Wednesday, September 2, 2020

5 features of top web application vulnerability testing tools

Table Of Contents

    Vulnerability scanning tools or vulnerability testing tools systematically find security vulnerabilities in your cloud and on-premise assets.

    The purpose of vulnerability assessments is to prevent the possibility of unauthorised access to your systems. A "system" in this instance can be an on-premise network, a cloud platform, a web application, an EC2 instance, among many other things.

    Vulnerability testing (or scanning, 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.

    In short, vulnerability testing tools help you upgrade your SaaS security standards so that you can reduce the risk posed to you by malicious miscreants on the internet.

    Are there different types of vulnerability testing tools?

    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 Web App Vulnerability Testing Tools, like Cyber Chief, 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.
    If you like having to beg your security vendor for an application security report, don’t get Cyber Chief, because then who will you beg?

    So what are the key features of the best web application vulnerability scanning tools?

    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 testing tool that can work with your software development processes.

    Not every web app 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 a web app vulnerability testing that actually helps you secure your app and build trust by proving that your web app is enterprise-ready 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 web application vulnerability testing tool 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 tools (DAST scanning tools) are pre and post-production vulnerability testing 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.
    Want to do a software security assessment without exposing your code? If you have Cyber Chief you can do this from your CI/CD pipelines.

    Feature 2: Does the web application vulnerability testing 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.
    5 best web application vulnerability scanning tools

    Unfortunately, most web application 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 wasting endless hours scouring Google instead of implementing controls after testing security of a website.

    The best vulnerability testing 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 web application 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.
    Any vulnerability scanner will give you a list of vulnerabilities. But if you have Cyber Chief, you’ll be able to secure your web apps & APIs on autopilot.

    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.
    5 best web application vulnerability testing tools

    Choose a cloud-based web application vulnerability testing 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.

    Remember, vulnerability management also becomes an important issue when you are conducting if you are working with an external vendor for penetration testing services.

    Having vulnerabilities from multiple sources in one repository will save your team a lot of time, rework and frustration.

    Feature 5: Does the company behind the web app 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 web application vulnerability scanning tool that find all vulnerabilities in my software?

    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.

    Best web application vulnerability testing tools
    People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet.
    Temple Grandin

    Using vulnerability scanning tools as part of your regular software engineering processes is that "proven way".

    Most good web application vulnerability scanning tools can find thousands of vulnerabilities. So don't use that as a basis for making your decision.

    Despite all the various AI wizardry that is being incorporated into these web app vulnerability assessment tools, commonly accepted industry wisdom that vulnerability scanners can confidently find 50-60% of the vulnerabilities that might exist in your application.

    Some web app vulnerability testing tools even purport to protect you against "zero day threats" or "upcoming vulnerabilities." In reality, these features are usually just a list of newly released CVEs which most often are reported for on-premise network appliances that have little or no relevance to application security.

    Some web app vulnerability testing tools even purport to protect you against "zero day threats" or "upcoming vulnerabilities." In reality, these features are usually just a list of newly released CVEs which most often are reported for on-premise network appliances that have little or no relevance to application security tools and the capability they provide.

    In case you didn't know, as a software developer or software development leader, the OWASP Top 10 and the SANS CWE 25 are the lists of software-specific vulnerabilities that you really need to protect against.

    Any vulnerabilities beyond those in these lists are probably not all that relevant to you. So your ROI will be maximised if you do your due dilligence on some of this marketing gimmickry!

    These are just some of the reasons why the 5 features I mentioned above are better metrics to work out whether the vulnerability testing tool is a good fit.

    Top 5 web application vulnerability testing tools right now

    Now that you've made it this far and you understand what you need to look for in web app security assessment tools, let me give you the tea on the web application vulnerability testing tools that are most in demand right now:


    This vulnerability scanning tool has a long history and was almost used as the default choice when there was a shortage of vulnerability scanning tools in the market.

    It was built to be used by application security experts with qualifications, years of experience and know-how. It wasn't built for software development or DevOps teams, contrary to what you might read.

    In my view there are better Acunetix alternatives available now.

    Any vulnerability scanner will run a scan for you. But only Cyber Chief is also able to coach your devs about how to patch your vulnerabilities.

    Tennable Web App Scanning

    Tennable makes great vulnerability scanning tools, particularly for network scanning and endpoint scanning.

    Tennable's Nessus tool has a whole host of plugins and settings that can be fine-tuned to perform the scan that user want. This flexibility is also the tool's achilles heel, because unless you have years of web application security tools experience and years of experience using the tool, you won't be able to use it to its full potential.

    Also, network and endpoint scanning is very different to web application vulnerability testing. But that hasn't stopped Tennable from releasing a cut-down version of their Nessus scanner as web app vulnerability scanning tool.


    This tool comes from the same company that makes Acunetix. You have to wonder why they've got two products that do exactly the same thing, no?

    A free trial is available and I encourage you to take advantage of it, because I think you'll find that this isn't the most user-friendly vulnerability scanner going around.

    Netsparker also offers authenticated scanning for web apps, but getting it to work is another struggle might need to endure, despite some reasonably good help articles.

    Again, there are better Netsparker alternatives that are custom-built for software development workflows.

    OWASP Zap

    Zap is the pick of the bunch when it comes to free, open source vulnerability scanning tools. It's got a relatively active community via a Google Group, but despite this community most users are left to fend for themselves when it comes to troubleshooting.

    Zap has a bunch of cool features built-in to some degree, but what lets the tool down as a whole is the abysmally poor documentation.

    Poor documentation isn't just a Zap-specific problem, it's a commonly accepted issue with most open source tools. As you would have learned by now, invest your time in open source vulnerability scanning tools at your own risk.

    If your organisation doesn't have the budget to invest in a top web app security testing tool with first class support and frictionless integrations with CICD software deployment pipelines, then Zap is your best alternative.

    Does your vulnerability scanner also give you automated API security? Cyber Chief does. Worth a look?
    Cyber Chief is a best-in-class vulnerability testing tool built for software teams

    Cyber Chief

    The key difference between Cyber Chief and the other paid tools in this list is that it has been custom-built for software development teams.

    If you don't have an in-house security team then your people probably don't have the time or the know-how to tune and constantly re-tune a vulnerability scanning tool. You want the tool to run first time, every time, and ideally, each time new code is committed to your environments.

    It is this frictionless integration with modern software development workflows that sets Cyber Chief apart from other web app vulnerability testing tools.

    Add to this the detailed, best-practice vulnerability descriptions and resolutions that are constantly updated by our team of security analysts and you have a turnkey, user-friendly automated penetration testing tool that can be used by all software developers.

    For full disclosure, Cyber Chief is our tool (which you already know by now).

    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:

    SaaS Brief