Why do organizations scan their websites and web applications for vulnerabilities? Seems like a silly question to ask on a web application security blog, but the answer is not as obvious as you might think. In fact, many organizations treat vulnerability scanning as a precaution, not an integral part of their web development and maintenance workflows. This article examines the advantages of systematic vulnerability management as compared to ad-hoc scanning.
Spoiler: Running a Scan Does Not Improve Security
Before we look at the advantages of a systematic approach to web application security, let’s quickly answer the initial question. The purpose of vulnerability scanning is naturally to find vulnerabilities, but the reason you test application security in the first place is to improve it. Running a scan merely gives you a list of results, leaving you with a very long way to go before you can start fixing vulnerabilities.
Many organizations are happy to treat web application security as just another thing to test – run a scan every now and then, check it off on the list, and be done with it. At the other end of the spectrum are organizations (and vendors) that take security seriously and believe that the only way to get measurable improvements is through continuous vulnerability management coupled with deep workflow integration. This is the approach championed by Netsparker, so let’s go through 5 reasons why a coordinated, long-term approach benefits organizations far more than ad-hoc scanning.
Advantage #1: Improved Security and Control
Starting with the obvious, running occasional scans only gives you a point-in-time snapshot of your vulnerability status. This makes it difficult to monitor the progress of vulnerability resolution and means that at any given point in time, you likely have an outdated picture of your web security posture. What if vulnerabilities are introduced between scans? How long will it take before they are detected, processed, and fixed – over a month? Without systematic vulnerability management and regular scanning, chances are that you will always have some websites or applications that are open to attack because vulnerabilities will be introduced faster than you can find and fix them. And remember that attackers only need one point of entry to cause a breach.
Long-term vulnerability management gives you an up-to-date picture of your security status and makes it much easier to identify priority areas, such as developer education to prevent specific types of vulnerabilities. For products like Netsparker, you also get the added benefit of asset discovery, so you always have full visibility of your web-facing assets and you know what you’re working with. Adding Netsparker’s proprietary Proof-Based Scanning™ technology into the mix, you can be confident that you always have an accurate picture of your entire web environment to bring measurable and long-term security improvements.
Advantage #2: Visibility and Reporting
Any organized web application security program relies on centralized monitoring and reporting to provide operational and executive visibility. Just imagine manually compiling reports to show how the vulnerability status changed from one scan to the next across hundreds of web assets – you would have spreadsheet hell and be forced to rely on information that could already be out of date. Yet this is the only option for organizations that rely on ad-hoc scanning.
With a full web application security solution like Netsparker, you get clear, actionable dashboards and trend charts to show both the current vulnerability status and the progress your teams are making. Security personnel right up to CISO level can generate up-to-date reports to illustrate results and make a compelling case for new security initiatives. This enables managers to eliminate guesswork and make fully informed decisions based on complete data.
Advantage #3: Operational Efficiencies
Scanning is only the first step on the long road to eliminating vulnerabilities – you then need to verify, triage, assign, and fix them. And, of course, retest to make sure the fixes work and nothing else has been broken. Multiply all this by, say, a dozen vulnerabilities in each of several hundred web assets, spread the workload across many weeks for multiple security engineers and developers – and you have a massive, long-term security project with countless opportunities for delays and mistakes.
Modern organizations can’t afford to waste time on manual vulnerability tracking across one-off scans. With labor-intensive manual tasks being automated all across the economy, effective web application security also requires efficient automation, especially considering the small size of most web security teams. This is only possible with a solution that can integrate into existing workflows to create a closed-loop application security testing environment. The operational efficiencies gained by automating or eliminating most manual tasks translate into measurable security improvements and reduced costs.
Advantage #4: Repeatable Results with a Long-Term Solution
Setting up tools is the most laborious part of any automated process, and this is especially true of web vulnerability scanning. Each web application environment presents unique challenges that need some level of customization to ensure good coverage and therefore useful results. This is another place where using a dedicated, long-term solution shows its benefits.
For Netsparker, going from installation to first results is very easy. After the initial setup, launching another scan is a one-click operation. The results you get are directly comparable between scans and can be tracked to provide progress information. If assets are added or removed or business requirements change, applying these modifications to an existing configuration is far easier than setting them up from scratch.
Most importantly, with ongoing and integrated vulnerability management, running a scan is no longer a whole separate project that requires a dedicated team or maybe even external consultants. Instead, vulnerability scanning becomes a permanent and automated part of web application development and testing, with major benefits for security and operational efficiency.
Advantage #5: Return on Investment in Security
Finally, it’s time for the big argument, and one that’s notoriously difficult to back up for security solutions: the return on investment. To demonstrate ROI in security, you need solid facts and numbers to show that a product or service has brought the organization measurable security improvements. Having a dedicated web application security solution makes this much easier because you can track and report improvements across time periods, assets, and teams.
One ROI advantage that is unique to Netsparker is its extremely short time to value compared to other solutions and approaches. Thanks to the certainty gained from Proof-Based Scanning™, every vulnerability that is automatically confirmed and classified is immediately ready to fix, thus eliminating the overhead of manual verification and triaging. When combined with integration, reporting, and visibility, this allows organizations to get (and show) the maximum possible security benefits with minimum manual effort.
Conclusion: Focus on Security, not Just Scanning
Recent research confirms that organizations struggle with vulnerability management across complex deployments, often building up many months’ worth of backlogs. In this environment, identifying, prioritizing, and resolving high-risk vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers is not something that can be done manually. This is especially true of web applications, where change is the only constant and the attack surface is practically unlimited.
To take control of web application security, organizations need a long-term strategy based on efficient automated workflows assisted by cutting-edge technology to eliminate uncertainty and aid decision-making. Running one-off scans every now and again provides very little benefit and merely generates more manual work that adds to the growing backlog.
Scanning is only the first step. For measurable improvements that demonstrate clear value from your investment in web application security, you need a dedicated solution that combines industry-leading accuracy and efficiency with closed-cycle vulnerability management – and Netsparker happens to be the best in the business.