What you need to Know About Offensive Security

What is Offensive Security?

Manual Penetration Testing

A discussion:

Offensive Security

The following article is a discussion that explores how Offensive Security can help businesses understand modern cyber threats, build response times, strengthen network security, and protect their critical data.

Author: Redbot Security

Cybersecurity is a growing global concern as hackers and data grabbers devise increasingly sophisticated methods to steal information. Cybercriminals try to acquire certain kinds of data, namely financial records, passwords, credit card details, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and more. This becomes even more alarming on a corporate level, as organizations store masses of highly sensitive data. Moreover, some hacks are so sophisticated that it can take a long time for the organization to know that its system was broken into. According to an IBM report, a corporate security team takes around 287 days to identify and curtail a data breach. Think about all the information that could have been stolen during this time.

Corporations aren’t taking this lying down. According to a 2022 Vulnerability Assessment Analytical Note, around 70% of respondents said they had procured a tool that assesses vulnerabilities. Many businesses in today’s threat landscape are doing their best, proactively identifying threats and protecting sensitive information. This is where offensive security comes in.

What is Offensive Security?

Offensive security is a proactive and aggressive measure that aims to attack computer systems and other online networks. Imagine learning the vulnerabilities in a specific system by posing as a cyber attacker, i.e., thinking like a malicious hacker. It sounds counterintuitive, but this exploitative measure helps expose a system’s potential vulnerabilities.

An offensive security approach circumvents the need to react once a security breach has occurred. Instead, it applies ethical hacking methods to mimic malicious cyber-attacks and ultimately strengthen the network used to test. Network engineers are often left guessing how a hacker breached their secure system. Offensive security measures take the guesswork out of this process and show engineers precisely what can happen and how they can prevent it.

Offensive security can save an organization precious money and, more importantly, data breaches. Well-known organizations around the world pay hackers to find vulnerabilities in their networks so they can make their infrastructure stronger, often paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars for this service. They do this because the alternative, i.e., being hacked by an unknown entity, is much worse.

Offensive Vs. Defensive and Reactionary Security

Offensive security comes before the defensive shield. Defensive Security would include firewalls, endpoint protection, logging, monitoring, alerting, and an in-house vulnerability management program.  Reactionary Security is precisely that. Reactive action is taken once a data breach has occurred or a threat has been identified within a system.

Reactionary Security tactics require a thorough understanding of the system’s environment to remove malicious actors and repair the damage caused by an attack. After recovery, engineers work on improving a plan to continue detecting future breaches and flaws, focusing mainly on protective measures to safeguard against incoming cyber-attacks.

Why is Offensive Security Important Today?

Think of your corporation like a human body. The human body can fight off certain diseases, but some can make you seriously ill if you’re not vaccinated against them. Cybersecurity in a corporation is similar. If you don’t vaccinate, i.e., engage in offensive security measures, you’re making your essential data vulnerable to anyone who wants to break in and steal it.

Modern corporations have automated and digitized databases that keep track of every piece of relevant information. This ranges from employee information to critical budget data involving other partners and vendors. Specific information can have a disastrous effect if leaked, and corporations are aware of this.

Businesses need offensive security to safeguard themselves from malicious hackers who can break in and crash the company’s value in a few steps. The offensive security approach helps businesses understand how hackers would approach their systems and how they can take preventative measures. Moreover, they can identify any weaknesses or loopholes in the system to ensure that essential data stays safe.

The Offensive Security Model

There are varying opinions on how a business can carry out efficient offensive security testing, but they come together under the below-consolidated model. Here are the five phases that help strengthen your offensive strategy approach:

Vulnerability Assessment

This is the fundamental scan that needs to be carried out before you get into more complex forms of testing. A vulnerability scan identifies potential flaws in the system and ranks them in order of severity depending on various factors. It brings possible security holes to the spotlight by scanning your company’s basic infrastructure so that engineers can carry out detailed inspections in the future.

Vulnerability scanners work fast, and the results can sometimes be optimized. Not only that, but these assessments are automated and can be repeated as many times as necessary. This can be a significant 1st step if you’re launching an offensive security measure for the first time.

