Website scanners are essential technology in thwarting cybersecurity attacks against web applications. And these types of attacks are a major problem. According to Forrester Research, web applications are a leading vector of incursion.
Worse, such attacks have grown steadily over the past few years. And even more than software vulnerabilities – which offer a huge attack vector – it is web applications that are the usual avenue of external entry.
To help protect against these attacks, let’s take a look at the website scanner market, then do a deep dive into the leading website scanner software.
Also see: 5 Cloud Security Trends in 2022
Understanding the Website Scanning Tools Market
There is often a confusion about the various tools in the IT security arsenal. Terms such as website scanner, vulnerability scanning tool, website vulnerability scanner, and web application scanner are used interchangeably. But this is an error.
Vulnerability scanners and website vulnerability scanners are different. A website scanner does a remote scan of a website and often provides a graphic that can be included to show the site has been scanned. Vulnerability scanners, on the other hand, scan the IT network, endpoints, and infrastructure as they look for vulnerabilities.
- What is Vulnerability Scanning?
- What Does a Website Vulnerability Scanner Do?
- Top Website Scanning Tools
Vulnerability scanners monitor applications and networks constantly to identify security vulnerabilities. They work in a variety of ways.
Many of them maintain an up-to-date database of known vulnerabilities and conduct scans to identify possible risks and exploits. They are typically used by IT to test applications and networks against known issues as well as in helping to identify new vulnerabilities. They also provide reports based on their analysis of known vulnerabilities and potential new exploits.
Vulnerability scanning, then, deals with the inspection of points of potential exploit to identify security holes. Regular scans detect and classify system weaknesses. In some cases, the application offers predictions about the effectiveness of countermeasures. Scans can be performed by the IT department or via a managed service.
Typically, scans are done against a database of information about known security holes in services and ports, as well as anomalies in packet construction, missing patches, and paths that may exist to exploitable programs or scripts.
Some vulnerability scanners detect vulnerabilities and suggest possible remedies. Others attempt remediation and mitigation across the environment. Some provide strong support for audits and compliance via reporting, or are geared towards security standards such as PCI DSS, Sarbanes-Oxley, or HIPAA. Others specialize in the discovery of web-based holes or problems with authentication credentials, key-based authentication, and credential vaults.
A website vulnerability scanner (a.k.a. a website scanner or web application scanner) scans through the pages of a website or web application to detect security vulnerabilities. Such tools are looking for security issues like cross-site scripting, cross-site request forgery (CSRF) or SQL injection. These tools automate the scanning of web applications and test them to search for common security problems. Some offer advanced functions to dive deeper into applications to look for difficult-to-find bugs such as asynchronous SQL injection and blind service-side request forgery (SSRF).
The techniques employed by web scanners include application spidering, applications crawling, discovery of default content as well as common content, and probing web applications for common vulnerabilities. Scanning can be done actively or passively. The passive approach does non-intrusive checks that are useful, but often not thorough enough. Active scans simulate attacks on websites and web applications. Some tools also make use of access permissions to see if further vulnerabilities can be unearthed.
We will include some examples of each type – both vulnerability scanners as well as web application scanners. But we will strongly favor the latter category. Here are our top picks, in no particular order:
The web vulnerability scanner within Burp Suite uses research from PortSwigger to help users find a wide range of vulnerabilities in web applications automatically. Sitting at the core of Burp Suite Enterprise Edition and Burp Suite Professional, it is used by more than 60,000 users across 15,000 organizations.
- Burp Scanner’s crawl engine cuts through obstacles like CSRF tokens, stateful functionality, and overloaded or volatile URLs.
- A crawling algorithm builds up a profile of its target in a similar way to a tester. It is designed to handle dynamic content, unstable internet connections, API definitions, and web applications.
- Uses location fingerprinting techniques to identify hidden areas.
- Scan checks can be selected individually or by group, and custom configurations can be saved, such as a scan configuration to report only vulnerabilities appearing in the OWASP Top 10.
- Burp Collaborator identifies interactions between its target and an external server to check for bugs invisible to conventional scanners, such as asynchronous SQL injection and blind SSRF.
- It uses a mixed methodology that maximizes coverage, while minimizing the number of false positives returned to the user.
The Qualys Cloud Platform, combined with its cloud agents, virtual scanners, and network analysis capabilities bring together key elements of an effective vulnerability management program into a single app unified by orchestration workflows.
- Qualys VMDR enables organizations to automatically discover every asset in their environment, including unmanaged assets appearing on the network, inventory all hardware and software, and classify and tag critical assets.
- It continuously assesses assets for the latest vulnerabilities and applies the latest threat intel analysis to prioritize actively exploitable vulnerabilities.
- Automatically detects the latest patch for the vulnerable asset and deploys it for remediation.
- Scan manually, on a schedule, or continuously.
Nessus by Tenable is a widely used vulnerability assessment tool. It is often used by experienced security teams. It can be used in conjunction with pen testing tools, providing them with areas to target and potential weaknesses to exploit. It is used in vulnerability assessments by tens of thousands of organizations. Nessus came to life twenty years back as an open-source tool but has morphed into a proprietary tool.
