What are Vulnerability Scanning Tools? Can They Be Trusted? 3 Security Risks to Consider

June 26, 2023
Meli Imelda

"One small mistake is all it takes for hackers to wreak havoc."

We've all heard this warning, and it sends shivers down our spines.

As cyber threats loom larger than ever before, lurking in the shadows of an interconnected world, the stakes have never been higher. With each passing day, the relentless rise of cybercrime, the haunting specter of data breaches, and the evolution of cunning hacking techniques cast a foreboding shadow over our digital existence. The urgency to fortify our defenses has reached a crescendo, demanding unwavering vigilance and a steadfast commitment to safeguarding what matters most.

Vulnerability scanning tools offer a glimmer of hope, holding the promise of proactive detection and prevention. But as with any technological solution, questions arise: Are these tools truly effective? Can they be trusted with our sensitive information? Are there hidden risks that outweigh their benefits?

So, is using vulnerability scanning tools more trouble than they're worth?

In this article, we embark on a journey of discovery, peering into the intricate world of vulnerability scanning tools. We'll unravel the security concerns that often lurk in the shadows, challenging the assumptions and shedding light on the potential pitfalls.

I. Vulnerability scanning and its importance 🔐

Vulnerability scanning is the automated process of identifying security holes and weaknesses in systems, networks, and applications. It works by scanning for known vulnerabilities and comparing them against a database of threats.

Examples of Vulnerability scanning tools will vary based on the type of scan you want to perform and the target system, network, or application:

  • Static Application Security Testing - SAST

SAST is a type of security testing that analyzes the source code, binaries, or byte code of an application to identify potential security vulnerabilities. It is performed during the development stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) and focuses on uncovering security flaws within the codebase.

Examples of scanners adequate for this type of testing include: Coverity, SonarQube, Looks Good To Me (LGTM), etc.

  • Software Composition Analysis - SCA

SCA is a process and set of tools used to identify and manage open-source and third-party components within software applications. It focuses on analyzing the software's dependencies, including libraries, frameworks, and modules, to detect potential security vulnerabilities, licensing issues, and outdated versions.

Examples of scanners adequate for this type of testing include SNYK, BlackDuck, WhiteSource, etc.

  • Dynamic Analysis

It is the evaluation of applications, systems, and networks using real-time data to identify security gaps while the target of the evaluation is running and providing visibility into its real-world behavior.

It could be:

  • Dynamic Network Analysis using Nmap, Nessus, Metasploit, OpenVAS, etc.
  • Dynamic Application Security Testing - DAST using Arachni, Acutenetix, etc
  • Interactive Application Security Testing - IAST using Contrast, VeraCode, Seeker, etc.

Vulnerability scanning is important for several reasons:

1. Proactive identification of vulnerabilities: Conducting vulnerability scans helps organizations/individuals identify potential security flaws and weaknesses in their systems before attackers can exploit them.

2. Protection against cyber threats: Vulnerability scanning serves as an early warning system, enabling businesses to stay one step ahead of cyber threats and minimize the likelihood of successful attacks.

3. Cost-effective security measure: Identifying vulnerabilities early on through scanning can prevent potential breaches that could result in significant financial losses, reputational damage, and legal implications.

II. How do Vulnerability Scanners Work 🤔?

Vulnerability scanning tools as mentioned above are essential for identifying potential security vulnerabilities in an organization's systems.

Now, let’s look at the step-by-step functioning mechanism of a vulnerability scanning tool and how it identifies potential vulnerabilities in an organization's systems.

Step 1: Discovery

The first step in vulnerability scanning is the discovery phase. During this phase, the tool scans the network to identify all devices, services, and applications connected to it.

The tools will use various techniques, including port scanning, ping sweeps, and network mapping to identify all devices on the network.

Step 2: Enumeration

It involves identifying all the services and applications running on the devices.

The tools will scan each device to determine its operating system, applications, and services, and identify any potential vulnerabilities associated with them.

Step 3: Vulnerability Scanning

During this phase, the tools will scan for known vulnerabilities in the operating system, applications, and services running on the devices. The tools will use a database of known vulnerabilities to identify any potential security flaws that could be exploited by an attacker.

