How to Automate Vulnerability Scanning for Web Applications

November 26, 20235 min read

Vulnerability scanning is an integral part of maintaining the security of web applications. Automating this process ensures that threats are identified and addressed promptly. The following sections outline steps for automating vulnerability scanning.

Establishing a Baseline

Before automating vulnerability scanning, you must establish a baseline to understand your web application’s current security posture.

  • Inventory Web Applications: List all web applications your organization uses, including internal and external ones.
  • Identify the Technology Stack: Determine the technologies used (such as the web server, frameworks, databases) for each application.
  • Perform a Manual Assessment: Conduct an initial manual security assessment to understand potential vulnerabilities.
  • Document Existing Security Controls: Note the existing security measures in place like firewalls, WAFs, and security headers.

Choosing the Right Tools

Selecting the right vulnerability scanning tools is critical to automation.

  • Evaluate Tools Based on Needs:
    • Open-source vs. commercial
    • Simple vulnerability scanners vs. complex security suites
    • Support for continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) environments
  • Consider the Tool’s Features:
    • Comprehensive, updated vulnerability database
    • Ability to understand your specific technology stack
    • Good reporting capabilities for informed decision-making
  • Validate Tool Effectiveness: Test prospective tools against known vulnerabilities to ensure effectiveness.

Integration into CI/CD Pipeline

Incorporate vulnerability scanning into your CI/CD pipeline to scan automatically with every build or deployment.

  • Choose a CI/CD Platform: Use a platform that supports integration with your selected scanning tools (e.g., Jenkins, GitLab CI, GitHub Actions).
  • Create Pipeline Configuration: Design a pipeline that includes steps for code checkout, building the application, running the scanner, and reporting results.
  • Automate Triggering of Scans:
    • Set scans to trigger on each code commit or periodically (daily, weekly, etc.).
    • Configure pre-deployment and post-deployment scanning stages.

Configuring Scanning Parameters

Proper configuration is key to ensuring effective scans.

  • Authenticated Scanning: Configure sessions to scan as an authenticated user for more comprehensive results.
  • Scan Policies: Set up custom scan policies targeting the specific security requirements and compliance standards relevant to the application.
  • Exclusion Rules: Define paths or actions to exclude from scanning if required to avoid disrupting sensitive functionality.

Handling False Positives and Negatives

Automation involves dealing with incorrect results which necessitates fine-tuning.

  • Review Initial Scans Manually: Analyze the results of initial scans to identify false positives and negatives.
  • Adjust Scanner Settings: Update scanner configurations to minimize incorrect results.
  • Continual Refinement: Regularly review scan results to fine-tune the process and improve accuracy.

Continuous Monitoring and Alerting

Setting up monitoring and alerting systems is essential for staying informed about vulnerabilities.

  • Integrate with Monitoring Systems: Connect your vulnerability scanner with monitoring solutions like Splunk, ELK Stack or Prometheus.
  • Configure Alerts: Set up alerts for new vulnerabilities based on severity and relevance to your infrastructure.
  • Regular Reporting: Schedule regular vulnerability reports for various stakeholders, including developers, security teams, and management.

Remediation and Follow-Up

Discovering vulnerabilities is only useful if they’re addressed promptly and effectively.

  • Automate Ticket Creation: Use APIs to automatically create tickets in your issue trackers (such as JIRA, Asana) when vulnerabilities are found.
  • Prioritize Based on Risk: Establish a protocol for prioritizing vulnerabilities based on their risk and impact.
  • Track Remediation Efforts: Monitor the progress of security patches and re-scan to ensure issues are resolved.

Continuous Improvement

Finally, constantly aim to refine and improve your vulnerability scanning processes.

  • Gather Metrics: Track scanning frequency, number of vulnerabilities found, remediation times, etc.
  • Feedback Loop: Encourage regular feedback from developers and security teams to improve scanning practices.
  • Security Training: Provide ongoing security training to developers for a proactive approach to secure coding practices.

Automated vulnerability scanning is not a set-and-forget solution. It requires careful setup, regular maintenance, and ongoing review to ensure it is effective at identifying and helping to mitigate security risks in web applications. By following the detailed steps outlined above, you can establish a robust automated vulnerability scanning system that helps protect your web applications from emerging threats.