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Friday, May 19, 2017

Post #WannaCry Reaction #127: Do I Need a Pen Test?

By Daniel Miessler
In the wake of WannaCry and other recent events, everyone from the Department of Homeland Security to my grandmother are recommending penetration tests as a silver bullet to prevent falling victim to the next cyber attack. But a penetration test is not a silver bullet, nor is it universally what is needed for improving the security posture of an organization. There are several key factors to consider. So I thought it might be good to review the difference between a penetration test and a vulnerability assessment since this is a routine source of confusion in the market. In fact, I’d venture to say that while there is a lot of good that comes from a penetration test, what people actually more often need is a vulnerability assessment.


First, let’s get the vocabulary down:


Vulnerability Assessments are designed to yield a prioritized list of vulnerabilities and are generally best for organizations that understand they are not where they want to be in terms of security. The customer already knows they have issues and need help identifying and prioritizing them.

With a vulnerability assessment, the more issues identified the better, so naturally a white box approach should be embraced when possible. The most important deliverable of the assessment is a prioritized list of vulnerabilities identified (and often information on how best to remediate).

Penetration Tests are designed to achieve a specific, attacker-simulated goal and should be requested by organizations that are already at their desired security posture. A typical goal could be to access the contents of the prized customer database on the internal network, or to modify a record in an HR system.

The deliverable for a penetration test is a report on how security was breached in order to reach the agreed-upon goal (and often information on how best to remediate).

Why does it matter?
In short, you get what you pay for.


No organization has an unlimited budget for security. Every security dollar spent is a trade-off. For organizations that do not have a highly developed security program in place, vulnerability assessments will provide better value in terms of knowing where you need to improve your security posture even though pen tests are generally a less expensive option. A pen test is great when you know what you are looking for or want to test whether a remediation is working and has solved a particular vulnerability.

Here is a quick chart to help determine what your organization may need.



VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENT

PENETRATION TEST
Organizational Security Program Maturity Level
Low to Medium. Usually requested by organizations that already know they have issues, and need help getting started.
High. The organization believes their defenses to be strong, and wants to test that assertion.

Goal
Attain a prioritized list of vulnerabilities in the environment so that remediation can occur.
Determine whether a mature security posture can withstand an intrusion attempt from an advanced attacker with a specific goal.
Focus
Breadth over depth.
Depth over breadth.

So what now?


Most security programs benefit from utilizing some combination of security techniques. These can include any number of tasks, including penetration tests, vulnerability assessments, bug bounties, white/grey/black testing, code review, and/or red/blue/purple team exercises.

We’ll peel back the different tools and how you might use them in a future post. Until then, take a look at your needs and make sure the steps you take in the wake of WannaCry and other security incidents are more than just reacting to the crisis of the week.

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