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Anton Bodnar, Automation and Manual Quality Assurance Engineer 

Mar 28, 2024 16 min read

Security Vulnerability Testing: Overview and Best Practices

Information security is a priority for effective company management. Security vulnerability testing is mandatory to assess the current security state of website software and identify its weaknesses.

Security Vulnerability Testing: Overview and Best Practices

Organizations of all orientations are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, regardless of the type of IT system provided. Information security is a priority for effective company management. Security vulnerability testing is mandatory to assess the current security state of website software and identify its weaknesses. Vulnerability analysis is necessary for modeling possible variants of hacking into companies' IT defenses and loopholes in the system to gain unauthorized access to confidential data. 

Vulnerability assessment is necessary to detect, document, remediate, and eliminate possible ways for attackers to criminally gain control of a company's software assets and systems. Testing provides a clear understanding of information security risks and effectiveness. Keep reading to learn how to do security testing for web application, use a network protocol analyzer,  explore different types of test methods, and understand the differences between vulnerability assessment, threat modeling, and security auditing. 

The importance of security testing 

Any business's cyber infrastructure contains many vulnerabilities. They continuously accumulate due to untimely software updates, changing network environments, code bugs, cryptographic failures, and other reasons. It is vital to test website for security vulnerabilities to counter potential cyberattacks and ensure safe and stable operation. Below, you will find detailed reasons why this type of testing is useful: 

01

Understanding the risks. Assessing vulnerabilities in organizations' web systems' helps identify possible entry points for attackers and take remedial action. 

02

Reducing the potential number of cyber attacks. Cyber threats are evolving, with new inputs regularly appearing to "paralyze" organizations or steal sensitive information. Testing helps reduce the number of possible attack vectors, protect critical data, and reduce the likelihood of successful hacker attacks. 

03

Preventing financial and reputational losses. Timely identification and remediation of security vulnerabilities will prevent financial damage caused by cyberattacks and increase customer confidence. When an organization ensures the confidentiality and protection of customers' data, their trust in the organization increases. 

04

Compliance with official regulations. Compliance requirements are imposed on companies at the government or industry level. To meet the established norms, web resources, and intranet systems must be tested for security vulnerabilities. 

05

Improved security. Vulnerability analyses should be systemic, with ongoing monitoring of software "breaches" in sites and applications to make timely security adjustments and train employees on advanced cyber defense methodologies. 

06

Managing risks. Digital systems are regularly at massive risk of attack, and vulnerability testing helps organizations gain potential security gaps, prioritize between them, and manage risk. This combines to improve software performance and prevent damage from occurring. 

Causes of software vulnerabilities 

The main reason for vulnerabilities is software code errors. Cybercriminals can use them to gain illegal access to software, hardware, company software products, and confidential information. But other reasons can also cause vulnerabilities: 

  • Human factor: end users of the company's products often become victims of phishing attacks, and through them, the vulnerability of the entire security system increases; 
  • Insecure design: using a reference framework for application and website architecture eliminates insecure design and reduces the likelihood of vulnerabilities; 
  • Security complexity: in a complex architecture, the risk of errors and misconfigurations increases, which reduces the security features of access; 
  • Remote digital devices: The sheer number of remotely connected digital devices presents multiple potential access points for a cyberattack; 
  • Use of outdated components: ignoring updates to systems leads to a reduction in their defense options and high availability for attacks on known vulnerability hotspots; 
  • Access control flaws: the network becomes vulnerable to external and internal hacking from former employee accounts if their access is not revoked or if access level is set too high for some users; 
  • Authentication failure: identity errors or failures that are caused by the availability of standardized platforms. 

Hackers relentlessly scan the virtual network to find weaknesses, influence, and profit from disclosure. To reduce the likelihood of an attack on a company, owners must regularly test for security vulnerabilities and prevent attackers from penetrating the software. 

Types of security vulnerabilities 

There are four main categories of vulnerabilities that can be identified in the organization's software: 

  • Networking: manifested by software or hardware problems caused by third-party intrusion through unconfigured firewalls, unprotected Wi-Fi hotspots, or APIs;  
  • Process: lack of security features behind all processes in the system, such as weak passwords, lead to vulnerabilities; 
  • OS: security flaws in the operating system are key for hackers to gain access to it; 
  • Human vulnerabilities: malicious activity is not always the cause of a web resource's poor security architecture. A frequent cause can be the unintentional actions of an organization's employees, who may accidentally let malware in by opening a malicious file. 

