If your Azure cloud environment is housing sensitive data you may want to seriously consider penetration testing. In this article, we will discuss the basics of Azure penetration testing, how you can use it to secure your cloud environment, and some best practises. We will also cover some common attack vectors that hackers use to compromise Azure environments, how to protect yourself against them and why you should consider a penetration testing service.
What is Azure penetration testing?
Azure penetration testing involves attacking your Azure cloud environment using the same methods as hackers to find vulnerabilities and assess your defences. The goal of such tests is to find and fix security flaws before they get exploited by a malicious actor.
Pentesters use a variety of methods, including manual tests and automated tools. Once these vulnerabilities are identified, pentesters will typically report them to the system owner so that they can be fixed.
How does it work?
Azure penetration testing can be done in three different ways and can include up to six stages.
3 approaches to Azure penetration testing:
White-box pentesting: Here, your tester will be provided with all the information they need about your systems and infrastructure. This can include IP addresses, usernames, passwords, etc. This type of testing is typically done to determine how your systems can be breached from the inside or by someone with direct access to your cloud infrastructure such as a malicious employee.
Black-box pentesting: These are conducted without providing any information about the target systems to the testers. The tester will have to find their way in by compromising your systems and infrastructure. This is done to simulate a real-world attack scenario where an attacker from the outside has no prior knowledge of the infrastructure, how it is configured and does not have direct access to the systems or network.
Grey-box pentesting: Here, some information about your systems will be given to the testers but not everything. This is done to simulate a scenario where an attacker from the inside has some access but not all of it. For example, an employee who has access to certain parts of the network but not all.
6 stages of Azure penetration testing:
- Planning: The first step is to plan your testing, which includes identifying the systems that will be tested and deciding on how they should be attacked. You also need to figure out who will perform these tests and what resources they have at their disposal, such as hardware or software tools.
- Reconnaissance and Information Gathering: At this stage, pentesters discover information about the target network and systems. This can include IP addresses, usernames and passwords, server names and software versions.
- Vulnerability Scanning: This is where pentesters scan for security weak points and known vulnerabilities in systems and applications. This can include scanning for open ports and running automated vulnerability scanning tools.
- Exploitation: This is where pentesters attempt to exploit the vulnerabilities they have discovered and make their way to sensitive data or high-value accounts. They will use a variety of methods, including automated tools, exploits, malware and social engineering tactics.
- Post-Exploitation: This is where pentesters leave ways to access the systems next time without having to breach them. This can include extracting sensitive data, installing backdoors and spyware, changing configurations or security settings, or even taking control of systems.
- Reporting and Remediation: The final stage is documenting a report on all the findings from the pentest. Pentesters will typically provide a detailed report on all the vulnerabilities they found along with information on how to fix them.
A software penetration testing is usually done in a separate test environment and in a controlled manner. All traces of the test are later discarded from the systems so that
Why perform Azure penetration testing?
The main reasons organisations pentest their cloud environments are to assess their vulnerability to attack and determine whether their defences are effective.
Azure penetration testing should be performed on any cloud environment that houses sensitive data or provides access to critical systems. By identifying any weak points in your environment you can then take steps to mitigate the risk posed by these vulnerabilities and greatly reduce the chances of your data being compromised.
Common Azure attack vectors
Common attack vectors that hackers use to compromise Azure cloud environments:
- Phishing emails with malicious links or attachments sent to users on your network
- Unpatched software vulnerabilities in applications running inside the Azure environment such as WordPress, Joomla, etc. Hackers can exploit these flaws to gain access and take control of servers hosting sensitive data or critical systems
- Malware installed by hackers on user devices which can provide access to your cloud environment or sensitive data
- Brute force attacks on login credentials
- SQL injections to access and manipulate databases.
- Man-in-The-Middle attacks (e.g., eavesdropping, traffic redirection) that can intercept sensitive data as it travels between users and the Azure cloud
- Unauthorised access to privileged accounts
- Compromised credentials that allow hackers into your environment
How to protect your Azure cloud environment from hackers?
There are several ways you can protect your Azure cloud environment from hackers but the two most effective ways are:
1. Follow these best practises while using Microsoft Azure:
There are a few important things to remember when using Microsoft’s Azure cloud services.
