Realistic Threat

How we breach retail networks…

We recently delivered an Advanced Persistent Threat  (APT) Penetration Test to one of our customers. People who know us know that when we say APT we’re not just using buzz words.  Our APT services maintain a 98% success rate at compromise while our unrestricted methodology maintains a 100% success at compromise to date.  (In fact we offer a challenge to back up our stats.  If we don’t penetrate with our unrestricted methodology then your test is free. If we do get in then you pay us an extra 10%.)  Lets begin the story about a large retail customer that wanted our APT services.

When we deliver covert engagements we don’t use the everyday and largely ineffective low and slow methodology.  Instead, we use a realistic offensive methodology that incorporates distributed scanning, the use of custom tools, zero-day malware (RADON) among other things.  We call this methodology Real Time Dynamic Testing™ because it’s delivered in real time and is dynamic.  At the core of our methodology are components normally reserved for vulnerability research and exploit development.  Needless to say, our methodology has teeth.

Our customer (the target) wanted a single /23 attacked during the engagement. The first thing that we did was to perform reconnaissance against the /23 so that we knew what we were up against.  Reconnaissance in this case involved distributed scanning and revealed a large number of http and https services running on 149 live targets.  The majority of the pages were uninteresting and provided static content while a few provided dynamic content.

While evaluating the dynamic pages we came across one that was called Make Boss. The application was appeared to be custom built for the purpose of managing software builds. What really snagged our attention was that […]

What you don’t know about compliance…

People are always mystified by how hackers break into major networks like Target, Hannaford, Sony, (government networks included), etc.  They always seem to be under the impression that hackers have some elite level of skill.  The truth is that it doesn’t take any skill to break into most networks because they aren’t actually protected. Most network owners don’t care about security because they don’t perceive the threat as real.  They suffer from the “it won’t ever happen to me” syndrome.

As a genuine penetration testing company we take on dozens of new opportunities per month.  Amazingly, roughly 80% of businesses that request services don’t want quality security testing, they want a simple check in the compliance box. They perceive quality security testing as an unnecessary and costly annoyance that stands in the way of new revenue.  These businesses test because they are required to, not because they want to.  These requirements stem from partners, customers, and regulations that include but are not limited to PCI-DSS, HIPAA, etc.

Unfortunately these requirements make the problem worse rather than better.  For example, while PCI requires merchants to receive penetration tests it completely fails to provide any effective or realistic baseline against which to measure the test results.  This is also true of HIPAA and other third party testing requirements.  To put this into perspective, if the National Institute of Justice set their V50 or V0 standards in the same manner then it would be adequate and acceptable to test bulletproof vests with  squirt guns.  Some might argue that poor testing is better than nothing but we’d disagree.  Testing at less than realistic levels of threat does nothing to prevent the real threat from penetrating.

Shoddy testing requirements and a general […]

Don’t become a Target

All of the recent news about Target, Neiman Marcus, and other businesses being hacked might be a surprise to many but it’s no surprise to us. Truth is that practice of security has devolved into a political image focused designed satisfy technically inept regulatory requirements that do little or nothing to protect critical business assets. What’s worse is that many security companies are capitalizing on this devolution rather than providing effective solutions in the spirit of good security. This is especially true with regards to the penetration testing industry.

We all know that money is the lifeblood of business and that a failure to meet regulatory requirements threatens that lifeblood. After all, when a business is not in compliance it runs the risk of being fined or not being allowed to operate. In addition the imaginary expenses associated with true security are often perceived as a financial burden (another lifeblood threat). This is usually because the RoI of good security is only apparent when a would-be compromise is prevented. Too many business managers are of the opinion that “it won’t happen to us” until they become a target and it does. These combined ignorant views degrade the overall importance of real security and make the satisfaction of regulatory requirements the top priority. This is unfortunate given that compliance often has little to do with actual security.

Most regulatory requirements are so poorly defined they can be satisfied with the most basic solution. For example PCI-DSS requires merchants to undergo regular penetration tests and yet it completely fails to define the minimum level of threat (almost synonymous with quality) that those tests should be delivered at. This lack of clear definition gives business owners the ability to […]

How much should you spend on penetration testing services?

The most common question asked is “how much will it cost for you to deliver a penetration test to us?”. Rather than responding to those questions each time with the same exact answer, we thought it might be best to write a detailed yet simple blog entry on the subject. We suspect that you’ll have no trouble understanding the pricing methods described herein because they’re common sense. The price for a genuine penetration test is based on the amount of human work required to successfully deliver the test.