The most common security vulnerabilities are authentication violation, XSS cross-site scripting, arbitrary code execution, security misconfiguration, SQL Injection, software and data integrity violation, and server-side query forgery. 

NIST - SCAP protocol standard 

One common type of vulnerability is NIST. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology created this cybersecurity system. Businesses and government organizations of various sizes can use it. It uses uniform principles to protect data, namely: 

  • Looks for specific vulnerabilities potentially suitable for attack; 
  • Makes lists of problems in common configurations; 
  • Identifies the OS, web application classes, and devices that reside in an organization's environment; 
  • Gives severity scores to each detected vulnerability separately from 0 to 10. 

Using the NIST framework in your business can help you identify, respond to, and remediate security problems. Adherence to NIST standards ensures that your organization complies with information security legislation. 

Stages of complex software vulnerability testing 

Testing a company's security vulnerabilities should be structured rather than chaotic. It consists of 6 key steps. 

Stages of complex software vulnerability  testing
01

Planning: The testing process is necessary to define the digital system's tasks, functions, and components and choose how to detect possible vulnerabilities. It is important to select the digital assets that are most vulnerable to cyberattacks. You can test the corporate digital infrastructure and the equipment connected to it. Portable devices are frequently switched on/off by employees across office boundaries, from other remote locations, and cloud infrastructure. 

02

Prioritisation: Once the testing plan is drawn up, selecting priority areas for evaluation is necessary because testing everything is problematic and expensive. The most common targets of attacks are employee laptops and company servers that provide Internet access. Organizations often prioritize databases developed for customers. Asset prioritization can help cover the core software products, excluding assets with a lower risk of compromising the company in case of a breach. 

03

Scanning: At the scanning stage, tools are selected to test network security vulnerabilities and web resources and identify false positives of system defenses. Scanning allows you to assess threats and their number and predict the possible impact on business processes. It checks software versions for security, opens ports for errors, and ensures the security of configuration parameters.  

04

Analysis: The scanning process lasts from a few minutes to a couple of hours, and the data obtained is subject to thorough analysis. The scanners mark potential vulnerabilities by severity and hazard. Special attention should be paid to assets with the highest risk of cyber threats, but other vulnerabilities should not be ignored. Hackers can utilize them with exploits. 

05

Troubleshooting: Once analyzed, an appropriate method to address the weaknesses should be selected. If a hack cannot be completely prevented due to a lack of effective tools, mitigating the consequences and reducing the likelihood of a vulnerability is possible. Remediation involves installing new security options and procedures, updating software, and improving security rules. 

06

Continuity of Testing: Security vulnerability testing should be an ongoing endeavor, not a one-off event. The main vulnerability issues arise during the software development phase. To keep their software assets as safe as possible from cyberattacks, some software development companies integrate automated vulnerability assessment software into CI\CD pipelines. 

Vulnerability testing methodologies: 

An appropriate testing method is selected based on the purpose of the network, site, or application vulnerability assessment. There are four main methodologies for determining sufficient security, each described in the table below. 

Testing method 

Designation

Intended purpose  

Examples of testing 

Active 

Involves direct interaction of testers with a web application or network. 

Identifies potential security flaws and attempts to exploit vulnerabilities. Testers enter new data into programs and change testing processes while working with the product under test. The tester actively participates in tests and adjusts them, creating new evaluation models. 

Scan ports to discover open services and ports running on the network.  

Passive  

This includes testing security vulnerabilities through special scanners without the tester's direct interaction with the network, software, or application.  

Collects data on network traffic, web application behavior, and configuration settings to identify potential vulnerabilities. Scanners provide the user with reports on identified vulnerabilities, ignoring or fixing which is already on the user's shoulders. 

Monitors security configurations for incorrect settings and evaluates traffic.  

Network 

Detects security weaknesses throughout the network infrastructure and documents the network's health. 

Predicts how the network will function when cyber threats or new services emerge. Simulates the actions of attackers, identifies security vulnerabilities, and generates reports to the user on the results of actions. 

