Complete Guide to Passing your PCSFE Certification

The Palo Alto Networks certifications are one of the best ways for network security engineers to upskill, stay relevant, and in some cases, even get a significant pay hike. If you’re a network security engineer looking to specialize in firewall management, the Palo Alto Networks Certified Software Firewall Engineer (PCSFE) might be a great option for you.

Unlike the more popular PCNSE certification, the PCSFE focuses only on firewall management and goes into depth on the Palo Alto Networks containerized firewall, virtual network firewall, and Cloud Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW).

Certifications offered by Palo Alto Networks (Source)

The PCSFE exam validates a security professional’s expertise in managing and optimizing Palo Alto Networks firewalls. As the name suggests, it assesses the in-depth knowledge of the ‘software aspects of firewalls’, going beyond the basics and focusing on management plugins, automation, and troubleshooting using the firewall’s operating system (PAN-OS).

If you’re thinking about preparing for the PCSFE exam, and want some extra resources, we’ve got you. This guide dives deep into the PCSFE exam, covering essential topics and providing extra resources, so you don’t just pass your exam but also score well.

The PCSFE Examination: At a glance

Before we get into the details of the exam, let’s quickly go over the basics. 

Exam type  Onsite and Online Proctored (OP)
Exam FeeUSD 175
Exam format60 multiple-choice questions
Exam duration90 minutes
Minimum passing score70
RescoringNot supported

The PCSFE registration process

Registering for the PCSFE exam is as simple as it gets. All you have to do is create an account for Palo Alto on the Pearson VUE website. 

Palo Alto provides two options for exams:

  • In-person: Give your exam at a Pearson VUE testing center
  • Online: Give the exam virtually via Pearson VUE’s Online Proctored (OP) solution

Palo Alto states that you can register for the exam even a day before the exam date. However, we recommend you register at least a month early if you plan to go the in-person route for the exam format as your registration will only be confirmed if there’s an available seat at the testing center. 

PCSFE exam fee

The PCSFE exam costs $175 but bulk orders above 25 can get a discount which starts at 15%. If you’re looking for a reduced rate, you can look for discount vouchers on the Palo Alto Live Community. While sometimes, these vouchers are certification-specific, most times they can be applied to any exam. However, they come with a deadline and you need to finish your exam within the period mentioned.


Another option is to ask your employer to pay for your exam. Most companies have a budget for upskilling and they might be open to sponsoring your certification, especially if a group of you plan to certify. 

PCSFE exam accommodation requests

Both Palo Alto and Pearson VUE provide certain accommodations for those who require them. Some default accommodations provided by Pearson VUE at their testing centers are:

  • Extra time
  • Separate room
  • Breaks

However, your exam provider—in this case, Palo Alto—has to approve your accommodation request. You can write to them at to describe your requirements.

The PCSFE exam blueprint: A deep dive

One of the most important resources provided by Palo Alto for their certification programs is the exam blueprint. It gives you a gist of the topics covered, along with their weightage in the exam and what practical tasks you must try before sitting for the exam.


Let’s look at each domain in depth:

Software Firewall Fundamentals (14%)

This domain lays the foundation for understanding core firewall concepts. It covers:

  • The different types of firewalls like VM-series and CN-series
  • The basics of cloud next generation firewall (NGFW)
  • Licensing options for firewalls

Securing Environments with Software Firewalls (16%)

Building upon the basics, this domain dives deeper into securing environments with Palo Alto firewalls. Topics include:

  • Methodologies required to secure data centers
  • Securing traffic flow in public cloud environments
  • VPN connectivity controls

Deployment Architecture (18%)

This domain assesses your knowledge of deploying Palo Alto firewalls effectively in different environments. Key areas might include:

  • Common deployment models like centralized and distributed
  • The use of VM-series firewalls in different environments like High Availability (HA) and Azure VNET
  • CN-series deployment methods in Daemonset and Kubernetes Service

Automation and Orchestration (16%)

This domain focuses on your ability to automate firewall tasks using tools and scripting. Some topics covered here:

  • Using firewall management tools like Panorama and Helm Charts
  • Using software firewall automation tools like Ansible and Terraform

Technology Integration (13%)

This domain explores how Palo Alto firewalls integrate with other third-part security technologies. Here, you will be asked to explore:

  • Deploying VM-series firewalls using third-party marketplaces like GCP, Azure, and AWS 
  • Deploying CN-series software with Panorama

Troubleshooting (13%)

This domain evaluates your ability to identify and resolve firewall issues in real-world or simulated environments.

