Welcome to the Wild West
As the looming threat of cyber attacks and hackers continues to grow, we do our absolute best to harden our networks against intrusion. Businesses spend numerous hours configuring firewalls and gateways to prevent intrusion. We program switches and routers, only allowing specific systems to connect. To safeguard our systems, we only allow users to access the things they need. We put applications in secure sandboxes so that they cannot cause mayhem.
No one has complete control of their network. Employees and vendors alike introduce systems onto your network to solve problems. Of course, they do so with the best of intentions. However, they often do so without consulting the IT group that manages the network.
As a result, their implementations may lack the safeguards that experienced IT personnel can provide. Moreover, they lack an understanding of the network architecture and may bypass existing safeguards put in place to protect the network.
The devices that make up these solutions have grown in complexity. The first internet-enabled devices offered very limited capabilities comprised of simple microcontrollers. For example, they required a dedicated ethernet device to communicate on the network. These were often harder to hack because of their limited capability. Nowadays, devices are being made with complex System On a Chip (SOC) designs, including Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Cellular, and Bluetooth adapters built onto the 2 or 4 core processor. In addition, they are full-blown computers with Linux-based operating systems. These extra features create additional vulnerabilities.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.” People are terrible at keeping secrets. Go to a coffee shop and look at all the people who willingly turn their back on absolute strangers and log into their company computer through VPN to work remotely. Or they keep passwords in word processing documents and then do not use VPN in an airport. Malware is installed over the airport Wi-Fi, and then all their secrets are laid bare. Your phone is especially vulnerable.
Penetration Testing | Identifying Vulnerabilities
So how do you determine if your network is as secure as you would like to think it is? One answer is penetration testing.
Penetration testing is a focused attack on your network or portion of your network by an experienced, friendly hacker to attempt to breach your defenses. The purpose of this attack is to test weaknesses in your network to see if and to what extent it is possible to breach your network.
Often, a controls network is a secure subnet with a higher level of security when compared to the network as a whole. Penetration testing will attempt to breach this citadel as well. Looking for devices or servers which they can use to hop from the less secure subnet to the more secure subnet.
Tools of the Trade
Linux distributions are one tool used. For instance, Kali Linux, a Linux distribution intended to support penetration testing.
There are tools for scanning networks for hosts, cracking passwords, and launching different types of attacks, among many other things. This is a very full-featured and capable tool for testing networks.
- Exploit a lack of physical security to enter an unsecured facility
- Connect into a spare port on a device on a more secure network
- Gain access to both the secured and unsecured networks
THEY HAVE FREE REIGN. For instance, you can connect a cellular gateway inside a facility to an open port. Then you have a permanent link to a network.
They will refer to websites that report vulnerabilities and their exploits. These sites report this information so that these holes can be closed. But it also allows hackers to educate themselves on possible ingress points.
Once you have completed your first assessment, it is time to get to work. Resolve any surprises and then repeat the process. It is wise to do regular penetration testing to ensure that new or overlooked vulnerabilities don’t ruin your day.
But remember, by making systems more secure, we are helping to create better hackers. APT offers cybersecurity training to help you keep your network secure. Don’t leave security to chance. Contact an APT professional today.
Rick Deming, APT Systems Engineer