Security Audit

What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Updated on: November 15, 2022

What is Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability scanning is a process where an automated tool is used to scan IT networks, applications, devices, and other internal or external assets of an organization for known potential security loopholes and vulnerabilities.

At the end of every vulnerability scan, you receive a report that documents the vulnerabilities that were found along with risk scores for each vulnerability and in some cases security recommendations.

What is Vulnerability in Cyber Security?

A vulnerability is usually a bug that affects the security of a system as opposed to a common software bug that affects the functionality of a system. A vulnerability may stem from misconfigured software, weak access controls, lack of input validation in user-input fields, outdated software, open network ports etcetera.

Security teams use software vulnerability scanners to scan for vulnerabilities in an application, network, or website and find ways to mitigate the risk posed by them.

For instance, one may use a network vulnerability scanner to scan a network for vulnerabilities like open ports, outdated software, and risky devices. An application scanner can be used for testing apps for issues.

What is Vulnerability Management?

Vulnerability management is the complete procedure of detecting a vulnerability, assessing its severity, assigning it to a developer for remediation, and finally, a rescan to confirm the remediation. Ideally, you should be able to control the entire process from a single point.

Vulnerability management also covers IT vulnerability monitoring and strategies and policies you exercise in order to detect and resolve security issues continuously before they are exploited.

Classification of vulnerabilities

The impact and exploitability of a vulnerability are calculated by taking multiple factors into account – the ease of access, authentication, its spread, the availability of mitigation, etc. Then exploitability and impact are concatenated to assign a severity score between 0.0 and 10.0 for each vulnerability. This is called the CVSS score (Common vulnerability scoring system).

The vulnerabilities can be classified into high, medium, and low severity categories depending on their CVSS score. 

How is the CVSS calculated?

The CVSS score of a vulnerability is calculated based on three different metric groups – base, temporal and environmental. Firstly the CVSS base score is determined by assessing the intrinsic properties of a vulnerability that do not change with time or the user’s environment. This gives the base score.

The base score is then modified by taking temporal metrics into account that represent such characteristics of a vulnerability that change over time. Finally, the characteristics specific to a user’s environment are considered to get the environmental score. All these scores are applied to calculate the overall CVSS score.

Categories of vulnerabilities based on CVSS score?

  • Vulnerabilities with a score between 7 and 10 are considered highly severe.
  • Vulnerabilities scoring 4 to 6.9 fall into the medium severity category.
  • Those with a score between 0 and 3.9 are put in the low severity category.

These scores allow the developers, and security experts to prioritize the vulnerabilities according to their severity so that the most critical ones are mitigated first.

Let us look at some easily detectable vulnerabilities which can be potentially disastrous for your software if left unchecked. 

It is one small security loophole v/s your entire website / web app

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5 Top vulnerabilities and security risks in software

There are awareness-building projects and communities like the OWASP and NIST that document the most critical vulnerabilities at a given time. They publish lists of vulnerabilities that pose the most critical and pervasive threats. These lists are usually followed while checking scanning systems for vulnerabilities. 

Let us talk about the top five vulnerabilities from OWASP top 10: 2021

#1 Broken Access Control

Access control refers to the application of constraints on who can perform a certain action or access certain information. In the case of web applications, access control is usually maintained through authentication and session management. 

Authentication ensures that the identity of the entity requesting access is true. Session management identifies the HTTP requests made by the user. Access control ensures that the entity is authorized to perform the operation or access the information requested.

Designing Access Control is a crucial part of software development and broken access control can allow a person to perform unauthorized actions or access data that they’re not supposed to access.    

#2 Cryptographic Failures

Cryptographic failure is a generalized phrase that describes a situation where sensitive data can be accessed without authorization. It refers to a condition where the data in transit, or at rest, is not secured through encryption.

When your data is in transmission from users to systems or the other way round, it should ideally be secured with transport layer security (TLS). If the data is at rest in your devices, it has to be encrypted too. If data is encrypted it is not searchable, which is not good for its utility. Hence, a lot of databases are always online making security a challenge. Successful cryptography comes to the rescue and ensures access control by employing cyphers along with initialization vectors.

Now, let’s say you ignore initialization vectors (an arbitrary number required alongside a secret key to encrypt data) or reuse them, it increases the chances of information leak. It would be an example of failed cryptography.

