Passively Test Security Controls - ASM , Rockville , Maryland

Passively Test Security Controls

Security+ Objectives 1.5

The passive approach uses devices to watch the traffic as it passes by. These devices can be special purpose devices such as a Sniffer or they can be built into other devices such as routers, switches or end node hosts. Administrators can scan specific systems or an entire network. For example, many organizations perform periodic scans on the entire network to detect vulnerabilities. If an administrator makes an unauthorized change resulting in a vulnerability, the scan can detect it. Similarly, if a rebuilt system is missing some key security settings, the scan will detect them. It’s also possible to scan a new system before or right after it’s deployed.

Passively Testing Security Controls

An important point about a vulnerability scan is that it does not attempt to exploit any vulnerabilities. Instead, a vulnerability scan is a passive attempt to identify weaknesses. This ensures that the testing does not interfere with normal operations. Security administrators then assess the vulnerabilities to determine which ones to mitigate. In contrast, a penetration test is an active invasive test that attempts to exploit vulnerabilities.

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Vulnerability Scan as a Management Control

Security administrators use vulnerability scanners as a management control to identify which systems are susceptible to attacks. Vulnerability scanners identify a wide range of weaknesses and known security issues that attackers can exploit. Most vulnerability scanners combine multiple features into a single package. A vulnerability scanner includes the following capabilities:

  • • Identifying vulnerabilities
  • • Identifying misconfigurations
  • • Passively testing security controls
  • • Identifying lack of security controls

Vulnerability scanners utilize a database or dictionary of known vulnerabilities and test systems against this database. For example, the MITRE Corporation maintains the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) list, which is a dictionary of publicly known security vulnerabilities and exposures. This is similar to how antivirus software detects malware using virus signatures. The difference is that the CVE is one public list funded by the U.S. government, whereas antivirus vendors maintain proprietary signature files.

Additionally, attackers often look for systems that are misconfigured, but vulnerability scanners can detect some common misconfiguration settings. Some of the vulnerabilities and common misconfigurations discovered by a vulnerability scanner include:

  • Open ports- Open ports can signal a vulnerability, especially if administrators aren’t actively managing the services associated with these ports. For example, not all web servers use File Transfer Protocol (FTP) so if TCP ports 20 and 21 are open, it indicates a potential vulnerability related to FTP. Similarly, Telnet uses port 23 but Secure Shell (SSH) using port 22 is a recommended alternative.
  • Default accounts and passwords- Operating systems and applications can have default usernames and passwords. Basic operating system and application hardening steps should remove the defaults, and a scan can discover the weaknesses if operating systems and applications aren’t. For example, some SQL database systems allow the sa (system administrator) account to be enabled with a blank password. Scanners such as Nessus will detect this.
  • Weak passwords-Many scanners include a password cracker that can discover weak passwords or verify that users are creating strong passwords in compliance with an organization’s policy. It is more efficient to use a technical password policy to require and enforce the use of strong passwords. However, if this isn’t possible, administrators use a separate password cracker to discover weak passwords.
  • Sensitive data- Some scanners include data loss prevention (DLP) techniques to detect sensitive data sent over the network. For example, a DLP system can scan data looking for patterns such as Social Security numbers or key words that identify classified or proprietary data.
  • Security and configuration errors-Vulnerability scans can also check the system against a configuration or security baseline to identify unauthorized changes.

Sources: Stanford

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