Step 4: Analysis

It involves an analysis of the results to determine the severity of each vulnerability. The tools will assign a risk score to each vulnerability based on its severity and the likelihood of it being exploited by an attacker. The tools also provide detailed information on each vulnerability, including its description, solution, and references.

Step 5: Reporting

The final step in the vulnerability scanning process is reporting. It includes generating a report that outlines all the vulnerabilities discovered during the scan, along with their severity and recommended remediation steps.

By following a well-defined step-by-step process, these tools help organizations identify, verify, and remediate vulnerabilities, thereby reducing the risk of potential cyber threats.

III. Security Concerns with Vulnerability Scanning Tools

When vulnerability scanning tools scour your network, they gather an enormously detailed trove of sensitive data - every IP address, open port, outdated software version, and more. This Level of intelligence about your systems is exactly what hackers crave, offering a virtual map to the weakest spots in your defenses.

The critical question that must be asked is: How do vulnerability scanning tools handle and safeguard your invaluable data?

Here are some of the security concerns with vulnerability scanning tools:

1. Data leakage:

One of the most significant security concerns with vulnerability scanning tools is the potential for data leakage. When vulnerability scanning tools scan a network, they gather a large amount of sensitive information. This information includes every IP address, open port, outdated software version, and other system details. This level of intelligence about an organization's systems is precisely what hackers crave, as it provides them with a virtual map of the weakest spots in an organization's defenses. Therefore, it is crucial that vulnerability scanning tools handle and safeguard this data with care to prevent unauthorized access.

To address this concern, vulnerability scanning tools encrypt the data they collect.

Aside: Encryption is the process of converting information into a code that can only be deciphered with a specific key.

However, it is worth noting that despite the encryption measures in place, there is still a risk of data leakage. While to date, no vulnerability scanner has been hacked, there have been instances where security companies have been hacked, and the information about the vulnerabilities of the organizations they protect has been breached. Such incidents underscore the importance of ensuring that vulnerability scanning tools are regularly updated and maintained to address any potential vulnerabilities in the tool itself.

2. False positives and false negatives:

False positives occur when the tool reports a vulnerability that does not actually exist, while false negatives occur when the tool fails to detect a real vulnerability. Both of these scenarios can be dangerous, as they can cause organizations to waste time and resources on non-existent problems or leave real vulnerabilities unaddressed.

To address this concern, vulnerability scanning tools should be regularly updated to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest threats and vulnerabilities.

They should also be configured to minimize false positives and false negatives, for example, by adjusting the sensitivity of the scan or adding custom rules to the tool's database.

Additionally, the results of the scans should always be reviewed by a Security professional.

3. Network disruption:

Vulnerability scans can be resource-intensive and may cause network slowdowns or downtime. This disruption can be particularly problematic for organizations that rely on their networks to conduct business and provide services.

To address this concern, vulnerability scanning tools should be configured to minimize network disruption.

For example, they can be scheduled to run during off-hours or in a phased approach, where only a portion of the network is scanned at a time.

While vulnerability scanning tools are critical for identifying potential security vulnerabilities in an organization's systems, they also introduce their own set of security concerns.

Ensuring that the data collected by these tools is safeguarded and that the tools themselves are regularly updated and maintained can help mitigate these concerns.

By taking these steps, organizations can leverage the benefits of vulnerability scanning tools while minimizing their potential risks.

IV. Conclusion

Vulnerability scanning tools are a crucial part of identifying potential security vulnerabilities, but they come with their own set of concerns. While data leakage, false positives, and network disruption are just a few of the challenges, proactively updating and maintaining the tools themselves can help mitigate these risks.

As we continue to navigate the ever-evolving world of cybersecurity, it's important to remain vigilant and take proactive measures to protect ourselves and our digital assets. So, let's keep scanning for vulnerabilities, stay ahead of cyber threats, and keep our systems safe.

Don't forget to share your thoughts and experiences with vulnerability scanning tools in the comments below✍🏽

See you in the next one!

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