Software applications have changed how we work and conduct everyday business. Web applications in particular increasingly handle sensitive data, which has, in turn, amplified data privacy and security issues. Ensuring the security of web applications and infrastructure is therefore vital to organisations. Protecting sensitive data, staying safe from emerging threats and vulnerabilities, and navigating legal and regulatory compliance are all critical parts of almost every IT department.
Safeguarding these applications is a multifaceted challenge: no solution can protect them completely. However, different security tools and measures exist to help ensure that applications are optimised for security during development and even after they’re live. To do that, techniques such as Application Security Testing (AST) help find and fix any vulnerabilities in the code at every stage of the software development life cycle (SDLC).
Web applications are particularly vulnerable to security breaches, with a recent study confirming attacks on web applications were possible in 98% of cases. Similarly, research from Verizon shows that web application attacks contribute to 26% of all data breaches. Each security testing method has its own unique approach to inspect and mitigate application vulnerabilities. Over the years, these methods have evolved to address the ever-growing security risks.
Before you settle on a security tool to employ, here are the main types of security tool that you may consider in order to help testers and developers identify vulnerabilities in the code at different points of development – with their pros and limitations.
Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a security approach used to dynamically evaluate the security of your web environments, APIs, and applications. DAST is also referred to as “black-box” testing, as it operates from an external perspective (that of an “attacker”), without peeking into the application’s source code. It can be conducted automatically through vulnerability scanning platforms or as a tool to assist with manual security testing methods, such as penetration testing.
DAST tools work by mimicking application interaction with external systems, real users, and bots that would interact with your applications and websites in the real world. They use real or virtualized web browsers to interact with a web application, looking for indicative vulnerability signs, performing tests, and loading pages. With their automated nature, they need to handle elements like CSRF tokens and authentication – these are important for testing and accessing API endpoints and web pages, so ensure your DAST tool does this well.
Interestingly, DAST is the most straightforward security test to deploy with minimal configuration, since you just input a URL and initiate the scanning process. With a good DAST tool you should be able to fine-tune the process to get precise results.
According to research, the DAST market has risen with an expected 2.56 billion dollars in 2023, expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.74% and reach 6.04 billion dollars by 2028.
Static Application Security Testing (SAST), also known as “white-box” testing, is an alternative approach that involves examining an application’s source code for possible vulnerabilities. The name, white box testing, stems from the tools providing a comprehensive look at the application’s inner workings. SAST tools are deployed during the development phase of the SDLC to ensure any security concerns are detected and addressed from the earliest stages.
SAST tools have a deep look into the application’s DNA. SAST incorporates tools like basic Integrated Development Environment (IDE) plug-ins that signal insecure syntax to standalone code analysers that dig into entire code storage, mimicking data flows. Since these tools dissect the source code, they are naturally language-specific, and to provide complete coverage of a multi-language codebase may require using different, often incompatible, SAST tools.
The tool digs into the source code, inspecting how the ratings are processed closely within the application.
In the analysis, SAST spots a section of code where user inputs are involved directly into HTML content without any encoding or validation, potentially opening the space for XSS attacks. Then, the SAST tool generates a warning, marking out the specific lines of code that pose an XSS risk.
IAST falls under the “gray-box” testing category, a mix of black-and-white box testing. These tools are most effective in QA phases where automated functional tests happen and are often used with other security testing tools.
Similar to DAST, IAST tools dynamically operate to identify vulnerabilities during the application’s runtime. However, IAST tools operate from within the application server and delve deeper into the code, similar to SAST.
Using the same example of an e-commerce website with product ratings and reviews – when you use the IAST tool to perform security testing, it works from within your application’s server. It closely examines how user-generated content is deployed and processed in real time. The tool might input a rating with malicious code to imitate a possible XSS attack. As users continually post comments and ratings, the tool observes how the application handles the content carefully.
Adopting SAST, IAST, and DAST can seamlessly work together to provide the most complete coverage, if the budget allows. Combining these tools enhances coverage and reduces the risk of vulnerabilities in production. However, the upfront cost, as well as the time commitment to resolving false positives and maintaining the tooling may not be practical or the best choice in all cases.
It is more pragmatic and common to tailor an organisation’s security program to include the testing types that best fit your organization while considering the pros and cons of each.
If you’re looking for a solid starting point, DAST is a dependable choice with its ease of set-up and use, with minimal or no integration time or engineering commitment.
Reach out if you’d like a demonstration of the AppCheck DAST scanning tool.
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).
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: email@example.com.
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