Test and Exercise

Cyber resilience: it’s a board level issue

The problem with cyber resilience is in the name. When it comes to managing the risk posed by potential hackers and the requirement for robust testing and defence protocols, it is often frequently parked under the responsibility of the IT department. But cyber resilience is not simply something for the IT department to worry about: it should be a cause for concern for the whole board. It is a business consideration, not simply an IT one, affecting business continuity and the bottom line as well as having the potential to damage an organisation’s reputation and the very core of its business operation.

Yet recent research by management consultancy Deloitte reveals that only one in five FTSE 100 companies share detail of their testing and online business protection plans with their boards on a regular basis. In fact, the research shows that only 21 per cent of UK Blue Chip businesses regularly share security updates with their boards.

There may be good reason for this. At first glance, providing details of their penetration testing strategy, which identifies vulnerabilities within their IT systems, may be thought to provide potential hackers with valuable information. But this outlook is simplistic. Boards and investors require the reassurance that a meticulous and robust cyber resilience strategy is in place, even though they do not, and should not, require precise detail.

A more likely reason for the low profile of cyber resilience planning is the much-publicised skills shortage of cyber expertise within organisations. Deloitte found that only 8 per cent of companies had a member of the board with specialist technology or cybersecurity experience. A similar figure applies to the number of companies that also disclose having a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) within their executive team. But if the IT department is not equipped or does not have C-Suite influence, then there is a huge potential problem. Boards should therefore look to supplementing their resource with skilled professional expertise with the required skillset and the capability of engaging board level involvement.

This is simply applying the same resource to the IT department which other departments already have. The financial department has board level representation and external expertise in the form of professional accountancy firms. No one expects the legal department to handle all the organisation’s legal requirements; professional and specialist expertise is required. A similar level of resource should be provided when it comes to cyber security. Not only should the CISO have board-level influence, but they should be supported by experienced professionals. Cyber resilience specialists have a much wider range of knowledge and experience than just one organisation, and are able to add significant value. This is not only because they can direct expenditure to meet precise requirements, but also because they can anticipate future threats.

While IT departments may currently be adequately resourced to manage on a day-to-day basis, it is not enough to simply protect against known threats. Penetration testing must go several steps further because organisations are vulnerable to a vast range of threats which are unknown and unforeseen. Experienced professionals will use a combination of automated testing, to identify the threat areas, and manual testing to develop, explore and investigate these vulnerabilities. Only in this way can organisations have any level of defence against unknown threats.

Every member of the board has an invested interest in the development and delivery of a robust cyber resilience strategy. If in doubt, each and every member of the board should ensure that it is on the agenda at every board meeting.

SRM has an unrivalled reputation in the delivery of all types of information security, including cyber resilience. With a keen awareness of how organisations operate, our team works with minimal disruption and maximum effect, providing an outstanding level of defence. However, no one can (or should) provide total guarantees; but be assured that having a retained expert with a detailed working knowledge of an organisation’s systems, means that meticulous mitigation plans will be in place and swift remedial action taken in the event of an attack, reducing its impact and minimising its disruption.

For more information on our consultancy services see our website.

Our see our blog:

Shipping news: how to manage a ransomware attack

It’s not a question of if, but when

What is Red Team engagement?

For a no obligation discussion about how SRM can support your business, contact Mark Nordstrom on mark.nordstrom@srm-solutions.com or phone 03450 21 2151.

How attack is the best form of defence when it comes to protecting against the rising trend in phishing and social engineering attacks

The recent April 2018 Trustwave Global Security Report reveals new global trends in the world of cyber hacking; most notably a move away from smaller high volume point-of-sale (POS) hacks in favour of more sophisticated attacks on larger service providers and their corporations’ head offices, using phishing and social engineering. Attacks on corporate and internal networks increased by 7 per cent to 50 per cent. Within the corporate or franchise networks, the most common cause of compromise was phishing and social engineering which accounted for 55 per cent of attacks.

