Functionality and security are the two pillars of software development. While there tends to be a greater focus on providing more features in any app, security is equally app, especially if the app handles sensitive data like credit cards, emails, and other Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
One approach is to make security an essential part of software development, so at every stage, the app also focuses on security. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a unique approach to software development that tests applications in every stage of development to ensure they are secure and resilient.
In this article, we'll talk about DAST in detail, how it works, its benefits, and how it fares against similar technologies.
What is DAST?
DAST is a black box testing tool that tests applications while they run. Essentially, it tests the behavior of the app and its ability to keep hackers out of its reach. In this sense, DAST acts like a security checkpoint for your applications, where it simulates the actions of a hacker to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses within your app. With such simulations, it can identify the entry points for hackers, so you can plug them during the development and testing phases. This way, the chances for your app to get hacked in real-time are greatly reduced.
How Does DAST Work?
At its core, DAST is not concerned about the internal workings of an app. Rather, it focuses on the outward behavior of the app to identify any irregularities that can identify a potential vulnerability.
The working of DAST can be broadly divided into six steps:
- Simulates Real Interactions
DAST starts by simulating real-world interactions with the application. DAST tools interact with the application just as a real user would, sending requests, clicking buttons, filling out forms, and submitting data. With such actions, DAST mimics the actions of potential attackers or unauthorized users in real-time.
- Analyzes Response
As the DAST tool interacts with the application, it meticulously monitors the responses and behavior of the application. It observes how the application processes inputs, handles requests and manages data flows. This traffic analysis helps DAST tools to identify any unexpected or unusual behavior that could indicate security vulnerabilities.
- Identifies Anomalies
DAST analyzes the traffic to look for anomalies that might signify security weaknesses. Typically, it compares the expected behavior of the application with its observed responses to detect deviations and irregularities. These deviations may indicate the presence of vulnerabilities such as injection attacks, cross-site scripting (XSS), or improper access controls.
- Looks for Vulnerabilities
DAST tools often manipulate input data to test how the application responds. This manipulation aims to exploit potential weaknesses in data validation, input sanitization, and boundary checks. In the process, DAST assesses whether the application can withstand manipulation attempts without compromising its integrity or security.
- Provides Actionable Insights
After the detailed analysis, DAST tools generate a comprehensive report detailing its findings. This report includes information about identified vulnerabilities, their severity, and potential impact. Additionally, DAST may offer guidance on how to reproduce the vulnerabilities and steps to mitigate or remediate them.
- Continues Testing
You can integrate DAST into the software development lifecycle as a continuous testing process. Developers can use DAST at various stages, from initial development to post-deployment, to consistently assess and improve the application's security posture. Regular DAST scans enable developers to address vulnerabilities promptly and ensure ongoing security enhancement.
Overall, DAST takes a systematic approach to identifying vulnerabilities in your apps and addressing them before they are exploited by hackers.
DAST vs. SAST vs. IAST
Static Application Security Testing (SAST) and Interactive Application Testing (IAST) are often confused with DAST. While they may seem synonymous, they handle different aspects of application testing.
As we have been seeing, DAST pretends to be a hacker and interacts with your application to identify and exploit its vulnerabilities. It does not focus on what your app does on the inside and what functionalities it has. Rather, it focuses only on how your app responds to the outside world.
IAST, on the other hand, is a bit like having a security camera in your app. It watches what's happening inside while your app runs and detects any unusual patterns and activities on the inside. If it detects something strange or unusual, it immediately raises an alert. Finally, SAST reads through your app's code before the app is even run, looking for mistakes and vulnerabilities. It raises alerts when it identifies something amiss, so you can fix it even before running the app.
In all, DAST checks how your app behaves in action, IAST watches over your app while it runs, and SAST reads through your app's code to find potential problems. When you use all three methods together, you create a strong shield of protection for your app.
Now that you know how DAST is different from IAST and SAST, let's see how you can use DAST effectively in your organization.