Checks open server ports on all network equipment and analyzes network configurations and protocols for security flaws. 

Distributed 

Combines multiple testing options conducted in different locations with access to source code to evaluate the network, web application, and security for vulnerabilities

Provides a comprehensive view of the state of a web resource's security system by evaluating it from different angles and under different conditions. The distributed testing process improves the efficiency of security assessment by sharing the load and reducing the impact on the target system. 

Web application scanners are used simultaneously at different locations, and a team of testers does testing at different geo-locations. 

The active testing method is more intrusive than the passive method and can degrade the target system's performance or cause it to fail. However, the active methodology is more effective at identifying vulnerabilities than the passive methodology. 

Different methods are appropriate for different systems sites. To get a comprehensive assessment, it is better to combine methodologies and use both manual methods and automated scanners. The results will be complementary and create the best possible picture of the state of security. 

Testing tools

Various security vulnerability testing tools, such as automated scanners and manual ways for testers to simulate attacks, are available to identify weaknesses in the software security of web applications and websites. Scanners come in different types to scan specific types of digital infrastructure. Large companies can combine several tools to improve network security, while small business systems can choose a scanner that covers the assessment of most systems. 

There are a few basic methods for assessing vulnerabilities. 

  • SAST. Perform static web application security testing by checking source and object codes for compliance with security standards. SAST can detect cross-site scripting and SQL injection without launching the program early in the software lifecycle. 
  • DAST. Dynamic analysis is effective in testing running applications. It identifies defects in the security structure in real-time by introducing tricky data by testers into software that can reveal vulnerabilities to the most common attacks like SQL and XSS. DAST evaluates security by testing for penetration outside the system. 
  • IAST. It is an interactive tool that combines the capabilities of DAST and SAST. It provides a more holistic view of vulnerabilities' presence and potential occurrence. 
  • FUZZ. Checking a site for security vulnerabilities with the Fuzzing tool involves sending a huge amount of non-standard data to the application and analyzing its response. This option can identify vulnerabilities that are excluded when using other tools. 
Testing tools

It is also worth distinguishing four categories of scanners that can check certain types of assets: 

  • Network - tests security vulnerabilities by scanning wired and wireless networks;  
  • databases - detect vulnerabilities by scanning databases; 
  • Web applications - analyze applications for security gaps and the most common threats; 
  • Host-based scanners - installed on equipment to assess remote and local vulnerability locations. 

It is impossible to answer which option is the most effective. Each company must decide how to check software for security vulnerabilities, taking into account the potential risks of its assets. A combination of tools will allow us to comprehensively examine the state of the software and identify problem areas.

Paid and free tools for testing. When asked how to test website and application vulnerability, there are several options: 

  • Use paid tools: Acunetix, ZenGRC, Veracode, Burp Suite, Charles; 
  • Try out free testing tools: OWASP ZAP, Metasploit, Wireshark, BeEF, Nmap, SQLmap, Ettercap; 
  • Order the services of specialist testers who will recreate an IT attack as realistically as possible, applying both manual and automated methods of vulnerability detection; 
  • Entrust regular testing to a trained team of company IT specialists. 

It is up to the company owner to decide what to use, but combining approaches gives a more informative and accurate picture of the existing security system. Network protocol tests are complex; without special skills, it is easy to miss important aspects, so it is better to opt for professional analyzers. 

Software testing on White, Black, and Grey box technique 

Security vulnerability testing approaches are divided according to the knowledge of how the organization's system is structured from the inside. They have some differences:

  • White Box: based on intra-structural system testing, used for integration pen-tests, requires programming knowledge, can be performed at early stages of software development;  
  • Black Box: does not imply an exact understanding of the device of the company's digital system. The goal of the tester is to detect interface errors, structural data, and lack of functions, detect the reasons for the insufficient performance of the security system; 
  • Grey Box: combines White and Black box approaches, provides a partial understanding of the internal security system, but testing is done with the Black box technique. 

Whichever type of testing is chosen, these related techniques will provide the best approach to software vulnerability testing. 

Security audit, vulnerability assessment, penetration test - differences in concepts 

Among the types of security testing, there are similar concepts that companies may think of as interchangeable, but they are not. The table below shows the differences between a security audit, vulnerability assessment, and penetration test. 

