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The requirements needed to make an external penetration test legal

I've been asked to perform a vulnerability test on the wireless network. The company's managing director has deliberately not given me any information about the wireless network or the internal company network as he wishes to know how much information can be obtained by outsiders. What are the most appropriate best practices to keep in mind so that I perform a comprehensive vulnerability assessment without crossing any unethical boundaries?

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First and foremost, make sure the external penetration testing is legal. Get written authorization in order to perform the assessment. If you are an outside contractor, this authorization should be part of your contract or statement of work. It is important that the authorization be as detailed as possible to avoid legal or ethical issues; details to include are the allowed dates (and times if relevant) of the assessment, which attacks are permitted and, more importantly, which ones are not permitted. Also, you should document whether or not you are allowed to attack the access points and/or devices attached to the wireless network directly, or if the goal is just to break the authentication and authorization protocols/policies.

Often, attacks that can create denial-of-service conditions are disallowed. Similarly, it is important to document how far you are allowed to test if you find a wireless network vulnerability. For instance, if you manage to connect to the network, are you allowed to see what services are available? And if so, are you limited to the ones directly on the wireless network or are you permitted to attack services on any attached wired networks?

Unless this is also supposed to test the effectiveness of the infosec team's monitoring techniques, all external penetration testing should go through the client's change-control system so that the appropriate people are aware of the situation and can react appropriately should your testing cause any issues.

It is also important to document what tests you ran and the results of those tests so you can cleanly and accurately report the results back to the organization.

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This was first published in June 2009

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