[Dshield] Certifications: Not worth the paper they are printed on?

M Quibell mquibell at hotmail.com
Mon Oct 6 13:55:56 GMT 2008

This is nothing new. It's been an issue since these certs first started coming out. Where have you been? The CISSP for example, proves nothing except someone can study for, and pass a test. I've known people who have passed it who are both great security people and who are bumbling idiots. Yes, I agree, it's too bad employers don't look beyond the cert when looking for candidates. But you must realize, that is one of the few quantitative tools employers have to 'measure' a person. Myself, I have old, expired certs, but I guess they never expire. I have two degrees in this field, directly related, yet employers never seem to lock on to that either. It's all about the certs because that's all they know. They even take certs over degrees. Now that's sad.


> Date: Sun, 5 Oct 2008 14:20:38 -0400
> From: Jon.Kibler at aset.com
> To: list at lists.dshield.org
> Subject: [Dshield] Certifications: Not worth the paper they are printed on?
> Hash: SHA1
> All,
> Yesterday I was reading a blog where someone with no security experience
> whatsoever was grousing that they flunked the Security+ exam. The
> blogger also claimed to have over 100 certifications. In my opinion,
> that many certifications undoubtedly qualifies this blogger to be the
> Poster Boy for everything that is wrong with the certification process.
> I do not know of anyone who has the real world experience to pass 100+
> certification exams based only upon their experience. The fact that
> someone can pass a certification exam WITHOUT ANY EXPERIENCE clearly
> illustrates something is critically wrong with our industry's
> certification process. (MCSE: Must Call Someone Experienced!)
> The certification process today is utterly and completely broken.  The
> single biggest problem that I see with the certification industry is the
> scarcity of "real world" certifications -- those certifications that
> cannot be passed by book knowledge alone -- certifications that require
> hands-on real-world experience to pass, such as the RHCE, CCIE, or any
> of the GIAC Gold certifications. All certifications should be as
> rigorous as these and similar certifications that reflect one's ability
> to do real work in the area in which they are certified.
> In my humble opinion, most certifications today are not worth the paper
> they are printed on. Certifications were originally conceived as a means
> to help weed out fictitious resumes, or to verify that someone claiming
> to have "10 years of experience" is not someone who really has "the
> equivalent of one year of experience, times ten."
> However, the fact that so many certifications are so lame that anyone
> can buy a book, memorize it, and take and pass an exam, shows how
> critically broken is the certifications process. Most certifications
> today do not show that you are capable of DOING anything except
> memorizing mostly useless and dated facts.
> Certifications have gone from something potentially useful and
> meaningful to being the equivalent of Country Club Dues. It has become
> the price of admission to join a certain group of people in the
> workplace. Just like your ability to pay your country club dues does not
> say anything about your ability to play golf, certifications say nothing
> about your ability to do the work associated with the certification. We
> need to change certifications from being country club dues to being more
> like PGA tour qualifications.
> The entire certification process needs to change. Certifications must
> once again reflect an individual's ability to DO something, verses their
> ability to memorize. When someone presents a certification, an employer
> needs to have some confidence that the prospective employee can actually
> do the job in the real world. What needs to change? At least four things
> immediately come to mind:
>    1) Before taking a certification exam, you must be able to
> demonstrate an auditable degree of associated work experience. For
> example, the new Security+ certification calls for a minimum of 2 years
> of day-to-day security experience as a recommended prerequisite. Well,
> it should be made a REQUIREMENT that you MUST HAVE at least 2 years of
> experience doing day-to-day security work before you are allowed to sit
> for the exam.
>    2) Exams must be changed from being fact-based to become
> experience-based. It should not be possible to simply read books and
> pass an exam. For example, the Security+ exam should include questions
> that only a security practitioner would be able to answer. It should
> include packet captures and ask for an interpretation. It should require
> you to be able to verify a digital signature. It should present log
> files and ask you to identify how the system was compromised. Etc. Real
> world experience-based questions should be an integral part of each
> exam's questions. It should not be possible to pass the exam without the
> required hands-on experience.
>    3) Certifications must have an expiration date. Knowledge in every
> area of technology is transient in nature. Certifications must reflect
> that they are based on the qualifications to do a job at a particular
> point in time, and that those qualifications will change over time. As I
> stated previously, the initial certification should require auditable
> work experience. Recertification should require not only demonstrated
> continued work experience, it should also require CEUs/CPEs to maintain
> the certification. In fact, continuing education should be made an
> annual requirement to maintain certifications between recertifications.
>    4) Instructors teaching certification courses *MUST* have
> demonstrable real world work experience before being deemed qualified to
> teach the certification course. Probably the two certifications with the
> greatest "Instructor Qualification Laugh Factor" are the EC-Council's
> CEH and CHFI courses. The majority of instructors that I have met that
> teach either of these two courses have NEVER done ANY real work in
> either associated profession.
>    -- How can an instructor properly convey to students the real thought
> processes of a hacker, if they themselves have not performed dozens of
> successful real world penetration tests?
>    -- How can an instructor properly convey to students all that they
> need to know about forensics, if they themselves have never performed a
> real world forensics examination, and prepared and presented evidence in
> court?
>    -- It is simply not possible to study, get a certification, and teach
> these (and similar) courses without the instructor and ed center doing
> an extreme disservice to their students. Instructors should be required
> to not only have the certification, but they must have real world work
> experience actually doing what they are teaching.
>    -- Instructors should also be required to maintain additional
> CEUs/CPEs beyond those required to maintain certification. Attending two
> relevant conferences a year should be mandatory. (I would bet that most
> CEH instructors have never even been to Defcon! How many CHFI
> instructors have ever attended TechnoForensics? I bet almost none have!)
> Similar qualifications and continuing education needs to be mandated of
> all instructors teaching in any area of technology.
> Perhaps another analogy would help clarify my concerns. Would you hire a
> pilot for your corporate jet that only has a certificate saying that
> they had passed flight school ground training? Someone that had no
> actual experience as a pilot? Would you want this same person teaching
> other wannabe pilots? I would hope not!
> However, that is the situation we find ourselves in with technology
> certifications. We are getting hordes of people that simply "pass ground
> school" and now claim to be "capable of flying a 747." Still worse, the
> majority of our instructors for technology certifications have only
> "passed ground school", but are using that as the basis to hang out
> their shingle claiming that they can teach others to fly, when they
> themselves have never even seen the inside of the cockpit of an
> airplane, not less ever actually having piloted a real aircraft.
> Until certifications can become a meaningful means of verifying a
> claimed level of experience and expertise, they shall remain not worth
> the paper they are printed on.
> In the meantime, we in the industry need to educate our managers, and
> our training and HR departments as to what certifications are meaningful
> and which ones are not. At the same time, we need to be teaching them
> what certifications are appropriate for a given job skill. For example,
>  I see CISSP mandated for numerous jobs (such as penetration tester)
> where other more appropriate certifications should be used instead. But,
> because CISSP is thought to be the ultimate certification in security,
> they think that "one size fits all" security positions. We need help
> change that thought process!
> Jon Kibler
> - --
> Jon R. Kibler
> Chief Technical Officer
> Advanced Systems Engineering Technology, Inc.
> Charleston, SC  USA
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> c: 843-224-2494
> s: 843-564-4224
> http://www.linkedin.com/in/jonrkibler
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