Monday, February 26, 2018

From my Gartner Blog - It’s Not (Only) That The Basics Are Hard…

While working on our research for testing security practices, and also about BAS tools, I’ve noticed that a common question about adding more testing is “why not putting some real effort in doing the basics instead of yet another security test?”. After all, there is no point in looking for holes when you don’t even have a functional vulnerability management program, right?

But the problem is not about not doing the basics. It is about making sure the basics are in place! Doing the basics is ok, but making sure your basics are working is not trivial.

Think about the top 5 of the famous “20 Critical Security controls“:

  • Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Devices
  • Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Software
  • Secure Configurations for Hardware and Software
  • Continuous Vulnerability Assessment and Remediation
  • Controlled Use of Administrative Privileges

How do you know your processes to maintain devices and software inventories are working? What about the hardening, vulnerability management and privileged access management processes? How confident are you that they are working properly?

If you think about the volume and frequency of changes in the technology environment of a big organization, it’s easy to see how the basic security controls can fail. Of course, good processes are built with the verification and validation steps to catch exceptions and mistakes, but they still happen. This is a base rate problem: with the complexity and high number of changes in the environment, even the best process out there will leave a few things behind. And when it is about security…the “thing left behind” may be a badly maintained CMS exposed to the Internet, a CVSS 10 vulnerability, unpatched, a credential with excessive privileges and a weak (maybe even DEFAULT!) password.

I’ve seen many pentests where the full compromise was performed by the exploitation of those small mistakes and misconfigurations. The security team gets a report with a list of things to address that were really exceptions of processes that are doing a good job (again, you may argue that they are not doing a good job, but this is the point where I stop saying there’s no such thing as a perfect control). So they clean those things, double check the controls and think “this definitely will never happen again!”, just to be see the next test, one year after, also succeeding by exploiting a similar, but different combination of unnoticed issues.

And that’s one of the main value drivers for BAS. Choosing to deploy a tool like that is to recognize that even the good controls and processes will eventually fail, and put something that will continuously try to find those issues left behind. By doing that in an automated manner you can ensure to cover the entire* environment consistently and very frequently, reducing the time those issues will be exposed to real attackers. Is it another layer of control? Yes, it is. But an automated layer to keep the overhead to a minimum. If your basics are indeed working well the findings should also not be overwhelming to the point of becoming a distraction.


* – You may catch the funny gap in this rationale…you may also end up failing because the BAS tool is not checking the entire environment, due to an issue with inventory management. Or the tests are not working as intended because they are being blocked by a firewall that should have an exception rule for the tool; yes, this using BAS is also a control, so it may fail too!


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

From my Gartner Blog - SOAR paper is out!

Anton beat me this time on blogging about our new research, but I’ll do it anyway :-)

Our document about Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) tools includes some interesting findings. Anton provided some quotes on his post, but I’ll mention some of my favorites too:

  • SIEM tools are often used to aggregate multiple sources of information, but are limited in their ability to query additional data sources and verification services after an initial set of conditions are met. The usual approach is to do as much as possible with that set of conditions and then provide the alert to an analyst for triage, where those additional queries take place.
    However, when the initial conditions set (whether via rules or algorithms, such as machine learning) generate too many alerts, the use case can be infeasible due to the high cost of the manual steps analysts require for triage. The ability to automate postalert queries, such as submitting indicators of compromise (IOCs) to TI services or even artifacts to external sandboxes, allows organizations to implement more threat detection use cases with a high number of initial alerts. (Some of the noisy detection use cases actually deliver valuable insights for as long as they can be quickly triaged.) The automated triage by SOAR effectively acts as the remaining stages of the multistage detection process.


  • Security alert triage, investigation and response are often performed in multistep processes, with new information and evidence being gathered or generated continuously. Organizations also need to record the actions taken for each alert or incident, for reasons varying from simple operations management or knowledge management all the way to auditor requests and compliance requirements. Some small SOCs would usually try to store all that data into simple repositories as file shares or spreadsheets. However, most of them will quickly realize that a system capable of recording the data in a structured format, usually while controlling the process workflow, is required to handle the increasing volume and complexity.


  • Alert triage and incident response are practices that rely on multiple deployed security tools (most often SIEM and EDR tools), including external services such as sandboxes and TI service portals. Without integration between those tools, the analyst would usually resort to inefficient copy and paste from one user interface to the other, which can introduce its own kind of configuration errors. Also, when operating in an incident, analysts are pushed for time and under a lot of pressure, which also can lead to mistakes.
    Notably, such inefficiencies don’t just reduce productivity, but also increase staff burnout and make staff retention harder. SIRP tools provided guidance to the analyst about which steps to take and a centralized location to record the data. However, the tools were still essentially manual.
    With the addition of orchestration and automation to SIRP, these tools moved from records and documentation management to a more central role in security operations. The process workflow documented in the tool is no longer used only as guidance to the analysts. O&A moves these tools to an active role in performing tasks of those processes, and occasionally the entire end-to-end process. Based on Gartner for Technical Professionals inquiry data, the most visible tools covering both SIRP and O&A spaces today are Phantom Cyber, Demisto, IBM Resilient, ServiceNow SecOps and Swimlane.


And don’t forget to PROVIDE YOUR FEEDBACK to the paper via

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

From my Gartner Blog - BAS and Red Teams Will Kill The Pentest

With our research on testing security methods and Breach and Attack Simulation tools (BAS), we ended up with an interesting discussion about the role of the pentest. I think we can risk saying that pentesting, as it is today, will cease to exist (I’ll avoid the trap to say “pentesting is dead”, ok? :-)).

Let me clarify things here before everyone starts to scream! Simple pentesting, for pure vulnerability finding goals and with no intent to replicate threat behavior, will vanish. This is different from the pentest that many people will prefer to call “red team exercises”, those very high quality exercises where you really try to replicate the approach and methods of real threats. That approach is in fact growing, and that growth is one of the factors that will kill the vanilla pentest.

But to kill the pentest we need pressure from two sides. The red team is replacing the pentest from the high maturity side, but what about the low maturity side? Well, that’s where vulnerability assessments and BAS comes into play.

If you look at how pentests are performed today, discounting the red team style of exercises, you’ll see that it’s not very different than a good vulnerability assessment. But still, it’s different, because it involves exploiting vulnerabilities, and that exploitation can move the assessor to another point in the network that can be used for another round of scanning/exploitation. And that’s where BAS tools come into play.

BAS automates the simple pentest, performing the basic cycle of scan/exploit/repeat-until-everything-is-owned. If you have the ability to do that with a simple click of a button, why would you use a human to do that? The tool can ensure consistency, provide better reporting and do it faster. Not to mention requiring less skills (you don’t even need to know how to use Metasploit!). So, with BAS, you either go for human tests because you want a red team, or you use the tool for the simple style of testing.

But, you may argue, not everyone will buy and deploy those tools, so there’s still room for the service providers selling basic pentesting. Well…no! BAS will not be offered only as something you can buy and deploy on your environment. It will also, like all the other security tools, be offered as SaaS. With that, you don’t need to buy and deploy it anymore, you can “rent it” for a single exercise. This is simpler than hiring pentesters, and provides better results (again, I’m starting to sound repetitive, but excluding the really great pentests…). So, why would you hire people to do it?



In the future, your options for testing your security will be vulnerability scanning, BAS or red teaming. Each one with specific objectives, advantages and disadvantages, but there’s no need for people running basic pentests anymore.

If you currently use those simple pentests, do you see your organization eventually moving to this new scenario? If not, I’d love to know why!


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