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Finding Vulnerabilities By Attacking Your Own Environment

Penetration testing can be essential in exposing your organization's security weaknesses -- and you don't always need to hire an outside firm to do it

[Excerpted from "Finding Vulnerabilities By Attacking Your Own Environment," a new report published this week on Dark Reading's Vulnerability Management Tech Center.]

One of the most effective ways to find holes in your organization's IT security is to think -- and act -- like a hacker. Many companies hire outside firms to perform ethical hacks -- penetration testing that reveals any security gaps that a hacker could leverage to gain access to the organization's systems and data.

But some organizations consider tapping an outside firm a risk in itself -- whether to customer data, company reputation or uptime. It may make sense for these organizations to hack themselves. This might seem difficult, or even scary, but many tools, templates and tutorials that will walk security professionals through the process are available. (Bear in mind that these same tools, templates and tutorials are as readily available to black-hat hackers as they are to organizations seeking to hack themselves.)

The basic process for compromising a network hasn't changed much over time. The steps, generally speaking, are to:

1. Perform reconnaissance 2. Scan and enumerate 3. Gain access 4. Escalate privileges 5. Maintain access and cover tracks

With that said, hacking your own network might sound complicated, and even a little scary. The good news is that you probably already have some idea about where your exposures are. If you don't, the best thing to do is start at the most basic level.

Quite a few free and commercial tools out there will do the job of hacking your network very effectively. You will probably want to get some dedicated hardware -- specifically, systems with solid processors and hefty video cards. As for operating system, bear in mind that there are good hacking tools for Windows and good hacking tools for Linux, but many of them are not cross compatible.

One way to get an attack machine up and running quickly is by installing a Linux distribution called BackTrack. The distro comes with many good tools preinstalled, and it works great for a quick penetration test. You'll still need to tune it up and update some of the tools, though.

Once you have a system ready to go, it's time to attempt to compromise your own network.

For a detailed description of a do-it-yourself penetration test -- including tools to use and commands to executes -- download the free report.

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