2 Days Left to Save $200 on Pen Test HackFest Summit and Training

Critical Security Control: 20

Critical Security Control: 20

Penetration Tests and Red Team Exercises

Test the overall strength of an organization's defenses (the technology, the processes, and the people) by simulating the objectives and actions of an attacker.

Why Is This Control Critical?

Attackers often exploit the gap between good defensive designs and intentions and implementation or maintenance. Examples include: the time window between announcement of a vulnerability, the availability of a vendor patch, and actual installation on every machine; well-intentioned policies which have no enforcement mechanism (especially those intended to restrict risky human actions); failure to apply good configurations and other practices to the entire enterprise, or to machines that come in-and-out of the network; and failure to understand the interaction among multiple defensive tools, or with normal system operations that have security implications.

In addition, successful defense requires a comprehensive program of technical defenses, good policy and governance, and appropriate action by people. In a complex environment where technology is constantly evolving, and new attacker tradecraft appears regularly, organizations should periodically test their defenses to identify gaps and to assess their readiness.

Penetration testing starts from the identification and assessment of vulnerabilities that can be identified in the enterprise. It complements this by designing and executing tests that demonstrate specifically how an adversary can either subvert the organization's security goals (e.g., the protection of specific Intellectual Property) or achieve specific adversarial objectives (e.g., establishment of a covert Command and Control infrastructure). The result provides deeper insight, through demonstration, into the business risks of various vulnerabilities.

Red Team exercises take a comprehensive approach at the full spectrum of organization policies, processes, and defenses in order to improve organizational readiness, improve training for defensive practitioners, and inspect current performance levels. Independent Red Teams can provide valuable and objective insights about the existence of vulnerabilities and the efficacy of defenses and mitigating controls already in place and even of those planned for future implementation.

How to Implement This Control

ID # Description Category
CSC 20-1 Conduct regular external and internal penetration tests to identify vulnerabilities and attack vectors that can be used to exploit enterprise systems successfully. Penetration testing should occur from outside the network perimeter (i.e., the Internet or wireless frequencies around an organization) as well as from within its boundaries (i.e., on the internal network) to simulate both outsider and insider attacks. Quick win
CSC 20-2 Any user or system accounts used to perform penetration testing, should be controlled and monitored to make sure they are only being used for legitimate purposes, and are removed or restored to normal function after testing is over. Quick win
CSC 20-3 Perform periodic Red Team exercises to test organizational readiness to identify and stop attacks or to respond quickly and effectively. Visibility/Attribution
CSC 20-4 Include tests for the presence of unprotected system information and artifacts that would be useful to attackers, including network diagrams, configuration files, older penetration test reports, e-mails or documents containing passwords or other information critical to system operation. Visibility/Attribution
CSC 20-5 Plan clear goals of the penetration test itself with blended attacks in mind, identifying the goal machine or target asset. Many APT-style attacks deploy multiple vectors--often social engineering combined with web or network exploitation. Red Team manual or automated testing that captures pivoted and multi-vector attacks offers a more realistic assessment of security posture and risk to critical assets. Visibility/Attribution
CSC 20-6 Use vulnerability scanning and penetration testing tools in concert. The results of vulnerability scanning assessments should be used as a starting point to guide and focus penetration testing efforts. Configuration/Hygiene
CSC 20-7 Devise a scoring method for determining the results of Red Team exercises so that results can be compared over time. Advanced
CSC 20-8 Create a test bed that mimics a production environment for specific penetration tests and Red Team attacks against elements that are not typically tested in production, such as attacks against supervisory control and data acquisition and other control systems. Advanced

CSC 20 Procedures and Tools

Penetration testing and Red Teaming only provide significant value when basic defensive measures have already been put into place, and when they are performed as part of a comprehensive, ongoing program of security management and improvement. These are often specified and required by formal Risk Management Frameworks and processes.

Each organization should define a clear scope and rules of engagement for penetration testing and Red Team analyses. The scope of such projects should include, at a minimum, systems with the organization's highest value information and production processing functionality. Other lower-value systems may also be tested to see if they can be used as pivot points to compromise higher-value targets. The rules of engagement for penetration tests and Red Team analyses should describe, at a minimum, times of day for testing, duration of tests, and the overall test approach.

A full treatment of this topic is beyond the scope of the Critical Security Controls. However, the actions in CSC 20 provide specific, high-priority steps that can improve enterprise security, and should be a part of any comprehensive penetration testing and Red Team program.

CSC 20 Effectiveness Metrics


CSC 20 Automation Metrics


CSC 20 Effectiveness Test


CSC 20 System Entity Relationship Diagram

Organizations will find that by diagramming the entities necessary to fully meet the goals defined in this control, it will be easier to identify how to implement them, test the controls, and identify where potential failures in the system might occur.

A control system is a device or set of devices used to manage, command, direct, or regulate the behavior of other devices or systems. In this case, we are examining red team and penetration exercises and how those efforts can be valuable to enterprise personnel when identifying which vulnerabilities are present in the organization. The following list of the steps in the above diagram shows how the entities work together to meet the business goal defined in this control. The list also delineates each of the process steps in order to help identify potential failure points in the overall control.

Step 1: Penetration testers perform penetration tests of production systems

Step 2: Automated pen-testing tools perform penetration tests of production systems

Step 3: Automated pen-testing tools inform penetration tester of vulnerabilities discovered

Step 4: Penetration testers perform more extensive penetration tests of test lab systems

Step 5: Auditors evaluate and inspect the work performed by automated pen-testing tools

Step 6: Auditors evaluate and inspect the work performed by penetration testers

Step 7: Penetration testers generate reports and statistics about the vulnerabilities that have been discovered.

Creative Commons - Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-ND 3.0)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

To further clarify the Creative Commons license related to the 20 Critical Controls content, (i) All persons are authorized to use the content as a framework in their organization or to sell professional services related to the content (e.g. a consulting engagement to implement the 20 Critical Controls), and (ii) sale of the contents as a framework model is not authorized. Users of the 20 Critical Controls framework are also required to refer to http://www.sans.org/critical-security-controls/ when referring to the 20 Critical Controls in order to ensure that users are employing the most up to date guidance.