Blind, Partial Disclosure, and Full Disclosure Penetration Testing

There are several types of penetration testing. The effectiveness of each has been widely debated. Choosing which type of test to perform really depends on what your goals and objectives are, as well as timeframe and budget.

Blind Penetration Testing

Blind penetration testing assumes the 3rd party performing the testing has little or no knowledge of the structure, layout, and details regarding the targets public (internet) presence and internal private technology assets.

The assessment is performed from the perspective of an anonymous host or attacker and attempts to simulate a real-world attack. Typically, this form of testing is the most expensive but if you are looking for a “real-world” set of results, it is the best way to achieve them.

The primary Pro(s) of this type of testing is as stated above; it is an attempt to carry out a real-world attack on external and internal technology assets. Under certain circumstances, consultants may “role play”, playing the part of a specific type of attacker such as someone hired to glean a competitors secrets or intellectual property, circumvent authentication measures in order to perform a wire transfer, or leverage a newly discovered (or well-known) firmware flaw in a flow sensor to alter real-time reporting / monitoring metrics.

The Con(s) of this type of testing include:

  1. This type of testing is normally the most expensive;
  2. Because of the effort needed to footprint and develop attack vectors, testing may result in a negative impact against the hosts, devices and applications targeted. Normally, the tester does everything within his or her power not to cause problems, but it is a challenge to do so when you are attempting a real-world attack.
  3. Testing will typically take longer than other types of testing;
  4. It is possible to miss targets, even when using exhaustive and / or aggressive tactics. What gets missed may be just as important as what is found.

Partial Disclosure Penetration Testing

Partial disclosure penetration testing assumes that the 3rd party performing testing has at least a rudimentary understanding of public facing systems and internal private technology assets. This could include but not be limited too; a list of all registered Internet domains, the blocks of public IP address assigned to the organization for all facilities, the blocks of internal private IP subnets, and a list of applications and operating systems.

Because this is not an entirely blind perspective, testing proceeds at a quicker pace and will normally cover a larger percentage of systems / network attached devices.

The Pro(s) of this type of testing include:

  1. Lower cost structure;
  2. A greater degree of coverage with a diminished chance of something being missed;
  3. Expanded / increased reporting;
  4. Progression of testing is expedited.

The Con(s) of this type of testing is:

  1. Reduced degree of real-world testing from the perspective that the attacker, or in this case, the consultant perform the testing, has some upfront knowledge regarding the public (Internet) and private (internal) technology architecture.

Full Disclosure Penetration Testing

Full disclosure penetration testing, building on the partial testing methodology, will provide the 3rd party performing testing with the greatest degree if both external (public facing) and internal (private IP network) information.

The consultant performing the testing will normally request the completion of a detailed questionnaire, gathering the information necessary to build a comprehensive attack plan.

This type of testing normally results in the greatest degree of results and reporting. It is also the most common type of security assessment or penetration test we perform.

The Pro(s) of this type of testing include:

  1. Lower cost structure;
  2. Reduction in the amount of time needed to complete testing (as compared to a Blind or Partial disclosure test);
  3. Provides the consultant with the necessary information to develop a comprehensive attack plan;
  4. Provides the consultant with an expanded attack surface both internally and externally;
  5. Decreases the chance that something is overlooked;
  6. In general, results in the greatest degree of discovery and reporting.

The Con(s) of this type of testing include:

Does not provide a real-world set of results. Typically, an attacker or malicious entity will not have detailed information regarding the targets technology assets and network architecture;

  • This is not to say that partial and full disclosure testing is not adequate. If you are looking to simulate a targeted, very specific set of attacks, and have the budget a blind test is warranted;
  • If you desire to determine, in a comprehensive manner, where your security flaws are and correct them, full disclosure is warranted.

In closing; all three of these testing methods may also include various forms of social engineering and / or physical premises penetration. This can be a grey-area for some organizations and some may wish to focus strictly on technology assets. However, it is an important aspect of security and does have both a direct and indirect impact on effective technological security measures. We can provide additional information about this as we progress towards development of a proposal.

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