DAST in DevOps: Why It Matters

DevOps is a popular practice, especially among large organizations. However, while it comes with numerous benefits, it presents numerous risks as well. One notable challenge is the increased velocity of deployment, which often complicates how developers implement and ensure application security throughout the development and deployment process.

According to a recent survey, almost 80% of CIOs expressed concerns about the difficulty of discerning trusted elements from untrusted ones within DevOps environments. In particular, the pressure to deliver services at a faster pace sometimes prompts DevOps teams to take security shortcuts, resulting in potentially costly repercussions. These include data breaches, application downtime, and compliance violations.

So, how can you strike a balance between the demand for agile DevOps practices and the need to maintain robust security measures? Here is where Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) comes in.


Why is DAST important in DevOps?

The application security testing landscape is undergoing a significant transformation to align with the higher velocity of development and deployment in DevOps environments, and the increasing complexities of modern software applications.

A Gartner 2021 Magic Quadrant for Application Security Testing report identified the need to support organizational DevOps initiatives as the principal catalyst propelling this transformation. Additionally, the report notes customers now demand solutions that offer high confidence in security and valuable insights without imposing unnecessary delays on the development process.

However, with organisations delivering applications rapidly via DevOps processes and with the support of highly distributed or remote staff, contemporary application environments are also presenting formidable security challenges. Therefore, ensuring application security requires the integration of robust cross-functional partnerships across all security, software development, and operations teams – often referred to as DevSecOps. Additionally, it requires the capability to scale rapidly and deliver real-time insights into ongoing activities.

To meet these demands, an increasing number of organizations are adopting a DevSecOps approach to application security. Specifically, most organizations are emphasising the greater integration of application security testing tools into the development workflow and deployment pipelines, including DAST tools and solutions.

Integrating DAST into your DevOps workflow is not merely a recommended ‘best practice’ for evaluating the security status of applications in production and predicting their interaction with end users. Instead, it has now evolved into a crucial element for teams to adapt to the changing application security landscape and the strategies that malicious actors employ. In other words, the foundation of strong DevSecOps practices involves incorporating feedback that DAST tools generate into SecOps and DevOps tools. Ultimately, DAST is instrumental in identifying vulnerabilities that pose risks to both the organization and its end users.


The shift to secure code is on

Application security testing initially revolved around various specialised tools. Nowadays, organizations are aiming for a more comprehensive approach. In essence, they seek a wide range of capabilities throughout their application environment.

Subsequently, testing technologies like DAST have shifted to be leveraged earlier in the software development process, moving away from their traditional implementation towards the end of the development cycle. With the greater adoption of numerous microservices and APIs, it’s becoming more practical to incorporate dynamic analysis and security testing closer to the start of the DevOps workflow. Put differently, security testing is now “shifting left” to detect flaws and vulnerabilities during the coding process.

Why is this the case? DAST assesses applications in their dynamic, operational state, mimicking attacks to discover vulnerabilities by analysing the application’s responses. In the past, DAST tools may have been operated exclusively by and siloed within dedicated security teams – now they are leveraged by and embedded within development teams. These days, there are efforts to integrate DAST with build automation and CI/CD tools such as Jenkins and Azure DevOps, providing application testing capabilities to development teams.

The approach actively involves developers making active use of security tooling, rather than merely being presented with the output produced. The goal is to integrate with existing tools and workflows, enhancing development processes rather than causing interruptions. As a result, developers are better empowered to identify and address security challenges starting from the coding phase, ensuring that applications are secure by the time they reach production and release.


Why integrate DAST instead of other solutions in DevOps?

Integrating DAST into DevOps brings a host of valuable advantages. In the early stages of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), DAST steps in to offer a dynamic view of how your application behaves. It simulates potential attacker actions in the live HTTP environment. As such, this real-time approach uncovers vulnerabilities that might slip through the cracks in static analysis alone. Furthermore, it provides a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating runtime vulnerabilities, which significantly cuts down the risk of costly security incidents as the development process unfolds.