The amount of human work depends on the complexity of the infrastructure to be tested.  The infrastructure’s complexity depends on the configuration of each individual network connected device. A network connected device is anything including but not limited to servers, switches, firewalls, telephones, etc. Each unique network connected device provides different services that serve different purposes.  Because each service is different each service requires different amounts of time to test correctly. It is for this exact reason that a genuine penetration test cannot be priced based on the number of IP addresses or number of devices.  It does not make sense to charge $X per IP address when each IP address requires a different amount of work to test properly. Instead, the only correct way to price a genuine penetration test is to assess the time requirements and from there derive workload.

At Netragard the workload for an engagement is based on science and not an arbitrary price per IP. Our pricing is based on something that we call Time Per Parameter (TPP).  The TPP is the amount of time that a Netragard researcher will spend testing each parameter. A parameter is either a service being provided by […]

Whistleblower Series – The real problem with China isn’t China, its you.

Terms like China, APT and Zero-Day are synonymous with Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD).  The trouble is that, in our opinion anyway, these terms and respective news articles detract from the actual problem.  For example, in 2011 only 0.12% of compromises were attributed to zero-day exploitation and 99.88% were attributed to known vulnerabilities.  Yet, despite this fact the media continued to write about the zero-day threat as if it was a matter of urgency.  What they really should have been writing about is that the majority of people aren’t protecting their networks properly.  After all, if 99.88% of all compromises were the result of the exploitation of known vulnerabilities then someone must not have been doing their job. Moreover, if people are unable to protect their networks from the known threat then how are they ever going to defend against the unknown?

All of the recent press about China and their Advanced Persistent Threat is the same, it detracts from the real problem.  More clearly, the problem isn’t China, Anonymous, LulzSec, or any other FUD ridden buzzword.  The problem is that networks are not being maintained properly from a security perspective and so threats are aligning with risks to successfully affect penetration.  A large part of the reason why these networks are such soft targets is because  their maintainers are sold a false sense of security from both the services and technology perspective.

In this article we’ll show you how easy it was for us to hack into a sensitive government network that was guarded by industry technologies and testing best practices.  Our techniques deliberately mimicked those used by China.  You’ll notice that the  techniques aren’t particularly advanced (despite the fact that the press calls them Advanced) and in fact are […]

Whistleblower Series – Don’t be naive, take the time to read and understand the proposal.

In our last whistleblower article, we showed that the vast majority of Penetration Testing vendors don’t actually sell Penetration Tests. We did this by deconstructing pricing methodologies and combining the results with common sense. We’re about to do the same thing to the industry average Penetration Testing proposal. Only this time we’re not just going to be critical of the vendors, we’re also going to be critical of the buyers.

A proposal is a written offer from seller to buyer that defines what services or products are being sold. When you take your car to the dealer, the dealer gives you a quote for work (the proposal). That proposal always contains an itemized list for parts and labor as well as details on what work needs to be done. That is the right way to build a service-based proposal.

The industry average Network Penetration Testing proposal fails to define the services being offered. Remember, the word ‘define’ means the exact meaning of something. When we read a network penetration testing proposal and we have to ask ourselves “so what is this vendor going to do for us?” then the proposal has clearly failed to define services.

For example, just recently we reviewed a proposal that talked about “Ethos” and offered optional services called “External Validation” and “External Quarterlies” but completely failed to explain what “External Validation” and “External Quarterlies” were. We also don’t really care about “Ethos” because it has nothing to do with the business offering. Moreover, this same proposal absolutely failed to define methodology and did not provide any insight into how testing would be done. The pricing section was simply a single line item with a dollar value, it wasn’t itemized. Sure the document […]

How to find a genuine Penetration Testing firm

There’s been a theme of dishonesty and thievery in the Penetration Testing industry for as long as we can remember.  Much in the same way that merchants sold “snake-oil” as a cure-all for what ails you, Penetration Testing vendors sell one type of service and brand it as another thus providing little more than a false sense of security.  They do this by exploiting their customers lack of expertise about penetration testing and make off like bandits.  We’re going to change the game; we’re going to tell you the truth.

Last week we had a new financial services customer approach us.  They’d already received three proposals from three other well-known and trusted Penetration Testing vendors. When we began to scope their engagement we quickly realized that the IP addresses that they’d been providing were wrong.  Instead of belonging to them they belonged an e-commerce business that sold beer-making products!  How did we catch this when the other vendors didn’t?  Simple, we actually take the time to scope our engagements carefully because we deliver genuine Penetration Testing services.

