Cybercrime today is a massive business. Predicted damages inflicted by it for the year 2021 are totaling 6 trillion USD globally (a quick reminder, a trillion is a million million – yes, that much). Putting things into perspective, in terms of earnings, cybercrime puts such giants as Tesla, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Walmart to shame. Their combined annual revenue totals “just” $1.28 trillion.
The simple truth that information equals power in this day and age is more actual than ever. Businesses and even lives are jeopardized due to valuable and sensitive cyber data being out there for hackers to access and misuse. There is nothing to be done to completely prevent cyberattacks. Luckily, you can enhance your security system. Make a move first! Hire a team of professional pentesters to attack your system under controlled conditions and detect its weaknesses to make sure it withstands malicious break-ins.
Preventive ethical cyberattacks are well-orchestrated penetration tests, and in this article, we will uncover all the details and specifics, the potential risks they are associated with, and once again stress the importance of timely detection of cyber vulnerabilities.
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, security testing, or ethical hacking, is a highly effective approach to assess the current security posture of a system. By penetration, we understand the degree to which a hypothetical malicious user (hacker) can penetrate cybersecurity measures and protocols. Thus, penetration testing is an authorized attempt to gain unauthorized access – simply put – hack it.
What is Most Likely to Get You Hacked?
Below, we’ve put together a list of the most common targets of malicious attacks along with the major cyber threats. Here is our “Most Likely To Get You Hacked” list:
Lack of Binary Protection – is described by a lack of mechanisms to prevent an application binary from being reverse engineered and modified. Without proper binary protection, it is possible to decompile an app and view the source code.
Example: Android requires that all apps be digitally signed with a certificate before they can be installed. Android uses this certificate to identify the author of an app, and the certificate does not need to be signed by a certificate authority. Android apps often use self-signed certificates. Therefore, a malicious user can put any information in the certificate to sign their application – no authority validates certificates’ authenticity.
Weak Encryption – this type of vulnerability-based attack targets encryption algorithms that are outdated, weak, or suffer from extensive vulnerabilities.
Example: The U.S. supermarket chain Wegmans Food Markets has announced it has suffered a data breach after two databases had become accessible online. Commonly, such phrasing stands for weak encryption issues.
Insecure Data Storage – file systems usually are an easy target for malicious users. Insufficient protection may lead to data leakage.
Example: Tinder revealed app users’ locations to be not properly encrypted. In 2013, Tinder users’ locations were shared, allowing those on a receiver end to quickly triangulate the exact locations. Tinder responded by fixing the vulnerability.
Web Sites and Web API
Authentication and Authorization Flaws – surprisingly, the most common yet prolific and dangerous API security flaws. Exploiting these vulnerabilities gives attackers easy access to misuse passwords, keys, or session tokens.
Example: Ex-Cisco employee gained unauthorized access to the company’s cloud infrastructure and deployed malicious code, which disrupted 16,000 WebEx customer accounts for weeks. It cost Cisco $1.4 million in employee time to audit their infrastructure and fix the damage. Apparently, access to sensitive resources wasn’t protected with two-factor authentication or other access management tools.
Injection Flaws – SQL, NoSQL, OS, and LDAP injection, happen when untrusted data is sent out as a part of a command or query. This type of vulnerability results from a failure to filter input from untrusted sources.
Example: RedHack collective used SQL injection to breach the Turkish government website and erase debt to government agencies.
Security Misconfiguration – a quite widespread vulnerability that is manifested by a faulty implementation of security controls. Misconfiguration or insecure configuration options result in an application’s susceptibility to attacks that target any part of the application stack.
Example: Misconfigured HTTP headers in the U.S. Department of Defense web page (https://www.sfl-tap.army.mil/). While the security-conscious X-XSS-Protection header was included, it was configured with the value DENY which is to be used for the X-Frame Option. The researcher correctly recommended that this should be changed to 1; mode=block.
Cross-Site Scripting XSS – this type of flaw occurs due to malicious scripts in a web browser of the victim as a result of a planted malicious code in a legitimate web page or web application.
Example: Due to a lack of input validation from the search field on lert.uber.com, it was possible to obtain a Reflected XSS from the URL path, e.g.
Insecure Deserialization – this vulnerability occurs when untrusted data is used to abuse the logic of an application, inflict a denial of service (DoS) attack, or even execute arbitrary code upon it being deserialized.
Example: In September 2018, information on an insecure deserialization vulnerability in Vanilla Forums appeared on HackerOne. The vulnerability allowed a determined attacker to achieve remote code execution.
