Case study of one large state agency testing all vendor supplied applications to ensure that state data is protected. This study covers the early obstacles that come with testing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) applications, the successes of comprehensive security testing, and the value provided of improved application security for multiple state agencies.
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State government agency providing services for state residents.
50+ servers, one data center, heavy reliance on Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), 200+ client endpoints, and 10 mission critical enterprise applications.
Heavy reliance on vendors providing and supporting commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) applications to deliver on agency strategy.
The primary driver for the project was to provide agency leadership with a list of security risks that pose a threat to the agency and recommendations for remediation. Agency leadership was also looking for assurances that their technology vendors and partners were securely developing and supporting agency applications as required by their contracts.
The key business challenges included:
Application development, maintenance, and patching performed in black-box methodology.
Vendors submitted their applications for technical security testing in previous years through work with other state agencies and security firms.
One of the largest application development partners providing a major application to this agency and multiple other state governments was apathetic to the idea of technical security penetration testing, citing previous lack of value in the effort.
State agency leadership has limited engagement from this application development partner because the partner feels their practices are adequate and maintains a list of high-profile state clients who haven’t expressed security concerns.
The application provider offers to provide any one of the nine previous penetration tests provided by other security firms to justify not doing another penetration test.
Since this application contained sensitive information, the immediate goal from agency leadership was to obtain assurance that state information was being protected and application security controls are sufficient.
The state agency required a security testing solution that was efficient, minimized business disruption, provided comprehensive coverage, and extended the capabilities of internal IT teams to discuss technical security controls with mission critical application providers.
NuHarbor Security and Core Security were brought onboard to leverage their extensive experience working with large Fortune 500 companies and federal entities performing technical security penetration testing and translating results into meaningful operational outcomes that to improve enterprise security posture.
To minimize disruption of the mission critical application, NuHarbor established a security testing process and cadence of communication with agency leadership and the application vendor to ensure full transparency of all penetration testing performed. The security testing process ensured that there were no disruptions to active application development, application availability, or IT support staff.
Core Security provided all technical penetration testing services. Core Security leveraged their extensive tool set which included Core Impact, open-source tools, and technologies developed by CoreLabs to perform all penetration testing. The team from Core Security found numerous vulnerabilities in the application and proved to agency leadership and the application vendor that the vulnerabilities were not false positives by demonstrating active exploits and providing instructions and screen shots on how to perform the exploit.
The results were shared with the application vendor who noted the penetration test performed by Core Security was by far the most comprehensive and valuable test performed in the history of the application. They were impressed that Core Security took the time to explain how the exploits worked, provided instructions on how to exploit, and unpacked the complexities involved in each exploit.
NuHarbor worked with agency leadership and the application vendor to provide security architecture advisory and incorporate risk mitigation techniques into the agency security program to prevent these types of security risks from recurring in the future.
The vendor became very responsive when they realized they had an elevated risk profile and were cooperative with agency leadership.
The vendor performed many application architecture enhancements to improve security of the application.
The application was patched, and configuration changes were made to mitigate the risk for this state agency as well as all other state agencies where the application was installed.
The application vendor had a more favorable view toward application security once they learned and understood the breadth of security risk that existed in the application.