Perhaps even more alarming, however, is the reported number of breaches instigated by ‘insiders’. The latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (April 2018), found that 25 per cent of all attacks are perpetrated by insiders who intentionally allow access to systems, or exploit systems themselves, for reasons of financial gain, espionage or simple misuse.

So, how can an organisation protect itself from phishing and social engineering? Or from malicious insider threats? A short term strategy would be to establish systems which regularly monitor and provide alerts in the event of attack. In this way, at least the organisation will have early warning if an issue occurs. But it is rather like bolting the stable door after the proverbial horse has already bolted, leaving a swathe of chaos, financial loss and reputational damage in its wake.

Where breaches are accidental, a strategic approach would include education. This is particularly important when social engineering and phishing attacks often target all levels within a company, including junior staff, hoping to gain data on more senior staff. This is sometimes seen as ‘CEO fraud’ which tricks senior executives into authorising fraudulent financial transactions. Everyone within an organisation must be aware of the potential risk of accidentally divulging sensitive information.

To develop a level of resilience against phishing and social engineering attacks, however, a more aggressive form of defence should be an integral aspect of any defence strategy. This would include a robust test and exercise programme, which uses a synergy of automated and manual penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities and explore these to identify specific areas of weakness. Using this approach, with the right professional guidance, an organisation will be able to anticipate and build in levels of protection.

When a breach is deliberately engineered by an organisation insider, however, these steps may not be sufficient. Given that the insider has access to privileged information about a system, they are in a unique position to develop and exploit undiscovered potential weaknesses. This is where the Red Team comes in.

Red Team engagement provides real-world attack simulations, designed to assess and significantly improve the effectiveness of an entire information security programme. This is achieved through a combination of simulated social engineering attacks; both physical and technical, as well as network and application attacks developed specifically for an organisation and delivered by highly trained ethical hackers. The benefit of this approach is that it allows organisations to validate their protection, monitoring and response solutions.

SRM has an unrivalled reputation in all aspects of Test and Exercise as well as delivering Red Team engagement. Our team includes individuals who are CREST ethical security testers as well as those with OSCP qualifications, having undertaken a rigorous training process to learn real-life hacking skills, helping them to think creatively and with the mindset of a genuine hacker.

To find out more about SRM’s Test and Exercise services (including Red Team) visit our website.

See a recording of our webinar ‘GDPR: the roles of manual and automated penetration testing’

Or see our blog:

Penetration testing: man vs machine

What is Red Team engagement?

If prevention is to be an achievable goal we cannot rely on static defences

Or contact Mark Nordstrom at mark.nordstrom@srm-solutions.com or on 03450 21 21 51.

Penetration testing: man vs machine

We already know that the concept of thinking like a potential hacker is the basis of penetration testing. But merely thinking like a hacker is not enough. We must also act like a hacker. They do not simply rely on their own intuitive genius to breach the systems of target organisations. They use a combination of automated tools and human intelligence to deliver their devastating results. So we must emulate this approach to secure our own defences. It is not a question of man or machine; like the hackers we must use a synergy of both.

When the whole HBO Game of Thrones attack occurred last August Mr Smith of the so-called White Hat Hackers issued a statement which made the point that his organisation invested $400 – $500,000 dollars a year on purchasing automated exploit tools. They then used the information this provided to arm their human hackers with the information required to further develop and exploit the weaknesses they discovered.

So when we at SRM develop a penetration testing strategy we use both automated tools and manual testing to deliver the best results.

Automation has a vital role to play and lays the groundwork for the penetration test. No human can deliver the rapid results that an automated tool can. Imagine yourself in a virtual world. You are in a vast chamber with hundreds of thousands of doors. Malicious hackers can get into your system through a just a handful of these doors but which ones? To identify where the vulnerability lies you must test each and every door; a task which if done manually would be time-consuming and complex. This task can, however, be completed accurately and swiftly through an automated vulnerability scan. Developed by experienced penetration testers, it identifies where the potential vulnerabilities are, putting you are in a position to accurately deploy the next level of attack tool: penetration testing.

