Vulnerability scanning or vulnerability assessment is a systematic process of finding security loopholes in any system addressing the potential vulnerabilities.
The purpose of vulnerability assessments is to prevent the possibility of unauthorised access to your systems. A “system” in this instance can be a network, a web app, a server, among other things.
Vulnerability scanning (or testing, as it is commonly called) preserves the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your system. It helps you find vulnerabilities before hackers find them so that you can avoid the headaches that ensure when your systems are hacked.
Are there different types of vulnerability scanners?
Yes. The reason for this is simple: vulnerabilities can exist in a number of different places, like your laptop, internet routers, web applications, IoT devices, corporate networks and even databases.
Some vulnerability scanners can find vulnerabilities in more than one type of environment. But no single vulnerability scanner is built to find vulnerabilities in ALL environments.
There are essentially four types of vulnerability scanners:
- Cloud-Based Vulnerability Scanners find vulnerabilities within cloud-based systems such as web applications, ERP systems and online shopping stores that are built with CMSs like Magento or Joomla.
- Host-Based Vulnerability Scanners find vulnerabilities on a single or system such as an individual computer or a network device like a switch or core-router.
- Network-Based Vulnerability Scanners find vulnerabilities in an internal network by scanning for open ports. Services running on open ports determined whether vulnerabilities exist or not with the help of the tool.
- Database-Based Vulnerability Scanners focus on finding vulnerabilities in databases. Because databases are usually the core of most IT systems, leaving a database-based vulnerability like an SQL injection open for an attacker to exploit is a certain recipe for disaster.
So what are the key features of the best web app vulnerability scanners?
During our many years of experience as a software company where we build and secure our own, we’ve understood that not all vulnerability scanners are created equal.
What do I mean by this?
Because you’re building and, likely, maintaining a web application that has many releases throughout the year, you need a web application vulnerability scanner that can work with your software development processes.
Not every vulnerability testing tool helps your software engineers stick to their strict timelines. Most vulnerability scanning tools are actually built for cybersecurity experts, which does not really help if your engineers have little or no application security experience.
You see, finding vulnerabilities is just one part of the game. Finding something that actually fits all your commercial objectives is entirely more difficult.
Asking the right questions before you subscribe to a cloud-based vulnerability scanner for your software could save you a lot of time, headaches and money.
These are the questions you MUST ask before agreeing to pay for a vulnerability scanning tool:
Feature 1: Is the vulnerability scanner static or dynamic?
You may have heard of DAST, IAST and SAST – they are all application security testing methodologies used to find security vulnerabilities in web apps. But they operate very differently:
- Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tools are pre-production security scanning tools that attempt to emulate attacker behaviour. They are also commonly referred to as automated penetration testing tools.
- Static Application Security Testing (SAST), also known as “white-box testing” has been around for more than a decade. It allows you to find security vulnerabilities in your source code and ensures conformance to coding guidelines and standards without actually executing the underlying code.
- Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) tools combine elements of both SAST and DAST tools to cover more code, produce more accurate results and verify a broader range of security rules.
Common sense says that If you’re going to spend money, spend it on something that can cover as much of your code and environment as possible. This is why an IASTlike Cyber Chief will give you more value for money.
Feature 2: Does the vulnerability scanning tool provide detailed fixes for each vulnerability it finds?
Your software developers already have a lot of distractions throughout their working day. Like you they lead busy lives and have people to answer to and deadlines to hit.
Their ability to deliver on time, in particular, can become very difficult if their workflow is slowed down by a vulnerability scanning tool that doesn’t tell them exactly how to patch a vulnerability.
Unfortunately, most vulnerability scanning tools point users in the direction of external websites to learn how to patch a vulnerability. This can be the beginning of a rabbit hole that leads to your software engineers spending endless hours scouring Google.
The best vulnerability scanning tools, like Cyber Chief, present all recommendations in common coding languages. So irrespective of whether your application is coded in Java, .Net, Python or Rails, the vulnerability scanning tool’s recommendations should show your engineers exactly what code they need to change and where.
Feature 3: Does the company behind the vulnerability scanning tool listen to your feature requests?
Like any software, no cloud-based vulnerability scanner is perfect. During your buying journey, you will have to weigh the trade-offs between different tools.
While this is normal for any purchasing process, software or otherwise, what you should also consider is just how responsive will the company behind the tool be to your feature requests.
Do they point you to their generic “online feature request form” or will they give you a dedicated contact who will listen to and understand your challenges?
This is a critical part of “ongoing support” that is seldom considered when it comes to SaaS or cloud-based tools.
Is there a foolproof vulnerability scanner that will stop any hackers from ever breaching your system?
Unfortunately, no. There is no “foolproof” or “ironclad” way to ensure that you will not be hacked. But there are proven ways to ensure that your team has minimised the likelihood of a serious cybersecurity breach of your web app.
Using vulnerability scanning tools as part of your regular software engineering processes is that “proven way”. Giving your engineers access to the right tool can make their life as easy and comfortable as a caring and gentle.
Ayush is the Co-Founder of Audacix. World-class SaaS and digital software teams use Audacix’s and penetration testing services to avoid “oh s**t Monday’s”!
He recently spoke at the Tech In Asia conference about “low hanging fruit” AppSec initiatives that help software teams elevate their application security resilience.
If you want to ship your SaaS with zero security holes and fewer bugs, talk to Ayush’s team now.