  • Troubleshooting VM and CN-series firewalls 
  • Troubleshooting Panorama plugins

Management Plugins and Log Forwarding (10%)

This domain covers advanced firewall management capabilities like log forwarding and plugin management. Tasks include:

  • Describing cloud NGFW log forwarding destinations
  • Using management plugins in public cloud, Kubernetes, and more

While the PCSFE blueprint outlines the specific topics covered in the exam, it does help if you can practie these tasks in a simulated environment. 

Datacipher, for example, gives you unlimited lab access to experiment with configurations, troubleshooting scenarios, and more in a safe, simulated setting. 

PCSFE exam preparation: Tips and resources

While you can use the PCSFE blueprint to as your curriculum of sorts, it’s not enough to actually pass the exam. We’ve added a combination of free and paid resources to help you get some practical experience and succeed in your exams

Resources from Palo Alto Networks

Leading the pack in free resources is Palo Alto Networks itself. While they don’t offer complimentary lab access, they provide some good ones to solidify your theoretical understanding of their products, plus demo their products, as well.

PCSFE study guide 

This is part theory and part help documentations showing you how you can use Palo Alto’s tools to perform the various tasks mentioned in the blueprint. Each module also comes with some extra reading references to help dive into the details.

Once you’re done studying, you can test you knowledge by attempting the sample questions paper. Not only does this give you an idea of the type of questions but also helps you gauge your ability to complete the exam on time.

Training and labs

Palo Alto also provides some free digital courses on firewall management. Here are some that you can check out. Once you’re done with these courses, you can get some hands-on training at the practise lab

Other third-party resources

While Palo Alto does cover the bases, with therotical and practical training, you might benefit from some extra resources, especially if you’re new to firewall management. Authorizined training partners like Datacipher can make the process more collaborative for you.

They can also keep you accountable for your exam prepaprations and give you some extra coaching on modules you’re not familiar with. Datacipher provides both onsite and online courses along with practice questions. Some courses that might benefit you are:

Plus, you get other benefits like:

  • Certification bootcamps: Intensive training programs with focused instruction, lab exercises, and practice exams in a condensed timeframe.
  • Simulated labs: Improve your troubleshooting skills by experimenting with Palo Alto Networks firewalls in a safe, controlled setting.
  • Supplementary resources: Study guides, videos, and question banks to help you get a better grasp of all domains

Get PCSFE ready with Datacipher

Passing an advanced certification course like PCSFE requires a lot of dedication and focused study. Our courses at Datacipher have been designed to guide your through all domains of the exam, giving your a structured study plan

Plus, unlimited lab access can really help you hone your problem solving skills and handle those tricky, scenario-based questions. 

Ready to take the next step? Explore our PCSFE courses or contact us to design a custom study plan that fits your learning style and goals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the difference between PCSFE and PCNSE?

PCNSE focuses on the broader network security engineer role, including Palo Alto firewalls. PCSFE, on the other hand, dives deeper into the specific software aspects of managing and optimizing those firewalls.

2. Is the PCSFE certificate worth it?

Getting the PCSFE can be valuable for you if you manage Palo Alto firewalls a lot, want to specialize in firewall management, or work in a Palo Alto heavy environment. It also helps to get this certification if you plan to join a company that uses Palo Alto network security solutions.

3. Are there any Palo Alto authorized training partners who provide in-person training in firewall management

Yes, Palo Alto has a global network of Authorized Training Partners (ATPs) that deliver courses and specialized training for the PCSFE certification. One example is Datacipher, which has been training network security engineers in the APAC region for more than a decade.

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