Skip to main content

Pentests Don't Make You Secure

I was asked to provide details of the 'Penetration Testing Phase' for a particular project by someone who was putting together a Test Approach Document today. The categories I was asked to fill in were:
  • Objective of the phase
  • Responsibility & Authority
  • Dependencies, risks & assumptions
  • Entry & Exit criteria
When discussing what they really wanted it became clear that they didn't know what a penetration test was or why we do them. The questions and document were set up expecting a deliverable from the pentest itself. The report was being treated as the deliverable without any thought of why a report was being produced or how it will be used. It was a tick in the box - "We require a pentest to be able to go live, so if we've had the report we can tick that box and move on."

Pentesting is not an end in itself. Pentesting is a standard, finite snapshot of the security of a system, which, if taken in isolation as a goal, is fairly useless. Pentests don't make you secure. Performing a pentest and having a report with lots of pretty colours and charts saying that high and critical vulnerabilities exist is only any good if you then remediate or mitigate those vulnerabilities. You could pentest your system every month, but if you never change anything in the system, every report will be the same and you will be as much at risk as you were before you had the pentest done. Indeed, you are likely to get progressively worse results as new vulnerabilities are discovered all the time.

The test and report themselves don't do anything for security. A pentest is used by security professionals to inform and shape a project and decisions. The actions taken based on the findings from a pentest are what improve your security and help you identify the best use of finite resources or, at the very least, enable you to understand the risk. Do you need to perform a pentest? Absolutely you do in order to understand the threat landscape properly and identify vulnerabilities, but it's what you then do with that knowledge that is important and will make you more secure (or not).

Comments

Popular Posts

You say it's 'Security Best Practice' - prove it!

Over the last few weeks I have had many conversations and even attended presentations where people talk about 'Security Best Practices' and how we should all follow them. However, 'Best Practice' is just another way of saying 'What everyone else does!' OK, so if everyone else does it and it's the right thing to do, you should be able to prove it. The trouble is that nobody ever measures best practice - why would you? If everyone's doing it, it must be right. Well, I don't agree with this sentiment. Don't get me wrong, many of the so-called best practices are good for most organisations, but blindly following them without thought for your specific business could cause as many problems as you solve. I see best practice like buying an off-the-peg suit - it will fit most people acceptably well if they are a fairly 'normal' size and shape. However, it will never fit as well as a tailored suit and isn't an option for those of us who are o

Trusteer or no trust 'ere...

...that is the question. Well, I've had more of a look into Trusteer's Rapport, and it seems that my fears were justified. There are many security professionals out there who are claiming that this is 'snake oil' - marketing hype for something that isn't possible. Trusteer's Rapport gives security 'guaranteed' even if your machine is infected with malware according to their marketing department. Now any security professional worth his salt will tell you that this is rubbish and you should run a mile from claims like this. Anyway, I will try to address a few questions I raised in my last post about this. Firstly, I was correct in my assumption that Rapport requires a list of the servers that you wish to communicate with; it contacts a secure DNS server, which has a list already in it. This is how it switches from a phishing site to the legitimate site silently in the background. I have yet to fully investigate the security of this DNS, however, as most

Web Hosting Security Policy & Guidelines

I have seen so many websites hosted and developed insecurely that I have often thought I should write a guide of sorts for those wanting to commission a new website. Now I have have actually been asked to develop a web hosting security policy and a set of guidelines to give to project managers for dissemination to developers and hosting providers. So, I thought I would share some of my advice here. Before I do, though, I have to answer why we need this policy in the first place? There are many types of attack on websites, but these can be broadly categorised as follows: Denial of Service (DoS), Defacement and Data Breaches/Information Stealing. Data breaches and defacements hurt businesses' reputations and customer confidence as well as having direct financial impacts. But surely any hosting provider or solution developer will have these standards in place, yes? Well, in my experience the answer is no. It is true that they are mostly common sense and most providers will conform