Notion 

Significance 

Purpose of carrying out 

Security audit 

A set of measures that assesses the extent to which sites and applications are protected from external threats and unauthorized access. 

Investigate the design construction, code, and potential downsides in applications' security, configuration, or misconfiguration. 

Penetration test

The manual process of modeling a cyber attack by a qualified pen tester pen. 

Detect vulnerabilities and test whether the system can withstand real hacking attempts. Penetration testing is usually done after the basic testing methods and fixes for a benchmark test. It should show whether the network patches worked or not. 

Vulnerability assessment 

A set of automated actions performed by an internal auditor that identifies possible attack vectors against network, server, and system infrastructure.

Looks for the most known vulnerabilities, checks the current state of security, and identifies areas that need immediate remediation. Provides accurate information about system flaws. Documents an assessment results and creates a remediation guide. 

Cyber threats are a huge danger for companies. They can bring business to a halt at any time if they find security loopholes. Therefore, preventive measures like vulnerability testing will increase companies' defenses against hacker attacks. If you combine automated testing methods with manual ones, you can significantly improve cyber security. 

How to create and maintain an invulnerable security system in your company 

Our security testing services protect sensitive customer data against cyber threats. The success and correctness of the tests depend on the proper organization of the testing process, namely: 

  • Develop a clear plan that details the digital assets to be analyzed, as well as methodologies and tools to be used, and their combinations; 
  • Prioritize vulnerabilities because it is impossible to cover all potential threats. There are several thousand of them in software. Eliminating high-priority problems will minimize the risk of unauthorized intrusion into the system; 
  • Take care of a timely and effective method of fixing detected issues, monitoring their performance, and propagating them to all company applications and devices; 
  • Increase staff awareness of possible risks and options for cyberattacks by creating a cohort of security-conscious people because the biggest risks to the system come from employees. 
  • Maintain close cooperation between all security departments. This will help create comprehensive barriers that are inaccessible to hacker attacks. Systematically monitor the system, research emerging new cyber threats, monitor the emergence of innovative mitigation techniques, and immediately adapt your security to new challenges and opportunities. 

Summarising 

The article concludes with the following: vulnerability assessment is a mandatory and regular procedure for thriving companies in various sectors that care about their security and the protection of their customers' personal information.  

Information structure security is of key importance in today's digital world. Vulnerability testing is a proactive measure to protect customer data and increase customer loyalty, strengthen security weaknesses, and prevent the possibility of IT intrusion into the company's software. Fixing identified vulnerabilities is less costly than rebuilding an entire system after a cyberattack, both financially and time-wise.  

Software vulnerability testing is an investment in a company's secure operation, excellent reputation, and prosperity. We hope this article gives you a general idea of how to test security vulnerability of a website. If you want to know more, talk to our team

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the four main types of security vulnerabilities?

The main types of cybersecurity vulnerabilities are network vulnerabilities, operating system vulnerabilities, process vulnerabilities, and a human factor. The first type indicates problems in software through Wi-Fi, firewalls, and APIs caused by criminal actions of third parties. Process and OS vulnerabilities indicate the possibility of cyber threats through flawed OS security, bad passwords, and insecure processes in digital asset management systems. Human error is a major source of software vulnerabilities that can manifest themselves after opening a malicious file. 

What is vulnerability analysis in cybersecurity?

It is a set of measures required to assess the security of digital products. It is designed to detect vulnerabilities in the security structure of a network, website. The result of the analysis will be developing a plan to eliminate vulnerabilities and improve system integrity. 

What is a security framework vulnerability test?

Vulnerability testing is detecting, classifying, hazard identification, and assessing potential cyber threats in computer security or application software assets. It helps to identify weaknesses in software security options and simulate possible hacking options by hackers by looking for bugs, errors, or defects. 

What are the main types of vulnerability testing?

Vulnerability testing includes: 
- analyzing the security of the source code, 
- external and internal scanning, 
- threat modeling, 
- penetration testing. 
Systems are also tested for XSS detection, code injection, SQL and email injection, misconfiguration, authentication issues, access to sensitive data, and others. 

What is a NIST vulnerability?

NIST vulnerabilities are information security standards critical to protecting data and sensitive information in companies. They define basic security requirements to ensure sufficient data protection and provide a baseline for assessing potential risks. 

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