Upcoming back-end services could help shape new generation of pen-testing services

The Metasploit hacking tool soon will come with services-based features aimed at offloading resource-intensive penetration testing tasks, as well as augmenting the popular open-source software.

While this is not a pure software-as-a-services model, the new service-based features are a departure from Metasploit's software-based approach. The goal is to add back-end services, such as an "opcode" database client and a password-cracker to Metasploit, that seamlessly expand the tool's features and resources for its users, says HD Moore, creator of Metasploit. "We want our regular users to be able to take advantage of [such] services transparently," Moore says.

While Metasploit's clientele tends to be more technical and research-oriented, adding these back-end services to its pen-testing tool is likely to influence the commercial penetration testing product market as well, security expert say. In this difficult economic climate, back-end services could provide enterprises with a relatively low-cost option for in-house penetration testing. "I could see this as having a very appealing value proposition," says Nick Selby, vice president and research director at The 451 Group. "Immunity and Core could start throwing in services at a very low risk to themselves as vendors and a high value to customers -- especially ones on the fence about whether to bring pen-testing in-house more aggressively" because they're unable to afford outsourcing it or hiring the in-house expertise, he says.

Immunity already has such a service in the pipeline, called ImmunitySafe, which it will launch in the third quarter, says Justine Aitel, CEO of Immunity, which sells enterprise-grade penetration testing products. The company already offers consulting-based pen-testing services in addition to its software products.

Core Security Technologies' CEO Mark Hatton says his company, which also sells commercial-grade penetration testing products, is "looking into" the possibility of offering pen testing as a service. "We're not ruling it out," Hatton says. "To date, that's not been a main request" from our customer base, he says.

Metasploit's Moore says it would be a natural fit for commercial pen-testing companies to offer back-end services to their customers. "I'm actually surprised the commercial entities, like Core and Immunity, don't offer more back-end services. After all, they already vet their customers and can use it to sell support contracts," Moore says. "Adding services to Metasploit will probably encourage the commercial folks to step up and offer similar services."

As part of Metasploit's services offering buildout, Moore got an early Christmas present late last year -- 1 TB of disk space, 8 Xeon core processors, 4 GB of RAM, and a 100-Mbps connection -- as a platform for supporting new service rollouts in Metasploit. "Having a platform for adding new services opens the door to a ton of new projects. Oftentimes, we have ideas for sharing information between users at a peer-to-peer level, or creating distributed databases of various security-related things, and having this infrastructure actually makes it possible to implement" these things, such as cracking a password's hash, Moore says.

He says Metasploit's upcoming opcode database service is mainly for an exploit developer to test his code against multiple versions of a piece of software when he has just one version of the software.

With the back-end password-cracking service, a Metasploit user could automatically submit password hashes to the Metasploit platform. "Once they are finished, [they would] get the clear-text passwords back and use those for another exploit," he says.

Technically, this isn't the first time Metasploit has offered back-end service options, Moore says: Metasploit offered an option for testing for vulnerability to the DNS exploit discovered by Dan Kaminsky, he notes.

Meanwhile, Moore says his one concern is bad guys possibly abusing the new Metasploit services. "They could submit 'access tokens' to our database for the purpose of cracking," he says. Requiring registration and telephone confirmation could be one option for preventing abuse, Moore says, but that's not an ideal solution. "We will definitely have to play it by ear" on how to handle potential abuse of the services, he says.

Metasploit's password-cracking service could be available as early as mid-March, with other services rolling out possibly in August, he says. "As we roll out new services, we will start integrating them into the framework and the tools included," he says. "Metasploit's biggest advantage in the security testing space is its user base and how often people update it. We have a great platform for rolling out new tools, exploits, and tech demos."

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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