What is an Authenticated Security Scan, And Why Is It Important?

Posted DateSeptember 21, 2023
Posted Time 3   min Read

Many organizations today rely only on “unauthenticated” web application security scans, leaving their admin and user portals unchecked.

While it is crucial to protect your system against external automated attacks, you shouldn’t ignore the possibility of a targeted attack from someone with valid logins. If your app lets anyone signup online, it could easily expose your business to attackers.

Authentication details could also be exposed through credential stuffing and brute force attacks.

As authenticated users typically have access to more sensitive features, the presence of vulnerabilities in the gated/authenticated section of your application could lead to data exfiltration, XSS, RCE, privilege escalation, and many other attacks.

Therefore, authenticated security scans are vital for uncovering hidden vulnerabilities in authenticated sections.

What is an Authenticated Security Scan?

An authenticated or credentialed security scan involves conducting vulnerability assessments and security checks on a network, system, or application using valid credentials. This approach enables the scanner to simulate the actions of an authenticated user, allowing it to access deeper layers of the target system, gather more information, and provide a more accurate assessment of vulnerabilities.

Authenticated Scan vs. Unauthenticated Scan

Authenticated scans with valid credentials offer a deep and accurate assessment of system vulnerabilities by accessing internal configurations and user privileges, making them ideal for critical systems and compliance standards.

In contrast, unauthenticated scans lack this depth, relying on publicly available information and potentially missing critical security flaws, making them better suited for initial network reconnaissance, quick security checks, and situations where credentials are unavailable.

They are less effective for comprehensive vulnerability detection and security posture assessment.

In practice, a hybrid approach combining both methods is often recommended, starting with unauthenticated scans to gain an initial overview and then authenticated scans to conduct a more detailed examination, providing a well-rounded perspective on security risks.

Benefits of Authenticated Scans: 4 Reasons Why You Should Be Using Them

Precise & Accurate Results: Authenticated scans stand out for their ability to provide precise and accurate results. These scans gain deeper access into your systems by utilizing valid credentials, offering a granular view of vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and security weaknesses. This precision eliminates the false positives, reducing the time and effort needed for remediation.

Compliance Audits: Authenticated scans play a crucial role in compliance audits. They provide the detail and accuracy required for compliance with various regulatory standards like PCI DSS, HIPAA, and GDPR. By conducting authenticated scans, organizations can demonstrate compliance and adhere to the security requirements imposed by these regulations.

Finding Privileged User Vulnerabilities: Authenticated scans excel at uncovering vulnerabilities associated with privileged user accounts. These scans can identify critical security threats such as privilege escalation, a process that could allow unauthorized users to gain elevated access to sensitive data or system functions.

Detection of Complex Vulnerabilities: Authenticated scans are effective at identifying complex vulnerabilities like SQL injection, a technique that malicious actors use to manipulate databases, as well as session fixation and cross-site request forgery (CSRF), which are commonly exploited in web applications to compromise user sessions and perform unauthorized actions.

Gray Box Testing / Guided Authenticated Scans With Indusface WAS 

Traditional black box scanners encounter challenges when dealing with authentication scans, causing them to overlook areas behind the authenticated sections and potentially leaving vulnerabilities unchecked in your system. Black box testing typically involves examining a web application without inside access.

This poses a significant risk, especially because the pages requiring authentication are precisely the ones that attackers tend to focus on.

Gray box testing proves to be a practical approach here if you provide some insights into the inner workings of the product, allowing for more effective testing from an external standpoint.

The guided authentication scan module introduces gray box testing capability into Indusface WAS, resulting in higher vulnerability detection even within the areas protected by authentication.

This feature empowers WAS to use the recorded login for complex multi-step authentication forms, allowing it to log in to the account and perform authenticated scans.

The process is straightforward:

  • Log in as you would typically in a Chrome browser, with its extension – Recorder – capturing all the actions taken.
  • Upload the recording to Indusface WAS to incorporate it into your scans.
  • During the scan, the recorded login sequence is replayed to log in.

This approach leads to comprehensive coverage of authenticated sections of the website or web application. This proves especially vital when analyzing web applications protected by an authentication page, such as a login portal.

Here is a quick walkthrough on how to perform guided authenticated scans with Indusface WAS:

The guided authenticated security scan helps you to bring detailed and accurate scanning to all the web assets. Conducting thorough scans increases the chance of uncovering hidden vulnerabilities, enhancing the overall security of your web applications.

Stay tuned for more relevant and interesting security articles. Follow Indusface on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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