Best Practices for DAST
DAST is undoubtedly a powerful tool to analyze your app's security. However, to make the most of what it offers, you must use some best practices like the ones mentioned below.
- Incorporate DAST Early in the Development Cycle
Integrate DAST into your software development process from the outset. With regular DAST scans during the development phase, you can identify and address security issues before they seep into the final product. Early detection and remediation also significantly reduce the cost and effort required to fix vulnerabilities.
- Create Realistic Test Scenarios
The test scenarios you create must closely resemble real-world usage patterns and attack vectors. Design test cases that take in many inputs, user interactions, and data flows. Realistic scenarios provide a comprehensive assessment of your application's security posture and reveal vulnerabilities that might be exploited by actual attackers.
- Regularly Update Test Environments
Keep your test environments up to date with the latest software versions, libraries, and components. This ensures that your DAST scans accurately reflect the conditions your application faces in the real world. Outdated test environments may lead to false positives or miss vulnerabilities that could arise from updated components.
- Customize Scan Configuration
Tailor DAST scan configurations to match your application's specific architecture and technologies. Configure the scan to test all accessible entry points, including web interfaces, APIs, and mobile endpoints. With such customization, you maximize its effectiveness in identifying vulnerabilities that are relevant to your application.
- Collaborate with Developers and Security Teams
Create a collaborative environment between the development and security teams. Developers possess valuable insights into the application's inner workings, while security experts understand potential attack vectors. Regular communication and knowledge sharing help to identify and fix issues as soon as possible.
- Prioritize and Remediate Vulnerabilities
DAST reports may contain a ton of vulnerabilities, and it's up to you to prioritize vulnerabilities based on their potential impact and exploitability. Focus on addressing critical vulnerabilities first, as they pose the highest risk. Allocate resources to remediate vulnerabilities systematically and have processes in place to track their progress.
- Implement Automated Testing Pipelines
Integrate DAST into your automated testing pipelines for continuous and consistent assessment. Automated DAST scans can be triggered after code commits, build processes, or deployment stages. Such automated scans help you take a proactive approach to security, as you can identify vulnerabilities as part of your development workflow.
- Regularly Review and Update DAST Policies
Periodically review and refine your DAST scanning policies. As your application evolves, new features and functionalities may introduce potential security gaps. Adjust the scan scope, parameters, and authentication settings to account for these changes and to ensure that DAST remains aligned with your application's security requirements.
- Leverage Integration with Development Tools
Integrate DAST tools with your existing development environment and tools. In particular, integrate DAST into issue-tracking systems, code repositories, or Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) platforms to gain greater visibility. It can also result in improved collaboration among development and security teams.
- Invest in Training and Skill Development
Empower your team with the necessary skills to effectively leverage DAST. Provide training to developers and security professionals to better interpret DAST findings, understand attack patterns, and implement remediation strategies. Well-informed teams are better equipped to address vulnerabilities and bolster your application's security posture.
Thus, these are some ways to further boost your application's security and mitigate the impact of an attack.
Moving on, let's look at some of the best DAST tools that come with comprehensive features to help you proactively address app security.
Best DAST Tools
Some well-known DAST tools are:
- SOOS An advanced DAST tool that integrates into your build and development pipelines to test your apps at every stage. This cloud-based tool consolidates the results and displays them in an intuitive dashboard for easy understanding.
- Appknox An automated DAST scanner that can monitor multiple applications simultaneously. Its robust and powerful automation capabilities help you better understand the vulnerabilities in your apps.
- Invicti This DAST and IAST combined tool looks into every nook and corner of your app to identify any potential vulnerabilities in your app's internal working and external interactions. It can scan not just apps, but also websites and APIs.
- Veracode Scans your applications extensively to reduce the risk of breaches. It also offers on-demand analysis for aggressive development timelines.
To conclude, DAST tools are a powerful addition to your app security, as they interact with your app like a hacker to identify vulnerabilities. Such real-world simulations enable you to identify and fix vulnerabilities quickly. The above-mentioned DAST tools and best practices can take your app security to new levels.