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Security / Software Development

Why You Still Need Dynamic Application Security Testing

When software risk is business risk, it’s not enough to think of SAST vs. DAST vs. SCA. You need tools and protocols to do the right test at the right time.
Jul 13th, 2022 4:00am by
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We’ve known for a long time that applications are the most common attack vector for hackers. According to the Forrester report, “The State of Application Security, 2022,” applications rank first, with “web application exploits” the third-most-common attack vector.

So it’s imperative that organizations test their running web applications in the same way that attackers probe them, to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities before they are discovered and exploited by outside agents.

Charlotte Freeman
Charlotte has been writing about tech and security for over 20 years. She's currently a senior security writer for the Synopsys Software Integrity Group.

Most development teams perform static application security testing (SAST) and software composition analysis (SCA) on their code before it’s deployed, but it’s critical to also perform dynamic application security testing (DAST) on your application in a runtime environment. The primary objective of DAST is to test running web applications for vulnerabilities such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting.

You cannot test for these common vulnerabilities in source code because they only exist after the code is deployed into production. This makes DAST an essential component of any application security testing program.

Historically, organizations have been reluctant to run DAST tests against production applications due to fears of data corruption from the testing processes or impact to application performance. Instead, organizations often test the application in a production-like environment. But this opens the door for discrepancies between the testing environment and the production environment, which create the potential for vulnerabilities to go undetected. The production testing capabilities of tools like WhiteHat DAST effectively eliminate this issue, empowering organizations to test their production systems.

What Are SAST and DAST?

SAST and DAST are application security testing methodologies used to find security vulnerabilities that can make an application susceptible to attack. Static application security testing (SAST) is a white-box method of testing. It examines the source code to find software flaws and weaknesses such as SQL injection and others listed in the OWASP Top 10. Dynamic application security testing (DAST) is a black-box testing method that scans web applications, normally from the outside, to look for security vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting, SQL Injection, command injection, path traversal and insecure server configuration.

What’s the Difference between SAST and DAST?

SAST and DAST are not tools you need to choose between; they are complementary but different testing approaches and each one has different benefits. Both testing protocols find different types of vulnerabilities, and they’re most effective when used in different phases of the software development life cycle (SDLC). SAST should be performed early and often against all files containing source code. DAST should be performed on a running application in an environment similar to production. So the best approach is to include both SAST and DAST in your application security testing program.

Benefits of DAST

A good DAST protocol provides:

  • Comprehensive analysis of a running application
  • A concise list of prioritized findings with remediation suggestions
  • A score to assess the overall security posture of each tested application
  • Direct testing of production systems without the risk of data corruption or degradation of system performance
  • Continuous testing to scan for emerging vulnerabilities or changes to the application, and on-demand testing for a thorough analysis of the application
  • Headless operation: Tests are initiated by APIs and results exported to the organization’s own portal or other aggregation and analysis point
  • Continuously updates as new vulnerabilities are identified

All Testing Is Important

In the recent past SAST and DAST were the primary testing methods, and they were sufficient. They were the non-negotiables that every organization used to test their software. The rapid adoption of open source software made SCA a must-have test, and now SAST, DAST, and SCA make up the “big three.”

This is why you’ve seen companies like Synopsys acquire businesses that bring solid expertise in these testing spaces. With the acquisition of WhiteHat in June, Synopsys now offers SAST, DAST and SCA solutions that are considered market leaders in their respective categories.

In a world in which software risk is business risk, it’s no longer enough to think in terms of SAST vs. DAST vs. SCA. You need tools and protocols to do the right test at the right time to the right depth. Modern organizations deploy a plethora of web applications, ranging from external-facing corporate websites, customer portals, shopping carts and login pages to internal-facing HR portals. Web applications are an appealing target for hackers because they can exploit vulnerabilities in these business-critical applications to gain access to backend corporate databases. Building trust in your software is no longer just about buying tools. It’s about ensuring your people, processes and technology are aligned to address security risks at all stages of the application life cycle.

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