Do the course exercises and document them as you go

You will feel lazy solving the exercises and documenting them as you go through the course, but it’s a crucial thing to do. See, documenting your progress and taking notes is a soft skill that you should have if you want to develop quickly. It has two benefits, the first one is that you will secure your extra 5 points in case you need them to pass the exam. Secondly, you will develop the habit of taking notes, which will help you during the exam. Which brings us to the second advice.

Take organized notes

You don’t want to redo all the exploit research, rebuild all your exploits or start Googling how to transfer files between machines during the exam. Everything should be noted beforehand. Your exploits should already be built and organized. Your payloads should be well structured. This will save you tremendous time during the exam.

Take your time to root all the machines in the lab

I recommended you to apply for 3 months of lab access so that you give yourself enough time to grasp, practice and hone your hacking skills on the lab. A friend of mine had a full-time job, a family and purchased one month. Although he was really smart and had already the skills, he simply couldn’t keep up with so many duties on his plates.

OSCP exam

Once you root all the lab machines, I think you will be ready for the exam. It’s not a requirement, but I highly recommend you do it first.

As you might have already known, the OSCP exam is 24 hours long and you have to score at least 65 points to pass. I say 65 because you can send the exercises solution along with the exam report and get 5 extra points, which would complete your minimum 70 points to pass the OSCP exam. You won’t have to pivot between the machines though, each one is separate.

Here is a list of tips that will help you the day of the exam:

Revise your notes

You should have all your notes at your hand. That’s when your prior preparation and documentation will pay off. The notes should contain your code snippets for various tasks such as connecting to different services, transferring files using different methods, bind and reverse shells, your exploits already built and grouped by target OS, etc.

Don’t upgrade your Kali machine

Just work with the version you had throughout the course. Upgrading your machine can introduce surprises that will force you to waste your time troubleshooting instead of solving the exam challenges.

Take regular breaks

You can’t stay productive the entire exam without food and good hydration. So, reserve some time for breaks, it will make you feel better, refreshed. Sometimes, all you need is another perspective, which you can’t get when you are stuck in front of the computer. You just have to notify the proctor, as explained in the official FAQ section.

Start with the Buffer Overflow challenge

One of the machines contains a buffer overflow vulnerability that you will be able to solve without problems if you had solved the one in the course. I recommend you start with it first. This will boost your confidence to tackle the remaining ones.

Beyond OSCP

Hopefully, you are now certified OSCP, congratulations! You have proved that you “tried harder” and you now have the skills required to conduct penetration testing in the real world. However, this is not the end of your journey and you are certainly not an expert. OSCP is a great beginning for a bright future in penetration testing, so don’t waste it! Think about niche areas you want to focus on. For example, you may want to learn more about exploit development, web hacking or Active Directory attacks. Learn the subject and pursue some certification in the field.

OSCP Certification: Congratulations!
OSCP Certification: Congratulations!

Other questions you may ask

OSCP vs CEH: Which is the best?

For me, the short answer is OSCP. The long answer is…it depends! See, CEH is great if you are barely starting in the infosec industry and you still want to quickly get a job even if you don’t have enough practice. In fact, it is recognized by most companies and most of the candidates would have it. So it makes sense to apply for it when you are just starting.

However, I don’t think we should compare it to OSCP. In fact, the exam is a 4 hour Multiple Choice Questions. If you want to become a CEH Master, then you have to pass the 6-hour exam which contains 20 mini-challenges. So, both challenges combined are less than 50% of the 24-hour exam challenge on the OSCP. Besides, OSCP wins at the price as well. In fact, with three months of lab access, the total price is 1349USD, compared to 1898USD for the CEH (The Multiple Choice Questions and the Practical exams, plus registration fees). In my opinion, if budget is a concern for you, you may want to apply for CompTIA PenTest+ instead.

Is a certified OSCP salary higher than CEH?

According to payscale.com, the average OSCP salary is 91,538USD, compared to 82,164USD for CEH at the time of writing this article.

Conclusion

Certifications are a good way to prove that you possess a set of skills, and OSCP is a great one for penetration testers. However, getting certified shouldn’t be the goal. In my opinion, the focus should be on acquiring and applying your hacking skills. That’s what counts!

I hope you found this content helpful and wish you good luck in your OSCP journey. I encourage you to subscribe to the newsletter and receive an article every Friday to end your week on a hacking content. If you are new to hacking and want to learn the basics, read the OWASP Top 10 theory and hands-on article on thehackerish.com and apply your knowledge on the lab which supports them. If you enjoy learning with videos, I invite you to watch the OWASP Top 10 Youtube playlist.