5 reasons why continuous vulnerability testing and management beats ad-hoc scanning

Organizations are coming to realize the difference between running the occasional pentest or vulnerability scan and having an effective application security program. In the long run, in-house automated testing with integrated vulnerability management is not only better for security but also cheaper and more efficient.

5 reasons why continuous vulnerability testing and management beats ad-hoc scanning

Why do organizations scan their websites and applications for vulnerabilities? Seems like a silly question to ask on a web security blog, but the answer is not as obvious as you might think. Many organizations still treat vulnerability scanning as a precaution, a nice-to-have, or a compliance box to tick, not as an integral part of their web development and operations workflows. There is a world of difference between ad-hoc scanning and proper, continuous vulnerability testing and management – and understanding that difference is crucial for improving security rather than just spending money on it.

Spoiler: Running a scan does not improve security

The purpose of vulnerability scanning is to find vulnerabilities, but the reason you test application security in the first place is to improve it. Doing any test, be it an automated scan or a manual pentest, merely gives you a list of issues. Depending on the tooling, process, and test target, you can still have a long way to go before you can start fixing vulnerabilities to improve security.

Many companies are still happy to treat 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. Whether anyone acts on the scan results is often seen as someone else’s problem. At the other end of the spectrum are organizations that take security seriously and believe in continuous vulnerability management coupled with deep workflow integration to address issues as they arise. This is the approach championed by Invicti, so let’s go through 5 reasons why a coordinated, long-term approach benefits organizations far more than ad-hoc scanning.

Reason #1: Less security risk, more 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to monitor the progress of vulnerability resolution and means that at any given moment, you most likely have an outdated picture of your web security posture. If new vulnerabilities are discovered or introduced between scans, it could be weeks or months before they are detected, processed, and fixed. Especially with agile development, doing only occasional security tests without systematic vulnerability management means you risk always having some applications open to attack because security flaws are introduced into production faster than you can find and fix them. And remember – attackers only need to find one weak point to cause a breach.

Continuous vulnerability scanning and management, by contrast, gives you an up-to-date picture of your security status and makes it much easier to coordinate remediation and plan strategic improvements. For example, you can identify sites or applications that account for the highest proportion of vulnerabilities and investigate the root cause. This is, of course, assuming that your DAST scanner returns accurate results and you can rely on it as the foundation of your application security program. With Invicti specifically, you get proof-based scanning technology to confirm 94% of direct-impact vulnerabilities with extreme accuracy. You also get the added benefit of asset discovery for full visibility of your web-facing assets and an accurate picture of your web security posture.

Reason #2: Improved visibility and reporting

Any organized application security program relies on centralized monitoring and reporting to provide operational and executive visibility. Imagine you have several hundred sites and applications and need to manually compile reports to track thousands of vulnerability statuses from one scan to the next. This would be spreadsheet hell, and you’d be forced to rely on information that could already be out of date before the report is done. And yet this is often the only option for organizations that rely on ad-hoc testing.

With a full AppSec solution like Invicti, 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. Crucially, Invicti integrates out-of-the-box with popular issue trackers and vulnerability management tools, so you always have the option of using the built-in management features or working with your existing systems.

Reason #3: Increased 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 unless you want the same issues to come back over and over again, you also need to retest to make sure your fix has resolved the vulnerability for good (and didn’t introduce a new one). 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 dealing with security reports becomes 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 tests. With application development relying heavily on automation, effective application security also requires efficient automation, especially considering the small size of most security teams. This is only possible with a solution that integrates into existing workflows to create a closed-loop application security testing environment. The operational efficiencies gained by automating or eliminating most manual tasks, from vulnerability verification to issue assignment, mean shorter times to fix, measurable security improvements, and reduced costs.

Reason #4: Repeatable results with a long-term solution

Setting up the tools is the most laborious part of any automated process, and web vulnerability scanning is no exception. Each application environment presents unique challenges that need some level of initial customization to ensure good coverage and therefore useful results. Authentication is one area where careful initial setup can make the difference between in-depth and superficial scans. This is where using a dedicated, long-term solution shows its benefits. 

For Invicti, going from installation to first results is very easy. After the initial setup to discover, add, and select the sites, applications, and APIs you want to test, 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 if business requirements change, modifying an existing configuration is far easier than setting up everything from scratch.

Most importantly, with continuous and integrated testing and vulnerability management, handling a scan is no longer a whole separate project that requires a dedicated internal team or maybe even external consultants. Instead, vulnerability scanning becomes a permanent and automated part of routine application development and testing, with major benefits for security, efficiency, and cost.

Reason #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 facts and numbers to show that a product or service has brought your organization measurable security improvements. With continuous management in a dedicated web application security solution, this is much easier because you can track and report improvements across time periods, assets, and teams.

An accurate and integrated solution such as Invicti brings an extremely short time to value compared to other approaches, giving it a major ROI advantage. Thanks to the certainty gained from proof-based scanning, every vulnerability that is automatically confirmed and triaged by the scanner is immediately ready to fix, right down to creating a developer ticket in the issue tracker. By eliminating the overhead of manual verification and assignment, you can send many reports directly to developers for some very real savings. When combined with integration, reporting, and visibility, this allows organizations to get (and show) the maximum possible security benefits with minimum manual effort.

Focus on security, not ticking boxes

Organizations struggle with vulnerability management across complex and fast-moving application deployments, often building up many months’ worth of security backlogs. In such environments, identifying, prioritizing, and resolving high-risk vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers is not something that can be achieved purely manually. 

To take control of web application security, organizations need a long-term strategy based on efficient automated workflows assisted by accurate testing in a continuous process to keep up with threats, eliminate uncertainty, and aid decision-making. Without a systematic testing regime, running one-off scans every now and again provides 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 accuracy and efficiency with closed-cycle vulnerability management – and Invicti happens to be the best in the industry.

Read how one Invicti customer cut costs by 80% by bringing their vulnerability scanning in-house

Zbigniew Banach

About the Author

Zbigniew Banach - Technical Content Lead & Managing Editor

Cybersecurity writer and blog managing editor at Invicti Security. Drawing on years of experience with security, software development, content creation, journalism, and technical translation, he does his best to bring web application security and cybersecurity in general to a wider audience.