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5/15/2006
09:30 AM
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Penetration Testing Is First Stop for Alstom

Transportation company needed to get secure, so it turned to penetration testing for a big-picture view

When Nikk Gilbert took the position of IT security and telecom director last September at Alstom -- a major power generation, transportation, and shipbuilding company -- he guessed the job wouldn't be a picnic.

He was right.

Gilbert's mandate was to build a security program, from the ground up, for Alstom's approximately 28,000 users in 60 countries. That meant working out security for an estimated 1,000 servers running various releases of Unix, Windows NT, 2000, and 2003 worldwide. And, oh, by the way, he had virtually no background information, no network map, and no listings of assets.

The company needed to get a quick assessment of its network and its vulnerabilities. Gilbert started out using Solarwinds network discovery tools and GFI LanGuard Network Security Scanner to begin the discovery process. He also used a Linux auditor CD.

But Alstom needed a product that provided more information and required less learning. Knowing he needed to move fast and decisively, Gilbert decided to invest in Impact, penetration testing software from Core Security.

"LanGuard told me about potential vulnerabilities, but Impact let me see exactly what systems were vulnerable to break-ins," Gilbert said. "When I came in, I didn't even have an account. I plugged in and started breaking into servers just like a [penetration]-tester would do."

The Core Security product helped Gilbert build his case. "I needed some teeth to my presentation to management, and using Impact, I was able to cut down on the time showing management how vulnerable their systems were. It was less expensive than hiring a penetration testing team or security staff dedicated to penetration testing, which typically costs over 100,000 Euros." The software also helped Gilbert develop a security policy, business continuity plan, disaster recovery plan, and site surveys.

Penetration testing is usually the last step in developing a security infrastructure, after doing an assessment, planning the security controls, and implementing security processes and products. Closing the cycle with a penetration test often makes sense, because it gives the enterprise a chance to test new security initiatives and exercise planned responses to an attack. But Gilbert chose to start with the penetration test, because he wanted to get a worst-case picture that his team could use to build the other parts of its security plan.

Alstom had good success with all of its systems on the network, except for OpenBSD, which Impact didn't identify properly. In the first round of testing, Gilbert and his team were focused on network and service vulnerabilities. After they fix the problems from that round, Gilbert and his team will starting focusing on the applications. "There is a lot of fine-tuning to test applications. We have 3,000 to 4,000 applications we use -- and that is a whole 'nother monster we will have to tackle eventually."

Once they got a snapshot of the network assets, Gilbert and his team began solving the problems they found, deploying Altris's Patch Management Solution and McAfee's Intrushield IPS/IDS at key locations while adding more firewalls and policies. "Once we get closer to taking care of the problems we have already found -- and we have an established plan in place -- we will continue to use Impact on a regular basis, to ensure that our security program is functioning as planned," Gilbert said.

Impact is a solid product, but it's not for beginners, Gilbert says. "Even though the Impact product greatly simplifies penetration testing, a user needs a few years experience of networking and security and a solid knowledge of protocols and processes to use a penetration testing tool." During his introductory Webinar with Core Security, Gilbert says he found 48 vulnerable systems in Alstom's network.

Although Alstom used the product for several months on a global scale, Gilbert didn't find any issues with wide-area bandwidth consumption or system instability on the vulnerable systems. "When in the attack phase within Impact, I checked a box which disabled exploits that would leave a service unusable, and I had no issues with services being taken out."

Gilbert still has a lot of work to do. The company has "30 to 40" projects going, ranging from single sign-on to PKI and encryption across the company.

— Mike Fratto, Editor at Large, Dark Reading

Organizations mentioned in this story

  • Altiris Inc. (Nasdaq: ATRS)
  • Core Security Technologies
  • GFI Software Ltd.
  • IntruVert Networks Inc.
  • McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE)
  • Solarwinds

    Mike Fratto is a principal analyst at Current Analysis, covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. Prior to that, Mike was with UBM Tech for 15 years, and served as editor of Network Computing. He was also lead analyst for InformationWeek Analytics ... View Full Bio

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