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Lessons From The Credit Union Penetration-Test Debacle

Determining who is "in the loop" during a penetration test is an important step not always properly planned during the beginning phases of an engagement. The recent media release from the National Credit Union Association (NCUA) provides an excellent example of what can go wrong.
Determining who is "in the loop" during a penetration test is an important step not always properly planned during the beginning phases of an engagement. The recent media release from the National Credit Union Association (NCUA) provides an excellent example of what can go wrong.Sometimes upper management hire pentesters without the IT team knowing anything about it. Other times everyone knows about it. Usually, however, it's a combination, where key managers will know what's going on, while most everyone else is left in the dark. There's good reason for the latter approach: On Aug. 25, NCUA released an alert about a credit union receiving a bogus letter stating it was a NCUA FRAUD Alert accompanied by two CDs that claimed to be training materials in need of reviewed.

Remember the awesome story here on Dark Reading by Steve Stasiukonis? His company was hired to pen-test a credit union and left USB flash drives "infected" with their custom backdoor in the credit union parking lot as part of the test: 75 percent of the flash drives ended up being plugged into company computers.

It turns out that the letter and CDs received by the credit union referenced in the NCUA media release were part of a similar pen-test (See SANS ISC Diary). Can you imagine the embarrassment the credit union and pen-testers must be feeling? There was an obvious failure in communications because whoever makes the decision to take concerns, such as the letter and CDs to NCUA, should have been in the loop about the pen-test.

Having the right people aware of a pen-test is very important, but for obvious reasons we don't want everyone to know about it. If IT knows a pen-test is going to happen,then they may end up being extra diligent in their monitoring, which makes the test completely unrealistic. Why? It's simple. An attacker isn't going to notify them first. They should be on guard at all times, not just during audits and pen-tests.

I'm sure a few people learned their lessons in this mishap. Next time you're planning a pen-test, make sure you have the right people in the know before you begin so you don't end up in a situation that accidentally gets national attention.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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