Modern applications are often a complex mix of APIs and frameworks. Luckily, DAST excels in detecting risks that pop up due to the complex nature of a modern application’s elements within the web environment. Its comprehensive approach assesses how components interact in a real-world scenario, ensuring that vulnerabilities aren’t overlooked as could occur when components are examined artificially or in isolation. As a result, integrating DAST tools early in the DevOps framework fortifies your application’s overall security.

DAST also shines when it comes to distinguishing genuine security risks by building an understanding of potential threats. Genuine insights allow your development teams to zero in on the most crucial issues allowing you to prioritise remediation. Focusing on actual risks ensures that your limited resources are allocated where they matter most.

DAST easily fits into the Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipeline. It jumps into action right from the build phase. Hence, in fast-paced agile development setups with frequent releases, DAST’s swift feedback loop helps developers pinpoint and tackle high-risk vulnerabilities right at the beginning. This perfectly aligns with the DevOps philosophy of nipping issues in the bud.

DAST goes beyond just finding vulnerabilities. It provides helpful attack context. Specifically, it spots vulnerabilities, demonstrates actual attacks, and delivers proof of exploit for each risk it identifies. These insights provide developers with accurate information to validate vulnerabilities and test patches without needing additional scans. It speeds up the remediation process and ensures that your security measures hold up in real-world attack scenarios.

One more standout feature of DAST is its ability to keep false positives to a minimum. False positives can lead to needless delays and resource wastage. DAST reduces the false positive rate to let your teams focus on genuine security risks right away, saving time and resources. This is especially vital because reports suggest it takes an average of 38 days to fix web application vulnerabilities, regardless of their severity. With reduced false positives, organisations can expedite the remediation process and maintain a more secure, agile, and efficient software development process.


How do you integrate DAST into the DevOps workflow?

The concept of “shifting left” has now become a standard practice in software development. Shifting left emphasizes the importance of addressing vulnerabilities as early as possible in the software development process.

The IBM System Science Institute estimates that organizations spend at least a hundred times more to rectify a defect in a production environment than during the design phase. Hence, shifting left signifies a shift in focus towards quality and proactive defect prevention rather than reactive detection and remediation. As a result, shifting left results in shorter test cycles and reduced occurrence of critical defects discovered in production.

In practical terms, shifting left involves introducing comprehensive testing early in the development process. Unlike traditional methodologies like the waterfall model, modern rapid development cycles enable developers to incorporate DAST very early in the application development cycle and automate the testing process.

As such, this necessitates solutions that seamlessly integrate with the tools and processes already used by developers. Doing so allows security teams to work in tandem with development teams, gaining a better understanding of each other’s priorities and fostering a more collaborative environment. However, integrating DAST early in the DevOps environment requires DAST solutions with the following properties:

  • Enable Integration with CI Platforms: Integrating DAST into the DevOps process is crucial for ensuring web application security. For example, integrating DAST solutions with CI platforms like Jenkins allows early vulnerability detection. Also, APIs act as bridges, enabling automated scans during the build process ensuring the early detection and remediation of security issues.
  • Enable Integration with Ticketing Tools: When DAST scans uncover security vulnerabilities, it’s vital to have an efficient mechanism to manage and resolve these issues. As such, integrating with tools like Jira enables DAST to export identified vulnerabilities, swiftly creating actionable tasks for developers. Thus, this streamlines vulnerability management, improves developer visibility, and enhances accountability.
  • Convenient Deployment Options: Organisations have the benefit of using cloud-based or managed services to align with their preferences and constraints. Ensuring this flexibility allows organizations to seamlessly integrate DAST into their DevOps processes while optimizing testing capabilities and maintaining control over their security testing infrastructure.
  • Provide Comprehensive Reporting: DAST solutions can offer robust reporting for effective monitoring and management of web application security throughout the development lifecycle. These reports provide user-friendly insights and in-depth analysis capabilities, allowing developers to navigate the data easily. Furthermore, intuitive visualisations, summaries, and detailed vulnerability breakdowns improve the understanding of security assessment results and expedite the remediation process.
  • Provide Compliance-Specific Reports: For organizations subject to industry-specific regulations, DAST solutions can offer specialised, compliance-specific reports tailored to essential standards like PCI-DSS, HIPAA, SOX, GDPR, and the OWASP Top Ten. These reports simplify compliance demonstration, offer a clear roadmap for security improvements, and help track progress toward meeting critical standards.
  • Provide Management Reports: Management reports or executive reports are a crucial component of DAST solutions. They provide leadership and stakeholders with insights to make informed decisions about web application security. In addition, they offer concise summaries of key statistics, including vulnerability counts, severity levels, remediation progress, and security trends. These reports bridge the gap between technical assessments and high-level decision-making, aiding risk management and the allocation of resources for security enhancements.


