Imagine a castle fortress without a drawbridge, moat, or guards to keep enemies at bay. The idea would be ridiculous back then, just as it is now.
For modern organizations made up of people, equipment, networks, and data, it is essential to implement mechanisms that protect these valuable assets from unwanted interference.
Web application scanners are software programs designed to do just that, “scan” the assets of an organization’s Internet-facing website to identify and flag potential vulnerabilities. It is important to note that the scanner does not have access to the source code of the website; instead, it simulates hacking attacks to reveal weak spots in a web application’s armor, which in turn allows the organization to plug that vulnerability before attackers attempt to exploit it themselves.
But scanners also serve another purpose: discovering and cataloging an organization’s entire inventory of web assets—every website, web service, API, or application—so that nothing is hidden and anything added later can be tagged.
And when these scanners are missing, outdated, or simply not working as they should, the consequences for organizations can be severe.
Web Applications: A Superior Attack Vector
According to the 2022 Verizon Data Breach Investigation ReportBasic web applications were the top attack vector among the 18,000 security incidents and 3,000 known breaches the report examined, far outpacing other vectors such as email, software updates, and backdoor intrusions. Once inside, hackers can steal sensitive PII (think medical data, payment card data, or even Social Security numbers), as well as intellectual property and other high-value corporate assets. Sabotage of critical infrastructure, servers and other systems is also possible.
Clearly, traditional web application scanners miss the mark, providing basic protection at best, but failing to discover and classify the full range of vulnerabilities common to dynamic, script-heavy web applications. There are a few reasons for this:
- Many web application scanners only provide disjointed scanning coverage. They can uncover some, but not all, of the hidden web assets an organization has in its backlog. Hackers don’t care; all it takes is a long-forgotten, unauthorized web asset with a persistent vulnerability for them to sink their fangs into.
- Scans can take days or even weeks to complete, depending on the complexity of the application. Traditional web application scanners, for example, struggle to read dynamically generated content, script-heavy assets, custom forms, and shared authentication schemes such as single sign-on.
- Some scanners are attentive but inaccurate, creating false positives when they flag web assets as vulnerable that are, in fact, both functional and secure. The combination of factors leaves organizations with a stunted view of their assets, a broader attack surface, and excessively long scan queues that ultimately undermine the DevSecOps agility expected of modern release cycles.
Scanners: maximize tools
Effective threat response involves effective tools, but it also requires proper configuration of the tools, as well as operational processes to complement the functionality. With that in mind, here are some recommendations for getting the most out of web application scanners.
- Increase vulnerability scan coverage. Organizations can increase their scanning coverage by integrating Dynamic Application Scanning Technology (DAST) with Interactive Application Scanning (IAST) functionality. DAST is great for seeing how an application responds to attacks from the outside, but adding an IAST to the mix gives developers more insight into how applications perform. from insideidentifying runtime vulnerabilities in code that might otherwise have evaded DAST detection. Invicti Application Security Provider says that its integration of DAST with IAST not only finds more vulnerabilities, but also reduces false positives while resolving true positives at the point of discovery.
- Integrate security and vulnerability management into the development process. There is not enough time for developers to manually fix all vulnerabilities revealed by web application scanners. But by automating remediation workflows and alerting developers to high-priority vulnerabilities with detailed issue reports and severity ratings, those same developers can assess, validate, and retest software without dragging security teams down. to the equation. This means scans can be run as new code, giving developers an immediate feedback loop and saving countless hours of manual testing and validation.
As attackers demonstrate increasingly sophisticated tactics, it is strongly recommended that organizations update their web application scanning software to maintain a healthy DevSecOps environment.
By introducing an automated web application scanner that continuously discovers and tests an organization’s entire inventory of web assets, organizations will be better prepared to prevent harmful attacks in the future.