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So what should the cert be based on then?
There are presently a large number of certifications out there. The bulk of these are vendor specific while some others are theme specific, such as pen-test certifications. To answer what an ideal certification should be, we need to ask ourselves just what the ideal network security analyst should know. That body of knowledge would encompass the areas I listed above plus others. While I listed programming and scripting concepts, it is not absolutely necessary to be able to actually program or script -- although it is extremely helpful. Of the two, scripting is becoming more and more important to know for the security analyst. Where knowledge of programming and scripting comes in, is when an analyst needs to do cursory reverse engineering of a piece of malware, or bang out a quick script. When doing such a task it is important to understand and recognize programming or scripting functions for what they are. What an analyst should really know though would be several articles in and of itself. I have written articles in the past on these topics, which are available here. Those articles give a good overview of the skills required to be successful in the network security field.
As I chronicled in those articles there are a lot of skills that an analyst requires. More importantly, the analyst also needs to understand the underlying theory behind those skills. This is even more true in todays network security environment. It would be extremely unlikely for any of us to remain with the same company for our entire career. Therefore, it is rather likely that we will work on other corporate networks, and odds are that we will then be using other vendors products. This is once again where one needs a certification that will test an analysts knowledge of theory, vice specific vendor product knowledge. After all, a firewall GUI is a firewall GUI. Firewalls all work in the same fashion, the vendor specific window dressing of their GUI is really rather immaterial.
So it appears then that one should test an analyst on theory in both a practical and realistic environment. This is not as unrealistic as it sounds. All of this can be done using open source programs. Yes, that means Linux or BSD. In todays competitive job market it is extremely unlikely that a network security analyst does not have at least a passing familiarity with either Linux or BSD, and it is assumed that they know Microsoft Windows. All of the programs needed to then test an analyst on their knowledge can be had via open source offerings such as Snort, IP Tables, and BIND to name a few.
The certification itself would then be scenario based in a computer lab. It would encompass a simulated network security incident that would then test the person across various bodies of knowledge. During the testing the student would also be asked to explain why it is that they are taking specific actions. They are then being tested for not only the right answer, but also why it is that they did it. That would demonstrate their understanding of the underlying theory. If the student can explain their reasons for a specific course of action, then learning how to use vendor offering of IDS ABC would be trivial. This certification framework would not only be restricted to IDSs and firewalls, it would also encompass testing people for knowledge of reverse engineering, security and application architecture, conducting Threat Risk Assessments (TRA) and more. The whole driving force of this new certification would be to confirm that the person has a grasp of network security fundamentals, as well as other specialized areas. Should they possess this critical mass of knowledge then there is very little that they would not understand. That is a certification that would have true value.