Monday, July 4, 2011

A mini-review of Ninja Hacking by Wilhelm and Andress

I have just come off a vacation where I tried to disconnect from being overly technical.  Typically, on my breaks I read technical books to enhance something I know or I read something in-depth to learn a new skill.  This past week, I wanted something relevant, but not overly technical.  I saw an ad for "Ninja Hacking:  Unconventional Penetration Testing Tactics and Techniques" by Thomas Wilhelm and Jason Andreas, and decided this fit the bill perfectly.

To start off, let me say that the book is aptly named.  The use of the word "ninja" is not just used as the adjective to describe a good coder or pen tester; all of the concepts in the book relate to the ancient ninja of feudal Japan.  The point of the book is to introduce concepts of penetration testing with the arts and practices of the ninja.

So, here is what I liked:  First, the book devotes the first two chapters to the history of the ninja in Japan.  I can honestly say that prior to reading those two chapters, my concept of ninjas was what Hollywood depicts in movies.  The first two chapters shed light on what the ninjas were really like, how they operated, why they were necessary, and what tools the ninjas had at their disposal.  Succeeding chapters took those tools and applied them to how penetration testers should think differently to accomplish their goal.  I really liked the discussion on strategies and tactics.  Some of the examples given to disrupt a system administrator were:  call them at 2 A.M. with a trouble ticket, send them an email from HR with an issue about their insurance, or leave a note on their car that they have parked in the wrong space.  Good stuff.  All of those are activities that will have someone thinking differently when they should be paying attention.

Also, the chapters might have discussed various tools and methodologies, but not at a low level.  For example, the chapter on discovering weak points in area defenses had a discussion on sniffing network traffic.  In the discussion Kissmet and Wireshark were both discussed, but only to introduce the tools to the reader (if they did not know of them) and provide the reader with the resources to learn more about them.  Each chapter had a page of end notes that included links to tools, articles, and other references for further study.

A couple of issues I found:  the title of the book includes "unconventional penetration testing tactics..." and to me, penetration testing refers to systems, networks and applications.  I understand that a target may be a building or a person.  Many of the chapters discussed the latter, buildings and people and did not necessarily apply to computers.  There was a section of the book that discussed torture; and while interesting, is not something I'll be employing.  There was a section in the chapter on discovering weak points called "Gates, Guns, and Guards."  While these are valid security concerns, I don't think they come up in your average day-to-day penetration test.  However, the authors extrapolated the scenarios to the logical (cyber?) world and created successful analogies in how to employ the tactics to the computer or network. 

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  It opened me up to thinking of different ways to conduct penetration tests and employ some tactics I would not have thought of.  I really enjoyed that the book was not overly technical such that I read through and jot down areas for further exploration.  And, I liked the chapters on the history of the ninja as I could dispel some of the Hollywood myths and legends for what the ninja truly were.

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