GIAC Certified Tester

Today I passed the SANS GIAC Certified Penetration Tester exam and thought I would write down a few notes to help people prepare for this exam.

The exam is 4 hours long and consists entirely of multiple choice questions, but unlike other multiple choice exams I have taken, this one does not let you come back to a question later, you can either answer the question or skip it entirely. The other thing with the exam that I have not encountered before is that it is an open book exam, meaning you can take whatever books and notes you want to take with you in to help you in answering the questions.

When I first found out it was multiple choice open book I wondered what the point was but after some research on the internet I soon found out that the exam covers many topics and tools and expects you to have a fairly in-depth knowledge of how they work and why. The practice tests helped me immensely in the preparation, I noted the subject of the question and made notes to get further information later on for anything I was not immediately familiar with. Further to this, experience in manual Penetration Testing and Systems Administration helped a whole lot too. Getting hands on with the tools covered in the exam is also important, for Metasploit there is the free “Metasploit Unleashed” course I have mentioned before and for the rest you can google, read man pages and search the Microsoft tech net archives.

I wont list all the software here on my site as there are lists out there on the internet and the practice exams will cover all of them too, it is worth taking a practice exam as early as possible in to your preparation, the report generated will give you a rating out of 5 in each area of focus, this will help you study more effectively for the actual exam.

So in a nutshell, if you are planning on sitting the GPEN exam I would suggest you:

  1. Take your first practice exam as soon as possible
  2. Note down the subject of each question as you go along (you have plenty of time)
  3. Review your report and identify the gaps in your knowledge needed to pass the exam
  4. Run through your notes and ensure you are comfortable and have extensive notes on the software in your list
  5. Sit your second practice exam using your notes / books as you will do in the real exam
  6. Study up on any remaining weak areas and improve your notes to take with you into the exam
  7. Get plenty of sleep or caffeine and go pass the real exam =]

At the time I sat the exam SANS had some technical difficulties and the exam ended over an hour early, within four SANS had resolved this and I was able to complete the exam and score a pretty reasonable 93%.

I would love to attend some of the SANS training courses like SEC660 “Advanced Penetration Testing, Exploits, and Ethical Hacking” and SEC542 “Web App Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking” but at the moment these are out of my price range and will have to stay on my “Someday Maybe” list.

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