- Use strong passwords and change them regularly
- Login credentials should be kept private and not revealed to anyone who does not require it.
- Only those who need it should have access to sensitive information.
- Make sure your network is secured with firewalls, antivirus software, and other security measures.
- Cross-check security settings and configurations to ensure they’re correct before implementing them
- Monitor your cloud environment 24x7x365 for any suspicious activity and respond quickly if something needs attention
- Train employees to recognise phishing emails, malware and other threats that may compromise your Azure environment.
2. Perform regular penetration tests:
It’s critical to do penetration testing on a regular basis so that you discover new threats that have surfaced since your last test. This will help you to stay ahead of potential attackers and ensure the security of your cloud environment.
How Can Azure Penetration Testing Help Secure My Cloud Environment?
Azure penetration testing poses several benefits and can help to secure your cloud environment in many ways:
- By identifying and patching vulnerabilities before they are exploited, you can reduce the risk of your data being compromised.
- It can help you to identify any misconfigurations or vulnerabilities that may exist in your Azure environment.
- Pentesting can also help you to identify malicious activity in your environment, allowing you to respond quickly and prevent further damage.
- It can help you achieve compliance requirements like PCI DSS, ISO 27001 etc.
- It will also improve your overall security posture by strengthening defences against common attack vectors used by hackers
- And finally, it will help you to avoid costly breaches, data leaks, and negative publicity.
How to prepare for Azure penetration testing?
Before you begin pentesting, you must take some steps to prepare your environment. These include:
- Be sure you have the correct permissions from all stakeholders, including those who own or manage systems that may be tested
- Identifying systems and data that are critical to your business operation and prioritise them for testing
- Identify any systems or data which cannot be tested due to confidentiality issues.
- Document all assets in scope for pentesting and create a testing plan which outlines the steps that will be taken during the assessment
- Identify any third-party applications or services which are used in your environment and ensure they are included in the pentest
- Gather the required information and assets needed for testing, such as usernames, passwords, IP addresses, URLs etc.
- Disable any unnecessary services or applications that may interfere with the testing process
- Check that all systems have the most recent security updates installed.
How often should you perform penetration tests?
It’s advised that you do penetration testing on a regular basis., preferably once a year or more. However, the frequency of pentesting may vary depending on your organisation’s risk tolerance and the sensitivity of the data you are protecting. You should also perform re-tests after implementing changes to your environment, security controls, or privacy policies.
Who can perform Azure penetration testing?
Azure penetration testing is a specialised task that requires extensive knowledge and expertise to carry out successfully.
If you lack the skills or resources to do it internally, then it is recommended that you work with an experienced, trusted cybersecurity specialist who can perform ethical hacking on your behalf without causing any damage to your environment or data.
Why consider a professional penetration testing provider?
Ideally, you should engage a professional penetration testing provider to conduct your pentesting. This is because they have the experience and expertise to identify all potential vulnerabilities in your environment and recommend appropriate countermeasures. They will also ensure that all findings are documented in a comprehensive report which can be used for future reference.
Some penetration testing providers are specialised in meeting compliance requirements for specific industries, such as healthcare or finance. So, if you are looking to achieve compliance with a particular standard, it is advisable to seek out an expert in that area.
Azure penetration testing is an essential component of cloud security. By finding and fixing any flaws, you can decrease the chance of your company’s information being stolen by hackers. To maintain the security of your systems, it is recommended that you do penetration testing on a regular basis. If you lack the skills or resources to do it internally, then consider engaging a professional penetration testing provider who can perform ethical hacking on your behalf without causing any damage to your environment or data.
Author Bio: Ankit Pahuja is the Marketing Lead & Evangelist at Astra Security. Ever since his adulthood (literally, he was 20 years old), he began finding vulnerabilities in websites & network infrastructures. Starting his professional career as a software engineer at one of the unicorns enables him in bringing “engineering in marketing” to reality. Working actively in the cybersecurity space for more than 2 years makes him the perfect T-shaped marketing professional. Ankit is an avid speaker in the security space and has delivered various talks in top companies, early-age startups, and online events. You can connect with him on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ankit-pahuja/
Gravatar URL: https://en.gravatar.com/ankitpahujaastra
Disclaimer: The views, suggestions, and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Michigan Journal USA journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.