compliance search

After years of working in IT and cybersecurity, I can say without a doubt that compliance search tools are no longer optional; they are a necessity.

As organizations adopt cloud technologies and remote work policies, sensitive data is more dispersed than ever.

Performing comprehensive security testing in modern IT environments demands advanced search capabilities. Compliance search solutions allow testers to easily scan across networks, endpoints, cloud apps, and more to uncover vulnerabilities.

In this post, I will explore the evolution of compliance search and how it empowers ethical hackers in 2023.

What is Compliance Search?

Compliance search is a specialized search mechanism used to ensure that an organization’s data handling practices are in line with legal and regulatory requirements.

It’s a pentester’s dream tool, allowing them to identify vulnerabilities and ensure that sensitive information is handled securely.

Let’s mention some use cases:

1.1 Legal Framework

Understanding the legal framework is crucial. Regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, and CCPA govern how data must be handled. Non-compliance can lead to hefty fines and reputational damage.

1.2 Ethical Hacking

Pentesters utilize compliance search to perform ethical hacking. They simulate cyberattacks to identify vulnerabilities, ensuring that the organization’s data handling practices are robust and compliant.

The Evolution of Compliance Search

Traditionally, compliance searches relied on scanning individual systems and storage locations. Testers had to cobble together results from various endpoints and services to get a big-picture view.

This manual process was time-consuming, incomplete, and error prone. As cloud adoption surged in the 2010s, the limitations of legacy search tools became unacceptable.

Modern compliance search platforms utilize agent-based architectures for unified visibility. Lightweight agents are rapidly deployed across endpoints, servers, cloud apps, network shares, email, and more.

Instead of handling systems individually, agents feed data back to a central engine. Searches easily compile results from all integrated sources rather than just one silo.

Intelligent parsing has also improved compliance search accuracy. Older tools relied on basic keyword matching, often generating excessive noise. Current solutions utilize advanced natural language processing, semantic analysis, and optical character recognition.

This allows searches to understand context and intent, reducing false positives. Machine learning further refines analysis over time.

Modern compliance search tools are revolutionizing cybersecurity testing with their automation and breadth of coverage. Scans that previously took weeks or months can now be completed in hours.

Ethics testers can find and report vulnerabilities faster, enabling companies to rapidly remediate issues.

compliance search

Key Features for Penetration Testing

Compliance search platforms offer numerous capabilities that directly aid cybersecurity assessments. Here are some of the most crucial features for pen testers to consider:

  • Cross-platform visibility: As discussed above, searching across endpoints, servers, the cloud, email, networks shares is mandatory. Ensure the solution has robust coverage across domains with lightweight, rapid agent deployment.
  • Fast scanning: Compliance search tools should index content quickly and provide nearly instant results when hunting for data. Look for search response times under a few seconds at most.
  • Advanced filters: Useful filters allow drilling down by file types, metadata, location, sender/recipients, domains, and more. Flexible operators like wildcards improve the precision of queries.
  • Real-time alerts: Get notified immediately if sensitive content is detected or policy violations occur during testing. This enables correcting issues ASAP.
  • Collaboration: Mature platforms enable sharing searches, results, and notes across pen testing teams. This improves efficiency and teamwork.
  • Reporting: Robust reporting options let testers easily document findings for stakeholders. Reports should capture searches, results, violations, forensics, and remediation guidance.
  • APIs and integrations: Search solutions with open APIs integrate smoothly across the tech stack. Key integrations include SIEM, ticketing, e-discovery, and security orchestration tools.
compliance search in action

Compliance Search in Action

To better understand the power of modern compliance search for pen testing, let’s walk through some examples.

1. Finding passwords and keys

A core testing objective is uncovering passwords, API keys, and other credentials stored in code or documents. Rather than digging through individual systems, a single cross-platform search can quickly uncover any credentials. Useful queries include:

  • File contents search for keywords like “password”, “secret”, “key”, “token”, etc.
  • Look for file extensions like .pem, .pfx, .ppk, etc. that may contain keys.
  • Scan documents for strings that fit common password formats, like alphanumeric hashes.

Any results should be reported immediately so the credentials can be revoked and rotated. The ability to search across endpoints, source code repositories, cloud drives, file shares, email, etc. in one pass makes it almost trivial to find credentials.

2. Detecting PII and sensitive data

Personally identifiable information (PII) like social security numbers, financial data, and medical records require extra security. Compliance search tools can quickly find places where PII or other confidential data may be improperly stored. Queries can search for:

  • Keywords related to PII like SSN, driver’s license, passport, etc.
  • Formats of financial data like credit cards and bank account numbers.
  • Medical terms and codes associated with health records.
  • Custom vocabularies tailored to sensitive internal data.

Finding PII exposure early greatly reduces the risk of disastrous data leaks. Ethics testers are obligated to be on the lookout for such data security issues.

3. Uncovering shadow IT and rogue apps

Shadow IT refers to unauthorized apps and services provisioned outside the purview of IT and security teams. These rogue services bypass approved security controls and monitoring, creating risk. Modern search tools can detect shadow IT across endpoints and cloud accounts via:

  • Searches for unexpected application binaries and processes
  • Scans for unusual outbound network connections
  • Checks for unknown cloud resources and storage buckets
  • Queries targeting developer forums related to shadow IT tools

Detecting shadow IT allows infosec teams to properly assess risk, require sanctions provisioning if warranted, and apply necessary controls like CASB. Shutting down uncontrolled shadow IT is a key element of improving enterprise security posture.

4. Auditing configurations and metadata

Properly configured systems are critical for security. Compliance search solutions can quickly audit policies and settings across endpoints, servers, and cloud apps via:

  • Contents scans target setting files like .ini, .conf, etc.
  • Inspecting metadata like permissions, encryption status, and ownership.
  • Queries for keywords related to security settings like “password policy”, “MFA”, “SMB signing”, etc.

Any misconfigurations flagged can be reported and remediated. Comprehensive configuration auditing is impossible via manual processes, making search solutions invaluable.

5. Identifying malware and IOCs

Malware detection is table stakes for any pen tester. Modern search tools excel at uncovering malicious software via:

  • File hashes matching threat intel repositories of known malware.
  • YARA rules are tailored to malware families, C2 patterns, and exploits.
  • Behavioral indicators like suspicious processes, registry changes, and network calls.

Finding malware quickly allows prompt containment and root cause analysis. Searches can also assess exposure related to threats, like checking for vulnerable Log4j versions.

6. Reviewing access patterns

During pen testing, it’s important to assess risks related to excessive or unusual access patterns:

  • Users accessing abnormal volumes of sensitive data.
  • Logins from unexpected locations or times.
  • Suspicious insider threat behaviors.
  • Surges in cloud resource consumption.

Search solutions can quickly flag anomalous activity warranting further review. This empowers identifying access control issues and insider risk before data loss or breaches occur.

microsoft 365 compliance center

The Hacker’s Best Friend

Modern compliance search solutions provide indispensable capabilities for penetration testing and cybersecurity assessments.

Their unique cross-platform visibility and intelligent analysis accelerate the discovery of vulnerabilities, data exposures, misconfigurations, malware, shadow IT, suspicious access, and more.

Any ethical hacking engagement should leverage the power of advanced compliance search to supercharge testing, enhance results, and deliver more value.

With hackers continually upping their game, search tools have become mandatory instruments for staying a step ahead and keeping organizations secure.

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