Why you DON’T need the OSCP to land a cybersecurity job in 2020

Adversary Academy Research
4 min readFeb 21, 2020

(or any other security certifications for that matter)

Often when I’m approached by individuals trying to get started in infosec I’ll be asked some variant of the question “What certification should I get to land a job in Cybersecurity?” or “Is the OSCP good/bad/hard/worth-it/insert-adjective-here?” Some people get psyched out before they even start, and convince themselves it will be too hard for them (it’s not). As someone who has taken the OSCP and many other exams, I will tell you that you don’t need it. Or any other exam for that matter in order to get a job in infosec. There I said it, go ahead and rescind my CISSP while you still can!

Before I dive into reasons that the OSCP is not needed I'll go further to say that it is one of the best cybersecurity certifications. If that seems counterintuitive then please read on. OSCP is one of the best simply because it is a hands-on course and a hands-on exam. As such it is a great proxy for real-world experience. If you think critically about certification companies for a moment and think about why a certification or certification exists, it should be to create content that can educate or highlight the strength of a potential candidate's skills and expertise. However, oftentimes certifying bodies are rather self-serving or even predatory with their high cost to “maintain” a certification. Certification companies often market themselves as a way to land a job. Spoiler alert, no one cares if you have a CE|H. Offensive Security, however, does not charge maintenance fees, yet again, another win for Offensive Security, and since the exam and labs are hands-on, students can't help but learn something!

While I feel strongly that offensive security does an acceptable job of highlighting applicant skills with a practical hands-on certification, the fact is that the infosec space has changed drastically compared to when I got my certification 7 years ago, and certifications are no longer as relevant as they used to be. For one the bug bounty space has really matured and I’m happy to see so many vendors establishing positive relationships with the security community. There is still a lot of growth left in the bug bounty space and it’s a great potential avenue to highlight your skills.

One example of highlighting skills is the HackerOne hacktivity feed https://hackerone.com/hacktivity.

Your name here!

So instead of highlighting your certifications, you can highlight your real-world accomplishments on platforms like HackerOne. Alternatively, there are some vulnerability acquisition platforms that are private in nature but do allow crediting researchers with the vulnerabilities. Generally, these are top-tier vulnerability acquisition platforms like ZDI. Personally I’d love to hire someone who has been to a PWN2OWN competition and value experience like that much higher than certifications

Other bug bounty programs have private feeds, but you can certainly share your ranking on those platforms if you are under NDA for the specific vulnerabilities you find.

Finally, I believe the role of a certifying body is to follow industry trends and ensure that the course offerings match what the industry is looking for. Again the Offensive Security team does better than most in preparing a student to achieve great things in the security space but certifications are not exactly what the industry is looking for. Thankfully companies will happily tell you what they are really looking for in the “nice to have” section of job descriptions.

Job Description for an offensive role with Cylance
NCC group

Many offensive cybersecurity roles would really like to see CVE’s attributed to an applicant’s name. CVE’s demonstrate real-world impact and the level of skill of the applicant. Similar to bug bounty programs, an applicant is able to demonstrate their security expertise and help to make the world a safer place.

If hunting for CVE’s doesn’t sound appealing another alternative would be demonstrating your software development experience by open sourcing some tool or contributing to an existing open-source security tool. A memorable example was one applicant at a former job wrote a scanner in python that looked for meterpreter specific strings in memory. His CTF team used the script to help defend systems at CCDC events that they competed in. Definitely a cool application of tech to solve a painful problem for CCDC blue teams.

So is the OSCP worthless then? Far from it, I am grateful for my experiences in the labs. I enjoyed the pain so much I went on to take my OSCE and am waiting for an exam opportunity for my OSWE certification. I’d recommend that someone takes the exam if they are looking for some new experiences and hopefully some new knowledge. If someone is looking for a job in infosec and the price of training and the certification is too high, there are now plenty of free ways to demonstrate your experience, or even better, ways to get paid to demonstrate your experience.