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Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

What is Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)?

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is an Application Security Testing methodology in which the application is tested in operating mode, from the outside-in. As DAST tools don’t have access to the application’s source code, they detect vulnerabilities by performing actual attacks on the web app, mobile app and APIs, similar to a real hacker.

Therefore, DAST solutions are a perfect fit if you want a better insight into how your web applications and APIs behave in production. Code scanning is an important part of making your applications more secure, however, they have many limitations including the fact that some vulnerabilities only exist in the runtime environment, and if you don’t utilize a DAST tool, they will be missed.

If you integrate a DAST tool in the SDLC, it will test your web applications as they evolve. This enables your organization to detect and remediate security issues before they become serious risks. Moreover, the right DAST solution which will seamlessly integrate into the CI/CD will enable developers to run the DAST scans and remediate issues even earlier without relying on an already over-taxed security team to be involved every step of the way.

Why do you need a DAST tool?

While ransomware exploits fill the headlines, web application attacks are unfairly neglected. In addition as more organizations shift to modern web-services architectures and a broader adoption of API use they are significantly more exposed. These attacks pose a major threat to any organization, regardless of size or kind. Take SQLi or XSS for example. A malicious user can use such attacks to steal session cookies, user credentials, and other sensitive information.

Attackers are launching more and more attacks at the application and API layer. Organizations that don’t utilize any form of application security testing, or rely on manual testing are unable to identify these attacks when they occur and could experience significant damage.

In order to prevent attackers from stealing sensitive data from your systems, you need to find and remediate these vulnerabilities before the attackers do. This is where dynamic application testing tools shine. They test the same interfaces that attackers would use to break into a service.

Dynamic security analysis is capable of finding issues and attacks other testing methodologies miss. This is especially true if your applications rely on a microservices architecture. While SAST tools are great at code scanning, they can’t identify how each microservice is interacting. SAST tools are also limited by the environments they can scan due to their language dependency & are wrat with false positives. DAST solutions overcome these limitations by testing the applications from the outside, in a production-like environment, ‘seeing’ how each microservice is interacting. This can be done from the pull request level all the way through the staging environment.

Instead of simply reporting vulnerabilities that may or may not pose a risk, black-box testing tools report only issues that represent real risks.

DAST vs SAST

Dynamic application security testing is one of many application security testing methodologies. One of the most popular alternative approaches to application security testing is Static Application Security Testing.

Here is why DAST is ideal for web applications:

– A downside of SAST solutions is that they have to support the programming language and application framework in use by the application.

– Only those issues that represent a real risk are reported. With SAST it can be challenging to determine if a finding represents a real risk or not.

– DAST can be used as early as the build phase of the SDLC. You can simulate attacker behavior without lengthy pen-testing. SAST takes place earlier in the SDLC, but can only find issues in the code.

– DAST detects risks that occur due to complex interplay of modern frameworks, microservices, APIs, etc. SAST solutions are limited to code scanning.

– In comparison to SAST, DAST is less likely to report false positives.

Unlike SAST tools, DAST tools are language agnostic. They don’t need to have the same programming language or framework as the application you scan.

Dynamic application security testing solutions, like a real hacker, don’t have access to source code. Therefore using them has more real-world benefits.

How DAST tools enhance web application security

By using DAST to identify vulnerabilities earlier in the SDLC, organizations can reduce risk while saving resources. It is a major concern for security people to have as few false-positive results as possible to focus on real threats. It takes on average 38 days to fix a vulnerability. If the vulnerability was not a real threat, those are 38 costly days of needless delay.

Organizations can use DAST to assist with PCI compliance and other regulatory reporting.

In addition to streamlining compliance, a DAST solution can help developers spot configuration mistakes or issues, but also highlight specific user experience problems.

Integrating DAST with SDLC

DAST has been around since the mid-90s, but struggled to find its place in the SDLC processes until only a few years ago.

DevOps brought the change. Today, dynamic analysis tools can be easily integrated with popular issue trackers such as JIRA, GitHub, and Slack. Like any other type of automated AST solutions, DAST solutions can be integrated with CI platforms such as Jenkins, CircleCI, TravisCI or Azure DevOps.

Organizations want to implement application security testing into the SDLC because the sooner a security issue is detected, the cheaper it is to fix.

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