To take the analogy a step further, the penetration test, conducted by highly-trained and experienced individuals, then opens the doors that have been identified and explores deep into the underlying infrastructure to examine what is lurking behind them. At the most sophisticated level of penetration testing (Red Team engagement) we then turn that thought process on its head and also test the procedural, social and physical components to replicate the wider view of an attack. Using an adversarial mind set, we think like a motivated hacker and help to develop strategy and policy making which anticipates as yet unconsidered vulnerabilities.

To find out more about the synergy of automated and manual penetration testing, see our pre-recorded webinar in conjunction with AppCheck, our automated tool partner. In this 30 minute webinar which took place on 8th March, Andrew Linn of SRM and James Nelson of AppCheck explain how both man and machine have a role to play in a resilient defence strategy.

To log in to the webinar GDPR: the roles of manual and automated penetration testing, click here.

Or visit our blog:

What is Red Team engagement?

If prevention is to be an achievable goal we cannot rely on static defences

Or see our website Test and Exercise pages.

 

Free live webinar: GDPR – the roles of manual and automated penetration testing

15:00 – 15:45 Thursday 8th March 2018

Have you tested to check your GDPR compliance?

A key aspect of GDPR compliance is demonstrating that your systems are secure. Penetration testing is a vital tool but with automated and manual tests both available which best serves your purpose?

In this 35 minute webinar, with time for questions, co-hosted with AppCheck, SRM’s Test and Exercise expert Andrew Linn outlines how a structured synergy of both will deliver the optimum result.

The webinar will cover:

  • The crucial role of automated testing
  • Automated and manual testing synergies
  • The manual component
  • Beyond the penetration test

There will be a live Q&A at the end and Andrew Linn will answer any specific questions relating to your business or sector.

How to register

The live webinar is at 3pm on Thursday 8th March and is free. You are simply required to register your attendance via this link:

https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/1342453508719907585

 

If prevention is to be an achievable goal we cannot rely on static defences

SRM is at the PCI London event in London on 25th January, presenting on The Synergy Between Automated and Manual Penetration Testing. 

How a responsive Test and Exercise strategy requires the synergy of both automated and manual testing to keep pace with a constantly evolving threat environment

Prevention is undoubtedly better than cure, particularly in the context of a potentially damaging data breach. In a world where the threat landscape is constantly changing, however, if prevention is to be an achievable goal, we cannot simply rely on static defences. Our defences need to evolve in line with the ever-changing threats and vulnerabilities we face and the only way to identify these is to act counter-intuitively. We need to challenge our own procedures and attack our own defences. If we do not, someone else surely will.

Using these offensive techniques enables us to validate the capability of our existing responses and, even more importantly, identify areas for improvement. A responsive strategic approach to data security requires constantly updated intelligence which can only be provided by a combination of both automated and manual test and exercise tools. Neither is fully effective without the other. The key is the synergy of the two: we cannot mount an effective defence without employing both the speed and rigour of the automated tool and the agility and ingenuity of the human mind. After all, hackers use both so we must too.

Vulnerability testing

The first essential tool in the attack arsenal is the automated vulnerability test. Imagine yourself in a virtual world. You are in a vast chamber with hundreds of thousands of doors. Malicious hackers can get into your system through a just a handful of these doors but which ones? To identify where the vulnerability lies you must test each and every door; a task which if done manually would be time-consuming and complex. This task can, however, be completed accurately and swiftly through an automated vulnerability scan. Developed by experienced penetration testers, this identifies where the potential vulnerabilities are, putting you are in a position to accurately deploy the next level of attack tool: penetration testing.

Penetration testing

A penetration test effectively opens the doors which have been identified in the vulnerability scan and explores deep into the underlying infrastructure to examine what is lurking behind them. Designed to answer the question: ‘What is the real-world effectiveness of my existing security controls against an active, human, skilled attacker?’, it goes to the next level by actively exploiting those vulnerabilities in order to prove (or disprove) real-world attack vectors against an organisation’s IT assets, data, humans, and/or physical security.

