In Scope or Out of Scope?



In penetration testing, it’s important to have an accurate scope and even more important to stick to it. This can be simple when the scope is limited to a company’s internet service provider (ISP) or ARIN provided IP ranges. But in many cases, our client’s public systems have grown to include multiple cloud hosted servers, applications, and services. It may seem obvious to say that anything owned or managed by the company should be in-scope for testing, but how do we know what is “owned" or "managed”? Ideally, we’d test everything that creates risk to an organization, but that isn’t always possible.

I led this article by stating that an accurate scope is critical to penetration testing. If the scope only includes the IP blocks provided by your ISP, you’re probably missing systems that should be tested. Alternately, pentesting a system that you don’t have permission to test could land you in hot water. The good news is that hosting providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure allow penetration testing of systems within your account. In other words, because you manage them, you have the right to pentest them. In these environments, pentesting your individual servers (or services) does not affect “neighboring” systems or the cloud host’s infrastructure.

What risks are there?

In addition to the many compute and storage providers, you may also have websites and applications that are hosted and managed by a 3rd party. These still create risk to your company, but the hosting provider has complete control over who has permission to perform testing. When there is custom code or sensitive data at play, you should be seeking (written) permission to pentest/assess these systems and applications. If the host is unable or unwilling to allow testing, they should provide evidence of their own independent testing.

There are also going to be cloud systems that, despite creating risk to your organization, can’t be tested at all. This includes software as a service (SaaS) applications like SalesForce, SAP,  and DocuSign. 

And you guessed it… there are also systems like Azure AD, Microsoft 365, and CloudFlare that are not explicitly in-scope, but their controls may not be avoidable during external pentests. MS 365 uses Azure AD which is basically a public extension of your on-premise (internal) Active Directory; complete with extremely high-performance authentication services. Most authentication attacks today take place directly against Azure AD due to its performance and public accessibility. In other words, an attacker could have your passwords before they ever touch a system on your network. Likewise, if your company uses CloudFlare to protect your websites and web applications, it inherently becomes part of the scope because testing of these apps should force you through their proxy/control.

Next steps

Hopefully this information will help you plan for your next pentest or assessment. If your company maintains an accurate inventory of external systems that includes all of your data center and cloud systems, you’re already off to a great start. Still, there is always value in doing regular searches and discoveries for systems you may be missing. One method involves reviewing your external DNS to obtain a list of A and CNAME records for your domains.  (For ALL of your domains…)  By resolving all of your domains and subdomains you can easily come up with a pretty large list of IP addresses that are in some way tied to your company. Now all you need to do is lookup each IP to see what it’s hosting and who owns it. Easy right?

If you don’t already have a tool for looking up bulk lists of IP addresses or you prefer not to paste a list of your company’s IP addresses into someone else’s website, we’ve got a solution. was written to take very large lists of IP addresses and perform a series of whois and geoip lookups. If the IP address is owned by Amazon or Microsoft, additional details on the service or data center get added based the host’s online documentation. This tool was designed for regular use by our penetration testers, but its concepts and capabilities are a core functionality of our CASM Engine™ and our suite of Continuous Attack Surface Management and Continuous Penetration Testing subscriptions.

Are you ready to start your technology journey? The friendly experts at SynerComm are here to help.

From design to deployment to troubleshooting and everything in between, the friendly experts at SynerComm are always here to help.
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