Business Security

Attacking the backups

Posted on 2020-03-13 by Matt Strahan in Business Security


There are a critical systems inside any organisation where the compromise of those systems are almost automatically business threatening. When performing penetration testing we try and think about the “crown jewels” as a bit of a target – if we get access to this the risk is pretty well self evident. Most of these systems are the obvious: financial systems, domain controller, key business process systems, safety systems, and often the web presence nowadays. One such system that is not considered nearly enough is the backup system.

Let’s first look at the obvious: to properly backup data, the backup systems have to have access to that data. This means the backup systems often have the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. If the backup systems are compromised, then all of your data should be considered compromised.

Believe it or not, though, in modern IT environments the backup systems are even more important than just having access to data.

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Should you go for bug bounties or penetration testing?

Posted on 2020-03-03 by Matt Strahan in Business Security


At school I was taught that a good piece of writing should “say what you’re going to say, say it, then say what you’ve said”. In that vein, I’m going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of bug bounties and penetration testing but it will all come down to this:

Why not both

Penetration testing and bug bounties tend to complement each other extremely well. The disadvantages of penetration testing tend to be the advantages of bug bounties and visa versa. Let’s go through it in more detail.

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The Five Whys and security vulnerabilities

Posted on 2020-02-20 by Matt Strahan in Business Security


When reading about the Toyota Production System and the Lean Methodology, a remarkably simple technique was talked about called the “Five Whys”. It was used by Toyota to solve the underlying problems, not just the symptoms. The technique was made popular by books such as The Lean Startup.

When there is a production failure, outage, or problem, the “Five Whys” facilitator will bring all the relevant people into a room and ask “why” again and again to try and pull the thread of the full sequence of events that led to the issue. The Wikipedia page for Five Whys gives this example:

  • Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)
  • Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)
  • Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)
  • Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)
  • Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)

When reading about this technique, I began thinking about security vulnerabilities. How often do we talk about patching the vulnerability without thinking enough about what caused the vulnerability in the first place? And I’m not just saying “we didn’t do the patch”, I’m saying the underlying processes that people don’t even realise are there that made us end up here.

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6 things to look for when choosing your penetration test company

Posted on 2020-01-29 by Alexei Doudkine in Business Security


Nothing grinds my gears more than seeing companies flog cheap, crappy scans as penetration tests. It insults penetration testers like myself, but worse than that, it exploits the unsuspecting clients that genuinely want to improve their security.

When a company realises that they need a penetration test, this task is usually delegated to one person who is almost never a penetration tester themselves. They may have had some experience in the past with selecting a company to perform penetration testing and the outcomes may or may not have been satisfactory. A lot of uncertainty in that last sentence, isn’t there?

The fact of the matter is, penetration testing can be a bit of a mystery and it can be extremely hard to know if the one you chose will be good or not. It’s like when you go to the mechanic to service your car. You drive your car in, leave it for a day, pick it up and drive it out. The car feels exactly the same. Did the mechanic do anything, or did you just pay for some very expensive parking?

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The easiest way to test your detection and response capability

Posted on 2020-01-21 by Matt Strahan in Business Security


Every year there’s a guy who comes out and tests my smoke alarm. The smoke alarm guy visually inspects the alarm, runs the internal test, and then uses a small device that, in my head, I ignorantly name “the smoke gun” to trigger the alarm. It’s a simple process that makes sure that the alarm still works.

Watching him work, I thought it curious how so many organisations check their smoke alarms this way but have probably never actually tested whether their security systems are working or not. Probably most organisations don’t even know specifically what their security systems will detect and probably don’t have the capability or know how of testing their security system themselves. I’m going to go a bit further and show my cynicism here: Probably most organisations don’t actually know what happens when their security system alerts, don’t know what the alert looks like, and wouldn’t know what the alert would mean. It’d be like someone wandering through their home looking at the box on the roof and saying “that’s an alarm. I don’t know what it sounds like. When it goes off something is wrong – but I don’t know what it could be!”

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I make toasters

Posted on 2019-12-23 by Matt Strahan in Business Security


In the beginnings of my career in security, I spent a long time on the technical side as a penetration tester. I was a hacker, tasked with breaking into their websites and networks, trying to test their security. Although sometimes that job can be like banging your head against a brick wall, when you get in there is definitely a rush that comes with it. When something you try works, there’s a feeling of exhilaration and victory.

I knew why I was doing it. It was fun, and I was getting paid for it. I lived for that thrill of getting in.

Being focused on what I was trying to do, I wasn’t really looking to see why the customer was getting me to do it. Why were they getting me to hack their organisation?

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