Attacks/Breaches

10/1/2013
12:31 PM
Gunter Ollmann
Gunter Ollmann
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Penetration Testing With Honest-To-Goodness Malware

When did penetration-testing methodologies stop replicating the vectors attackers make?

Popular fiction usually dictates that the primary cyberfoe of big business is a young, nerdish, and exceedingly smart computer hacker with a grudge against practically anyone and everyone. It may be this particular cliched (and false) stereotype of a hacker that many business analysts and executives have, in turn, used as justification for testing the defenses of their organizations in a particular way. While some may supplement this image of a hacker with concrete bunkers filled with uniformed cyberwarriors if they feel worthy of state-initiated attacks, it is a sad fact that many of the methodologies currently employed by organizations to evaluate their tiered defenses are tired and dated.

The reality of the situation is that organizations are much more likely to be breached through fairly average malware than through the deliberate and chained exploitation of system vulnerabilities. That's not to say "classic" hacking isn't a problem, but the scale of the threat today is like battling mosquitoes while ignoring the lion gnawing at your arm.

Modern penetration-testing methodologies continue to follow a very predictable pattern,and practically every assessment I've ever been involved in or have overseen during the past decade has yielded vulnerabilities that were critical in nature. While these vulnerabilities are flagged for remediation and are often fixed within days of identification, the organization is still left to battle a barrage of social-engineering attacks designed to install malware on victim devices and to serve as jump points into other sectors of the business.

In recent years, organizations have increased the number and sophistication of the defensive layers they use to battle malware-based intrusion. In general, these defenses have improved the security stature of those organizations that make the investment. However, the increased need for roaming user support, BYOD, encrypted communications, and third-party app markets has, in turn, exposed those same organizations to new kinds of attack vectors for which they have little appreciation of the dynamics of the threat or the ability to quantify the status of their recently deployed anti-malware defenses.

It has become necessary for penetration-testing methodologies to better reflect the true nature of the threat and to replicate the methods used by an attacker. In particular, penetration testers need to now incorporate malware and malware-specific delivery techniques into their testing routines.

As trivial as it may seem, including malware into a penetration test or security assessment is not a simple task. The variety of delivery vectors and the effort needed to stage an attack is something few penetration testers have had to involve themselves with in the past. There's also the complexity of crafting malware-based payloads that not only report back their successes, but also provide for rapid cleanup after an engagement is over.

That said, it would be remiss of security consultants or ethical hackers to not test the robustness and capability of their clients' networks to counter malware-based threat vectors. The choice to not employ malware for lateral movement and compromise within a client's network may be a reflection of inadequate scoping or a poor understanding of the modern threat spectrum.

Regardless, the onus is on security consultants to duplicate the means and capability of a modern hacker -- and, by foregoing malware, they are playing to outdated threats and past stereotypes.

-- Gunter Ollmann, CTO, IOActive Inc.

Gunter Ollmann serves as CTO for security and helps drive the cross-pillar strategy for the cloud and AI security groups at Microsoft. He has over three decades of information security experience in an array of cyber security consulting and research roles. Before to joining ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
New Free Tool Scans for Chrome Extension Safety
Dark Reading Staff 2/21/2019
Making the Case for a Cybersecurity Moon Shot
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  2/19/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
5 Emerging Cyber Threats to Watch for in 2019
Online attackers are constantly developing new, innovative ways to break into the enterprise. This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at five emerging attack trends and exploits your security team should look out for, along with helpful recommendations on how you can prevent your organization from falling victim.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Data breach fears and the need to comply with regulations such as GDPR are two major drivers increased spending on security products and technologies. But other factors are contributing to the trend as well. Find out more about how enterprises are attacking the cybersecurity problem by reading our report today.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-6485
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
Citrix NetScaler Gateway 12.1 before build 50.31, 12.0 before build 60.9, 11.1 before build 60.14, 11.0 before build 72.17, and 10.5 before build 69.5 and Application Delivery Controller (ADC) 12.1 before build 50.31, 12.0 before build 60.9, 11.1 before build 60.14, 11.0 before build 72.17, and 10.5...
CVE-2019-9020
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
An issue was discovered in PHP before 5.6.40, 7.x before 7.1.26, 7.2.x before 7.2.14, and 7.3.x before 7.3.1. Invalid input to the function xmlrpc_decode() can lead to an invalid memory access (heap out of bounds read or read after free). This is related to xml_elem_parse_buf in ext/xmlrpc/libxmlrpc...
CVE-2019-9021
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
An issue was discovered in PHP before 5.6.40, 7.x before 7.1.26, 7.2.x before 7.2.14, and 7.3.x before 7.3.1. A heap-based buffer over-read in PHAR reading functions in the PHAR extension may allow an attacker to read allocated or unallocated memory past the actual data when trying to parse the file...
CVE-2019-9022
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
An issue was discovered in PHP 7.x before 7.1.26, 7.2.x before 7.2.14, and 7.3.x before 7.3.2. dns_get_record misparses a DNS response, which can allow a hostile DNS server to cause PHP to misuse memcpy, leading to read operations going past the buffer allocated for DNS data. This affects php_parser...
CVE-2019-9023
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-22
An issue was discovered in PHP before 5.6.40, 7.x before 7.1.26, 7.2.x before 7.2.14, and 7.3.x before 7.3.1. A number of heap-based buffer over-read instances are present in mbstring regular expression functions when supplied with invalid multibyte data. These occur in ext/mbstring/oniguruma/regcom...