Application Security Testing (AST) Explained

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Julie Peterson
Sr. Product Marketing Manager

What Is Application Security Testing?

Application security testing (AST) is like giving your software a thorough health check to ensure it’s robust and resilient against cyber threats. It includes testing, analyzing, and reporting the security level of an application as it moves through the SDLC, from planning and development to deployment and maintenance. Imagine it as a series of diagnostic tools and techniques designed to uncover potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities in your application’s code, architecture, and functionality. 

Why Is Application Security Testing Important?

Given the prevalence of cyber attacks on the application layer, application security testing is essential for all organizations. For developers who generally are not taught secure coding best practices, AST is like a second set of eyes that scrutinize code, looking for any security defects that could inadvertently expose your application. For security teams, it’s a way to take a proactive and strategic approach to secure software and reduce risk.

Benefits of application security testing include the following:

  • Vulnerability detection
  • Risk mitigation
  • Compliance assurance
  • Secure development practices
  • Cost savings
  • Enhanced incident response
  • Continuous improvement
  • Increased customer trust

Given the complexity of the SDLC and the consequences of a breach, a number of strategies and tools have emerged to help teams keep their applications secure. 

What Are the Different Types of Application Security Testing?

While manual testing like code reviews and pen testing are still used, automated testing tools have become an essential part of the security toolkit. 

Application security testing tools include software composition analysis (SCA), static application security testing (SAST), dynamic application security testing (DAST), and Interactive application security testing (IAST).

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) 

SCA scans your application’s code base to identify any third-party and open-source components. It then identifies any known open source vulnerabilities or open source license issues. In addition to providing visibility into open source use, SCA solutions also prioritize open source vulnerabilities and deliver remediation advice to resolve security threats.

Static Application Security Testing (SAST)

SAST tools scan application source code, byte code, and binaries to identify coding and design flaws that could lead to security vulnerabilities. It takes an open-box testing approach, in which testers inspect the source code to find weaknesses. SAST scans code at rest, based on a set of predetermined rules that define suspected coding errors in the source code that should be evaluated. These scans can be designed to identify some of the most common security vulnerabilities, including SQL injection, input validation, and stack buffer overflows. SAST tools have been on the market the longest of all AST tools. 

When securing your applications, SCA and SAST should be seen as complementary technologies.

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

Dynamic application security testing is closed-box testing, with no access to source code. It looks for security weaknesses by simulating attacks on an application while it is running. DAST tries to infiltrate an application from the outside by exploiting any exposed interfaces for vulnerabilities or flaws. Unlike SAST, which scans an application’s code line by line when the application is at rest, DAST testing is executed while the application is running.

Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)

IAST tests an application’s source code post-build in run time through the instrumentation of the code. Agents and sensors are deployed in the application, analyzing code to identify vulnerabilities. Like SAST, IAST directly examines source code, however it inspects code while the application is running, similar to DAST tools. 

What Are Common Vulnerabilities Discovered by Application Security Testing?

AST helps identify a wide range of vulnerabilities that can negatively impact the security and integrity of software applications. To help you understand what you might discover and remediate via testing, let’s use The OWASP Top 10 list as a guide.

Following are the most common web application security risks:

  • Broken access controls
  • Cryptographic failures
  • Injection
  • Insecure design
  • Security misconfigurations
  • Vulnerable and outdated components
  • Identification and authentication failures
  • Software and data integrity failures
  • Security logging and monitoring failures
  • Server-side request forgery

Best Practices for Application Security Testing

Knowing what vulnerabilities to look for and what tools can help is a great starting point. There are also other important considerations to keep in mind to ensure your AST efforts are as effective as possible.

Shift Left (Kind Of)

Shift left refers to the practice of addressing security vulnerabilities earlier in the SDLC when they are easier and less costly to fix. The problem with shift left is that many developers feel they’re not given the correct context or data to successfully remediate issues, and that the burden of security is unfairly passed to them without being giving the tools to succeed.

That’s where the concept of controlled shift left comes in.

Controlled shift left fosters collaboration between security and developer teams. While security teams remain laser focused on reducing the impact of vulnerabilities, they’re acutely aware of the impact that fixing defects has on developers. 

Under this model, security and development work together to find, rollout, and maintain solutions that provide actionable context so that developers can easily fix issues. 

Test Continuously

If you want to catch vulnerabilities early and often, you have to implement automated security testing as part of the continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline. That’s because applications rely on a lot of components, any of which might need a security update or otherwise be vulnerable.

This iterative approach ensures that security remains a proactive, ongoing effort rather than a periodic checkpoint or tick-box exercise. The result? Robust, secure applications. 

Develop Incident Response Plans

Incident response plans are an essential component of a comprehensive security strategy. For security teams and developers, these plans serve as a structured framework to swiftly and effectively address unforeseen security events, enhancing organizational resilience.

Afterall, there’s little point identifying a vulnerability if you can’t remediate it.

By meticulously outlining procedures for containing and mitigating security incidents, organizations can minimize the impact of breaches. Stay up-to-date on threats and trends 

Stay Up-To-Date on Threats and Trends

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, staying informed is paramount. This continuous awareness ensures that security measures are adaptive and aligned with the dynamic nature of cybersecurity challenges, enhancing the organization’s overall security posture.

New tools, technologies, and approaches should of course be on DevSecOps’ radar, too. Which is where Cycode’s complete ASPM platform comes in.

Adopt an Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) Platform

While individual AST tools identify and remediate application vulnerabilities, they’re also point solutions that don’t communicate with each other. That means security teams must sort through thousands of alerts – including false positives and duplicates – from various tools. This is an inefficient and error-prone process. It’s no wonder that 92% of security leaders have plans to consolidate their security stack to one platform over the next 12 months.

That’s where an Application Security Posture Management platform comes in.

Complete ASPM platforms like Cycode address the limitations of AST’s findings across scanning methodologies by providing context. ASPM holistically analyzes findings to distill the massive quantity of alerts into the critical 1%. With an ASPM platform, developers can focus their remediation time on the true positives that represent the biggest risk to their org while and security teams gain the visibility and control to enforce security policies.

How Can Cycode Help?

Cycode’s security-first, developer-friendly AppSec platform provides visibility, prioritization, and remediation for security, engineering, and DevOps teams throughout the software development lifecycle, including application security testing.

Cycode offers a single, unified security platform that consolidates application security testing, pipeline scanning, and ASPM. In addition to our own suite of scanning tools, we can ingest data from third-party scanners to give you a full view of your application risk. 

Most importantly, Cycode gives security teams and developers peace of mind, without slowing down the velocity of software development.

Book a demo now to learn more.