Tag Archives: research

Defining Penetration Testing

I have been fortunate enough to be working with a group of peers from the security industry over the past few months (since November 2010) on finally creating a solid definition of what a penetration testing is.

It has been a topic that has been abused, cannibalized, and lowered to a level where we (as in people in the industry) could not relate to it anymore. It was time to get the fake stuff out, and focus on content. We were all getting tired of “penetration tests” that were nothing more than a Nessus scan printed out and slapped on with the “security consultancy” logo.

Enter – the Penetration Testing Execution Standard.

This is our attempt to define what a penetration test should include – both from the tester side (vendors) as well as from the client side (the business/organization being tested).

It is the fruit of a huge collaborative effort from people who I consider to be some of the best in the industry. Getting together people who on their day-jobs often compete with each other, and come from different areas of the industry, all together and working on something as big as this has been a humbling experience. For that – you guys all ROCK!

Onwards to the content – remember that this is pre-alpha, and is aimed mainly to get feedback from everyone. A lot of branches do not appear in their full glory there, and some will surely not make it to the final edition. We welcome everyone to take a close look at this, contribute, criticize, assist, comment and generally get involved. Some of you may have been watching this and thinking we are holding back – could not have been further from the truth… In order to get to something as big as this we had to cap the number of participants in this revision in order to keep things somewhat organized, so this is a chance to get back in and offer your assistance – we promise to keep this as open as possible.

This is really exciting – for me at least. Hope some of you will be able to share this enthusiasm and weed out the industry from the bad form we got into.

About CyberWar, Deterrence, and Espionage

It’s been a long time since my last post, but trust me for all the good reasons (i.e. work). This one is long due, and has been recently fueled after I had a chance to attend RAND’s Martin Libicki’s brief at the Tel-Aviv University.

Spy vs. Spy - copyright Kigs, devianart.

Martin is a great source for debate and thought exercises as he is fluent in many realms of the subject at hand, and has been trained as an economist which makes it much easier to broaden the debate into politics and diplomacy.

I’ll address a few key elements of the brief – at least the ones that speak to me the most in terms of research and ongoing work that we are engaged in on a national, international and local levels.

First – the ever provoking “there is no CyberWar” statement. Immediately followed by “this is the definition of CyberWar as I see it”… Obviously, with a definition that closely resembles war as defined in other domains (land, sea, air, space), it’s hard to see how one can state that CyberWar was ever engaged (or ever will be for that matter). But the key here is not to treat the Cyber domain as “another” domain and try to use the template of the traditional domains when defining it. Cyber is a game-changer, it’s not a domain like any other, it has its own rules, territorial issues are mute here, jurisdiction is a mess, and accessibility is even worst. It’s almost impossible to define what a conflict is in Cyber, what an engagement is in terms of forces colliding and how is aggression defined. Nevertheless, all the issues mentioned in the last sentence have risen many times over the last decade, and yet some refuse to realize that in several occasions it was indeed a state or form of warfare.

The second issue is deterrence. On this one I almost completely agree with Martin’s approach which speculates whether real deterrence can be subjected into the domain. Nevertheless, I do believe that sustained and proven threat over the opponent’s critical infrastructure, financial and base production facilities can be used as a deterrence factor. You do not need missile silo counts to prove deterrence in the Cyber domain, you need sustainable access to critical systems, and a prove that you can retain such access in light of some vulnerabilities and key access elements being taken off the table by the defensive strategy. For that – enter espionage… With a combination of cyber-domain capabilities, and a solid intelligence practice (i.e. both gathering as well as proactive), one side can create a situation where such access to critical elements in the other side’s Cyber domain are kept consistently under surveillance and accessible to modification/sabotage.

Which leads to the last issue, which has surprisingly raised a lot of eyebrows lately – even from people who I consider proficient in the “Art” of international relationships and diplomacy: the “legality” of espionage. Face it – espionage has been and will always be a fully acceptable part of a nation strategy. It is accepted at all level of diplomacy, and by every nation. Everyone knows that everyone else is engaged in it, and is putting a lot of resources to make sure that their efforts are successful while trying to minimize everyone else’ efforts in their own territory. The same applies for the Cyber domain. It’s no big surprise that the US finds itself dealing with a major espionage case (on the commercial level) almost every year, and just think about all the cases that are not made public in the government, and military sectors… But have no fear – the other side is being spied on just as well with skills that do not fall short (and usually surpass) of what the US is subjected to. It’s a fact of life, so stop whining about it (and excuse the burn notice cameo).

To conclude – I truly think that dealing with such a young and ever evolving domain is a great challenge – both technologically, as well as from the diplomacy / international relationship aspects of it. And until we’ll have some shape or form of formalized discourse on this domain (such as the efforts put in by NATO, the UN and a few of the world’s largest nations), it’s a free-for-all playground that is going to keep providing us with moral, technological and sociological challenges. BRING IT ON!

Information Security Intelligence Report for 2010 and Predictions for 2011

Looking back at 2010 shows a widening gap between cybercrime and law enforcement capabilities, in conjunction to nations that have started the cyber-race to develop defensive and offensive capabilities. Most of the attacks analyzed in 2010 depict organizations that fall behind in their defensive strategies as attackers take advantage of a hybrid approach that merges technical merits alongside human weaknesses to cash-out on their attacks.

