Wednesday, 2 September 2020

5 key features of the best web application vulnerability scanning tools

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:
  1. 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.
  2. Host-Based Vulnerability Scanners find vulnerabilities on a single host or system such as an individual computer or a network device like a switch or core-router.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 software testing tool and help our clients with web app penetration testing services, 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:
  1. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tools are pre-production security scanning tools that attempt to emulate attacker behaviour.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. They are also commonly referred to as automated penetration testing tools.
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 IAST web application vulnerability scanner like 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. You don't want to place this extra pressure on your software developers because, frankly, they're already under a lot of pressure.

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 software security best practices should show your engineers exactly what code they need to change and where.

Feature 3: Does the vulnerability scanning tool make it easy to track your security posture?

Finding and fixing vulnerabilities alone is a good start. But that practice alone won't give you a complete picture about your application's true security posture over time.

When you invest in any tools it's natural to want to understand your ROI. When it comes to application security, ROI can be defined in a number of ways. The most obvious measure of ROI is the number of breaches you suffer. Or another could be how much money you spend recovering from a breach.

I recommend that better measures of your application security posture are metrics like these:
  1. Vulnerability trajectory: are the number of high and medium-risk vulnerabilities increasing or decreasing across each sprint?
  2. Vulnerability patching speed: is the time it takes to fix your app's vulnerabilities increasing or decreasing?
  3. Vulnerability source: where do your vulnerabilities come from - your code or your infrastructure configurations?
Make sure that the cloud-based vulnerability scanning tool you choose has an easy-to-understand dashboard that shows you these and other relevant metrics to help you quicly understand your application security posture.

Feature 4: Is vulnerability management handled in a way that fits with your development processes?

Be careful of web app vulnerbility scanners that only excel at finding vulnerabilities and then leave you to work out how to manage the vulnerability patching lifecycle.

The last thing you want is for your team to be forced to download hard to manage CSV or PDF files to ensure that a vulnerability gets fixed. This type of vulnerabiilty management leads to slow patching speed, missed vulnerabilities and very little accountability and responsibility.
How fast are vulnerabilities fixed in web apps?

Choose a cloud-based vulnerability scanning tool that allows you to manage the entire vulnerability patching process without having to resort to CSVs. It's the only "sureshot" way to ensure that the vulnerabilities in your web app are patched on time.

Feature 5: 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 web app?

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”.

If you are looking for the best web app vulnerability scanning tool that can help your team find and fix security vulnerabilities before new code goes live, then get a free trial of Cyber Chief to see how it will work for you:

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