Having recently passed the CRTO course by RastaMouse, I felt it was only right to write a little review on it. Typically, the course has changed slightly since I sat it, with the labs now using Elastic Security in place of Splunk. Aside from this I believe the course is practically the same.
Go and buy it now! It is the best qualification out there if you are looking to break into offensive security. The labs & coursework are great and will teach you a range of techniques used in real-world red teaming.
In the past few days since writing this, CRTO has been listed as a ‘Trusted Training Partner’, showing how good this course is.
The course works via Apache Guacamole, in a very similar way to ImmersiveLabs and a few other online training providers. All of the labs can be spun up on request, but you only have a limited amount of lab time.
I went for the 120 hour option, which I felt was just right, though I would recommend reading through the material first and then approaching the labs. This will reduce the amount of time the labs are running whilst you try to understand the more complex attacks (cough cough resource–based constrained delegation).
I believe CRTO is the cheapest way you can legitimately use Cobalt Strike, without having to pass the licencing checks or use a cracked version. This is really handy as Cobalt Strike is used so widely for red teaming.
Running the labs through a browser does have its limitations, with no drag-and-drop and less keyboard shortcuts available. I would say this is preferable to having to create your own VMs and VPN into a network, as you can begin learning straight away.
The labs I had came with a version of Office and Splunk, both of which reverted to a trial mode after a few uses, whilst there was a fix for that issue, it did feel a little hacky to me.
Importantly, these are dedicated labs and you wont accidentally get any spoilers from other users. As with most online labs, it is worth giving them 5-10 minutes to fully load before beginning any testing or activity.
As mentioned previously, the content of this course is EXCELLENT. It covers a wide range of different attacks, as well as covering off the paperwork & reporting side of red teaming. The material is written in the style of a technical blog post, with code snippets throughout. Handily there are some videos included for the more complicated techniques, which helped to solidify my understanding. There are also hints and tips for OPSEC considerations, which is a nice touch.
A significant part of the material focuses on Active Directory-based attacks, such as kerberoasting or AD permission abuse. There are also sections on attacking SQL Server and GPOs which I personally found really interesting.
The exam gives you 48 hours of lab time over a span of 4 days, with a mock network for you to break into. This basically the same format as the labs, with the ability to reset your Kali and Windows boxes.
Scoring is structured like a CTF, where you only have to obtain a flag on the machine to prove you have compromised it. There are 8 machines, and you need to obtain 6 flags to pass. Importantly there is no reporting requirements, which makes this exam feel far less stressful than OSCP.
The exam can be booked at really short notice – I booked mine with only 6 hours of notice. When your exam starts, you will have another course option within SnapLabs which contains the lab environment.
One thing which surprised me was the smaller toolset available in the exam – something which I hadn’t seen anyone else mention in the other reviews. Effectively you have a subset of the tools from the training labs, which required me to think on my feet a bit! Whilst it pointed out some gaps in my knowledge, I think it would have been handy to have the full toolset for the exam, or at least have knowledge of which tools wouldn’t be provided in the exam.
The exam lab was also really well laid out, allowing you to easily regain your access without having to recompromise every machine in turn. There are some quirks with the exam labs though, with one of my flags failing to generate. This can be resolved by chatting to RastaMouse on the dedicated Discord channel.
CRTO vs OSCP
OSCP has been a fairly ubiquitous qualification within cyber security for a number of years. I would personally say that OSCP does have its place, and is still worth the effort if you are wanting to pursue a penetration testing route. Despite that, I feel that there is more to be gained from completing CRTO and paying for VIP+ on HackTheBox, than shelling out for OSCP.
OSCP was a great learning experience for me, but most of the machines were severely outdated and used exploits from the 00’s. In comparison, CRTO uses Windows 10/Server 2016+ everywhere, making it far more representative of the real-world. The majority of CRTO is misconfiguration-based, whereas OSCP is vulnerability-based.
The exam experience for CRTO was also significantly better, with far less lead time and a less stringent approach. There is no proctoring or report writing, and the 4 day timespan means you can still have a life whilst taking the test.
I would change very little about the CRTO course personally. I think VPN access would be handy so that you can bring your own tooling, but it isn’t a big issue at all.
Update 23/2/22: RastaMouse confirmed that the lack of VPN access is a requirement of the licencing with Cobalt Strike (HelpSystems). Therefore the lack of VPN makes total sense in order to get a CS licence in this training!
As mentioned about 10 times a day on Discord, RTO 2.0 would be the main improvement I can think of. A course focused more on AV/EDR evasion or simply more advanced/complex attacks would be a great addition to this course. I think a greater focus on maintaining long term access to the target network would also be a nice improvement, as CRTO only briefly touched on it.
I also think a course which required you to use Splunk/Elastic in combination with Cobalt Strike would be quite interesting and could be aimed more at threat hunters or SOC analysts.
As you have probably guessed, I really enjoyed this course. I am not aware of any other courses which offer the combination of great labs and content like CRTO does. I think it is a great introduction into red teaming methodology, and will help many people to up their skills.
Below are some other blog posts I found handy before taking my exam, which are also worth checking out: