How to try GitHub Advanced Security with your team
In this guide, you’ll learn what GitHub Advanced Security is and how it works. You'll also get a tour of one of its main features, code scanning, and how it can benefit all the teams in your organization.
What is GitHub Advanced Security?
GitHub Advanced Security is a developer-first application security solution that modernizes and transforms how application security is perceived and implemented across organizations. Within the GitHub Advanced Security ecosystem, there are four core capabilities.
Find and fix security issues in your code before they reach production with static application security testing (SAST).
See how it works
Prevent unauthorized access and breaches by watching your repositories for known secret formats that notify you as soon as secrets are found.
See how it works
Catch vulnerable dependencies before you introduce them to your code base.
See how it works
Understand the security risks in your organization and individual repositories with a centralized view of everything security.
See how it works
The matrix below illustrates which features are available for free during your trial, depending on whether you’re using a private or public repository.
Private repo without GHAS
Private repo with GHAS
* This feature is free for public repos (though notifications will only be sent to the vendor)
As you can see from above, code scanning and dependency review are entirely free for use across public repositories! Primarily, we see customers wanting to trial code scanning. So let's go ahead and test out code scanning's capabilities and features. If you wish to trial the complete feature set offered by secret scanning and security overview, don't hesitate to contact us using the form at the bottom.
How to enable code scanning and CodeQL
Code scanning is a developer-first, GitHub-native approach to easily find security vulnerabilities. Powered by the world’s most powerful code analysis engine—CodeQL—it scans code as it’s created and surfaces actionable security reviews within pull requests.
There are two ways to try it out: in a public repository you already use or a sample repository based on your programming language.
Option 1: If you want to test code scanning on an open source repository you maintain.
Code scanning is for free for all public GitHub repositories. Maintain an open source library or any other active public repository with used code? Here’s how to set it up now.
- Go to Settings
- Choose the Security & analysis tab
- Click on the Set up button next to “Code scanning.”
- Choose the CodeQL card at the top of the page and follow the on-screen instructions to commit the new GitHub Actions workflow file.
- After a successful run, head to the Security tab, Code Scanning Alerts section to see if you have any CodeQL findings with your code.
Figure 1: Image showing how to enable code scanning in a repository.
Note: You will need to have administrator permissions to fully test code scanning.
Option 2: If you want to test code scanning on a sample repository built by GitHub.
Don’t have any public repositories? That’s okay. GitHub maintains five repositories that can walk you through a simple code scanning example. Keep in mind, CodeQL will handle compiled languages slightly differently from interpreted ones. Extraction works by monitoring the standard build process for compiled languages.
Sample repositories by language
Want to try more?
The above options should give you a basic feel for code scanning, but there’s still much more to learn! Carry on reading below to test out more features and see more complex use-cases.
Code scanning in action with Juice Shop
Running your first scan is just the start. Code scanning also integrates with GitHub Actions workflows—or your existing CI/CD environment—to maximize flexibility for your team. You can see data flows of vulnerabilities, quickly dismiss false positives, and complete other day-to-day security tasks all within a single repository.
Let’s explore how using the Juice Shop repository as an example.
Step 1: Fork the repository
Fork the Juice Shop repository into your account and configure code scanning by following the previous tutorial.
Step 2: Enable Actions
Since the workflows are in a forked repository, they won’t run until you specifically enable them. Go to the Actions tab, then turn on workflows by clicking the button shown in the below screenshot.
Figure 2: Image showing how to enable Actions on a forked repository
Step 3: Run a scan
Test the workflow by making a minor change to your repository’s
README.md file, then commit the change to the default branch. After the scan is completed, you should see about 50 new notifications in the Security tab.
Step 4: Check your alerts
Next, go to the code scanning alerts page by clicking the Security tab and then Code scanning alerts.
You can use this API to disable or enable code scanning programmatically. For large enterprises, this API comes in handy when you’re adopting code scanning at scale.
Figure 3: Image showing how to find the code scanning alerts
Once you click into alerts, you should see the following page.
Figure 4: Image showing code scanning alerts page
There are three core sections within this page: Latest scan data, the search function, and the alerts view.
Latest scan data
The card at the top has data on the latest scan. It’s a quick and easy way to find data on the last run.
An easy filterable search mechanism for looking for specific alerts based on metadata.
A list format of all the results found within the default branch of the repository.
Understanding code scanning results
While security scan results are generated by automated tools, it’s still up to developers to address and fix them. That’s why developer-first tooling is essential—and it’s why GitHub code scanning results are built with developers in mind. The information you see prioritizes what needs to be addressed first, and then shows you how to remediate the vulnerability.
Searching and filtering results
The default view shows all alerts found within the default branch of your repository (which is normally main). You can use the search or the filter options provided within the header to narrow down the results to suit your needs.
