Making a decision on a new cybersecurity tool is never easy—particularly when it’s unclear how rival products compare. It’s tempting to simply type “product vs. product” into Google and see if one stands out as the clear favorite. However, sometimes you can find that two products have been mistakenly grouped together and aren’t actually in competition, but rather, they are in separate categories. Such is the case with Core Impact and Cobalt Strike. In this blog, we’ll outline the different purposes they serve, the roles they play in vulnerability management programs, and how they’re even better when used together.
Penetration Testing with Core Impact
Penetration tests are used to assess the potential for compromise of organizational systems or end users. By using the same tactics as a real-world attacker, pen testers can reveal and exploit security weaknesses to establish if an environment could be breached. Evaluating how much access a threat actor could gain using these security weaknesses enables intelligent risk prioritization.
Core Impact is a penetration testing tool designed to simplify these efforts through automation and centralization. Rapid Penetration Tests (RPTs) provide step by step wizards for tasks like intelligence gathering, attacking, and moving across network infrastructure, endpoints, web, and applications. These RPTs are ideal for testers at every level. Newer users can safely become more familiar with pen testing techniques and advanced users can focus on more complex issues by automating routine tasks. Additionally, Core Impact helps guide remediation with retesting capabilities and auto-generation of reports that detail the efficacy of defensive mechanisms and the level of risk vulnerabilities pose.
Adversary Simulation with Cobalt Strike
Knowing what Core Impact does, how is Cobalt Strike different? First and foremost, Cobalt Strike is not a penetration testing tool. However, they are both solutions used for evaluating cybersecurity with a few overlapping features, so there is understandable confusion. Even these corresponding features have their own distinctions within each tool.
Cobalt Strike is used for adversary simulation and Red Teaming. Though penetration tests use cyber-attack techniques to gain a foothold or escalate their privileges in an IT environment, they are not intended to imitate an attack. While penetration tests have a focused testing scope, attackers attempt to achieve their target by any means necessary and would not limit their movements. Red Team engagements are designed to fully simulate a real-world attack, with Red Teams taking on the offensive role of a threat actor. This includes attempting to evade detection, bypass or beat security controls, and elude the organization’s own “Blue” security team.
Cobalt Strike is an advanced tool that helps facilitate Red Team engagements by emulating a quiet long-term embedded threat actor in an IT network. Users can use the Beacon agent for post-exploitation tasks, including PowerShell script execution, keystroke logging, taking screenshots, and spawning other payloads, all while remaining undetected. Like Core Impact, Cobalt Strike has reporting options for data synthesis and analysis so organizations can better determine what areas are most in need of improvement.
Core Impact and Cobalt Strike Interoperability Capabilities
Even though Core Impact and Cobalt Strike specialize in different types of security evaluations, this doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t ever be used together. In fact, those with both tools can deploy a Cobalt Strike Beacon from within Core Impact. Beacon is Cobalt Strike's payload to model advanced attackers and it can be used to manage post-exploitation jobs. For example, users can start their engagement, getting initial access from Core Impact. From there, they can continue with post-exploitation activities by spawning a Cobalt Strike Beacon.
This interoperability illustrates how organizations can seamlessly mature their vulnerability management programs. Organizations often begin with straightforward vulnerability scans to identify what vulnerabilities are present in their environment. Penetration tests are the next step in security assessments, exploring the threat potential of those vulnerabilities. Red Teaming helps to fully develop the vulnerability management program into one that can take the entire environment into account. Core Impact not only can work with Cobalt Strike, it also integrates with vulnerability scanners for efficient vulnerability validation. Instead of using three incompatible solutions, organizations can streamline their security testing engagements by using solutions that work alongside one another.
The Future of Cybersecurity: Shifting from Competition to Complementary
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet when it comes to cybersecurity. Organizations must instead build a layered portfolio of solutions that cover the full range of prevention, detection, and response. Just because Core Impact and Cobalt Strike are both preventative tools does not mean that you must choose one over another. In fact, cybersecurity solutions in general should not be evaluated in isolation. Instead, it’s critical to consider and choose tools based on how compatible they are with preexisting solutions and how one would fit into your cybersecurity program as a whole. With their specialized focuses, interoperability and bundled pricing, Core Impact and Cobalt Strike work both individually and in tandem. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the only competition that should be of concern is the never-ending battle with cyber attackers.