Attacks/Breaches
10/1/2013
12:31 PM
Gunter Ollmann
Gunter Ollmann
Commentary
Connect Directly
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 IOActive Inc. where he is responsible for the strategic vision of the security services portfolio, driving new research areas and bringing new services to market. With over two decades in the information security arena, Gunter has stared down ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2010-5110
Published: 2014-08-29
DCTStream.cc in Poppler before 0.13.3 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (crash) via a crafted PDF file.

CVE-2012-1503
Published: 2014-08-29
Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in Six Apart (formerly Six Apart KK) Movable Type (MT) Pro 5.13 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the comment section.

CVE-2013-5467
Published: 2014-08-29
Monitoring Agent for UNIX Logs 6.2.0 through FP03, 6.2.1 through FP04, 6.2.2 through FP09, and 6.2.3 through FP04 and Monitoring Server (ms) and Shared Libraries (ax) 6.2.0 through FP03, 6.2.1 through FP04, 6.2.2 through FP08, 6.2.3 through FP01, and 6.3.0 through FP01 in IBM Tivoli Monitoring (ITM)...

CVE-2014-0600
Published: 2014-08-29
FileUploadServlet in the Administration service in Novell GroupWise 2014 before SP1 allows remote attackers to read or write to arbitrary files via the poLibMaintenanceFileSave parameter, aka ZDI-CAN-2287.

CVE-2014-0888
Published: 2014-08-29
IBM Worklight Foundation 5.x and 6.x before 6.2.0.0, as used in Worklight and Mobile Foundation, allows remote authenticated users to bypass the application-authenticity feature via unspecified vectors.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
This episode of Dark Reading Radio looks at infosec security from the big enterprise POV with interviews featuring Ron Plesco, Cyber Investigations, Intelligence & Analytics at KPMG; and Chris Inglis & Chris Bell of Securonix.