Deep diving into specific alerts
To find out more information about a specific alert, you can click on the alert name to see a detailed view of what it is and how to fix it. You’ll also see a timeline view of where the alert was first found, where it has been found, and where it is now.
How GitHub Advanced Security impacts your workflow
Security is a team responsibility. Often known as “shifting security left,” protecting your code from vulnerabilities requires input from teams involved at every stage of the software development lifecycle. With code scanning and GitHub Advanced Security, developers, security personnel, and admins can all learn from and act on the results in meaningful ways.
Below you can explore code scanning’s many features by carrying out tasks designed for certain roles in your organization, from a member of the security team to a developer or product owner. Take a look at the different use-cases—even if they don’t relate to your current role—you may be surprised what you can learn.
Code scanning examples for security teams
"As a security auditor, I want to filter all code scanning alerts to just SQL injections. Then, I want to deep-dive into a specific SQL injection, looking at the timeline history of that alert. The data I’m looking for is when it was committed, who committed it, and any places the vulnerability was alerted or changed, so that I can assess the possible impact over time."
Let’s start with the search function. Click on Rule and search for 'code injection.'
Figure 5: Image showing how to filter by rule
Click on one of the alerts returned, and this screen should appear.
Figure 6: Image showing a specific alert
This is the page that shows you everything about an alert. For this step, the critical information is at the bottom.
Figure 7: Image showing the timeline/alert audit history
This feature offers a timeline view or audit history of where the vulnerability was first detected and who committed it. (This allows you to track the history and committers of vulnerabilities.) If you or anyone else takes this vulnerability, alters it within a branch, or pushes it up, the timeline will update accordingly.
"As a security engineer reviewing an alert, I want to see the data flow of the user-provided value from source to sink, so I can understand the true (positive or negative) nature of this vulnerability."
You can find the source, sink, and user-provided path from the single alert page. Click the Show paths button to get started.
Figure 8: Image showing how to find the show path button.
A pop up should appear, which looks like the following.
Figure 9: Image showing the source/sink pathway
Done! From here, you can see the source at the top, where the data is coming in, and the sink, where the data is executed. Scroll through the different steps to see the pathway to execution. This allows you to see if the SQL injection is something to be concerned about. This step will also show you the exact user input. Within Figure 9, click the User-provided value hyperlink. It should show you exactly where the input value is.
Code scanning examples for developers
"As a junior developer, I would like to know more about SQL injections, so I can get a better understanding of how to fix them."
Staying on the detailed single-alert page, let’s try and find out more information about an SQL injection.
Click Show more.
Figure 10: Image showing user how to see more information about an alert
Done. That’s all you need to do. The whole purpose of this is to help developers learn more about a potential vulnerability. If it’s the first time a developer comes across one, they would like to know:
- Summary of vulnerability
- Recommendation of how to approach the vulnerability
- Example of how to fix it
- External references
All of that detail is provided in the overview shown in the expanded image above.
"As a developer, I want to quickly find out which results are alerts from tests, so I can mark them as closed and focus on alerts that are source code–related."
This topic comes up all the time. “Vulnerabilities” found, but within test files. First, head back to the home screen for all alerts. It should look like this.
Figure 11: Image showing code scanning alerts page
Run a filter by Rule, but this time, filter for hard-coded credentials. You should now get a list of all vulnerabilities that show hard-coded credentials. Immediately, we know which ones are found in tests because there is a (Test) prefix on the vulnerability. You can see an example below.
Figure 12: Image showing a vulnerability found in a test.
Click on one of these vulnerabilities. Then click the Dismiss -> Used in tests button(s). The vulnerability should automatically close.
Figure 13: Image showing how a developer can mark a code scanning result as closed.
It’s as easy as that: Developers can come here to see if a vulnerability is a test and then close it up. You can also take a similar approach to mark a vulnerability as Won’t fix or False positive.
- After clicking Used in tests, look at the timeline/audit history at the bottom of the alert page. It should be updated with information about the event.
- When you click the Used in tests button, a code scanning alert webhook fires. What does this mean? Well, if you only want certain people to close code scanning alerts, you can have code running on that webhook event that checks to see who closed it—and if it wasn’t a GitHub handle on an approved list, you could automatically reopen it. (This will also update on the timeline.)
- Doing the above manually across a large mono repository may be a little tedious. So use the API instead! Use the code scanning API to get all results. Filter the ones that match the rule ID Hard-Coded Credentials, then look at the file name. If it has “tests/” at the start, you can automatically close them by hitting Update Code Scanning API.
"As a developer, I want to adjust the type of scan to the risk level of a repository, so that my high-risk and low-risk repositories don’t run the same level."
.github/workflows/codeql-analysis.yml file, specifically at the
github/codeql-action/init@v1 action, if no configuration is provided, then the default set of the queries will run. What does this mean?