XML External Entities (XXE) – this type of attack uses external entities to disclose internal files using the file URI handler, internal file shares, internal port scanning, remote code execution, and denial of service attacks.
Example: Disclosed back in 2018, an XXE vulnerability led to an exploit in Rockstar Games’ emblem editor. Check out the publicly disclosed report that includes code snippets and detailed attack explanations.
Broken Access Control – access control weaknesses are pretty common. It occurs when permission misconfigurations grant attackers access and/or the ability to modify data/files/accounts that they should otherwise be unable to access. Pentesting is the safest bet in detecting missing or ineffective access control, including HTTP method (GET vs. PUT, etc.), controller, direct object references, etc.
Example: A bug allowed the download of all the activation keys (also known as CD keys) through the Steam gaming platform, for every game.
Using Components With Known Vulnerabilities – prevalence of this issue is quite widespread. Components, which include libraries, frameworks, and other software modules, are often run on the same privileges as an application. Thus, if a component is vulnerable, those weaknesses can be exploited in an effort to attack an application.
Example: A fitting report was disclosed back in 2016 on Uber company. Uber was using an out-of-date version of WordPress, along with running a plugin q-and-a which had since been removed from WordPress due to having a Full Path Disclosure vulnerability.
Insecure Direct Object References – this vulnerability allows an authorized user to fetch other users’ information. With the growing amount of apps that collect personal information, preventative measures against this vulnerability are gaining momentum.
Example: In February 2014, this vulnerability was found in Yahoo!. A hacker spotted the vulnerability in a sub-domain ‘suggestions.yahoo.com’. It allowed an attacker to perform modification on the object, such as deleting all the posted threads and comments on Yahoo’s Suggestion Board website, a total of more than 1 million and a half records.
Network Hardware Equipment and Servers
Lack of Encryption – unencrypted data can either be collected via the network or stolen devices containing unencrypted data saved directly to them.
Example: In February 2018, an incident in Pennsylvania’s Office of Administration enabled access to personal information belonging to nearly 360,000 users, including teachers, school districts’ and Department of Education staff. Encrypting access to vital information and carefully managing the identities of the machines that house it prevents data breaches.
Ransomware – this type of attack is quite widespread. When inflicted on vulnerable servers and network hardware – it spells big trouble, oftentimes resulting in systems’ and network communications’ failure.
Example: The ransomware known under the name ‘Cring’ exploits a vulnerability in Fortigate VPN servers (CVE-2018-13379). Fortinet issued a security patch to fix the vulnerability in 2019, but cybercriminals can still deploy the exploit against networks that have yet to apply the security update.
Identity Theft (MAC spoofing) – happens when the impostor hunts the network for valid and original MAC addresses to pose as a valid one. In theory, every network adapter built into a connected device should have a unique Media Access Control (MAC) address that won’t be encountered elsewhere. In practice, though, a clever hack can turn this state of things upside down.
Example: The 2021 Identity Fraud Study, released by Javelin Strategy & Research, shows that identity fraud scams resulted in $43 billion (USD) in losses to US consumers. Identity fraud scams are relatively easy to orchestrate, presenting an opportunity for criminals to bypass the fraud-detection barriers maintained by financial services providers.
Wired and Wireless Networks
Malicious Association – a threat presented when a wireless network is accessed by a wireless device such as a cracking laptop instead of a company access point (AP). When an attacker gains access to the wireless network, they can steal passwords or can plant Trojans.
Man-in-the-Middle Method – this type of attack is characterized by an interception of a communication between two systems or people by an unauthorized party.
Example: In 2017, credit score company Equifax took down its mobile apps from Google Play and Apple’s APP Store after a breach, which resulted in the leak of users’ sensitive data. Both versions of the app did not consistently use HTTPS, which made them vulnerable to interception.
Pro Tip: watch S2.E6 of the TV series Mr. Robot for a fresh take on Karma Attacks.
Denial of Service Attack – occurs when the system is purposefully overloaded with redundant requests, obtaining the proper flow of legitimate use.
Example: Major DDoS attack on Dyn DNS knocked Spotify, Twitter, Github, and PayPal by flooding sites with an overwhelming amount of internet traffic in October 2016. It was proven that Mirai malware was behind the attack.
Remote Code Execution – system vulnerabilities can provide an attacker with the ability to execute malicious code and acquire user privileges. Remote code execution is one of the most common vulnerabilities found in OS today, opening gates to other attacks.
Example: Blueborne a security vulnerability that could potentially make every device on the planet with Bluetooth (estimated at more than 8 billion) open to an RCE attack.
