My view of IT certification MCSE, CCNP, ECSA, CHFI, OSCP

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My view of IT certification MCSE, CCNP, ECSA, CHFI, OSCP

Over the years I have been working in IT, I have been able to get a number of certifications that I am proud of. My acquaintances often ask me what are they good for, whether they authorize me to something. I personally embark on the certification as I enjoy learning new things and moving forward. I always work on certifications that fit my work (its knowledge) – it’s faster to learn, easier to remember, I enjoy it and it pays for itself soon enough. It is, of course, also a matter of prestige – if I am giving a lecture, it looks better when I have some certification in that area. On the other hand, outsiders are not familiar with these abbreviations, so the more letters/certifications the better. 😊

Of course, there are other reasons why people get certified. Someone needs certification to get a partnership with a vendor (Cisco, FortiNet, Microsoft) and others due to work reasons.

I recently talked to one successful entrepreneur who built himself a business in the IT industry. For example, he considered certification a competitive advantage. He had all employees certified, and so that’s what he sold his customers. Personally, I don’t think certification is a guarantee of quality, but it’s certainly more likely that a certified person will be competent.

For those of you who are interested in certifications, I have noted down my experience with individual certifications. How much time did it take, money cost and how I rate them. Below is the list of certifications I have rated.

MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure

MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure

Windows Server Certification, Hyper-V Virtualization, MS Azure, Active Directory, System Center, and designing functional solutions.

We had the opportunity to enroll for courses that were the basis for Microsoft certifications at the FIT VUT. At that time, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 were just starting. I liked the systems, and I thought it would be a shame not to take a chance. In addition, students had certification exams for about half the price.

So in 2009, I got the first MCTS certification, then MCITP, MCP, followed by MCSA and finally in 2015, I have reached MCSE. Since I started, Microsoft has already redesigned the certification structure, canceled most courses and replaced them with new ones. Initially, the MCSE level had a 3-year certification validity, but eventually, Microsoft canceled the certification expiration, which is thus unlimited.

Microsoft certifications were the first ones I got.

How much is the MCSE

In total, I have passed 6 exams at Microsoft (based on the transcript). Some of these were student-priced and I had to take 1 twice (it doesn’t happen to me often, but I didn’t pass on the first try) and the total cost of the exams was about 24,000 CZK. Except for the first courses at school, I did not attend any other preparatory courses, so I did not have any other costs. I learned in practice, studying online  (Channel9, Microsoft Virtual Academy, or CBT Nuggets) and literature.

So a total of about CZK 24,000 and 7 years of life. Of course, everything could be done so much faster – going straight for what one sets out to. It took me so much time for me, as Microsoft changed certification over time, so I had to upgrade and I wasn’t in a hurry at all.

MCSE certification benefits

Microsoft’s operating systems (desktop and server) were my daily bread from the very start, so I really needed that knowledge. The certification was then just a confirmation that I understood things.

There is a bunch of free materials available online, such as. Microsoft Learn, Channel9, Windows Server, MS Azure, Office365 trials. Money should not be needed for learning. Certification can then only represent an imaginary goal, a reward for your efforts. The test is affordable (approx. 110. \ T$).

Microsoft certification is, in my opinion, a good starting point for IT administrators (if you don’t focus on Linux or other OS ).😊

MCSE
Figure 1 Source: https://www.itcareerfinder.com/it-certifications/microsoft-certifications.html

CCNP: Routing & Switching

CCNPCisco Network certification focused on L2 / L3 / L4 according to ISO / OSI and network configuration.

I have had this certification in mind ever since high school, where there was a Cisco lab. However, we never got past the CCNA2 preparation course. Then I thought I’d finish it during my VUT studies. Unfortunately, however, I did not have enough free credits to enroll in the course – as I have applied for MS technologies (see the certification above).

Eventually, in summer 2014, there was free time, money and determination, so I have signed up for the “Summer School” by FIT VUT to complete my education. I went back to school years and took a seat among students for two weeks. I have completed CCNA3-4 preparation courses (I have shipped 1 and 2 as I already had the knowledge), which I have finished off with my exam and got certified „CCNA: Routing and Switching“.

However, another 3 exams were required to upgrade “CNA: R&S” to “CCNP: R&S”. However, CCNP preparation courses did not open in summer school. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to learn individually at VUT and thus to gain knowledge.