Cybercrime widens the gap between attack capability and defense mechanisms. Analyzing several of the major attacks of 2010, Security Art notes that organizations were attacked in two key ways. Firstly, through technical exploits such as Aurora, Mariposa, ZeuS, and SpyEye. Secondly, by attacks that bypassed traditional protection methods, and gained access to targets through human-weakness areas such as social media. While businesses focused on defending themselves using security mechanisms such as anti- virus software and perimeter defenses, attackers jumped over these defenses, and proceeded to flood the market with a high volume of malware that now poses a serious threat to security providers in terms of detection rates and response time. However, law enforcement agencies have focused mainly on menial cybercriminals, and have not successfully reduced the impact of online criminal activities. On a national level, we see nations have embarked upon the race to develop defensive and offensive cyber capabilities.

Cyberwar arms race sends nations to shopping frenzy. As CyberWar gained merit (and criticism) during 2010, with the movie-material Stuxnet incident being the poster-boy for news outlets that published every spin-off, speculation, and plain old gossip, the international scene had its own race for the latest and greatest defense mechanisms. The implications of Aurora and Stuxnet made most countries feel their lack of a critical infrastructure defense and the capability to deliver a similar cyber-blow, and many went shopping for weapons. Security Art witnessed the strategic build up of capabilities in some countries, and a more hurried shopping spree (that usually led to amassment of CyberCrime provided tools) in others. This, and the delayed response of organizations such as the UN, the EU, and NATO, left the scene looking more like the Wild West than Silicon Valley.

Expanding digital domain and improved understanding of security will reign in 2011. Our prediction for 2011, drawn from the criminal, political and diplomatic sides of cybercrime that dominated 2010, is that more focus is going to be given to approaching security from a strategic standpoint. Rather than buying “best of breed” products and ticking off compliance sheets, we predict that organizations and countries will apply a more sensible executive-level understanding of what information security means to them. In the expanding personal digital domain (smartphone, tablets, and suchlike), and the continued digitization of all organizational information (from scanned materials to VOIP telephony), security must be applied to more layers than ever before. Countries and organizations will have to adopt additional skill-sets and look for solutions in areas they have not dealt with before.

Please go to http://www.security-art.com/download-report to download the full report, or email [email protected] for additional information.

the art of not thinking about elephants

We have been quite busy here at Security Art in the last few weeks (as the blog posting frequency suggests), but I figured I would provide a quick preview of some of the elements we have been working on in terms of risk management.

Now, I suppose you have read Yoram’s earlier post about risk informed decision making, so I won’t elaborate on this for too long, nevertheless, we are often posed with the question “so how does this apply to my organization”. this usually comes form someone who did spend a lot of time and resources on the technical aspects of their network security. The answer is usually “let’s take a look at how you do your business”, which is what we usually do anyways…

Having that in mind, we set off to investigate in a few recent engagements how would some of our clients actually fare against an informed and skilled attacker that has been commissioned to break into the organization. These engagements have been prompted by a few incidents in which the organization in questions was basically left in the dark as they were basing their forensics on the tools that commercial security vendors provided them with, and nothing much more than that (remember the ever expressive “generic” detection from your AV vendor… Ever wonder what it really means?).

With that in mind, and a network to steal data from as a target we accepted the challenge. The only caveat is that the network was disconnected. For real. No Internets…

But (and there’s always a “but”), there was a voice network that went out through PSTN to provide the office with telephony connectivity. Bingo. Ever seen a complete separation of the VOIP network and the internal network? yeah, neither have I. To make a long story short, we managed to get the data in the most old fashioned way possible… we beeped it away (actually transmitted over a VOIP connection using a custom written simulated trojan that encoded the data into audible voice signals and left them as a message on one of our voice mailboxes). Done deal. (and the PoC code can be found here if you’d like to play with some of the conecpts).

Bottom line – always remember that when you think of solutions, you should not be “blinded” by what’s available out there and the accompanying marketing materials. That’s basically the “pink elephant” that vendors tell you not to think about when pitching their solutions. You usually end up thinking about it (and buying the product thinking that you’ll never see that elephant again as you just bought the best “anti-elephant” solutions…).

Always challenge the way you think of networks and processes (we did have to get the code INTO the network somehow… but that’s for another post 🙂 ), and ALWAYS test your assumptions and protections. You’d be surprised how easy it mat be to out-compartmentalize you just because you were boxed in to take care of just a single aspect of the security 9and yes – that even applies to CIO’s, CISO’s, etc…).

The power of collaboration (BlueHat post)

Some additional BlueHat wrap-up –  a collaborative post with a dear colleague of mine Fyodor Yarochkin has just been posted on the BlueHat blog.

The interesting thing about this is that my interaction with Fyodor have been as follows:

  1. Email exchange prior to BlueHat, as we were speaking one after the other, and were referring to the same ecosystems but from different points of view.
  2. Meeting in Seattle/Redmond at BlueHat, having some conversations (and drinks, yes, some drinks were involved too) about work, research, and such.
  3. Speaking one after the other.
  4. Working together on a post through online sharing tools where we basically played with throwing ideas around, putting in writing what we thought about them, exchanging some ideas and directions, and coming up with the aforementioned post.

To sum this up quickly, we didn’t really know each other (not virtually either) a few weeks ago, and based on our mutual interests, research and passion we were able to come up with a (somewhat) cohesive post that at least I can stand back and say “damn!, that’s pretty good” (and learn something from).

Only in InfoSec!