Protecting your applications and websites from potential attacks has become highly important in today's digital world. At the same time, safeguarding your apps is not easy either, given the growing complexity of applications and their extensive use of technologies. To address these concerns and to enhance the security of your apps, consider using application security testing strategies.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of application security testing tools, and they are Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST), Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST), and Statis Application Security Testing (SAST). All these three approaches thoroughly test your application for vulnerabilities, but from different angles and perspectives. For example, DAST examines the outward behavior of your app and its interactions with the outside world, while SAST analyzes the source code to identify security vulnerabilities. IAST, on the other hand, tests the application for security gaps from the inside and while it is running.
In this article, we will focus on IAST, how it works, its benefits, and where you can use it in the real world.
What is IAST?
IAST takes a unique approach to application security, as it goes into the application's runtime execution. It analyzes the inputs, processes, outputs, code, runtime environment variables, and all other factors that go into the working of an application to look for security flaws. More importantly, it examines these aspects while the application is running in real-time, and this means, you can know how an application reacts in the real world. Such insights are invaluable to identify and plug-in security vulnerabilities before they are exploited by hackers.
How do IAST Tools Work?
Different IAST tools come with varying capabilities. Some tools use manual tests, while others may use automated tests to analyze the behavior of your apps. Some advanced tools may even offer the option to select from manual or automated tests for greater flexibility. Similarly, some IAST platforms can integrate automation and Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools to automatically address known vulnerabilities, especially in open-source components.
Despite these variations, most IAST offers the basic functionality of deploying agents and sensors in running applications to gather information and analyze potential security issues. Here are the broad steps involved in testing and analysis.
- Step 1: Instrumentation
The first step of IAST is to integrate itself into the application's runtime environment. It does this by placing lightweight agents or sensors within the application code. These agents act like attentive observers, ready to analyze the application's behavior as it interacts with users and inputs. In particular, these agents closely follow how the application processes data.
- Step 2: Application Interaction
The next step is to monitor the application when users engage with the application, send inputs, and trigger various functions. During all these events, IAST's agents actively monitor these interactions. They meticulously track the flow of data as it travels through the application and record the execution paths and responses.
- Step 3: Runtime Analysis
IAST's agents do a real-time analysis of the application's behavior. They examine the code execution paths, scrutinize the input data, and monitor the output responses. They gather information during these processes and analyze them to gain a comprehensive understanding of how the application processes information and executes functions.
- Step 4: Anomaly Detection
During the runtime analysis, IAST's agents keep a keen eye out for anomalies. Often, anomalies could include unexpected behaviors, deviations from the normal code execution flow, or any signs of potential vulnerabilities. These anomalies are compared against known patterns of attacks and vulnerabilities.
- Step 5: Vulnerability Identification
When an anomaly is detected, IAST's agents narrow down their focus to the specific lines of code or functions associated with the anomaly. They identify the potential vulnerability within the code that could be exploited by attackers.
- Step 6: Alert Generation
Immediately after identifying a potential vulnerability, IAST generates alerts or notifications. These alerts provide developers and security teams with detailed information about the identified vulnerability, including the location within the code, the nature of the potential attack, and the possible impact.
- Step 7: Remediation
Armed with alerts and contextual information about the vulnerability, developers can now address the identified vulnerabilities. They analyze the information provided by IAST to understand the nature of the issue and implement appropriate fixes. The fix can include modifying the code, changing configurations, or applying security patches.
- Step 8: Continuous Monitoring
IAST's role doesn't end with remediation. It continues to monitor the application's runtime behavior, even after fixes are implemented. This ongoing monitoring ensures that the vulnerabilities are successfully mitigated and that no new anomalies emerge. As the application evolves, with new features and updates, IAST adapts and continues to analyze the runtime behavior. This iterative approach ensures that the application's security is always maintained.
Now that you know how IAST works, let's look at its benefits for organizations.
Benefits of IAST to Organizations
Here are some potential benefits of IAST to organizations.
