One of the most crucial roles of an IT security administrator involves comprehensive vulnerability management – the process of assessing, mitigating, and reporting security weaknesses and cyber threats that exist within the organization’s tech stack. To help with this, an automated vulnerability scanner forms the foundation of vulnerability management as it enables the identification and discovery of potential weaknesses.
Vulnerability scanning involves using applications that help teams create an inventory of all systems and devices connected to the organization’s network. The scanner also takes note of the operating system, software it runs, and other details relevant to security management for every inventory asset.
This article delves into why organizations should embrace automated vulnerability scanning, various scanning mechanisms and lists some of the most popular automated vulnerability scanners.
Automated Vulnerability Scanning: A Deep Dive
Vulnerability scanners identify various assets within the network, including servers, laptops, firewalls, printers, containers, firewalls, etc., and constantly collect their operational details. In addition, these scanning tools have combinations of capabilities for auditing, logging, threat modeling, reporting, and remediation, that allow organizations to assess their varying levels of security issues at any given time.
Apart from being considered a common best practice in enterprise networks, government regulations and industry standards often require vulnerability scanners to maintain data protection and enhanced security.
Though use cases may differ for different organizations, some commonly known benefits of embracing automated vulnerability scanning include:
Hackers typically rely on application vulnerability to gain initial entry to the system. Automated vulnerability scanning lets teams detect and fix these vulnerabilities before they are used to compromise the organization’s assets.
Regular vulnerability scans enable IT, security teams, to assess how effective their security controls are. However, when security experts constantly have to fix bugs and weaknesses, it’s time to rethink the entire security strategy.
Reduced costs and development time
Automated scans seamlessly perform tests that would have to be time-consuming if humans did them. Additionally, vulnerability scans enable the mitigation of attacks that would be costly to remediate.
Several compliance regulations require the processing of data that follow appropriate technical and security measures. Such compliance standards include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Health Information Privacy And Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS).
The Vulnerability Management Process
The process for detecting possible threats while minimizing the risk and possibility of attack involves:
Organizations use tools that rely on vulnerability databases and threat intelligence techniques to identify compromised components and then create an inventory of those to be fixed. Vulnerability scanning enables complete, real-time monitoring so that threats are identified as soon as they arise.
Once vulnerabilities have been identified, they are weighed against a scoring system to evaluate their impact based on their effects, temporal traits, and inherent characteristics. This evaluation enables teams to identify the severe risks and prioritize their patches for efficient remediation.
Once vulnerabilities have been prioritized, security professionals conceptualize a plan to start fixing weaknesses. The plan also includes measures to boost monitoring and restrict access to high-risk subsystems to hold off attacks until patches have been applied.
To improve awareness and future security posture, it is important to document and report the vulnerabilities identified and the applied remediation techniques. Reporting may also be required for compliance and also build an organization’s reputation for accountability.
Types of Automated Vulnerability Scans
Vulnerability scanning can be categorized into:
Internal Vulnerability Scanning
Internal scans target an organization’s internal network. While doing so, scanners identify weaknesses that attack vectors can use once they are inside the system or malicious employees.
External Vulnerability Scanning
The external scan mechanism targets IT systems exposed to the internet, such as external-facing applications, networks, services, ports, and websites. These scanners identify vulnerabilities that arise when systems need to be accessed by customers and other external users.
Authenticated vs. Unauthenticated Scanning
Authenticated (credentialed) scans require internal access to the organization’s IT ecosystem, so they require logins for a trusted user’s eye view of the security environment. Unauthenticated (non-credentialed) scans do not get trusted access into the system but offer valuable security insights from an attacker’s or external user’s point of view.
Choosing an Automated Vulnerability Scanner Tool
The security testing market includes a wide range of vulnerability scanners; evaluating an appropriate choice is a rather challenging task. This section guides the considerations for automated vulnerability scanning and the types of vulnerability scanners.
Factors to Consider When Selecting an Automated Vulnerability Scanner
Here are some criteria to base the assessment of appropriate vulnerability scanners:
Variety of Vulnerability Tests Covered
While it is important for a vulnerability scanner to identify common and basic vulnerabilities, the ideal tool should include a broad range of security tests. This reduces the cost and complexity of setting up the security monitoring system while allowing teams to avoid unnecessary integrations that may contain security blind spots.
