An undervalued yet powerful aspect of the advanced penetration testing process is post-exploitation. Advanced penetration testers, or ethical hackers, are usually assigned a high-profile goal that needs further exploitation using advanced methods to achieve the desired levels of access.
How does exploitation relate to the process of penetration testing?
The advanced tasks that these penetration testers usually are assigned include getting access to a damaged, corrupted, or highly secured database, exploiting and stealing sensitive information or credentials like passcodes, and even breaking into email accounts. These are some of the essential skillsets for penetration testers to possess. The reasons why these seemingly immoral tasks performed by penetration testers are essential is entirely for good reasons. Many companies and tech firms pay high amounts of salaries to hire such advanced penetration testers to audit and test their website, platforms, applications, or other types of digital services. With the common goal of finding security vulnerabilities and recommending feasible steps to close that flaw, an advanced penetration tester can use many types of hacking techniques including:
- SSH tunneling
- SSH port forwarding
- SQL-injection attacks
- XSS attack
All these methods are used by penetration testers for the sake of improving the network security of a specific company or establishment. Because of the rapid advancements in cyber–attacks, now more than ever, companies and establishments are taking their organizational cybersecurity structure very seriously and are willing to take extra steps to improve it.
What is Post–Exploitation? What is its purpose?
The main goal of post–exploitation is to find out the base value and capabilities of the victims’ compromised system/device and to gain access to all the areas of the targeted systems without even being detected. Being detected could make everything null and void and all the efforts useless. Penetration testers exploit the required systems with a high level of stealth and analyze the value of the data that is present on the target’s device. If they deem the information to be of value, then they can dig even further to try and get more information. In addition to analyzing the data, a penetration tester can also analyze registry settings, modes of communication, system configuration settings, and connectivity methods by which devices are connected to a specific network. These requirements and methods that are used in this process can also vary from situations and rules of engagements. Let us further discuss what these rules of engagement are and how they affect the techniques used in this process.
Rules of Engagement
In post–exploitation, there is a proper set of rules that are designed for the protection of both the penetration tester and the client. These rules help in avoiding any unnecessary conflict with both parties. If not required, the penetration tester will not exploit what does not need to be exploited. Any unnecessary action will be avoided at all costs as per these engagement rules. This set of rules has two types: Protecting Yourself and Protecting the Client.
- Protecting Yourself
It is vital for a penetration tester to do their homework beforehand and learn all the necessary details about their target/client. A penetration tester must protect their identity at all costs and avoid the risk of leaving any traces behind after the required operation is done. Also, all operations must be performed under strict confidentiality as detection will result in the termination of the whole operation. There are further steps a penetration tester could perform to ensure the safety of personal identity and digital footprints along with the data/information of the client:
- In case the client is a business/company, make sure to sign a contract or service level agreement (SLA) that allows you to break the security of the company assets. This will help in legal protection.
- Use strong encryption methods to store the extracted data for confidentiality purposes.
- Avoid using personal devices to store the client’s information/data.
- Protecting the Client
In the case of the client being a business/company or an individual user, you should also be responsible for the safety of both, their data and information. This means as a penetration tester, you may have to take proper steps before initiating the attack. You may also have to analyze the capacity and effect to which an attack method can have and determine which method is best suited for the job. There are further steps a penetration tester could perform to ensure the safety for both kind of clients:
- Not engaging in unnecessary exploitation exercises
- In case the client is a business/company, do not use attack methods like DDoS, SQL-injection, SSL-stripping, or network packet sniffing without proper permission from the client. Such attacks may disturb or halt daily operations.
Tools Used for Post–Exploitation
The most popular and well-known tool used by professionals is Metasploit. Metasploit is used frequently for post–exploitation purposes. Meterpreter and other sub-tools have been developed within Metasploit for making post–exploitation tasks faster and easier. The Metasploit Framework is a penetration testing toolkit, exploit development platform, and research tool. The Framework includes a lot of pre-verified exploits and auxiliary modules for a handy penetration test. Different payloads, encoders, handlers, etc. are also a part of Metasploit, which can be mixed up to work on any penetration test.
Want to be on the front lines of cyber defense? Do you think you have what it takes to take on such a critical role in today’s cyber landscape? If so, obtain the EC-Council LPT (Licensed Penetration Tester) (Master) certification. Doing so will prove to organizations that you have the real-world skills and knowledge of protecting their assets and information. You could be their missing link in protecting them from the next big cyber–attack!