The Penetration Audit – A Powerful Training Tool

Picture a large manufacturing facility with a robust security infrastructure: access controlled gates and entry doors, security guards on post and roving, monitoring with CCTV cameras, and perimeter intrusion alarms. Here all employees have participated in security awareness briefings. Management decided to test their employee’s response to intrusion by conducting a Penetration Audit, and the results were disappointing. On the flip side however, the after action review with the employees was in itself a powerful training tool.

A consultant was hired who during the daytime climbed over the fence wearing street cloths and carrying a backpack and a clipboard. He wandered through various buildings and processing areas. As he walked he encountered more than a dozen employees. Many greeted him with a nod. Two employees stopped him and said that fire resistant attire (FRC) was required. The consultant said his FRC gear and hardhat were in the backpack and he would go change into them. One employee showed him the location of a change room for that purpose but did not stay with him.

No one asked what he was doing, who he was, and no one reported him to Security. The positive benefit came when management met with employees for an after-action review. One can bet that in the future strangers on site in this facility will be challenged and reported to security. One can also ask how different the outcome of the audit would have been if it were pre-announced.

Years ago, the security department at Apple hired a smart PI to test security. His mission was to get into the many facilities without screening by the lobby security guards, then leave out the same lobby obviously carrying a large box. On his first audit run nine of ten security officers failed to stop him. He was a glib talker wearing a suit and his demeanor intimidated most of the guards. Again, no one reported him to security management. As a Security Manager, I always preferred to pre-announce penetration audits and did so for the second run of the audit in a different set of buildings. This time, the auditor found the guard force tuned up and 90% of the guards did the job right, stopping the man, asking for ID, and escorting him out of the building.

The results of penetration audits can be surprising to management whether pass or fail. The value of these exercises as training moments that become imbedded in their long-term conduct is significant; either way – surprise audits or pre-announced penetration tests.