What Is Static Application Security Testing (SAST)?

In the fast-paced world of software development, developers work hard to ship code quickly without compromising the integrity of applications. But the software supply chain is a complex web of people, processes, and tools, and developers can’t accurately detect every potential vulnerability on their own.

That’s where Static Application Security Testing (SAST) comes in.

What Is SAST (Static Application Security Testing)?

Static Application Security Testing, also known as static analysis, is an open-box testing methodology that scrutinizes source code and uncovers security vulnerabilities early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC)

These vulnerabilities include:

  • Injection flaws
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS)
  • Buffer overflows
  • Insecure cryptographic implementations
  • Insecure authentication mechanisms
  • Insecure handling of sensitive data 
  • Improper input validation
  • Insecure direct object references
  • Code injection vulnerabilities 
  • Security misconfigurations
  • Improper error handling
  • Insecure use of third-party libraries and components
  • Access control vulnerabilities
  • Information leakage and exposure of sensitive information
  • Business logic flaws

For developers, SAST offers a proactive approach to address security concerns before they’re integrated into the compiled or packaged application. And for security teams, SAST is one part of a comprehensive application security testing (AST) strategy that enhances the overall resilience of software systems. 

It’s no wonder SAST has emerged as a vital tool in both teams’ arsenals.

Why Is SAST Important?

According to research, 70% of applications have severe security gaps. To ensure your application is secure, prevent breaches, and maintain compliance, code-level vulnerabilities must be detected early in the SDLC. 

By integrating SAST tools with integrated development environments (IDEs), version control systems, and CI/CD pipelines, organizations can:

  • Identify issues early 
  • Stay compliant
  • Build trust with users and partners
  • Strengthen their competitive advantage
  • Avoid costly and time-consuming patches post-deployment

But it’s not just about security.

SAST aligns seamlessly with the principles of DevSecOps and helps foster a culture of security throughout the development process. It acts like a real-time security coach, highlighting insecure code and educating developers about best practices. This empowers developers to write with confidence, knowing they’re not introducing hidden vulnerabilities down the line. 

Bonus: by catching issues early, SAST minimizes the need for subsequent iterations, streamlining development workflows and boosting developer productivity.

How Does SAST Work?

SAST tools analyze the source code of applications without executing them. This analysis is performed statically, meaning that the code is inspected as-is, without the need to run the application.

The process involves parsing the source code, using various analysis and pattern-matching techniques to identify security vulnerabilities, and providing developers with the information they need to address them effectively.

The stages of SAST typically include: 

  1. Lexical Analysis (Tokenization)

    The source code is broken down into tokens, enabling the tool to identify keywords, identifiers, operators, and other elements of the programming language.

  2. Syntax Analysis (Parsing)

    The tokens are analyzed to determine the structure of the code according to the grammar rules of the programming language. This step ensures that the code is syntactically correct and constructs a parse tree representing the hierarchical structure of the code.

  3. Control Flow Analysis

    SAST tools analyze the control flow within the code to understand how program execution proceeds through different branches and loops. This analysis helps identify potential security vulnerabilities such as insecure branching and improper handling of user input.

  4. Data Flow Analysis

    Data flow analysis tracks how data is used and manipulated throughout the codebase. It identifies points where sensitive data enters the application, how it’s processed, and where it may be stored. This analysis helps detect vulnerabilities such as injection flaws and insecure data handling.

  5. Pattern Matching and Rule-Based Analysis

    SAST tools employ pattern-matching algorithms and predefined rules to detect common coding errors and security vulnerabilities. These patterns include known insecure coding practices and typical indicators of potential vulnerabilities, like hardcoded secrets or SQL queries constructed from user input.

  6. Output and Reporting

    Finally, SAST tools generate reports detailing the findings of the analysis, including identified vulnerabilities, their severity, and recommendations for remediation. These reports provide developers with actionable insights to improve the security posture of the codebase.

Wondering how long this takes? It depends on the size of the codebase, the complexity of the analysis, and several other factors. Scans of smaller codebases with simple analysis requirements may be completed relatively quickly. Larger or more complex codebases, especially those with extensive dependencies or customization requirements, may require longer scanning times to ensure thorough analysis and accurate results.

Comparing Application Security Testing (AST) Tools

In the realm of application security, there are various testing methodologies to consider and explore. You need to understand the distinct functionalities of each and how they complement each other.

To that end, we can’t talk about SAST without talking about software composition analysis (SCA) and dynamic application security testing (DAST). 


Unlike SAST, which analyzes application source code and vulnerabilities, Software Composition Analysis (SCA) identifies vulnerabilities within the open source and third-party components in the application. SCA analyzes dependencies and libraries to detect known vulnerabilities and licensing issues.

The ideal synergy? Combine SAST and SCA to cover both internally written code and external dependencies. Use SAST to identify vulnerabilities in code written by your developers, and use SCA to scan for known vulnerabilities in open source and third-party components.


