Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Application Security

10:50 AM

Efficient Security Testing Requires Automation, but Humans Are Needed Too

An annual survey of penetration testers finds that although machines can quickly find many classes of vulnerabilities, human analysts are still necessary to gauge the severity of discovered issues.

Automated analysis tools excel at finding certain types of vulnerabilities — from cross-site scripting flaws to SQL injection and from misconfigured security headers to remote-file inclusion — but humans continue to be necessary to evaluate the severity of such flaws, according to an analysis of 2,500 penetration tests released on June 9.

In its annual "State of Pentesting 2020" report, security-services firm Cobalt.io found that about two-thirds of its penetration testing engagements involved testing either web applications or web-based application programming interfaces (APIs), with misconfigurations topping the list of security threats discovered in 2019, followed by cross-site scripting and authentication issues. Automated security testing continues to be an efficient way to find these issues, especially as 37% of application security practitioners have to deal with weekly or daily release cadences, the report states.

Yet humans are still needed to find more nebulous classes of vulnerabilities, such as business logic bypasses, race conditions, and attack chains that involve exploitation of multiple vulnerabilities, says Caroline Wong, chief strategy officer for Cobalt.io.

"Anyone who is only using people is missing out of efficiencies that can only be found by machine, and anyone that is only using machines is missing out on whole classes of vulnerabilities," she says. "Use scanners to find your low-hanging fruit, and then use that information to provide context for analyzing the risk posed by those issues."

The survey underscored that certain issues remain for automated scanning for vulnerabilities, including tuning the analysis and testing systems, triaging vulnerabilities, and providing additional context as to the risk that a particular vulnerability poses. In addition, business logic issues — such as manipulating the price of goods or abusing password recovery systems — pose problems for automated analysis, according to Cobalt.io.

"Scanners are not capable of manipulating business logic rules or identifying misuse of an execution flow," the report states. "The ability to identify this class of vulnerability requires a complete understanding of the web application and necessitates creative thinking."

Penetration testing, however, continues to have an uphill struggle to become more integrated into DevOps and other agile development cycles, according to another report. Only half of security operations centers typically have visibility into DevOps activities, and only a third of penetration tests results are shared between DevOps teams and security teams, according to Fortinet's "2019 State of DevOps Security Report."  

Overall, only 58% of development teams thought that they had caught the majority of vulnerabilities before their code went into production, according to that report. 

"Respondents have some negative feelings about security technology in general — perhaps because their success measurements focus on speed and efficiency over security," the Fortinet report states. "Specifically, when asked how security solutions can negatively impact success, respondents’ biggest complaints were business concerns: slowing of development cycles, increased complexity, and adoption of challenging security standards."

To some degree, Cobalt.io sees the relationship between application-security teams and development teams changing, albeit slowly. Because of the shift to integrating development and operations, more security teams are working together with their counterparts in software engineering, Cobalt.io's Wong says. 

More than three-quarters of companies report that the security and software engineering teams have a strong relationship, according to the report.

"While security people can try to help to find vulnerabilities, they simply cannot fix those vulnerabilities unless they are working collaboratively with software developers and engineering teams," she says. "This is really different from what that relationship looked like in the past."

The survey also found that the accidental misconfiguring of cloud infrastructure and cloud applications continue to be a major source of vulnerabilities. Misconfiguration continues to be the No. 1 issue found by penetration testers.

The continued forced errors have become even more critical because companies are relying on their cloud services and infrastructure to operate their businesses. Seventy-one percent of companies relied on cloud environments for their business, according to Cobalt.io's report.

Mature security programs are increasingly aiming to gain complete coverage with application-security testing and are focused on security rather than just compliance, according to Wong. 

"In the past, more people would say they do pen testing for compliance," she says. "Today, organizations are actually doing it because they want to make their applications more secure."

Related Content:

Learn from industry experts in a setting that is conducive to interaction and conversation about how to prepare for that "really bad day" in cybersecurity. Click for more information and to register
Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 10/23/2020
7 Tips for Choosing Security Metrics That Matter
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  10/19/2020
Russian Military Officers Unmasked, Indicted for High-Profile Cyberattack Campaigns
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  10/19/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
A Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) vulnerability is identified in FruityWifi through 2.4. Due to a lack of CSRF protection in page_config_adv.php, an unauthenticated attacker can lure the victim to visit his website by social engineering or another attack vector. Due to this issue, an unauthenticat...
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
FruityWifi through 2.4 has an unsafe Sudo configuration [(ALL : ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL]. This allows an attacker to perform a system-level (root) local privilege escalation, allowing an attacker to gain complete persistent access to the local system.
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
NVIDIA GeForce Experience, all versions prior to, contains a vulnerability in the ShadowPlay component which may lead to local privilege escalation, code execution, denial of service or information disclosure.
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
An arbitrary command execution vulnerability exists in the fopen() function of file writes of UCMS v1.4.8, where an attacker can gain access to the server.
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
NVIDIA GeForce Experience, all versions prior to, contains a vulnerability in NVIDIA Web Helper NodeJS Web Server in which an uncontrolled search path is used to load a node module, which may lead to code execution, denial of service, escalation of privileges, and information disclosure.