- Brings Down Cyberattacks
IAST is often included as a part of the testing or QA of the software development lifecycle. As a result, vulnerabilities are caught and remediated in the development cycle itself, before the app is released for external users. Many IAST tools can also be integrated into the CI/CD process of development lifecycles to streamline workflows. Needless to say, this approach greatly reduces the chances of cyberattacks and the resulting financial and reputational loss.
- Accurate Results
Another benefit of IAST is the accuracy of its results. Since IAST tools focus on the runtime behavior of an application, it provides high levels of accuracy. More importantly, IAST significantly reduces false positives and negatives. This accuracy ensures that the identified vulnerabilities are genuine, so you can plan your resources for immediate remediation.
- Identifies the Source
Unlike other testing tools, IAST not only pinpoints the vulnerability but also identifies the source causing it. This is because IAST has access to the code, HTTP requests and responses, frameworks, and other components and libraries used in the application. With this information, developers can quickly fix the problem.
- Proactive Vulnerability Detection
IAST actively observes the activities and performance of an application and can identify any vulnerabilities in real-time. Such a proactive approach to vulnerability detection and remediation saves time and effort for organizations, and at the same time, ensures the security of applications.
- Agile DevOps and Continuous Delivery
IAST offers seamless support for agile methodologies like DevOps and continuous delivery. Its real-time analysis aligns with the rapid development and frequent releases. As a result, developers can maintain their pace of innovation while ensuring the security of their applications.
- Works Well in Complex Environments
A highlight of IAST is its ability to handle complex and interconnected apps. IAST provides a comprehensive view of the entire system's behavior that makes it easy to identify vulnerabilities across various components.
- Meeting Compliance Requirements
IAST proves invaluable to organizations that have to comply with stringent regulations and compliance. Using IAST tools, developers can ensure that their applications adhere to security guidelines and standards. They can also take a proactive stance on data protection and regulatory adherence.
- Sustained Security Posture
IAST's continuous monitoring capability extends beyond development and deployment. As the application evolves, IAST adapts to changes and continuously analyzes runtime behavior. This ongoing monitoring maintains the application's security posture and reduces the risk of vulnerabilities emerging over time.
Thus, these are some good reasons for organizations to use IAST tools as a part of their development process.
Now that you know all about IAST and how it can benefit your organization, let's look at some top IAST tools for you to choose from.
Best IAST Tools
IAST tools come with varying features, but here are the ones that are highly comprehensive and enable you to leverage the benefits of the IAST approach.
- Synopsis Seeker An IAST tool that comes with active verification and sensitive data tracking to make web applications more secure. It is a handy tool for development, QA, and security teams in your organization, as it provides visibility into security gaps, and even automates the security testing process. Get a quote and request a demo to better understand this product's fit to your existing infrastructure.
- Contrast Assess Specializes in finding and fixing the vulnerabilities in your code to make your applications more secure. Its continuous coverage detects and prioritizes vulnerabilities and provides guidance on eliminating them. Watch a demo.
- Invicti An IAST tool that tests mobile and web applications, frameworks, and APIs. It offers invasive and non-invasive sensors, where invasive sensors attach themselves to the code and monitor it, while the non-invasive sensors scan applications without monitoring the code. This means you get comprehensive protection for your app. Get a demo.
- Hdiv Detection Hdiv Detection is an IAST tool that scores 100% in the OWASP Benchmark test, signaling that it offers no false positives. With such a tool, you can better plan your resources for remediation. Moreover, you can apply this tool to all environments: development, QA, and production.
Thus, these are some prominent IAST tools to consider.
To conclude, IAST tools can greatly improve the security posture of your applications, as they analyze your app's behavior and response to external user inputs. Since this tool analyzes every aspect of your internal operations, it can accurately pinpoint the vulnerability and its root cause. Armed with this information, your development and QA teams can fix the issue before hackers exploit the weaknesses.