By Matt Hines - May 31, 2006
Core Security Technologies released a revamped version of its vulnerability testing software, promising to help companies find loopholes in their IT networks by targeting attacks that are distributed in nature or hidden behind encryption programs.
The primary addition to the new Core Impact network penetration testing package, which is used by firms to look for specific types of security vulnerabilities, is the addition of a traffic masking feature that emulates some of the most popular techniques used by hackers to hide their attacks in Microsoft Windows program files.
By allowing companies to create more realistic copies of the types of threats being leveled at their networks, Core said it can help its customers stay one step head of new viruses and other risks.
The traffic masking capability currently promises the ability to recreate two different types of hacker techniques: attacks that are fragmented into many different Windows files to help cloak their existence and threats that use legitimate forms of encryption in an attempt to hide themselves.
Core officials said that businesses are increasingly testing the perimeters of their own networks with such tools to identify their security shortcomings.
While the so-called "white hat" attacks created by the testing software pose no real danger to IT systems, the tools help estimate the potential impact of having an actual attack infiltrate network defenses.
The product also aims to replace the practice of hiring consultants to run such vulnerability scans. While those providers can cost as much as $50,000 per month to employ at large enterprises, Core is offering its tools for a subscription of $25,000 per year, including updates meant to address newly emerging threats.
Some firms inform their workers that they are engaging in the security vulnerability fire drills, while many others are attempting to recreate more of a real-world attack scenario using the software, said Max Caceres, director of product management at Core.
"Companies are being faced with a whole new range of attacks from network intrusions, to malware and arbitrary code executions, and using this type of technology is another way of seeing how exploits run in your environment during real attacks," Caceres said.
"When we're attacking, its very hard for an end user or admin to differentiate from a real threat as we actually take control of their machines, just like a real hacker would."
Using the fragmentation tools, Core's users can now separate their mock attacks into very small pieces of code hidden in multiple files, which makes detection of the threats more challenging for security devices and applications.
The encryption feature allows for the creation of attacks that use the same cloaking tools supported by Microsoft's remote procedure call guideline.
Another proposed benefit of the system is helping companies eliminate so-called false positives, or erroneous attack reports that tie up the time of administrators trying to track down nonexistent security issues.
At least one Core customer said that they are already finding plenty of unexpected issues, and learning more about their own IT security architecture, using the testing package.
"When making security investments that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, we have to be sure that the technology we implement can effectively mitigate problems," said André Gold, information security director at Continental Airlines.
"This penetration testing product has saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars by helping us make the right decisions."