Also Read: What is Network Vulnerability Scanning? The Ultimate Guide

#3 Injection

Injection has been on the list of critical vulnerabilities for a long time now. SQL injection (SQLi) and cross site scripting (XSS) are some of the most popular modes of injection attacks. So, here’s how it works.

An attacker makes a malicious code input to the target program. An interpreter processes the code as part of the command or query. That in turn alters the execution of the program.

An attacker can use an SQL statement to interfere with the preexisting parameters that control the exchange of data between a web application and its database. As such, the attacker can gain administrative access to the database.

#4 Insecure Design

Insecure design points to those vulnerabilities which come into existence in software owing to the lack of security implementations during its development. For instance, the lack of input validation can make way for injection attacks. Implementing security in the software development life cycle can be a challenge as it demands a completely different perspective – threat modeling.

You can discover such vulnerabilities through vulnerability scanning, however, remediating them in a production site is a bit more difficult than preventing them during the SDLC.

#5 Security Misconfiguration

Security misconfigurations are caused by inaccurate configuration or complete abandonment of security controls. For instance, if a developer writes flexible firewall rules and creates network shares for convenience in a development phase and does not restore the original settings, it remains as a security misconfiguration. Similarly, an administrator may authorize configuration changes for troubleshooting or some other purpose, then forget to reset them.

These things do happen, and honestly, it is not very difficult to end up with a bunch of security misconfigurations given the intricacy of network configuration used today and the state of flux applications are always in.

The practice should be to review your security posture continually and frequent vulnerability scanning and penetration testing is a good way to do that. There are different types of vulnerability scanners that you can use for different situations.

What is a Vulnerability Scanner?

A vulnerability scanner is automated software used for detecting security vulnerabilities in an application, network, cloud infrastructure, or device.

How does a vulnerability scanner work?

A vulnerability scanning software checks a network or an application for known vulnerabilities by referencing a database of details about various attack vectors (attack signatures). It is somewhat comparable to diagnosing a patient by symptoms.

Once the scan is done, a report is created that documents the vulnerabilities and assigns risk scores to them. The report may or may not include remediation guidance for the developers.

After the report is produced, the developers can take a shift-left approach to find the code bugs, configuration errors, or other factors that contributed to the vulnerabilities and remediate the issues.

Types of Vulnerability Scanners

  • Network-based scanners are used for network security scanning to uncover anomalies on your IT network like open ports, unauthorized remote access servers, and vulnerable applications that may be active on the network.
  • Host-based scanners are used to scan servers and workstations.

Other than that there are wireless scanners, application scanners, and database scanners.    

  • An authenticated vulnerability scanner can scan behind login pages. For instance, Astra Security has a login recorder extension that keeps the scanner authenticated even if the session times out. It allows the automated scanner to scan logged-in pages while not requiring the user to authenticate the session repeatedly.
  • An unauthenticated scanner can only perform vulnerability scans from the outside. It doesn’t require any credentials and doesn’t have trusted access.

Vulnerability Scanning vs. Penetration Testing

Both vulnerability scanning and penetration testing are important procedures to understand the security posture and resilience of an organization – its network, applications, and devices. They have some fundamental differences.

Vulnerability AssessmentPenetration Testing
Vulnerability assessment is focused on detecting and categorizing vulnerabilities in a system.Penetration testing involves exploiting vulnerabilities to draw insights about them.
It is a mostly automated process involving vulnerability scanning tools.Penetration testing requires manual intervention on top of automated scanning.
It is almost impossible to achieve zero false positives with an automated vulnerability assessment.Manual penetration testers can ensure zero false positives.
Vulnerability assessment often misses critical and complex vulnerabilities.Thanks to the human element of penetration testing, it detects business logic errors that remain undetected in a vulnerability scan.
Automated vulnerability assessment takes significantly less time and money than pen testing. Penetration testing is a consuming and expensive procedure and for good reason.

Related: Learn Why Penetration Testing is Important

Why Vulnerability Scanning is important?

You need a vulnerability management regime that fits the DevOps environment. It has to be fast, continuous, and accurate. Automated vulnerability scanning with a great vulnerability scanner is your best bet. Here’s what you achieve by conducting frequent scans.

Accurate reports

A machine learning-driven vulnerability scanner gets better at scanning your system with every use. Hence, the reports are increasingly accurate with a decreasing number of false positives. And you do not have to wait for weeks to get the vulnerability report.