More broadly, a full penetration test of an organisations infrastructure utilises the value of automated tests to lay the groundwork at the start of the process. Expert penetration testers will then put themselves into the mind of potential attackers, exploring and exploiting all opportunities. An individual or team of testers are able to think laterally; they can both analyse and synthesise.  As systems become more complex, the ‘attack surface’ continues to grow and the potential number of ways a hacker gains access is ever expanding, making this technique increasingly valuable.

A properly executed penetration test will determine the feasibility of a particular set of attack vectors. It will identify the higher-risk vulnerabilities that result from a combination of lower-risk vulnerabilities exploited in a particular sequence. It will identify vulnerabilities that may be difficult or impossible to detect with automated network or application vulnerability scanning software and will assess the magnitude of potential business and operational impacts of any successful attack.

The scope will be dependent on what the drivers are for the organisation and these will determine the stated goals. These drivers may also influence other aspects of the engagement such as target selection scope, assumptions, and even funding ceilings that limit the amount of time a test team has to explore. Even highly automated, well-resourced, and advanced networks employing sophisticated counter-measure technologies, while useful as part of the testing process, are no match for human intelligence.

Red Team engagement

To continue the analogy of the doors: if pen testing opens the doors to see what is behind them, Red Team engagement goes through the doors and explores the room, the house and the street beyond, getting completely into the mind-set of the potential hacker.

The key difference between a penetration test and Red Team engagement is therefore the extent of the scope. So, while a penetration test is often focused upon a key application or system and is scoped following threat modelling, Red Team engagement is fully bespoke and often ‘goal orientated’. This goal will often be: ‘we have this highly sensitive network/piece of data – can you get access to it?’

The Red Team focuses on the objective of the engagement and examines it from many different angles pulling together a plan of attack using a range of different techniques and abilities. It tests procedural, social and physical components of security in addition to technical controls. Replicating the wider view an actual attack would have, the Red Team uses an adversarial mind set to determine strategy and policy making.

In practice, Red Team engagement involves working with ethical, skilled and experienced professionals who act like true hackers, simulating internal and external hacking attempts to test the response on a client’s system. With client permission, the Red Team seeks to break through the hardened perimeter, using the weakest identifiable point, to gain access to the organisation’s system. Using common hacking techniques, they seek to gain a foothold; tunnelling traffic back through ports that are commonly open within a business, usually via the web, so they can communicate with their own servers on the outside without being detected. These benign servers are then used to control devices, which have either been placed or hacked, on the inside of the client’s organisation.

In addition to a rigorous examination of the organisation’s security controls, Red Team engagement will exercise incident detection, response and management.  This can be linked to a wider incident simulation process testing procedures and response capability throughout the business.

Opening up an organisation’s entire network and allowing a third party to effectively breach security defences requires a high degree of trust. Experienced, highly qualified Red Teams are few and far between. At SRM our Red Team is comprised of ex-police High Tech Crime Unit officers, qualified ethical hackers and includes holders of the Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) the world’s first completely hands-on offensive information security certification. OSCP challenges students to prove they have a clear and practical understanding of the penetration testing process and life-cycle through an arduous twenty-four (24) hour certification exam.

When you combine the benefits of a best in class web vulnerability scanner updated within hours of new threats emerging, able to be run ‘on demand’ and OSCP trained experienced penetration testers it’s a powerful combination to help stay safe in today’s ever-changing world of cyber threats.

Conclusion

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The importance of accurate scoping at the outset of the exercise cannot be overemphasised because every organisation faces its own unique challenges in terms of regulations, risks and vulnerabilities. What is more, in a world where data security is constantly evolving in response to new and ever more ingenious attacks, an organisation’s test and exercise strategy needs to reflect this. If your incumbent data security provider cannot demonstrate the required agility, you must ask yourself whether your requirements are being met.

SRM partners with industry-leading vulnerability scan provider AppCheck to deliver both the automated and manual elements of a bespoke test and exercise strategy. SRM can advise on all aspects of Information Security Testing as well as providing a full range of consultancy services. For further information please contact Mark Nordstrom at mark.nordstrom@srm-solutions.com  or phone 03450 21 21 51.

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