Most other penetration testing vendors do what is called count based pricing which we think should be a major red-flag to anyone.  Count based pricing simply says that you will pay X dollars per IP address for Y IP addresses. If you tell most vendors that you have 10 IP addresses they’ll come back and quote you at around $5,000.00 for a Penetration Test ($500.00 per IP). That type of pricing is not only arbitrary but is fraught with serious problems. Moreover, it’s a solid indicator that services are going to be very poor quality.
Scenario 1: The Overcharge (Too much for too little)
If you have 10 IP addresses but […]

The 3 ways we owned you in 2012

Here are the top 3 risks that we leveraged to penetrate into our customers’ networks in 2012. Each of these has been used to affect an irrecoverable infrastructure compromise during multiple engagements across a range of different customers. We flag a compromise “irrecoverable” when we’ve successfully taken administrative control over 60% or more of the network-connected assets. You’ll notice that these risks are more human-oriented than they are technology-oriented, thus demonstrating that your people are your greatest risk. While we certainly do focus on technological risks, they don’t fall into the top three categories.

The general methodology that we follow to achieve an irrecoverable infrastructure compromise is depicted below at a high-level.

Gain entry via a single point (one of the 3 referenced below)
Install custom backdoor (RADON our safe, undetectable, home-grown pseudo-malware)
Identify and penetrate the domain controller (surprisingly easy in most cases)
Extract and crack the passwords (we have pretty rainbows and access to this GPU cracker)
Propagate the attack to the rest of the network (Distributed Metastasis)

 
Social Engineering
Social Engineering is the art of manipulating people into divulging information or performing actions usually for the purpose of gaining access to a computer system or network connected resource. It is similar to fraud, but the attacker very rarely comes face-to-face with his or her victims. Today, Social Engineering is used to help facilitate the delivery of technological attacks like the planting of malware, spy devices, etc.

During an engagement in 2012, Netragard used Social Engineering to execute an irrecoverable infrastructure compromise against one of its healthcare customers. This was done through a job opportunity that was posted on our customers website. Specifically, our customer was looking to hire a Web Application Developer that understood how to design secure applications. We built an irresistible resume and established fake references, which quickly landed us an […]

83% of businesses have no established security plan (but they’ve got Kool-Aid)

I (Adriel) read an article published by Charles Cooper of c|net regarding small businesses and their apparent near total lack of awareness with regards to security.  The article claims that 77% of small- and medium-sized businesses think that they are secure yet 83% of those businesses have no established security plan.  These numbers were based on a survey of 1,015 small- and medium-sized businesses that was carried out by the National Cyber Security Alliance and Symantec.

These numbers don’t surprise me at all and, in fact, I think that this false sense of security is an epidemic across businesses of all sizes, not just small-to-medium.  The question that people haven’t asked is why does this false sense of security exist in such a profound way? Are people really ok with feeling safe when they are in fact vulnerable?  Perhaps they are being lied to and are drinking the Kool-Aid…

What I mean is this.  How many software vendors market their products as secure only to have someone identify all sorts of critical vulnerabilities in it later?  Have you ever heard a software vendor suggest that their software might not be highly secure?  Not only is the suggestion that all software is secure an absurd one, but it is a blatant lie.  A more truthful statement is that all software is vulnerable unless it is mathematically demonstrated to be flawless (which by the way is a near impossibility).

Very few software vendors hire third-party  vulnerability discovery and exploitation experts to perform genuine reviews of their products. This is why I always recommend using a third-party service (like us) to vet the software from a security perspective before making a purchase decision.  If the software vendor wants to be privy to the results then they should pay for the engagement because in the end it will […]

Selling zero-day’s doesn’t increase your risk, here’s why.

The zero-day exploit market is secretive. People as a whole tend to fear what they don’t understand and substitute fact with speculation.  While very few facts about the zero-day exploit market are publicly available, there are many facts about zero-days that are available.  When those facts are studied it becomes clear that the legitimate zero-day exploit market presents an immeasurably small risk (if any), especially when viewed in contrast with known risks.

Many news outlets, technical reporters, freedom of information supporters, and even security experts have used the zero-day exploit market to generate Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD).  While the concept of a zero-day exploit seems ominous reality is actually far less menacing.  People should be significantly more worried about vulnerabilities that exist in public domain than those that are zero-day.  The misrepresentations about the zero-day market create a dangerous distraction from the very real issues at hand.

One of the most common misrepresentations is that the zero-day exploit market plays a major role in the creation of malware and malware’s ability to spread.  Not only is this categorically untrue but the Microsoft Security Intelligence Report (SIRv11) provides clear statistics that show that malware almost never uses zero-day exploits.  According to SIRv11, less than 6% of malware infections are actually attributed to the exploitation of general vulnerabilities.  Of those successful infections nearly all target known and not zero-day vulnerabilities.

Malware targets and exploits gullibility far more frequently than technical vulnerabilities.  The “ILOVEYOU” worm is a prime example.  The worm would email its self to a victim with a subject of “I LOVE YOU” and an attachment titled “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.txt.vbs”. The attachment was actually a copy of the worm.  When a person attempted to read the attachment they would inadvertently […]

Need a Penetration Testing Quote?Get A Quote