How much is the CCNP: Routing & Switching

To get „CCNA: Routing & Switching“:

  • Taking part in Cisco Summer Academy (CCNA3-4): 2 weeks, 12,100 CZK for courses
  • Exam „200-120 CCNA Cisco Certified Network Associate“: 1 week of preparation, 149 USD per exam (the original price of the exam was 356 USD, but when attending the preparatory courses, we have received a 58% discount voucher))
  • CCNA total: 3 weeks and 15.230 Kč

To upgrade to „CCNP: Routing & Switching“ level:

  • Attending preparatory courses:
    • CCNP Route: 4 months, 11.500 Kč
    • CCNP Switch: 4 months, 11.500 Kč
    • Finally, I did not complete CCNP Troubleshooting because it was what I had been doing at work for years.
  • Exams:
    • 642-902 Implementing Cisco IP Routing English: 1 preparatory week, 250 USD
    • 300-115 Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks English: 1 preparatory week, 250 USD
    • 300-135 Troubleshooting and Maintaining Cisco IP Networks English: 1 preparatory week, 250 USD
  • Upgrading to CCNP in total: approx 9 months, 38.750 Kč

Starting from scratch (meaning from the previous Cisco certification, I already had the knowledge and practice in the networks ) to “CCNP: Routing & Switching”, it took me less than a calendar year and cost about 54,000 CZK for courses and exams (fortunately I have managed to pass everything at the first try).

CCNP: Routing & Switching certification benefits

It seems to me that Cisco certification had a better sound back then,  and there was more interest in it. It may be in part because of the strong competition Cisco has in many segments, which have their own courses and certifications (FortiNet, Sophos, HPE). At the same time, it can be due to the fact, that networks are no longer so interesting and people are more devoted to programming, which is in huge demand.

As far as knowledge is concerned, it is a great certification. Although we do not work with Cisco, most of the knowledge relates to network standards and is applicable to any other HW. I would definitely go through the courses and certification again. The only drawback is the higher price of the exams and the need to prolong the certification every 3 years (by passing any professional or higher examination)

Cisco level overview
Figure 2 Cisco level overview

CCNA: Security

CCNACisco certification for computer (primary network) security. There mainly was security in general, encryption, segmentation, protection against MitM, VPN, IDS / IPS, and Cisco ASA.

My first security-related certification. I have taken the summer school at FIT VUT again. This time I have convinced my former classmate to take the course as well, so there were 2 of us, commercial students, and a few FIT students. In 2015, it was the only summer course that was full and open.

In general, it´s a pity that there is no interest in summer school. Vladimír and Matěj, who teach Cisco at FIT, are great teachers, the lab is well equipped (everyone has their own equipment) and the whole training is very cheap compared to others. If there would be few people interested, I think that we could let them know what course to open during summer (VUT CISCO NetAcad).

How much is the CCNA: Security

The 7-day summer school preparatory course was 9,680 CZK. A few days later, the “640-554 Implementing Cisco IOS Network Security English” exam for $125 (there was a 50% exam discount included in the course once again) So certification was in total 2 weeks of time and 12,300 CZK.

CCNA: Security certification benefits

This certification was nice. Some new things, some repeating. I gained new knowledge especially about DHCP snooping and dynamic arp inspection (DAI). We then began to deploy these technologies to our customers.

It was also the first time I could configure the Cisco ASA to expand my experience with the different L7 firewall concepts. Until then, FortiGate, WatchGuard, ZyWall, and Cyberoam were the only ones that I have had experience with. I have to share that our corporate choice is to work with FortiGate (see technology standardization) and I’m still satisfied.

ECSA: EC-Council Certified Security Analyst

ECSA: EC-Council Certified Security AnalystECSA certification is a continuation / higher level of CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) certification. It deals with computer security, ethical hacking, and preparation of penetration report. I have passed the preparatory course in early 2018 at Gopas under the direction of William Ischanoe and Roman Kümmel.

I have to point out that both William and Roman are professionals and the course took 5 days. I thought that when in Prague, I would enjoy some lovely evenings. In the end, I was at the course throughout a day, catching up on company mails in the evening and I glad to shut-eye at night.

At the beginning of the course, we have received official textbooks of the size of a phone book (A4, approx. 750 pages). I admit that the EC-Council materials do not fit me. These are printed slides (2 per page) that are more like coloring books (perhaps there is a dedicated team of people to do the graphics, as each slide is styled in a different way).

I did the version 9 ECSA. It was still a certification exam consisting of practical and theoretical parts. In the practical part, we had a task to break the X servers and write a report about it. Then we could continue to the theoretical part, which consisted of test questions. Now, in version 10, there are already 2 separate exams (probably the EC-Council wants to get more money out of it).

When I was on the course in March, we were only 3 people in the classroom. Very cool thing, almost individual lessons, can’t complain. 😊

How much is the ECSA

The preparatory course in Gopas cost CZK 67,760 including VAT. The course lasted 5 working days and the exam was included in the price. I have spent about a month learning before the exam, and for the practical part of the exam (I have worked during the week as usual). Certification cost me about 70,000 CZK (including membership fee in EC-Council) and a month and a half of time.