Web Technology Coverage
Most vulnerability scanners begin by crawling the entire web application to view the infrastructure’s security posture completely. However, the scanners can only perform this if they integrate tools to identify every form, page, and element of the web application. The right vulnerability scanner should also identify these elements across multiple development stacks, frameworks, and deployment environments for effective vulnerability management.
Ease of Use
Vulnerability scanning is a complex and comprehensive process that requires deep knowledge of the organization’s networks, devices, and services. Additionally, not everyone in an organization understands vulnerability scanning beyond the basics. Therefore, the vulnerability scanning tool should abstract all the manual labor used to identify and detect threats so that teams can focus on value-adding activities.
Speed and Test Quality
Vulnerability scanning aims to find security threats for immediate remediation. The vulnerability scanning tool should, as a result, identify the operational state of all the application’s resources within a short time and update the vulnerability inventory frequently. However, the tool should ensure that vulnerability testing and reporting are high quality by minimizing false positives.
Some industries, such as healthcare, finance, and defense, often require deeper vulnerability assessment and reporting as part of regulatory configuration compliance. Therefore, the selected tool should implement security according to standards outlined by the governing body such as HIPAA, GDFR, and ISO.
For organizations that want to automate their vulnerability scans fully, some tools include automated remediation for common vulnerabilities and recommendations for more complex ones. These are particularly useful for cross-functional teams where security is a shared responsibility of the entire organization.
Types of Automated Vulnerability Scanners
Based on their operation modes and environments, automated vulnerability scanners can be categorized into:
Network vulnerability scanners are used to discover compromised network devices connected to the organization through external-facing networks. The goal of these tools is to enable security teams to identify network perimeter points that may present an attack surface.
These crawl network hosts such as workstations, servers, and laptops for operational details such as patch history and configuration settings. These scanners enable security teams to identify the extent of damage that could occur if an attacker accessed the system using an authenticated device.
These scan wireless networks to validate the security posture of the company and detect rogue attack access points.
Application vulnerability scanner
Such scanners include Dynamic Application Security Tests (DAST), Interactive Application Security Tests (IAST), Static Application Security Tests (SAST), and Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP) tools.
Most web applications rely on databases to store critical information. Database scanners identify vulnerabilities in database management systems, such as SQL injection attack vulnerabilities.
The Best Automated Vulnerability Scanners
There are plenty of vulnerability scanning solutions covering different markets and use-cases. Some of the most popular vulnerability assessment tools include:
An end-to-end Web Application and API testing platform seamlessly fit into the DevSecOps toolchain for safer releases and deployments. Crashtest Security features low false positive and negative rates, uses the OWASP top 10 as a benchmark, then outputs accurate reports and remediation advice in various user-friendly formats.
An autonomous, rapid vulnerability scanner that detects and describes vulnerabilities then suggests mitigation techniques. The platform also includes multiple integrations and security solutions for vulnerability assessment.
A web application security scanner comes in both paid and open-source distributions with a scanning range of up to 6500 Vulnerabilities. Acunetix enables large-scale teams to automate both network and application scans for deep insights.
A penetration testing and intrusion detection system helps improve organizational security awareness by probing systematic vulnerabilities across the infrastructure. The Metasploit framework is open-source, that can be customized to suit most web applications’ unique requirements.
Another open-source vulnerability scanner is used for the discovery of vulnerabilities within operating systems and network hosts.
An all-inclusive security intelligence platform that enables teams to identify, analyze and remediate potential threats rapidly. The platform applies AI techniques to detect threats and model incidents that may arise, providing remediation recommendations.
A comprehensive vulnerability assessment and configuration management platform scan for weaknesses and actively protects networks from attack attempts.
A Web Application Security Testing solution developed by PortSwigger to help organizations fight zero-day threats through automated scanning. The suite also includes penetration testing functions that can be used to identify the impact of SQLi attacks on web servers.
Automated vulnerability scanning tools include autonomous, high-level tests that scan applications for potential vulnerabilities and then create detailed reports, often including remediation recommendations. These tools eliminate the manual effort required to check whether an organization’s systems, networks, and devices have security vulnerabilities that may compromise security.
Start a free 14-day trial today to see how Crashtest Security can fit into your organization’s DevSecOps pipelines and help reduce vulnerabilities across multiple layers of your application stack.