Cloudflare’s Lightweight Network Vulnerability Scanner


Today, we’re excited to open source Flan Scan, Cloudflare’s in-house lightweight network vulnerability scanner. Flan Scan is a thin wrapper around Nmap that converts this popular open source tool into a vulnerability scanner with the added benefit of easy deployment.

We created Flan Scan after two unsuccessful attempts at using “industry standard” scanners for our compliance scans. A little over a year ago, we were paying a big vendor for their scanner until we realized it was one of our highest security costs and many of its features were not relevant to our setup. It became clear we were not getting our money’s worth. Soon after, we switched to an open source scanner and took on the task of managing its complicated setup. That made it difficult to deploy to our entire fleet of more than 190 data centers.

We had a deadline at the end of Q3 to complete an internal scan for our compliance requirements but no tool that met our needs. Given our history with existing scanners, we decided to set off on our own and build a scanner that worked for our setup. To design Flan Scan, we worked closely with our auditors to understand the requirements of such a tool. We needed a scanner that could accurately detect the services on our network and then lookup those services in a database of CVEs to find vulnerabilities relevant to our services. Additionally, unlike other scanners we had tried, our tool had to be easy to deploy across our entire network.

We chose Nmap as our base scanner because, unlike other network scanners which sacrifice accuracy for speed, it prioritizes detecting services thereby reducing false positives. We also liked Nmap because of the Nmap Scripting Engine (NSE), which allows scripts to be run against the scan results. We found that the “vulners” script, available on NSE, mapped the detected services to relevant CVEs from a database, which is exactly what we needed.

The next step was to make the scanner easy to deploy while ensuring it outputted actionable and valuable results. We added three features to Flan Scan which helped package up Nmap into a user-friendly scanner that can be deployed across a large network.

  • Easy Deployment and ConfigurationTo create a lightweight scanner with easy configuration, we chose to run Flan Scan inside a Docker container. As a result, Flan Scan can be built and pushed to a Docker registry and maintains the flexibility to be configured at runtime. Flan Scan also includes sample Kubernetes configuration and deployment files with a few placeholders so you can get up and scanning quickly.
  • Pushing results to the Cloud Flan Scan adds support for pushing results to a Google Cloud Storage Bucket or an S3 bucket. All you need to do is set a few environment variables and Flan Scan will do the rest. This makes it possible to run many scans across a large network and collect the results in one central location for processing.
  • Actionable Reports – Flan Scan generates actionable reports from Nmap’s output so you can quickly identify vulnerable services on your network, the applicable CVEs, and the IP addresses and ports where these services were found. The reports are useful for engineers following up on the results of the scan as well as auditors looking for evidence of compliance scans.

Sample run of Flan Scan from start to finish. 

How has Scan Flan improved Cloudflare’s network security?

By the end of Q3, not only had we completed our compliance scans, we also used Flan Scan to tangibly improve the security of our network. At Cloudflare, we pin the software version of some services in production because it allows us to prioritize upgrades by weighing the operational cost of upgrading against the improvements of the latest version. Flan Scan’s results revealed that our FreeIPA nodes, used to manage Linux users and hosts, were running an outdated version of Apache with several medium severity vulnerabilities. As a result, we prioritized their update. Flan Scan also found a vulnerable instance of PostgreSQL leftover from a performance dashboard that no longer exists.

Flan Scan is part of a larger effort to expand our vulnerability management program. We recently deployed osquery to our entire network to perform host-based vulnerability tracking. By complementing osquery’s findings with Flan Scan’s network scans we are working towards comprehensive visibility of the services running at our edge and their vulnerabilities. With two vulnerability trackers in place, we decided to build a tool to manage the increasing number of vulnerability  sources. Our tool sends alerts on new vulnerabilities, filters out false positives, and tracks remediated vulnerabilities. Flan Scan’s valuable security insights were a major impetus for creating this vulnerability tracking tool.

How does Flan Scan work?

The first step of Flan Scan is running an Nmap scan with service detection. Flan Scan’s default Nmap scan runs the following scans:

  1. ICMP ping scan – Nmap determines which of the IP addresses given are online.
  2. SYN scan – Nmap scans the 1000 most common ports of the IP addresses which responded to the ICMP ping. Nmap marks ports as open, closed, or filtered.
  3. Service detection scan – To detect which services are running on open ports Nmap performs TCP handshake and banner grabbing scans.

Other types of scanning such as UDP scanning and IPv6 addresses are also possible with Nmap. Flan Scan allows users to run these and any other extended features of Nmap by passing in Nmap flags at runtime.

Sample Nmap output

Flan Scan adds the “vulners” script tag in its default Nmap command to include in the output a list of vulnerabilities applicable to the services detected. The vulners script works by making API calls to a service run by vulners.com which returns any known vulnerabilities for the given service.

Sample Nmap output with Vulners script

The next step of Flan Scan uses a Python script to convert the structured XML of Nmap’s output to an actionable report. The reports of the previous scanner we used listed each of the IP addresses scanned and present the vulnerabilities applicable to that location. Since we had multiple IP addresses running the same service, the report would repeat the same list of vulnerabilities under each of these IP addresses. This meant scrolling back and forth on documents hundreds of pages long to obtain a list of all IP addresses with the same vulnerabilities.  The results were impossible to digest.

Flan Scans results are structured around services. The report enumerates all vulnerable services with a list beneath each one of relevant vulnerabilities and all IP addresses running this service. This structure makes the report shorter and actionable since the services that need to be remediated can be clearly identified. Flan Scan reports are made using LaTeX because who doesn’t like nicely formatted reports that can be generated with a script? The raw LaTeX file that Flan Scan outputs can be converted to a beautiful PDF by using tools like pdf2latex or TeXShop.

Sample Flan Scan report

What’s next?

Cloudflare’s mission is to help build a better Internet for everyone, not just Internet giants who can afford to buy expensive tools. We’re open sourcing Flan Scan because we believe it shouldn’t cost tons of money to have strong network security.

You can get started running a vulnerability scan on your network in a few minutes by following the instructions on the README. We welcome contributions and suggestions from the community.



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