Vulnerability scanners are computer tools and programs used for simplifying and automating the process of performing vulnerability scans. They can be used for computers, applications, or networks in order to identify their weaknesses before they can be exploited by attackers.
There are a variety of vulnerability scanners depending on the type of system or infrastructure they’re designed to effectively scan. Using the wrong type of vulnerability scanner might result in inaccurate results, either false positives or missed vulnerabilities.
With the right scanner, you can expect to easily locate the most common and recognized vulnerabilities present in your system. You can use the provided information to develop your knowledge of your system’s weaknesses and how you can better minimize and avoid vulnerabilities.
Continue reading to learn more about the different types of vulnerability scanners and how they work.
1. Host-Based Vulnerability Scanners
Host-based vulnerability scanners work on the outer perimeter of the network, alongside firewall software and intrusion prevention systems. They’re responsible for assessing the security of a network based on the state of its configurations and operating systems of servers, hosts, and local machines.
They provide great visibility into any possible damages that agents both inside and outside the network cause. Host-based scanners can be deployed as a stand-alone security agent, and server-based where they have a centralized point of reference or agentless where administrators control and automate individual scans.
2. Port Vulnerability Scanners
Port scanners are tools dedicated to monitoring and checking your hosts and servers for any ports left open. They work by broadcasting connection requests to each port and recording their responses.
Network admins can use port scanners to penetrate test their network and verify the integrity of all active ports. Hackers have also been known to use port scanners to search for unsecured ports leading to a host or servers.
3. Application Vulnerability Scanners
Application vulnerability scanners, also referred to as web app vulnerability scanners, are tools that scan web-based and web apps in search of vulnerabilities. Those tend to work from outside the app, searching for possible ways a hacker could gain access, and acting as an automated penetration testing tool.
Working exclusively with applications, they generally search for vulnerabilities that allow for cross-site scripting (XXS), command injection, path traversal, SQL injection, and insecure server and firewall configurations.
4. Database Vulnerability Scanners
Databases tend to be the ultimate goal of most hackers. For that, database vulnerability scanners work on identifying gaps and loopholes that can be exploited by malicious outsiders to gain access to your database.
Database vulnerability scanning and audits are generally a part of acquiring HIPAA (Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) approval for companies and businesses storing patient information.
5. Source Code Vulnerability Scanners
Source code vulnerability scanners are similar to application vulnerability scanners in terms of territory, but they both target different security features. As the building block of software, applications, and programs, the source code can be scanned for bugs and vulnerabilities through regular auditing.
The same process can be used to guarantee the security of update patches before they’re rolled out publicly or on the market.
6. Wireless Vulnerability Scanners
Wireless vulnerability scanners are wireless network scanning and auditing tools. They work by continuously scanning the network for insecure devices and weak passwords. Additionally, they can identify unaccounted-for access points that could easily be exploited.
Similarly to host-based scanners, wireless scanners operate exclusively on wireless networks. They can be used to verify the security and integrity of your network when performed frequently enough.
7. Cloud Vulnerability Scanners
Cloud vulnerability scanners are tools designed specifically to detect and identify vulnerabilities present in cloud storage and computing environments. They are an essential part of running or using SaaS, IaaS, or PaaS solutions.
While important, cloud vulnerability scanners are but one part of the family of security solutions needed in order to maintain the security of the cloud environment. However, they’re a good starting step to staying on top of cloud-based access points.
8. Network Vulnerability Scanners
Network vulnerability scanners are some of the most comprehensive vulnerability scanners and auditing tools. Instead of hyper-specializing in a specific area, they are able to scan for vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the various components and extensions of the network; from wired and wireless connections to devices, systems, and connected applications.
Additionally, they’re capable of finding unaccounted-for access points on the network’s perimeter. They produce well-rounded and detailed reports of all the network’s vulnerabilities, from verification errors and weak passwords to open ports.
How to Choose a Suitable Vulnerability Scanner Variety?
Vulnerability scanner options can first be divided into open-source and proprietary solutions. Open-source scanners are free to use and come with the advantage of combining the expertise of security teams and developers from all over the world. Additionally, they enable you to leverage numerous public libraries of knowledge and frameworks.
Commercially-available solutions, on the other hand, come with the support and expertise of the tool provider. You can have direct access to experts to help you better manage your scans and audits using the tool they offer.
Your options also vary whether they’re hosted on-premises or on the cloud. The most prominent difference between the two is the higher upfront cost of on-premises scanners.
However, they tend to provide more accurate scan results and have. Cloud-based alternatives are best used for spread-out systems, where direct reach can be complicated.
Another factor you should consider when choosing a vulnerability scanner is its capacity for automation. While performing manual vulnerability scans is possible, larger and more complex networks with several areas and different components to scan are better off using a solution with robust automation and scheduling features.
The performance and reputation of individual solutions — both open-source and commercial — is also an important factor to consider. Check the rate of false positives before committing. You can check through third-party audits and reports of the scanner, but also by reading through customer reviews on independent review sites.
“Scanning for vulnerabilities is not an optional process. It must be done, as every security leader requires full visibility into their attack surface,” says Liran Tancman, CEO of Rezilion and member of the Forbes Technology Council.
“We use scanners to investigate multiple environments — for infrastructure, for containers, for third-party code. It gives us all kinds of information so we are aware,” adds Tancman.
Comprehension and levels of coverage are also essential. While some solutions are able to scan more than one part of your environment, it’s important that the scanner or scanners you use add up to cover all parts that need regular scanning. The comprehensibility of produced reports, while not essential, can help with future analysis, investigations, and audits in the future.
Finally, you should be able to use it. Not only does the scanner have to be compatible with your system, but also with your available technical abilities. Companies with smaller IT and cybersecurity teams should opt for more managed and easy to use solutions.
Bottom Line: Types of Vulnerability Scanning Tools
Vulnerability scanning tools are a piece of software that are used to scan various parts of a system or infrastructure in search of vulnerabilities. It helps admins and security teams find and fix the gaps and weaknesses in their systems before hackers get to exploit them.
The scanners can be found in a variety of different types depending on which section of the infrastructure they specialize in scanning, from databases and ports to networks, hosts, and clouds.
Choosing the right vulnerability scanner for your business requires some careful consideration, as there are a lot to choose from. There are commercial and open-source tools, but also cloud-based and on-premises variations that each serve the security needs of a different category of organizations.