Privilege Escalation – gives an attacker an opportunity to gain capabilities (beyond those initially granted) without proper authorization. Usually, the elevation of privilege is exploited combined with other vulnerabilities, e.g., remote code execution.
Example: Metasploit is a well-known hacking framework. It contains privilege escalation attacks against rooted android devices. Once the device is rooted, it creates an executable file known as a superuser (SU) binary that allows the attacker to run commands with root access. The attacker can then run commands like “show advanced” and “show options” as root.
Information Disclosure – this type of attack occurs when software bugs are exploited to obtain personal data. Obtained data oftentimes serves as a key building block for future cyberattacks.
Example: 533 million Facebook users’ phone numbers and personal data have been leaked online in April 2021.
What are the Different Approaches to Penetration Testing?
Any pentester decides on a particular approach to security testing, basing this choice on timing, security requirements, and, most importantly – the level of data provided. Let us explain: exploitation of a system’s weaknesses can be successful with or without data on the target system – e.g., a pentester may have knowledge of how a network is mapped or uncovering this information might as well be a part of the task. The level of the information supplied determines the approach.
Below are the three approaches to pentesting and the advantages along with disadvantages to each of them:
What is the Purpose of Penetration Testing?
The major idea behind any penetration test is to simulate an attack from malicious outsiders to pinpoint possible attack scenarios and system vulnerabilities. Ergo, the purpose of pentesting is to expose vulnerabilities and exploit weaknesses of a system in question.
Cybersecurity testing provides valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of existing security. It is worth mentioning, however, that the primary goal of each pentesting case is tied to a particular business case, so there are plenty of testing vectors that do not fall under one generalization.
Do you know the predicted frequency of a ransomware attack on businesses by the end of 2021? There will be an attempt at a security breach every 11 seconds. It went up from an estimation of 1 per every 40 seconds in 2016. Vulnerability assessments and consequent improvements are a time-proven measure to prevent real digital break-ins.
What are the Penetration Testing Risks?
The hidden costs and risks of looking for gaps in security systems before the real hackers can get in can be quite severe. The significant risks to consider before taking on probing the possible ways to penetrate a system will be discussed without further ado.
Unrealistic conditions = purposeless results.The point of any security assessment is to get a reality check and prioritize future improvements. If pentesting is conducted in an unrealistic environment, there’s little hope for meaningful results. Simulated cyber-attack can bring biased results that do not reflect the actual perspectives of potential hackers. Still, there are many variables to consider in order to acquire useful results, such as the pentester’s expertise level, the tools they use, and what pentesting approach they will follow.
More damage than benefit. Security testing may lead to inadvertent exposure of confidential information and data incidents if not carried out properly. Mistakes during tests can potentially result in servers’ crashes and expose sensitive data. Your system must be shielded against this security risk with the proper human and technical resources.
Lost productivity. Pen testing can and will interfere with a target system performance. Testing must be well-orchestrated, and the pentesters team remain in contact with affected employees.
False confidence. Missed vulnerabilities are another potential threat. Accomplished security tests inspire confidence in system security. However, as we have mentioned in the description of different testing approaches, each bears the risk of overlooking threats of different severity, from low to critical. There is never a guarantee that all the drawbacks will be caught in the timeframe of the test. An important thing to keep in mind: not to assume immunity to a vulnerability just because it was not found is the closest to immunity one can get.
Why is Penetration Testing Important?
The value of professional cybersecurity testing cannot be underestimated for any company, regardless of its business. Trusting a team of pentesters to identify a system’s vulnerabilities has its risks, but opting for competent experts will help minimize them, boosting the benefits instead. QAwerk pentesters provide the following remote penetration services:
- Data leak detection
- Insider threat prevention
- Website security audit
- Web penetration testing
- Static application security testing (SAST)
- External network security audit
- Remote computer forensics
Cyber vulnerabilities and threats arise every day. New types of attacks are used that may enormously differ from the existing ones, and even some old vulnerabilities can be utilized a-new with time. That is why, for your company to run smoothly and securely, it is crucial to keep fingers on the pulse of its cybersecurity with regular ethical hacks, leaving no stone unturned to unearth cracks in security protocols for networks, systems, and web-based applications.
The amount of new cyber threats is now at its historical maximum, with a daily increase of 50-100. Pentesting your infrastructure, software, and network is a reliable security measure that has become a corporate necessity today. Remember that 95% of cybersecurity breaches trace back to human error. Protect yourself by hiring professionals to run routine security tests that considerably reduce the possibility of attacks from cyber intruders. Our clients avoid downtime as well as data and monetary loss.