Thursday, 14 October 2010

Making the test go smoothly

Carrying on our series of posts about the various stages of the security testing process, we're moving on to another frequently overlooked piece of the puzzle, which is test logistics.

Most testing that's carried out has quite tight timescales. On a big project, security testing will usually get a specific window to be completed in, so it's important that everything goes smoothly. Also as testing is usually charged by days effort, time not testing due to logistics problems is essentially money down the drain.

So what are the main causes of logistics problems and some possible solutions to them :-
  • Credentials - For a lot of testing, authentication to systems is a requirement. Without credentials the tester can't do the work, and depending on the company and the application getting new users onto the system can take a while. So always worth ensuring that as a tester you've clearly laid out what accounts you need and as a client you kick off the processes to get them sorted, well before the test.
  • Letters of Authorisation (LoA) - Making sure that no-one's going to accuse you of illegal hacking is kind of important for a smooth running test :o) Especially where there's a 3rd party involved (eg, hosting companies, outsourcing companies) the LOA is a very useful way to ensure that all relevant parties are aware that the testing is happening, what the dates are and confirming that they're happy for it to go ahead. A useful requirement of the LoA is to have a test term which is quite a bit longer than the expected test window, as delays often happen for various reasons, and it is generally easier to have one LoA covering a month for a week long test than to raise separate one-week LoA's if things get delayed.
  • Technical contact - While sometimes your customer will be the technical contact, in large companies it's likely that there are other departments or even other companies involved, and it's always a good idea to have the names and phone numbers of the right people, so that if a system crashes during testing, you can get in touch and minimize any problems.
  • Escalation contact - Especially when testing environments which support large customer groups, financial transactions or critical data flow, being able to provide timely information on hold-ups, the business impact of technical issues, critical findings which just can't wait until the end of the test etc. to the right people can be a lifesaver - both for the customer, and for the tester. Without an escalation contact, tests are often halted for all manner of glitches, including those unconnected with the test. The contact is often all that is needed to provide context to business so they can make informed go/no-go decisions.
  • Network Access - Not a problem on every test, but internal tests, especially for large companies, can run into problems when it's not possible to get a clear network connection to the systems to be reviewed. Always worth connecting a machine before the testers get to site and make sure you can get an IP addresses and reach the in-scope systems.
  • Availability of system to be tested - Might seem like a no-brainer, but applications, systems or websites are sometimes down for maintenance, operational testing etc., and the teams working on them may be separate from the individuals liaising with the security tester. All this does is incur cost, and eat into test windows, so we would recommend ensuring all relevant teams have visibility of the security test, and its requirements.
  • Jurisdiction - Especially for testing companies operating in different countries, getting agreement (often in the form of an LoA or specific contract terms) for data potentially being accessed in another jurisdiction, for example testing a European organisation from the Far East. Looking into the legal requirements up front at the initial scoping stage can save a whole lot of pain further down the line
  • Desk and chair ! - Shouldn't need a mention but testers do need somewhere to sit :) Many of us have carried out tests huddled on the floor of a cooled data centre, but it is good practice to follow basic Health and Safety policy
With a bit of effort up-front logistics shouldn't get in the way of a good test, but they can trip you up, so definitely worth considering.

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