Keep in mind that a vulnerability assessment will not be able to identify all the possible breaches in your system, and scanners often produce multiple false positives.  These tests are on the most basic level, meaning they can pick up on bigger holes in the design, but more work performed by techs with higher knowledge will be required. Secondly, these scans can be inconsistent or inconclusive in some instances, making it necessary for engineers to dive deeper.

Penetration Testing

Penetration tests are a step up from vulnerability tests because they’re goal-oriented. This is where your cybersecurity engineers will identify, isolate and target specific components or applications that need testing instead of generically scanning the whole system. Manual Penetration testing determines whether hackers may exploit any validated internal or external “exploitable” vulnerabilities in the future.

One of the best things about penetration testing is highlighting potential exploits for your network engineers. This might be overwhelming but identifying crucial threats is half the battle of offensive security. Because penetration tests are targeted, the vulnerabilities that come up are often more complex and, therefore, can be more dangerous.

Red and Blue Teams

Security experts are divided into two teams, i.e., red and blue. The red team is responsible for attacking the system with offensive and aggressive moves. The blue team then reacts and responds defensively to counteract these attacks.

Creating dedicated red and blue teams gives businesses a distinct advantage. Security experts develop more creative ways to attack and defend the system they are testing as they get into their groove. A dedicated red team will likely find more vulnerabilities than random testers because they have been given more resources and ample time. The perfect combination of red and blue, called purple teaming, also creates an optimal remediation cycle. This means your offensive and defensive security measures work together, ensuring that your business is never under external threat.

Remember that creating dedicated red and blue teams is expensive and requires much training. What’s more, red and blue team members might not get along very well, leading to communication and operational breakdowns. This can disrupt workflow and leave the organization open to data breaches, as work won’t be carried out efficiently.

Emulate Adversaries

Adversary emulation is a fast-paced testing phase in which your network engineers imitate the movements that real-world hackers would do to breach your system. They copy the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) used by adversaries, i.e., external malicious hackers, to test and strengthen the system.

This testing phase takes offensive security to a new level as your engineers fight against world-famous hackers, i.e., adversaries and strengthen the system. Another great benefit of adversary emulation is that it forces red and blue teams to increase their speed as they attack and defend the system.

Adversary Simulation

This is the most realistic testing phase and forces your teams to use everything they have learned to protect the organization. This is where security experts utilize all the tools at their disposal, i.e., all the steps mentioned above, and try to take on a perilous real-world threat.

This is a nerve-wracking simulation and requires engineers to keep their cool as they try to defend the system against an expert hacker. Please think of this like a fire drill, except everything suddenly catches fire, and the team needs to know how to save themselves and some vital information. This final testing phase ensures that your team is ready for the real thing if necessary.

Bonus Tip: Purple Teaming & Its Benefits

We discussed that the five phases of the offensive security model cover almost all of your bases. They provide critical advantages to your cybersecurity experts and help them stay one step ahead of any threats. However, there’s an additional element that, if incorporated, can add extra maturity to your team of experts. This is called purple teaming.

Purple teaming introduces a collaborative mindset that brings your red and blue teams together for mutual benefit. You will have an almost unbeatable internal security team if you guide both teams, teach them to collaborate, and make them autonomous effectively. The goal is for your team to clearly understand the system’s strengths and weaknesses.

A collaborative mindset is also essential to appease and reassure external stakeholders, especially investors. Your team will always be at peak performance, ensuring your data is safe and free from threats.

should you have offensive security

Is Offensive Security Worth It?

Today’s digital environment is constantly changing, and cybersecurity has become a top priority. Businesses with sensitive information can’t afford to wait and be attacked through data breaches. The cost to hire professional and secure critical systems is much lower than dealing with a breach. Any data leak can prove to be disastrous for every stakeholder involved.

Offensive security helps businesses monitor cyber threats, build response times, strengthen network security, and protect critical data. Companies don’t need to engage in all the testing phases mentioned above, but they can use the ones available depending on their budget and resources.

Redbot Security

Redbot Security is a boutique penetration testing firm with a Sr. Level Team of industry experts. Since Redbot Security is a smaller more specialized penetration testing group, the company is able to focus on building client relationships and delivering a premier customer experience through continuously engaged Senior Engineers.

Learn More.

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