Every supported language of CodeQL comes with a standard set of three packs: standard (security), security-extended, and security and quality.
If nothing else is specified, the standard pack runs high precision, high-accuracy queries. This means the results you get back will be extremely precise, actionable, and something you would likely want to review. However, it will not run all queries available.
This contains a broader set of queries (which still focus on security), but may return results that are not as applicable to you. The queries run in this pack are still precise and accurate with the aim of returning actionable results, but they cover scenarios that not all teams would find relevant.
- Security and quality
The security and quality pack runs all the queries within security-extended, with some additional code quality queries similar to what you would see out of a linting tool. This pack would only be relevant to teams interested in code quality results, not just security. The purpose is to be able to diversify the type of queries being run to the repository needs, and no longer running the same type of scans for completely different projects.
Note: There are lots of benefits for creating query packs. You can create a query pack specific for a type of application (SPA, API, for example) or one that only includes queries from SANS 25 or OWASP Top 10. For this step, we will use the built-in query packs based on the accuracy and precision of the queries.
Following the documentation for CodeQL Packs, go ahead and adjust the
.github/workflows/codeql-analysis.yml file to run the
security-and-quality pack. It should look a little like this.
Figure 14: Image showing how you can configure the CodeQL GitHub Action to run extra queries.
Re-run the scan and see how many more results appear within the code scanning alerts tab. You will see a lot more, 200+ if you are using the Juice Box application. After this, swap out the security-extended for the security and quality pack. Compare the results across all three. Now you can start to see how you could use different packs for different repositories and scenarios.
"As a developer, I want to configure my workflow to run security scans on changes to markdown files and to only run on the main and qa branches, so I don’t waste time waiting for results I don’t need."
The most frustrating aspect of standard security tooling is unnecessary scans. This slows down a release or a merge of a pull request. This is where GitHub Actions comes in. GitHub Actions easily integrates with GitHub Advanced Security, meaning we can easily configure a scan to, for example, ignore certain file types. So, let’s go ahead and modify the .
.github/workflows/codeql-analysis.yml file to not run a scan on markdown files, which is a common ask from developers.
Follow the steps for avoiding unnecessary scans of files. After you finish, it should resemble this.
Figure 15: Image showing how you can configure GitHub Actions to ignore paths/file types.
Go to the
README.md and make a file change. No workflow is kicked off—meaning scans only run on relevant changes. Additionally, as changes are only on the main branch, if you go and make a change in a branch called
feature/123, again, a workflow won’t be triggered.
See the GitHub Actions Syntax for more configurations
"As a developer and security advocate, I would like to enable and enforce security policies so that my code meets my organization's requirements."
After the initial configuration of code scanning, users can configure third-party integrations to extend the standard functionality, like Advanced-Security-Compliance Action / Tool, which allows users to define policies as code.
Take a look at adding the above action to the
.github/workflows/codeql-analysis.yml. An example policy that you may want to add is to block pull requests that introduce a specific license. Get creative—this will allow you to specify what passes or fails a build due to a policy from a code perspective.
Code scanning examples for product owners
"As a product owner, I want to generate a PDF report showing a release’s security posture, so I can attach it as supporting evidence in my internal release documentation."
PDFs are practical for larger enterprises because their security overviews can go alongside official documentation as supporting evidence. To make a PDF using the GitHub Security Report Action, create a new workflow in the repository that runs off a release, create a release, and see the new report that gets introduced. From there, you can get the supporting documentation you need, which will show whether or not you’re in compliance with certain security requirements.
Code scanning examples for DevSecOps architects
"As a third-party security tool administrator/architect, I want to upload results from my current third-party tool into GitHub Advanced Security, so that developers can stay in GitHub to find all results and not have to switch between multiple tools."
For this example, you can use any third-party security scanning or code quality tool you like, as long as it supports SARIF. This means you can have three or four current tools along with GitHub code scanning.
Have a tool already in mind? Generate the SARIF and export it your standard way, and use the Upload SARIF API to upload the data. Check out how it looks in the GUI.
If you aren’t using a specific tool, there are plenty of tools within the GitHub Actions Marketplace. You can use the Aqua Security Trivy action as an example if you can’t find any others. Trivy is a third-party container tool that easily integrates with code scanning.
When the scan finishes and the data is uploaded, you can filter the results by the tool. Just head back to the Code Scanning Alerts tab within Security and filter by Tool, as shown in the screenshot below:
Figure 16: Image showing how you can filter results by tools.
We hope this page provided you with a helpful overview of GitHub Advanced Security’s developer-first approach and the confidence you need to dive into code scanning. If you want to learn more and are interested in trying out all of GitHub Advanced Security’s features, contact our sales team by filling out the form below.