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Understanding the Benefits of Website Scanners in Cybersecurity Management

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Development teams are a fundamental part of organizations, with digital transformation ascending to the top of priorities for nearly every organization. The quick pace enabled by Agile and DevOps makes it immensely easier and faster for organizations to pivot and embrace new market opportunities. But as organizations ramp on the development of new applications as well as the evolution of existing ones, the application attacks surface expands—creating more opportunities for cyber criminals to exploit critical data, disrupt options, and instigate other malicious activities.

What is a website scanner?

One of the ways in which organizations secure and protect applications from malicious attacks is through the use of website vulnerability scanners. These automated security tools are used to check applications for exploitable vulnerabilities that could lead to a successful application attack. Vulnerability scanning is a network security standard for organizations in industries across the board, often used along with penetration testing to create a layered line of defense against cyberattacks. While different types of website scanners allow security teams to search for vulnerabilities at different points along the software development life cycle (SDLC), they lack continuous visibility of the entire application attack surface. Website scanners only provide a point-in-time look at vulnerabilities, requiring multiple sessions of planning and analyzing for effective vulnerability management.

How does a website vulnerability scanner work?

Website vulnerability scanning is a common part of an organization's vulnerability management process, helping in the identification of exploitable application weaknesses. The effectiveness of a website scanner depends on the configuration and the security team's level of expertise. They are not only responsible for the planning process but also the analysis of results, diagnoses of triggered alerts, and methods of remediation.

A process that takes so much time does not fuse with development speeds and winds up creating tensions between security and development operations. Due to lack of time and added pressure, 52% of developers admit to scaling back on security measures to keep up with business deadlines. Doing so may help in ensuring application security measures do not slow release cycles, but at the same time, it incurs growth in security debt and moreover increases the risk of data theft and operational disruptions and outages—typically equating to millions of dollars in damages.

Types of website vulnerability scanners

A website vulnerability scan is usually the first step in application security testing. Organizations still rely on many legacy vulnerability management tools, some of which are more than two decades old. As application development accelerates and attacks increase in sophistication, these tools become more ineffective, which creates time and cost issues for both development and security teams. Below are the common industry-standard legacy security testing approaches and their functions in application security management.

Static application security testing (SAST)

Legacy static application security testing (SAST) is a static code analysis tool used very early in the SDLC. Developers use SAST tools to identify application vulnerabilities to decrease the time and cost of remediation. Legacy SAST tools work by analyzing code line by line, generating a PDF report with a list of application vulnerabilities that application security specialists must review. During their review, application security teams must triage and diagnose vulnerabilities, passing on those they believe to be true to developers for remediation. The goal is to remediate risks in source code that could be exploited by probes or attacks, something that both developers and application security teams can agree on.

Two of the biggest challenges with legacy SAST are that it does not scale to support the speed and agility requirements of modern SDLC and moreover it generates high volumes of false positives. But these are just two of the issues organizations face when using SAST. Developers have little context as to the location of source code where vulnerabilities were triggered. As a result, they waste valuable time verifying and locating vulnerabilities before they can remediate them due to a lack of information. This slows release cycles and slows digital transformation initiatives.

Dynamic application security testing (DAST)

Dynamic application security testing (DAST) is a black box method of application security testing, designed to mimic approaches typical of cyber criminals like brute-force attacks or malicious code injections. Application security teams stage these attacks to observe an application’s response to malicious inputs. Unlike SAST scans that occur early in development, DAST scans take place toward the end of the SDLC and assist in discovering vulnerabilities in runtime. Organizations across industries use a combination of SAST and DAST for better application vulnerability management.

Application security specialists rely on automated DAST tools to scan the entire application attack surface and base their analysis on results presented in PDF form. After combing through the information gathered, application security teams stage attacks that help them observe the application’s behavior when injected with malicious inputs. Staged attacks are configured based on analysis of results even though they fall short due to DAST’s inaccuracy that often results in missed vulnerabilities (false negatives). Missed vulnerabilities create a large threat for application security, opening up the possibility of zero-day attacks that developers were not prepared to address. If attackers are successful in exploiting an unknown vulnerability, it could take days, weeks, or even months before any alerts are triggered and the vulnerability is remediated, leaving the interface and client information at risk.

Legacy application security tools lack visibility

The inaccuracy of legacy application security tools like website scanners comes from a lack of visibility into the entire application attack surface. DAST and SAST tests only provide a snapshot look at application health and require regular launches for effective application vulnerability management. With the need to plan multiple rounds of application security testing, application development cycles are held up while developers search source code for vulnerabilities in an attempt to remediate them. Production delays do not favor today’s marketplace, which is moving toward a more agile approach for the swift development of complex web applications. Instead, organizations need an interactive approach that provides automated means of detection and takes care of issues that arise from inaccuracies.

Continuous monitoring for modern software

For modern software, application security testing (AST) should provide continuous observation of application behavior instead of a point-in-time view. This is possible using security instrumentation that embeds sensors within the application for automatic detection of vulnerabilities within source code and application programming interfaces (APIs). Instrumentation makes interactive application security testing (IAST) possible, which actively provides access to data that passes through the application and interacts with the source code in its running state.

Unlike legacy application security tools, IAST with security instrumentation provides full visibility into the application, providing accurate information in real time that eliminates false positives. This approach was created to empower organizations in their adoption of Agile and DevOps. Instead of putting pressure on application security teams, sensors take over to continuously monitor and remediate triggered vulnerabilities. It keeps application security teams from chasing false alarms, providing accurate results in real time throughout all stages of the SDLC.

Security instrumentation helps shift application security left in development and extend it right into production with runtime application self-protection (RASP). Integration of RASP into the application eliminates the need for a team of highly skilled application security experts by instrumenting security into the continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline and developer IDE tools. It also permits application security to scale as the application scales, keeping pace with Agile and DevOps practices required by complex application infrastructures. Plus, putting the remediation of true application vulnerabilities in the developer's hands helps to accelerate development cycles and eliminate inefficiencies that waste valuable time.

Application security testing empowers rapid development cycles

Using a scalable means of application vulnerability protection works with organizations as they embrace complex application architectures that expand the application attack surface. Equipping applications with protection in runtime, vulnerabilities are identified before they can be exploited and visibility is extended into production. Managing application vulnerabilities with a mix of tools to make up for gaps left behind by outdated and ineffective application security testing methods simply does not align with modern SDLC. Instead, continuous and automated application security that embeds instrumentation in the application enables organizations to reduce costs and increase application security while speeding up the release of complex new applications.

Suggested Content:

[White Paper]: A Major Roadblock to Business Innovation: How Traditional AppSec Delays DevOps Release Cycles

[Solution Brief]: Contrast Assess With Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)

[Report]: Insights on 2020 Application Vulnerability Risk Remediation


Learn More About Contrast Security

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Contrast is named a Customers’ Choice in the 2021 Gartner Peer Insights “Voice of the Customer”: Application Security Testing report. With the highest percentage of 5-star ratings, this is the third consecutive year Contrast has received this powerful endorsement from customers.


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