ECSA certification benefits

I skipped the CEH certification and went straight to ECSA. So far, what I have heard, is that certifications are quite similar. If someone already has some IT security experience, ECSA shouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, the Certified Ethical Hacker sounds better than the EC-Council Certified Security Analyst.

As far as course and certification are concerned, it is quite an expensive matter. There is a pricy preparatory course with an exam, an annual membership of $ 80 (every 3 years) and a need to collect „points“, so the certification doesn’t expire.

There is not enough time for the weekly course to cover that much. So it is up to everyone to continue their studies – according to the textbooks, or the Internet. On the other hand, I have to share that there is a LOT of acquired knowledge and I am glad that I completed the course and certification. It was a starting point of a sort for further education and certification. The price/performance ratio is good as well. It’s a pity that the practical part is no longer part of the course in v10.

ESCA
Figure 3 “hacking” EC-Council certification overview

CHFI: Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator Certification

CHFI: Computer Hacking Forensic investigatorCertification for collecting tracks and investigating cyberattacks. I was very much interested in this course because we occasionally solve some security incidents with our customers (fortunately, nothing serious) and I wanted to know what we could do better. At the same time  CHFI Gopas course, which I have undergone, is being led by Ondřej Ševeček, whom I respect and I wanted to meet him in person.

The course was 5 days long and we have received a decent portion of textbooks. The 5 days went quite quickly and only a fraction of the textbooks was completed – we rather did the exercises (you will receive the disk image as well, which is the official exercise according to the exercise book). So I continued to study for a few months after the course. As for the textbooks, they are similar to the ECSA – printed thousands of slides, which copy the coloring pages layout (I don’t like them).

 

How much is the CHFI

This 5-day Gopas course is CZK 67,760 incl. VAT. We were able to apply for a subsidy in 2018  from POVEZ to receive 85% of the course price. Subsequently, there is a membership fee as well as ECSA (which is only paid for the first certification) and points must be collected. I have finished the course in September and I took the exam just before Christmas (I didn’t want to push it into the new year), so about 4 months of teaching (rather a lack of time, not such an intense preparation). In total, 10 164 CZK and 4 months of time.

CHFI certification benefits

In fact, I was expecting a little more from this course. As I wrote, those 5 days went very quickly. There were just over 10 participants in the course, everyone was a bit different and everyone had a different level of knowledge, so we didn´t get through so much. One could get through more materials if there was less of us. 😊 I’m glad I did it, but it doesn’t have a very good price/performance ratio.

CHFI textbooks
Figure 4 CHFI textbooks

OSCP: Offensive Security Certified Professional

OSCP: Offensive Security Certified ProfessionalMy latest certification. I started thinking about it after completing the ECSA certification. I liked being focused on hacking and being purely practical – the final exam is not a multiple-choice test, but hacking the following X number of servers is 24 hours. I wrote an entire article about this test „OSCP: Offensive Security Certified Professional“.

How much is the OSCP

To obtain the OSCP certification, you must get a Penetration Testing with Kali Linux course, the exam is then included in the price of the course. The course is in the form of self-study, digital textbooks, and virtual lab access are available, with over 50 servers available for hacking. The price of the course depends on the time you want to have access to the lab. It can be purchased for 30, 60 or 90 days and can be further extended.

I was really looking forward to the course, but I didn’t manage to do it during the working week. Finally, I was catching up on holidays and weekends. Anyway, I ended up extending 90 days with another 90 days. So the course has cost me about 39,000 CZK (1,750 $) and 5 months of life (about 170 working hours including the exam).

OSCP certification benefits

I do not know whether this is due to the fact that it is the freshest of certifications, but I am most happy about it. It was challenging, and I got a huge amount of new knowledge, more confidence, but most of all, new skills. Those skills make the biggest difference compared to other courses and certifications. For the other courses, I was mostly left with theoretical knowledge of what is possible and how to do it, probably. The theory is not enough in this case, as the servers do not hack themselves. 😊 Then, when applying theoretical knowledge, one encounters a lot of trouble and more of it gets “under your skin”“.

At the same time, I think that OSCP certification has a very good reputation in the professional community as everyone knows how challenging it is and cannot be obtained by learning the questions.

Conclusion

All in all, after 9 years and CZK 210,000 spent on courses and exams alone, I am where I am. I have to say that seeing this listed is quite a nostalgic matter. I don’t have yet another exam/certification in my “to do” list, but who knows. 😊

What do you think about courses and certifications? Do you plan to undergo any certification? I’ll be glad if you would share your thoughts with me.

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