Answering Penetration Testing Questions

Some of you have written regarding my post on penetration testing. One of you sent the following questions, which I thought I should answer here. Please note that penetration testing is not currently a TaoSecurity service offering, so I'm not trying to be controversial in order to attract business.

  • What do you feel is the most efficient way to determine the scope of a pen test that is appropriate for a given enterprise? Prior to hiring any pen testers, an enterprise should conduct an asset assessment to identify, classify, and prioritize their information resources. The NSA-IAM includes this process. I would then task the pen testers with gaining access to the most sensitive information, as determined by the asset assessment. Per my previous goal (Time for a pen testing team of [low/high] skill with [internal/external] access to obtain unauthorized [unstealthy/stealthy] access to a specified asset using [public/custom] tools and [complete/zero] target knowledge.) one must decide the other variables before hiring a pen testing team.

  • What do you feel is the most efficient way to determine which pen tester(s) to use? First, you must trust the team. You must have confidence (and legal assurances) they will follow the rules you set for them, properly handle sensitive information they collect, and not use information they collect for non-professional purposes. Second, you must select a team that can meet the objectives you set. They should have the knowledge and tools necessary to mirror the threat you expect to face. I will write more on this later. Third, I would rely on referrals and check all references a team provides.

  • Do you feel there is any significant value in having multiple third parties perform a pen test? This issue reminds me of the rules requiring changing of financial auditors on a periodic basis. I believe it is a good idea to conduct annual pen tests, with one team in year one and a second team in year two. At the very least you can have two experiences from which to draw upon when deciding who should return for year three.

  • Have you had any significant positive/negative experiences with specific pen testers? I once monitored a client who hired a "pen tester" to assess the client's network. One weekend while monitoring this client, I saw someone using a cable modem run Nmap against my client. The next Monday my client wanted to know why I hadn't reported seeing the "pen test". I told my client I didn't consider a Nmap scan to be a "pen test". I soon learned the client had paid something like $5000 for that scan. Buyer beware!

  • Do you have any additional recommendations as to how to choose a pen tester? Just today I came across what looks like the industry's "first objective technical grading system for hackers and penetration testers" -- at least according to SensePost. This is really exciting, I think. They describe their Combat Grading system this way: Participants are tasked to capture the flag in a series of exercises carefully designed to test the depth and the breadth of their skill in various diverse aspects of computer hacking. Around 15 exercises are completed over the course of two days, after which each participant is awarded a grade reflecting their scores and relative skill levels in each of the areas tested. Each exercise is completely technical in nature. This sounds very promising.

  • Do you have any literature that you can recommend in regard to pen
    I have a few books nearby, namely Penetration Testing and Network Defense (not read yet) and Hack I.T. (liked it, but 4 years old). The main Hacking Exposed series discusses vulnerability assessment, which gets you halfway through a pen test.

If I had the time and money I would consider attending SensePost training, which looks very well organized and stratified. They are being offered at Black Hat Training, which as usual seems very expensive. Good, but expensive.


Anonymous said…
Even before considering a pen test, decide what you are going to do with the report. If your organization is not interested in addressing (funding) the issues found as a result of the pen test, don't bother with a pen test.

I have seen too many exit meeting pen test reviews where IT management says 'thank you' and tosses the report unwilling to fund closing even some of the holes.


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