QMT Features: October 2012
Tested to breaking point
Organisations at both ends of the supply chain can now outsource their digita product testing through an ‘Open Laboratory’ initiative that promises to make rigorous security testing environments commercially available for the first time.

Verifying the security of a digital product is fit for purpose can be an expensive, time-consuming and difficult process for many manufacturers. Having to look at your product both objectively and critically is a big ask and can take the organisation into unfamiliar waters. Then there is the matter of duplicate testing. So risk adverse is today’s market, that some vendors resort to retesting tested goods in order to ensure all contingencies have been met. Given the risks involved, it’s easy to see why. Once a product has gone to market any security breach is likely to cause serious reputational damage and can incur high costs in recompensing retailers and customers and even an ensuing litigation battle between manufacturer and vendor.

That may all be about to change, however, now that it has become possible to independently verify the security of product before committing to production by submitting it to the harshest of attacks in an ‘Open Laboratory’ environment. Using the test environment of third party security penetration testers, the product can be put through its paces in tests that go beyond the capabilities of customer production or pre-production environments. Traditionally the preserve of the security elite, these testing platforms are now being opened up and made commercially available for the first time, enabling manufacturers and vendors to outsource their testing at a fraction of the cost and to identify and understand risks and vulnerabilities before taking a product to market or committing to large scale deployments.

Capable of subjecting the product to the very harshest of real-world attacks and of simulating the intended deployment environment, Product Penetration Testing goes beyond compliance and claims based testing and offers a far more thorough and objective test than any manufacturer can perform. The testing process can be performed on-site or within a dedicated testing facility and allows the manufacturer to identify and understand security flaws within the product before these can be exploited by attackers, hackers and crackers. Advice on how to mitigate these risks and enhance the product is then given, enabling the manufacturer to take corrective action.

Each product assessment is tailored to the goods or service, technology and likely deployment environment of the product and is designed to identify and expose potential security vulnerabilities. Applicable to virtually any hardware or software product, or a hybrid of the two, the tests can be performed on stand alone or integral elements.

The hardware test subjects the product to physical attack by attempting access via management ports, debugging headers and other externally presented interfaces before analysing internal elements such as the printed circuit boards and storage devices.

In the case of radio-based products, security testing tools coupled with Software Defined Radio (SDR) are used to try and intercept or manipulate the device. The testing process can intercept and inject into most radio links and where this is not possible due to complex, proprietary modulation techniques or very high symbol rates can assess the link at the PCB/IC layer by tapping and injecting into processor or inter-IC busses directly. In some cases the testing is focused on far more specific scenarios such as ensuring that a hardware product can only run an authorised operating system programs, or that the radio link between device A and device B is protected from eavesdropping.

Software-based products can be deployed directly onto a virtualised testbed infrastructure which is capable of mimicking the anticipated deployment environment. Penetration testing methodologies are then employed to aggressively and thoroughly test the product by carrying out the type of hacking attacks the product could encounter in the real world.

Product pen testing is particularly relevant for hardware that uses a proprietary operating system, such as gaming platforms, smart TVs or TV set-top boxes. These devices are frequently targeted in order to allow the criminal to unlock the operating system, thereby making it possible to run counterfeit goods or non-licensed products over the device. But product pen testing equally lends itself to radio-based communications such as mobile and cordless phones, access control systems and IP CCTV, intruder and fire alarm systems, and on a larger scale on network-based systems such as cashless vending systems, MFD printers, ANPR and traffic management equipment, and Process control field equipment (buildings automation and SCADA equipment).

At a time when the bottom line can often dictate policy, Open Laboratory product pen testing makes economic sense but it also provides unequivocal peace of mind. Today’s risk adverse marketplace demands the type of assurance that only penetration testing can provide. Knowing that a product has been subjected to the most stringent and rigorous security testing available provides that level of assurance.l

Author Greg Jones is a director at Digital Assurance
email: greg.jones@digitalassurance.com

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