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9 Reasons Why People Fail the Penetration Testing (C|PENT) Exam

9 Reasons Why People Fail the Penetration Testing (C|PENT) Exam


The global cyber security industry is growing at a rate of 13.4% a year as companies invest millions to keep cybercriminals at bay. Numerous methods are being employed to accomplish that. Enterprise penetration testing continues to prove to be a fast and reliable tactic for discovering vulnerabilities in a company’s system while revealing actionable changes they can make to improve their security infrastructure.

As the cybersecurity industry grows, the future only gets brighter for penetration testers. As of last year, pen testers earn an average of $88,089 annually in the United States (Payscale, 2022), yet no formal degree or license is required to obtain such a position. Instead, pen testers need hands-on experience and a way to prove their knowledge, which is why EC-Council created the Certified Penetration Testing Professional (C|PENT) exam.

What Is the C|PENT Exam?

EC-Council’s C|PENT program is a multi-disciplinary course that covers over 40 hours of strenuous curriculum. The course is designed to be comprehensive, including information about the latest attack surfaces, threats vectors, and practice ranges. In fact, it has been labeled extremely difficult by even accomplished professionals. Yet, all the knowledge you acquire will ensure you finish the course ready to perform effective penetration testing in a real-world enterprise environment. During the 24-hour exam, you will work in a test environment where each network must be attacked, exploited, evaded, and defended.

The program will teach you how to:

  • Pen test IoT and OT systems
  • Bypass filtered networks
  • Write your own exploits
  • Perform advanced Windows attacks
  • Conduct advanced privilege escalation
  • Conduct binary exploitation
  • Single and double pivoting

The C|PENT exam is far more thorough and hands-on than any other pen-testing exam. If not prepared well, the exam will prove to be very challenging, even for professionals. It goes beyond the exploitation and attack tools covered by others and requires you to utilize professional methodologies employed on enterprise networks.

Here’s why even experienced penetration testers fail the C|PENT exam and advice to help ensure that you can succeed.

#1 Inability to Ping Networks Effectively

The C|PENT exam is meant to test your penetration testing skills in the real world. In enterprise architecture, ICMP is typically not allowed. Even the Windows Defender firewall blocks ICMP by default. Many professionals with other industry certifications miss this fundamental point.

Solution: Use another protocol to discover live targets.

#2 Unable to Gain Machine or Network Access

The C|PENT exam mimics real-world testing, so you will not have access to all machines, nor will all machines have points you can leverage to gain access. In other words, if you expect to be guided to your targets, you will not have an easy time completing the C|PENT exam.

Many pen testers that fail the C|PENT exam run into issues because they do not use custom, tuned scans to discover their targets. They also fail to look at the network traffic at the packet level to see what the network is showing them. As such, they struggle to move forward and successfully complete the pen test.

Solution: Dig deeper to see what you can find on the network.

#3 Failure to Prioritize Targets

Many professionals with other industry certifications fail to plan their strategy. Even if they have one, they fail to practice it using the EC-Council Labs or the EC-Council Practice Range. This means that, once the exam begins, they start hacking away, hoping that something works—but that’s not how it’s done in the real world.

The C|PENT is like no other in that it prepares you to be part of a professional team, which means managing the scope of a pen test and prioritizing your testing. So, you must practice using different methods to egress data from protected and filtered networks. You should also practice recording information and efficiently extracting data for your report.

Solution: Create an extensive target database before you begin exploiting.

#4 Failure to Implement Systematic Processes

Like an actual engagement, the C|PENT exam requires you to read the entire scope of work. You must take notes as needed, identify what network addresses are part of the scope of work, and create a target database template using all that information.

However, when pen testers attempt to discover filtered suspect targets, they often use default scans instead of a custom scan against a firewalled and non-firewalled target. As a result, many do not know what works and doesn’t work, and they waste time trying to figure it out.

Solution: Follow a systematic process to work efficiently and ensure nothing is missed.

#5 Scans Take Far Too Long to Complete

One thing that makes the C|PENT exam so challenging is that you cannot get away with just using default scans or intensely scanning every port. If you try to do that, you’ll end up with scans that take far too long to complete, and you’ll run out of time—just like many pen testers do when trying to take the easy route, and they end up failing.

Solution: Let the packets show you the way.

#6 You Can’t Find Any OT Machines

You’d be surprised to learn that among those who failed the C|PENT exam, including experienced pen testers, many cannot get anywhere close to the OT machines. In the real world, the OT network is rarely directly accessible, and you will have to identify weaknesses on a machine that has access to it to get in.

Like in the real world, the C|PENT exam requires you to find the communication between the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and the slaves. Plus, just like any other communications on the network, it is in TCP/IP packets.

Solution: Know where to find the TCP/IP packets and how to analyze them.

#7 Failure to Attack an Active Directory

Ask yourself: “What would I see in an active directory environment?” Many professionals with other industry certifications could not take what the network gave them. Nor could they look for Kerberos weaknesses and see if they could compromise a ticket.

Solution: Get comfortable finding and understanding your targets.

#8 Inability to Extract Firmware from the IoT Zone

Many professionals with other industry certifications could not check the syntax and verify that they entered the options correctly. As a result, they failed to have privileges to write to the folder where they were extracting the firmware file system to.

Solution: Come up with a strategy before taking action.

#9 Making Incorrect Assumptions

As with any real-world engagement, the C|PENT exam requires you to analyze what is on the network and, from that analysis, try to find a weakness so you can gain access.

Many professionals with other industry certifications could not take what the network showed them, analyze it, and find a way to gain access. Instead, they made bad assumptions. Just remember this: In a real-world assignment, you will not gain access to every machine every time.

Solution: Be mindful of your assumptions and don’t get led astray.

Prepare For Your Exam with Over 100 Labs

Even seasoned penetration testers fail the C|PENT exam because they don’t yet have the confidence and hands-on knowledge to plan a comprehensive strategy or handle critical problems while on the clock. With the C|PENT program, you can learn from over 100 labs and practice extensively on the practice range to help hone your skills and be ready to challenge the exam.

Ready to take the next step and explore the C|PENT course and exam? Get to know the curriculum.

About the Author

Sydney Chamberlain is a content writer specializing in informational, research-driven projects.


Fortune Business Insights. (2022, June 14). With 13.4% CAGR, global cyber security market size to surpass USD 376.32 billion in 2029. GlobalNewswire.

PayScale. (2022, July 27). Average Pen Tester Salary.

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