Exploit vulnerabilities rather than just report on ‘hypothetical’ issues

While doing some general reading recently I came across an article entitled “Why aren’t you using Metasploit to expose Windows vulnerabilities?”.  This reminded me of something I have discussed with people a few times, the benefits of actually proving and demonstrating how vulnerabilities can be exploited rather than just relying on metrics from scanners..

Don’t get me wrong, the use of vulnerability / patch scanners are incredibly useful for providing an overall view of the status of an environment;

– Are patches being deployed consistently across the environment in a timely manner?

– Are rules around password complexity, who is in the administrators group, machines and users are located in the correct places in the LDAP database etc. being obeyed?

– Are software and O/S versions and types in line with the requirements / tech stack?

– etc..

The output from these scanners is also useful and extensively used in providing compliance / regulatory type report data confirming that an environment is ‘correctly’ maintained.

What these scans fall short in two main areas;

1. They do not provide a real picture of the actual risk any of the identified vulnerabilities pose to your organisation in your configuration with your polices and rules applied.

2. Due to point 1 they may either not create enough realisation of the risks for senior management to put enough priority / emphasis on remediating them, or they may cause far too much fear due to the many vulnerabilities identified that may or may not be exploitable.

In order to provide a quantitate demonstration of how easy (or difficult) it is to exploit identified vulnerabilities, and also demonstrate to management how these reported vulnerabilities actually be exploited, using tools such as Core Impact, Canvas or Metasploit in addition to just scanning for vulnerabilities is key.

Tools like Canvas and Core Impact are commercial offerings with relatively high price tags, Metasploit is however open source and free to use in both Windows and *nix environments. It even has a gui!  So there is no excuse for not actually testing some key vulnerabilities identified by your scans, then demonstrating the results to senior management and even other IT staff to increase awareness.

Metasploit can be found here;

http://www.metasploit.com/

Where it can be downloaded for free.  Should you wish to contribute to it’s success there are also paid for versions.

The key message here is don’t stop using the standard patch / vulnerability scans as these are key to providing a picture of the entire environment and providing assurance of compliance to policies.  However these should be supplemented with actually exploiting some key vulnerabilities to provide evidence of the actual risk in you environment rather than just the usual ‘arbitrary code execution’ or similar statement related to the potential vulnerability.  This will put much more weight behind the your arguments for improving security.

K