Last updated at Wed, 03 Jan 2024 21:08:27 GMT

PenTales: A Badge, a Tag, and a Bunch of Unattended Chemicals

At Rapid7 we love a good pen test story. So often they show the cleverness, skill, resilience, and dedication to our customer’s security that can only come from actively trying to break it! In this series, we’re going to share some of our favorite tales from the pen test desk and hopefully highlight some ways you can improve your own organization’s security.

Rapid7 was tasked with performing a physical social engineering engagement for a pharmaceutical company. Physical social engineering penetration tests involve actually entering the physical space of the target. In this case, we were able to enter the facility via tailgating behind an unsuspecting employee.

After gaining access inside the client’s office space, I traversed multiple floors without having a valid RFID badge thanks to even more tailgating and unassuming employees. When I reached an unattended conference room, I was able to plug a laptop into the network due to lack of network access controls. I employed a tool called ‘’ to perform Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks by poisoning LLMNR/NBNS requests. This allowed me to gather usernames and password hashes for multiple employees, as well as perform ‘relay’ attacks. The password hashes were then placed on a password cracking server to let the relay attempts run for a bit before I exited the conference room to identify additional points of interest for the assessment. I was able to exit the building that first day without ever being stopped or questioned by anyone.

Upon my return the following day, I again tailgated into the facilities and returned to the same conference room to check the status of the password cracking attempts; only to discover that none of the hashes were cracked. Obviously with more time and additional password cracking attempts the results may have been different. Having been unsuccessful at this first attempt I looked around for other ‘quick wins’ such as missing critical patches but was unable to discover any attack paths that way.

While performing network testing, I noticed an employee hovering around outside the conference room door only to quickly disappear after being seen. I continued testing for another few minutes before noticing the same employee nearby. While I was unable to ascertain the reasoning for this employee’s presence, to avoid being compromised, I packed up my equipment and exited the conference room to focus on other goals that were prioritized over network testing.

Entering the Laboratory

Part of our task from the client was to see if I could gain access to multiple biology labs that stored several dangerous chemicals as well as expensive testing equipment. Turns out, it wasn’t terribly difficult. The first lab was completely unattended and I was able to enter thanks to a door that was not fully closed. The second lab was accessed compliments of a significant gap between the door’s plunger and strike plate, which allowed me to use my hotel room key to shim the door open. This gave me access to more dangerous (and dangerously unattended) chemicals. I then accessed the 5th floor labs through even more tailgating and unassuming employees. The 5th floor labs actually had people in them but nobody stopped and questioned me, a complete stranger. This pen test really highlights the benefits of Security Awareness Training and physical social engineering engagements!

The Boss’ Office

The final demonstration of impact came when the point-of-contact for the engagement asked if we could enter at least one of a few executives' offices and leave a message on their dry erase board stating ‘I was here - A Pentester.’ After a little while, I got my chance to tag an executive’s office to really help demonstrate the impact/importance of security of all kinds, not just your network.

While making our way through our client’s office spaces on the last day, I was finally stopped and questioned. I informed this gentleman that I was working with [Point-of-Contact’s Name] performing a wireless survey of their networks. He informed me that he knew I worked for their company because I had a badge. Their badges did not contain their picture or any other information, it was totally blank. My badge was blank too (Pro Tip: don’t assume someone works there based on a blank RFID badge). I told this fella that it was good that he stopped and questioned me because you never know who somebody is or if they are who they say they are. He completely agreed, shook my hand and told me to have a nice day.

Few things highlight the need for robust employee security training more than a successful physical social engineering pen test. Ensuring your workforce is thinking critically about security goes beyond the ability to sniff out a phishing email and into securing the physical space they occupy. A good security plan is essential lest you be visited by a clandestine attacker.