Top benefits of integrating DAST into your DevOps framework

Modernising the SDLC by integrating DAST offers several advantages that can significantly enhance an organization’s DevOps framework.


1.    Gain enhanced confidence in scan results.

Firstly, it enables an organization to gain enhanced confidence in scan results. In the past, security professionals often encountered false positives, leading to the belief that all identified issues required manual confirmation, which added unnecessary manual work to the process. However, incorporating DAST into the DevOps framework can help to eliminate this problem. DAST ensures the detection of various vulnerabilities and provides automated, verifiable confirmation for the most critical issues, reducing the need for manual checks and confirmation, saving the security team valuable time.


2.    Automatic validation of vulnerabilities and rapid resolution

In addition, automation is a crucial factor for a speedy SDLC. Security testing needs to fit seamlessly into an agile DevOps pipeline for continuous testing and vulnerability management. In this case, integrating DAST into the SDLC provides the ability to validate vulnerabilities automatically. As a result, it allows the organisation to swiftly incorporate real issues into developers’ issue trackers without the need for manual verification or triage. In some cases, fix tasks can even be assigned directly to the responsible developer, facilitating rapid resolution and eliminating the inefficiency of fixing others’ code. Automation streamlines the process, promoting scalability across a multitude of websites, applications, and services, ensuring that the organisation’s security testing keeps pace with development.


3.    Enhanced cybersecurity posture

Furthermore, organizations achieve improved long-term security. As web applications grow in size and complexity, maintaining a good security posture becomes increasingly challenging. Luckily, integrating DAST into the SDLC helps shift the workload away from small security teams and towards larger development teams. DAST tools can also provide accurate feedback in real-time, enabling developers to rectify security bugs promptly and avoid repeating them in the future. This cultivates a security-focused mindset among developers and enhances long-term application security.


4.    Reduced conflicts between security and development teams

Automated application security testing reduces friction between security and development teams. Developers receive proven security bug reports directly in their preferred ticketing system, fostering efficient collaboration rather than adversarial interactions. In more mature organizations, it becomes possible to manage application security issues at the development team level, enabling the core security team to concentrate on high-level research, vulnerability management, and policy development.


5.    Improved time-to-value with ease of deployment

Integrating DAST into DevOps pipelines also provides real value and tangible savings. It streamlines the time-to-value calculation, as these tools offer ease of deployment and a broad scope of testing. Moreover, automating manual processes and enhancing team collaboration reduces the cost of the organization’s application security program while improving its effectiveness.


6.    Eliminate manual verification tasks

Last but not least, automated vulnerability confirmation eliminates the need for manual vulnerability verification, allowing security personnel to focus on higher-value activities, such as vulnerability management and security education. This results in fewer person-hours spent on tasks that can be automated, improved security, and increased job satisfaction among the organisation’s employees.


About AppCheck

AppCheck is a software security vendor based in the UK, offering a leading security scanning platform that automates the discovery of security flaws within organisations websites, applications, network, and cloud infrastructure. AppCheck are authorized by the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) Program as a CVE Numbering Authority (CNA).


Additional Information

As always, if you require any more information on this topic or want to see what unexpected vulnerabilities AppCheck can pick up in your website and applications then please get in contact with us: info@appcheck-ng.com.

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