Application security has taken center stage because of the growing importance of web applications for users and organizations. Since these apps have to be up and running 24×7, they are potential targets for cybercriminals. Research shows that more than 75% of cyberattacks happen at the application level, and this is why it's more important than ever for organizations to develop secure applications.
One such cybersecurity technology that helps to create secure applications is Static Application Security Testing (SAST). These tools analyze the code of an application to identify potential vulnerabilities. Since they take a pre-runtime approach, they can be easily integrated with CI/CD pipelines and development workflows.
Read on to know more about SAST, its working, why your organization needs it, and some top SAST tools that can help you gain these benefits.
What is SAST?
SAST is a unique approach to cybersecurity, as it analyzes the source code of software applications for potential security vulnerabilities. Unlike other testing approaches that focus on runtime behavior, SAST examines the code itself without executing the application. As a result, it identifies patterns, code structures, and logic flows that could indicate security weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Also, SAST can detect potential security issues early in the development process, so developers can address them before the application is deployed. This helps enhance the overall security of the application and reduce the risk of security breaches.
The Workings of SAST
With an idea of SAST, let's take a detailed look into its working.
- Step 1: Prepares to Analyze the Code
As a first step, developers provide the application's source code to the SAST tool. Based on the code, the SAST tool sets up the environment for analysis. It configures the necessary settings and options based on the type of application and programming language.
- Step 2: Starts a Lexical Analysis
After configuration, the SAST tool performs a lexical analysis of the source code, breaking it down into individual tokens like keywords, identifiers, operators, and literals. This analysis helps the tool understand the basic structure and components of the code.
- Step 3: Parses the Syntax
Next, the SAST tool parses the source code to create an Abstract Syntax Tree (AST) that represents the hierarchical structure of the code. This step makes it easy to identify the relationships between code elements, like functions, variables, and control structures.
- Step 4: Analyzes the Data Flow
All the above steps help the SAST tool to better understand the code structure. Now, it's time to start tracing the flow of data within the code. It also tracks how variables are used and propagated. Additionally, SAST tools also identify where inputs from users or external sources interact with the code and how the data is manipulated.
- Step 5: Analyzes the Control Flow
After the data flow analysis, SAST tools start controlling the flow paths, including conditional statements and loops. They are analyzed to understand the potential execution paths of the code. In the process, these tools identify branches, loops, and potential points of entry or exit in the code.
- Step 6: Matches Pattern Matching and Rules
Next, the SAST tool applies predefined security rules, patterns, and algorithms to the parsed code. It looks for deviations from the established rules and patterns. In particular, it searches for known patterns associated with security vulnerabilities, like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and buffer overflows.
- Step 7: Identifies Vulnerabilities
Based on the applied rules and pattern matching, the SAST tool identifies potential security vulnerabilities in the code. Accordingly, it generates a list of detected vulnerabilities, along with detailed information about their location and nature.
- Step 8: Generates Alerts
To inform you about the identified vulnerabilities, the SAST tool generates alerts or reports for each of them. These alerts provide developers with specific details about the vulnerability, including the affected code snippet and recommendations for remediation.
- Step 9: Remediation
Using the alerts and contextual information, developers can review the generated alerts and analyze the identified vulnerabilities. They can modify the source code to eliminate or mitigate the identified security weaknesses.
- Step 10: Iterative Process
SAST analysis is not a one-time process, rather it's a continuous process that developers must use after making code changes to ensure that vulnerabilities are identified and effectively addressed. Ideally, this iterative process continues until the SAST tool deems the application's source code as 100% secure.
Thus, this is how SAST tools work. Next, let's see how these tools and their processes benefit your organization.
Benefits of SAST Tools
SAST tools offer many benefits to organizations, particularly developers, to build secure applications that can't be hacked. Here's a peek into some key benefits of SAST tools.
- Real-Time Feedback
The biggest advantage of SAST is that it provides real-time feedback to developers, so they can make changes as they code. This approach reduces effort, as developers can write secure code before the application passes to the next stage of the SDLC. Moreover, this iterative process also improves the overall code quality and makes it secure for the future as well.
- Graphical Representation
Many SAST tools provide a graphical representation of the issues found, so you can navigate through the code quickly to get to the root cause. Some tools even point out the exact code location and the nature of the vulnerability, while others also offer remediation guidance to help developers address the problem.
- Creates Custom Reports
Many SAST tools create custom reports that can be exported offline. Some of them even come with intuitive dashboards where you can track and measure progress. You can even use these reports and tools for internal auditing and to comply with relevant security standards and regulations.
- Saves Cost and Time
Another significant benefit of SAST tools is that they save time and effort, as the vulnerabilities are identified during the development phase itself. This way, developers can make the necessary changes before the application is sent to QA. Needless to say, such a streamlined and integrated workflow reduces the back-and-forth communication between the development and QA teams, and the associated time and costs it involves.
- Detects Vulnerabilities Early
SAST detects vulnerabilities early in the software development lifecycle. As it analyzes the source code before deployment, SAST tools identify potential security weaknesses before they have a chance to evolve into significant threats. This proactive stance enables developers to address vulnerabilities when they are most manageable and cost-effective to remediate.
- Customizable and Flexible
SAST tools can be tailored to suit an organization's specific needs and development practices. They can be integrated into various stages of the software development lifecycle, depending on the organization's processes and software development methodologies.
In all, SAST tools can be highly beneficial to developers and can help build applications with excellent security posture.
Moving on, let's look at some top SAST tools.
The Best SAST Tools
With many SAST tools, it can be difficult to pick the one that best meets your needs. We follow a rigorous testing procedure and present to you the ones with the most comprehensive features. Here are our top SAST picks.
- Synopsis Coverity Coverity is a scalable SAST tool that helps development teams quickly identify vulnerabilities and remediate them. It also tracks and manages risks across your entire application portfolio while enabling your organization to meet compliance standards. Watch a demo and get a custom quote.
- Checkmarx SAST Checkmarx SAST scans your application's source code to identify security issues as early as possible in the development lifecycle. It supports both full and incremental scans, where the incremental scans only scan the changed code each time, while the full scan scans the entire codebase. Depending on your organization's needs, you can choose a scan type. Request a demo.
- SpectralOps SpectralOps detects issues in your code and prioritizes them, so you can plan your resources accordingly. It scans both known and unknown assets in your application ecosystem and provides insights for your developers to act upon. It analyzes code early in the software development lifecycle to identify vulnerabilities and misconfigurations. Get started here.
- HCL AppScan AppScan is a comprehensive suite of application security testing tools that scans every line of code right from the beginning to avoid costly breaches when the app is live. This modern cloud-native platform can be deployed anywhere and helps developers and security teams to know the vulnerabilities and their root causes. Try AppScan free for a limited time.
Thus, these are some top SAST tools with comprehensive features that can protect your codebase from potential code vulnerabilities.
In all, SAST tools protect your applications from potential attacks by scanning the code for vulnerabilities. By identifying issues in the early stages of development, SAST tools do not just save time and effort but also elevate the overall code quality. Though many SAST tools are available today due to their growing importance, the tools mentioned in this article are comprehensive and can provide the protection you need.
We hope this information is a good starting point to further explore the different SAST tools and their features to select the one that aligns with your needs.