- Hundreds of compliance and configuration templates are provided to deal with tasks such as configuration audits and patch management. This helps IT see where there are vulnerabilities, where patches are out of date and where configurations are out of compliance.
- Deals with software flaws, missing patches, malware and misconfiguration errors across a wide range of operating systems, devices and applications.
- Encourages feedback from the community, to optimize Nessus.
- Seeks out loopholes that attackers could exploit.
- Can detect default passwords remaining in use within the enterprise, attempts to deny access to the intended users of a machine or a network resource, open mail relays that are often exploited by spammers, and vulnerabilities that hackers could use to gain entry or access sensitive information.
- Useful in preparing PCI-DSS audits.
Acunetix by Invicti scans web-based applications. Its multi-threaded scanner can crawl across hundreds of thousands of pages rapidly and it also identifies common web server configuration issues. It is particularly good as scanning WordPress. Acunetix automatically creates a list of all websites, applications, and APIs, and keeps it up to date.
- Scans in places most vulnerability scanners can’t reach.
- Records macros to automate scanning in password-protected and hard-to-reach areas
- Scans unlinked files.
- For Windows and Linux.
- The scanner finds every page of web applications even if custom-built software.
- Can detect DOM-based XSS.
- Scans AJAX-heavy client-side single page applications and complex password-protected areas.
- SQL injection testing.
- Scan open-source software and custom-built applications.
Netsparker is a web vulnerability management solution that focuses on scalability, automation, and integration. The suite is built around the web vulnerability scanner and can be integrated with third party tools. Operators don’t need to be knowledgeable in source code.
- The Netsparker platform uses Proof-Based Scanning technology to identify and confirm vulnerabilities, indicating results that are definitely not false positives.
- Can identify SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and other vulnerabilities in web applications, web services and web APIs.
- The Netsparker platform also has security testing tools, reports generator, and can be integrated into DevOps environments.
- Checks web servers such as Apache, Nginx and IIS.
- No need to access source code: just specify the URL and the protocol (HTTP or HTTPS).
- Scans any type of web application, regardless if it is build in PHP, .NET or any other language.
Syxsense is a network vulnerability scanner. It is not a web application scanner, but it can scan web servers to make sure they are patched, and does basic checks like making sure the site has a valid SSL cert. Syxsense also adds patch management, and basic IT management as part of its suite.
- Prevents cyber security attacks by scanning authorization issues, security implementation, and antivirus status.
- It is easy to run, automated, and repeatable.
- Once set up, it monitors and secures the network at the pre-determined frequencies and times.
- The Syxsense Unified Security and Endpoint Management (USEM) suite of cloud-based technology allows enterprises to manage and secure premise, cloud, work-from-home, physical, virtual, mobile, and IoT environments.
- IT can use it to discover and manage all their IT assets, including proactively patching operating systems and third-party applications, scanning for security vulnerabilities, score-risk, and automatically remediating patch and security vulnerabilities.
- A script-free drag and drop policy engine.
- Deploys smart “Receptors” on endpoints, enabling the endpoints to intelligently communicate with a cloud-based service to remain up to date (patch management) and compliant with security standards (vulnerability scanning).
- Enables a SaaS model with zero deployment requirements.
Intruder is a cloud-based vulnerability scanner that concentrates on perimeter scanning. It performs over 10,000 security checks and is strong at discovering new vulnerabilities. It runs emerging threat scans for newly discovered vulnerabilities. Results are emailed to IT and available on the dashboard. It uses an enterprise-grade scanning engine, the same one used by large enterprises and governments.
- Scans publicly and privately accessible servers, cloud systems, websites, and endpoint devices.
- Finds vulnerabilities such as misconfigurations, missing patches, encryption weaknesses, and application bugs in unauthenticated areas.
- Automatically scans systems for new threats.
- Provides alerts when exposed ports and services change.
- Helps to reduce the noise generated by constant log entries and warnings.
- Prioritizes issues based on context and focuses on perimeter vulnerabilities.
AppScan has several versions for the enterprise, the cloud, and more. AppScan on Cloud, for example, is a cloud-based application security solution that provides AppScan as a service. AppScan Enterprise enables IT to perform large-scale application scanning, mitigate vulnerabilities, and achieve regulatory compliance.
- Integration with build environments, DevOps tools, and IDEs provides a frictionless experience for application security testing and fast, targeted remediation of vulnerabilities.
- A full suite of testing technologies (SAST, DAST, IAST and open source).
- Scalable enterprise solution allows organizations to manage application security programs for all applications.
- Security and development teams can collaborate, establish policies and scale testing throughout the application lifecycle.
- AppScan Enterprise provides centralized control with advanced application scanning and remediation capabilities.
- The AppScan Standard version employs the latest algorithms and techniques, and tens of thousands of built-in tests to best handle real-world applications from simple web apps, through single page applications to JSON based REST APIs.
- AppScan Source can identify and remediate security vulnerabilities early in the development cycle using static application security testing.