Penetration tests: 10 tips for a successful program

Pen tests must accomplish business goals, not just check for random holes. Here's how to get the most value for your efforts.

By Neil Roiter, CSO |  Security, pen testing, penetration testing

That being said, there are valid cases for vector-specific testing. For example, a company may be particularly concerned about wireless security, because it knows it has been somewhat lax in this area or may have recently installed or upgraded WLAN infrastructure. But even if you are confident that a particular vector is safe--for example , if the wireless network is isolated from the credit card database--don't be too sure. Attack paths can be complex and byzantine.

Tip 8: Define the Rules of Engagement

Pen testing simulates attack behavior, but it is not an attack. Whether you are conducting in-house testing or contracting with a consultant, you need to establish parameters that define what can and cannot be done, and when, and who needs to know.

The latter depends on whether you are conducting white box or black box testing. In the former case, there's probably an acknowledgement that the security program of the company (or a particular department or business unit) needs a lot of work, and the pen testing is open process known to all involved.

On the other hand, black box testing is more clandestine, conducted more like a real attack--strictly on a need to know basis. You are determining how good the company's people are at their jobs and the effectiveness of the processes and systems supporting them.

"Whether it's the operations center, or the investigative response team or physical security guards, everyone has to pretend it's just another day at the office," said Verizon's Khawaja.

Typically, companies will perform white box testing first to learn the security issues that have to be addressed. Subsequently, black box testing will help determine if the initial findings have been effectively remediated. Sometimes, for example, a CSO will want to know not only how vulnerable critical systems are, but how good their personnel are at detecting and responding to an attack.

In either case, certain key people need to be involved to avoid problems that might impact the business or undermine the testing. At least one person in the target environment who is involved in the change control process should be in the loop, said InGuardians' Skoudis. Under the rules of engagement, for example, the company may permit the pen testers to install software on the target devices to do more in-depth pivoting, but at least that one person has to be involved to make sure that the testers are not stopped by dropping their IP address from a router ACL or invoking a firewall rule.

Originally published on CSO |  Click here to read the original story.
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