Getting customers to recognise penetration testing as legitimate mitigation against potential hacks has proved vital for the Australian Taxation Office's (ATO) vulnerability management unit.
Branch director, Len Kleinman, told delegates of the AusCERT 2011 conference on the Gold Coast this week that the unit's biggest tasks was convincing its clients - the wider government department - that of its need to exist.
Kleinman said the office had developed a procedure manual on how it initiates penetration testing procedures, which includes a client consensus statement that determines ongoing steps to reduce risks once a vulnerability has been found.
“Part of that document will address if something unusual happens, penetration testing is a hostile activity on the system and the last thing we want to do is bring down a system," he said.
“That’s so we can manage their expectations."
On each occasion, the unit would file a review of the test with the relevant branch of the ATO, requiring a final sign-off from the client that passed acceptance and responsibility of the vunerability to them.
Kleinman advised other penetration testers to outline the benefits for the customer in an easy to understand manner.
“You need to articulate those [testing] activties in a manner that says we are helping you to achieve this,” he said. "We always try to help the client understand that we are doing this to help them out.”
He said that companies have used the results of testing as part of an assurance of the overall health of the corporate environment.
“There’s also no reason why that penetration testing can’t be one component of a compliance programme that could be undertaken right now.”
Kleinman added that penetration testers who are new to the game should “start small and expand slowly".
“When we first started testing we did it at the application layer and we’ve now expanded to the network level.”
Solid customer procedures were also useful when testing began.
The ATO was honoured by AusCERT with an award for the best security initiative at this year’s gala dinner.
Hamish Barwick travelled to AusCERT 2011 as a guest of AusCERT
Got a security tip-off? Contact Hamish Barwick at hamish_barwick at idg.com.au
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