SAST scans your code at rest, without executing the application. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) takes a more dynamic approach by integrating with the running application.

Because of this key difference, DAST and SAST tools detect different vulnerabilities at different stages of the SDLC, with DAST focussing on vulnerabilities related to runtime behavior and configuration.

SAST and DAST can sometimes overlap in functionality. More advanced AST tools offer features that support both static and dynamic analysis. When it comes to choosing the right tools and techniques for your organization, remember to take a layered approach that meshes with your development environment and adapts to evolving threats. 

What to Look for in a SAST Tool

Given the important role SAST tools play in detecting vulnerabilities before they make their way into production, they’re an essential part of any cyber toolkit. But, you must consider various criteria to ensure the tool meets your organization’s specific requirements.

The three most important? Speed, accuracy, and developer experience. Importantly, this is where open-source scanners fall short compared to enterprise grade scanners.

Accuracy and False Positive Rate: Evaluate the tool’s accuracy and false positive rate. A high false positive rate can lead to wasted time and effort in investigating and addressing non-existent vulnerabilities. 

Speed of scans: 25% of developers’ time is spent waiting for code reviews. The best tools will give developers quick feedback to help them maintain productivity, curb frustration, and quickly identify and fix security issues.

Integration with Development Environments and CI/CD Pipelines: To ensure security testing is automated and performed consistently throughout the development cycle, choose a SAST tool that integrates seamlessly with your existing development environments.

That said, you should also evaluate: 

Customization and Configuration Options: You’ll want to tailor the analysis to your organization’s specific requirements and coding standards. Customization options to adjust scanning rules, set severity thresholds, and define exclusions will be important.

Scalability and Performance: Consider the scalability and performance of the SAST tool, especially for large and complex codebases. The tool should be capable of efficiently analyzing large volumes of code without compromising performance or accuracy.

Reporting and Remediation Support: Look for features that provide actionable insights for remediation, like prioritization of vulnerabilities based on severity, detailed remediation guidance, and integration with issue tracking systems.

AI Capabilities: Artificial Intelligence is a force multiplier, and something that should be either already embedded into your SAST tool, or on the roadmap. Look for applications that help with threat detection, suggestions, and resolution. 

While this criteria helps you evaluate SAST tools, you must also ask yourself if a point SAST solution is really what you need. After all, the average AppSec team already uses 49 tools.

Traditional vs. Modern SAST

SAST scanning has been around for more than 25 years now. It is important to distinguish between legacy SAST and new arrivals to the market.

Traditional SAST offerings have a reputation for slow scanning speeds and high rates of false positives. Developers are less likely to run SAST scans early in the dev process as these scans take too long.  The extremely noisy results of SAST scans wastes significant time as security teams chase down alerts that, in the end, are harmless.

Recently, modern SAST solutions have entered the market to address the shortcomings of tradition SAST tools. Modern SAST offers faster scanning speeds with more precise findings. This reduces the time to detect vulnerabilities, while also adding unmatched precision in scan results. A higher signal to noise ratio means less time is wasted and real threats can be identified and remediated. 

Modern SAST also delivers a better developer experience so you can continue shipping code with velocity. Finally, some modern SAST solutions use AI-powered code resolution to provide automated fix suggestions, which streamlines the remediation process.

Should SAST Be Part of Your Complete ASPM Platform?

With so many tools to monitor and alerts to triage, developers and security teams are fighting an uphill battle against data silos, blind spots, and alert fatigue. It’s no wonder 90% of security professionals would consider consolidating their tech stack into a single platform. 

The good news is, there is a single platform that covers the entire SDLC, including all components, tools, libraries, languages, CI/CD pipeline, cloud infrastructure. SAST, DAST, SCA, and more…all in one.

For a deep dive into a Complete ASPM approach check out our recent blog post:
What is Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) platform.”

ASPM holistically analyzes findings to distill the massive quantity of alerts into the critical 1%. This way, developers can focus their remediation time on the true positives that represent the biggest risk to their org, while security teams gain the visibility and control they need to enforce security policies.

How Can Cycode Help?

Cycode is the leading Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) providing peace of mind to its customers. Its complete ASPM platform scales and standardizes developer security without slowing down the business, delivering safe code, faster. Cycode’s complete ASPM platform replaces existing application security testing tools (e.g SCA , SAST) or integrates with them while providing cyber resiliency through unmatched visibility, risk-driven prioritization and just-in-time remediation of code vulnerabilities at scale. Cycode’s Risk Intelligence Graph (RIG), the brain behind the platform, provides traceability across the entire SDLC through natural language. 

As a purpose-built platform for developer security, Cycode delivers visibility, prioritization, and remediation of vulnerabilities across the entire SDLC. With the recent acquisition of Bearer, Cycode’s complete ASPM platform now scans 31% faster than the competition and includes AI-powered code resolution.

Book a demo now to learn more.