What are the benefits of web application analysis? How to make it useful

Imagine a castle with no drawbridges, moats or guards to keep enemies at bay. The idea would be ridiculous then, just as it is now.

For modern organizations comprised of people, equipment, networks, and data, it is essential to have mechanisms in place that protect these valuable assets from unwanted interference.

Web application scanners are software programs designed to do just that, “crawl” an organization’s Internet-facing website assets 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 close that vulnerability before attackers attempt to exploit it themselves.

But scanners also serve another purpose: to uncover and catalog an organization’s complete inventory of web assets – every website, web service, API, or application – so that nothing remains hidden and anything added later can to be labelled.

And when these scanners are missing, outdated, or simply not working as they should, the consequences for organizations can be dire.

Web applications: a leading attack vector

More than 80% of web application attacks examined in Verizon’s data breach investigation report were traced to stolen credentials.

According to 2022 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report, core web applications were the top attack vector among the 18,000 security incidents and 3,000 known breaches examined by the report, far outpacing other vectors such as emails, software updates and intrusions through backdoors. Once inside, hackers can steal sensitive personal information — think medical data, payment card data or even social security numbers — as well as intellectual property and other high-value assets. company value. Sabotage of critical infrastructure, servers and other systems is also possible.

Clearly, traditional web application scanners miss the mark, offering simple protection at best while failing to discover and triage all of the vulnerabilities common to dynamic, script-heavy web applications. There are several reasons for this:

  • Many web application scanners only provide disjoint scanning coverage. They can uncover some, but not all, hidden web assets that an organization has in its backlog. Hackers don’t care; all it takes is a long-forgotten, rogue web asset with a lingering vulnerability for them to sink their fangs.
  • Scans can take days or even weeks, depending on the complexity of the application. Traditional web application scanners, for example, struggle to read dynamically generated content, script-heavy resources, custom forms, and shared authentication schemes such as single sign-on.
  • Some scanners are vigilant but inaccurate, creating false positives when flagging web assets as vulnerable that are actually both functional and secure. The combination of factors leaves organizations with a stunted view of their assets, a larger attack surface, and excessively long scan queues that ultimately undermine the DevSecOps agility expected of modern release cycles.

Scanners: optimizing tools

Effective threat response involves effective tools, but it also requires proper configuration of tools as well as operational processes to complement functionality. With that in mind, here are some recommendations for getting the most out of web application scanners.

  1. Implement continuous discovery and testing. Newer web application scanners have advanced crawling technology and discovery engines that allow them to scan the type of web assets that still prove problematic for traditional scanners – for example, JavaScript-heavy pages or dynamically generated content. Continuous, automated scanning can identify all web assets associated with an organization and then create a detailed inventory of those assets to minimize blind spots and details.
  2. Increase vulnerability scanning coverage. Organizations can increase their analytics coverage by integrating Dynamic Application Analytics (DAST) technology with Interactive Application Analytics (IAST) functionality. DAST is great for seeing how an app responds to attacks from the outside, but adding an IAST to the mix gives developers more insight into how apps are performing insideidentifying runtime vulnerabilities in code that would otherwise escape DAST detection. Invicti Application Security Provider says 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.
  3. Integrate vulnerability management and security into the development pipeline. Developers don’t have enough time to manually fix every vulnerability revealed by web application scanners. But by automating remediation workflows and alerting developers to high-priority vulnerabilities with detailed problem reports and severity ratings, those same developers can triage, validate, and retest software without dragging security teams into the equation. This means that analytics can be run as new code, giving developers an immediate feedback loop and saving them countless hours of manual testing and validation.

As attackers use increasingly sophisticated tactics, organizations are strongly recommended to upgrade 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 complete inventory of web assets, organizations will be better prepared to prevent damaging attacks down the line.

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