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App Development
6 minutes read

What is an App Vulnerability Scanner?

by Jose Gomez
App Development
6 minutes read

If you’re concerned with security vulnerabilities, you’re probably asking yourself what is an app vulnerability scanner, and can it help me secure my web app? Vulnerability scanners are automated tools that developers can use to perform a vulnerability assessment of their web applications. 

Security has never been more important on the Internet. Every year we see news stories of high-profile hacks and security breaches that cause businesses to lose time and money. Exploited security vulnerabilities can knock your services offline, put important business information at risk, expose user data, and hurt a brand’s reputation. If you haven’t already been performing application security testing, you need to start now. 

There are a lot of different vulnerability scanner tools available to use that cover different assets and offer a variety of different features. A robust vulnerability management strategy might employ multiple types of vulnerability scanners in order to ensure every facet of a network, system, and app are secure against threats. 

Let’s look at how web application vulnerability scanners work, the most common security vulnerabilities they find, and other types of vulnerability scanning you should be doing in combination with app scanning. 

How Do Web Application Vulnerability Scanners Work?

Web application vulnerability scanners are highly specialized security tools that test websites and other web-based applications for security vulnerabilities. Security test engineers use these tools to find common security vulnerabilities in the source code of the application. 

Based on these findings, vulnerability scanners can find unique vulnerabilities present in the application. This is known as dynamic application security testing. This is a popular approach to identifying security vulnerabilities in the penetration testing field. 

Common web application flaws that vulnerability scanners look for include:

  • SQL injections
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS)
  • Path traversal 
  • Command injection

SQL Injections

A properly executed SQL attack will give hackers complete and total control over your application database. This attack works by inserting an arbitrary string of SQL code into a database query. If the web application is not properly sanitizing user input, a hacker can then modify, delete, or copy the contents of the database. 

While losing database control in a SQL injection attack could have major implications, protecting against SQL injection is often very simple. Any decent vulnerability scanner or developer will be able to help you secure your web app from these types of attacks.  

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

Cross-site scripting attacks in their most basic forms are when hackers or bad actors enter code into a web app either via a form or the URL to trick the application into performing actions it is not supposed to. These attacks, if successful, can do serious damage to your web application and brand reputation. 

Cross-site scripting attacks are the most common web app attacks behind SQL injections. While the methods hackers employ are always evolving, XSS attacks can be successfully mitigated by performing quality testing, using vulnerability scanners, and implementing a vulnerability management strategy. 

Path Traversal 

These types of attacks attempt to access files and directories that are stored outside the web root folder. Path traversal attacks will try to manipulate variables that reference files or use absolute file paths to access data stored on the file system. This includes the application’s source code and other critical system files. 

Successful path traversal attacks can compromise your web application and put your users at risk. It is important that you perform regular vulnerability assessments on your web applications to ensure that they are secure from path traversal attacks. 

Command Injection 

Command injection attacks are aimed at executing commands on a user’s operating system through a vulnerable web application. While these attacks are focused on attacking users and not your web application, you don’t want your valuable users getting attacked through your app. This will hurt your brand image and reputation. 

The main security vulnerability most commonly responsible for these types of attacks is poor input validation. Command injection differs from code injection in one distinct way. Code injection attacks execute malicious code that was added by an attacker. An attacker using a command injection attack extends the default functionality of the web application, which in turn executes malicious commands. 

Additional Types of Vulnerability Scanning

Besides app vulnerability scanning, there are a host of other vulnerability scanner tools and services that help secure a wide range of digital assets. The two additional types of vulnerability assessment tools we’re going to discuss are:

  • Static application security testing
  • Network vulnerability scanners

Static Application Security Testing 

So far, we have looked at dynamic application security testing and some of the more common types of web attacks that are being tested for. Static application security testing is also an important part of vulnerability management, but they are often separate security tools. 

While web application vulnerability scanners look at the application’s code and test it from the outside after publication, static application security testing tools or source code analysis tools look at the source code of an application during the development process

A lot of development environments are starting to include source code analysis tools in their platforms in order to aid developers in the early detection of potential security vulnerabilities. Development teams should take advantage of these tools because they can help them highlight issues that they might be introducing to the code unwittingly during design

Web applications that employ static tools during development and dynamic tools once they go live decrease the amount of opportunities hackers will have to exploit vulnerabilities. 

Network Vulnerability Scanners

Network vulnerability scanners rely on a database of known security vulnerabilities and misconfigurations that can occur anywhere on the network. The areas that these tools scan include:

  • The web server
  • Web server’s operating system
  • Web server daemon
  • Any other open services running on the same system

Typically, network vulnerability scans are performed externally and internally to ensure that all facets of the network are secure in the event of an attack. Some industries will require regular network vulnerability scans whenever any changes are made to the network as well as at regular intervals throughout the year. 

Network vulnerability scanning needs to be combined with penetration testing in order to completely evaluate network security weaknesses. Scans are automated tests that look for potential vulnerabilities, and penetration tests are performed manually to probe the network for weaknesses in the same manner that an attacker would. 

Final Thoughts

Security needs to be an ongoing concern for businesses and developers. Threats are constantly evolving, and bad actors are finding new ways to exploit security vulnerabilities. Luckily, there are a number of different vulnerability scanner tools available to help secure web applications. 

If you’re unsure of where to turn for help, reach out to a web development partner. They can help you secure every facet of your web application and provide you with industry experience and technical expertise. Don’t underestimate the importance of security. Take proactive steps to make sure that your app and network are secure.

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