What is DAST and how can it improve web application security

Many organizations, from national security agencies to multinational corporations, will employ “white hat” hacking teams to search for software vulnerabilities. White hats, or ethical hacking teams, test environments through the eyes of threat actors and provide organizations with insight into vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

Dynamic Application Security Testing, or DAST, works on the same logic. Developers may know everything there is to know about an application from the inside, but how can they be sure of its integrity until it responds to an outside attack? DAST is a type of application security that seeks to identify vulnerabilities by attacking a web application the same way a hacker would: ruthlessly, through trial and error, without any prior knowledge or access to the underlying source code. of the app.

DAST integration benefits organizations

Why should organizations consider implementing dynamic application security testing? Because web application attacks aren’t going to stop any time soon.

A 2021 study by NTT found that 50% of all sites had at least one exploitable vulnerability. Critical vulnerabilities are an attractive entry point and a key target for threat actors.

Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigation Report found similar results: Web applications topped the list of attack vectors, with nearly 20% of breaches carried out via exploitable vulnerabilities. Specifically, attacks against mail servers via exploits have increased from 3% in 2020 to 30% in 2021. Without safeguards like DAST, why would hackers consider any other route as long as these vulnerabilities persist for years? after year?

DAST versus SAST

DAST is not the only option for application security. Static Application Security Testing (SAST) is another approach that many professionals choose to employ.

In SAST processing, analyzes are performed with full access to the inner workings of an application. This approach contrasts with DAST processing, which uses a third-party perspective and does not have access to the underlying source code.

Another difference is that DAST tests an application while it is running to see how it reacts to changes in real time.

Conversely, SAST tests applications at rest, as it focuses exclusively on weaknesses in the source code itself.

DAST should not be confused with penetration testing. While penetration testing typically requires a human to manually identify vulnerabilities, DAST requires no human intervention. Instead, it automates the process of identifying and reporting vulnerabilities, giving developers more time to patch earlier in the software development lifecycle.

How DAST can improve web application security

As businesses face increasing pressure to protect their web applications from attack, it’s no surprise that cybersecurity experts recommend integrating DAST early in the software lifecycle. Here are some of the main reasons why implementing DAST in the SDLC can improve web application security:

#1: Reduce false positives

Dynamic web application testers significantly reduce the number of false positives by helping to distinguish vulnerabilities from benign lookalikes. DAST working in tandem with IAST is particularly powerful, as their combined research adds precision to confirming which vulnerabilities are real.

#2: Identify vulnerabilities that can only be found in the runtime/production environment

Some vulnerabilities are only identifiable when an application is running. Vulnerabilities in software libraries, server misconfiguration, or improper validation of user input can all escape static and manual testing.

#3: Can handle microservices/container complexity

More and more organizations are using distributed microservices architectures, which can increase the attack surface and the range of vulnerabilities that appear in the SDLC. DAST can observe microservices interactions and help developers triage exploits as they appear at runtime.

#4: Integrates well with other web app scanners, like IAST

To get a 360-degree view of possible vulnerabilities in their web application, companies can’t do better than integrating DAST with other application security testing tools. For example, software vendor Invicti integrates DAST with IAST: the IAST uses web crawlers to access every corner of the application, while working with the DAST to pinpoint the exact location of vulnerabilities.

Source: Invicti

#5: Can reduce reporting times, speed up resolution

Early integration of DAST into the SDLC enables faster reporting times and smarter remediation. Instead of identifying weaknesses in production or even later, DAST allows developers to quickly spot and fix blind spots before they present themselves as a security issue further down the pipeline.

Final Thoughts

The ancient Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu writes, “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory you win, you will also suffer a defeat.

As anachronistic as it may be to redefine Tzu’s teachings for the modern age, it’s hard to argue against their relevance. Let’s take an example from another industry: automakers know every piece of machinery that goes into making their cars. And yet they still perform crash tests to see how the car’s structural integrity performs under pressure.

Success on the cyber battlefield also requires observing, anticipating, and even simulating encroaching dangers from the outside, so as to be prepared to stop the real attack when it occurs. DAST provides organizations with an effective way to measure how their applications respond to intrusion attempts early in the SDLC, but without any of the consequences that come with a real-world attack. By integrating DAST with other analysis methods, organizations can increase the visibility of their attack surface and resolve blind spots before it’s too late.

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