Automatic scans

You can automate the vulnerability scanner so as to run a scan whenever there is a code update. Each new edition of an application invites new vulnerabilities. Hence, running an automated scan with every update can be a lifesaver.

Stay compliant and build trust

A lot of industries mandate security audits and vulnerability reports are a huge part of those exercises. So, it plays a significant role in compliance. Moreover, if you stay ahead of security threats, it is easier to build trust and ensure that clients are not spooked away by potential data security threats in your organization.

How to pick a Vulnerability Scanner for your organization?

There are a lot of vulnerability scanners in the market with overlapping features. It is difficult to judge a vulnerability scanner by how many tests it conducts or how fast it reports. Those are all important qualities but are present in a lot of good scanners. 

When it comes to vulnerability scanning, the user experience can be improved a lot with small additional features.

Scan behind login: if a vulnerability scanner can scan behind login without repeated authentication, it saves you a lot of time and effort.

Pentest compliance: It helps you visualize in real-time which compliance regulations you might pass or fail according to your vulnerability status.

CI/CD integration: If a vulnerability scanner integrates with your CI/CD pipeline, it can run a scan whenever you push new code.

Features like these make a lot of difference when you are trying to make security a continuous part of your development drives.

The best vulnerability scanning tool – Astra Pentest

Vulnerability scanning is usually an automated process where you just determine the scope of the scan and the rest is done by the tool. That means choosing the right tool for the purpose is important. The automated vulnerability scanner by Astra Security sets the global benchmark in this respect.

The intelligent vulnerability scanner by Astra conducts 3000+ tests to detect a wide range of vulnerabilities including but not limited to those listed by OWASP, SANS, and NIST.

It is one small security loophole v/s your entire website / web app

Get your web app audited & strengthen your defenses!
See Pricing
Starting from $99/month

Astra Security has set the bar high by making the entire process incredibly user friendly. Take for instance, the login recorder which allows the automated scanner to scan behind the login pages without requiring the site owners to authorize it repeatedly. 

Your vulnerability scanning experience with Astra is controlled through an interactive dashboard where you can visualize the vulnerability analysis and remediation status. The security experts at Astra also ensure that your vulnerability report does not have false positives.

The Pentest Compliance feature launched by Astra also shows you the what all compliance regulations you meet or fail to meet according to the state of vulnerabilities found in your system during the scan.

In fact, you can integrate platforms like GitHub to make your remediation effort independent from the dashboard. You use the most competent vulnerability scanning and pentest tool to detect vulnerabilities in your system without losing any time reinventing the workflow.

To Conclude

Vulnerability scanning is an automated tool based procedure, hence, the importance of choosing the right tool cannot be emphasized enough. The importance of converging DevOps with DevSecOps also needs some extra stress in the context of vulnerability management. It is always easier and less expensive to find and deal with vulnerabilities during the software development life cycle. In fact, you should partner up with a pentesting company that is comfortable with both static analysis of code and dynamic analysis of the application in production. It always helps if your vulnerability scanning report comes with zero false positives.

FAQs

1. What is the cost of vulnerability scanning?

The monthly cost of vulnerability scanning for web applications is between $99 and $399. Check out our pricing.

2. How much time does it take to conduct a vulnerability assessment and penetration testing?

It usually takes 4-7 days to complete the process. After which you can fix the issues identified in the test and run a rescan. The rescan takes half the time needed for the initial test. Get a security audit with 1250+ tests, right now!

3. How often should I conduct vulnerability scans?

The industry best practice is to run vulnerability scans at least once a quarter. However some verticals may require more frequent scans. Scan your website now!

4. Can I have continuous scans for new product versions?

Yes, you can integrate CI/CD platforms with Astra Pentest suite, thus enabling continuous scans for product updates.

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Ananda Krishna

Ananda Krishna is the co-founder & CTO of Astra Security, a SaaS suite that secures businesses from cyber threats. He has been acknowledged by the Indian Navy, Microsoft, United Airlines, etc. for finding critical security vulnerabilities in their systems. Winner of the Best Security Product at Global Conference on Cyberspace 2017 (awarded by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India) & French Tech Ticket, Paris (awarded by François Hollande, former President of France). At Astra he's building an intelligent security ecosystem - web application firewall (WAF), malware detection & analysis, large scale SaaS applications, APIs & more. He's actively involved in the cybersecurity community and shared his knowledge at various forums & invited talks.
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