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Why Application Security Testing Is A Must For Every Organization

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Application security has become an absolute necessity for organizations around the world. Increasing customer demands and the need for pushing software continuously and quickly has oftentimes come at the expense of security.

While organizations are adopting DevSecOps, and automation testing approaches to address some of these security challenges, application security remains a major concern for any organization deploying software applications.

A report found that 86% of tested applications had one or more session management vulnerabilities. Attackers could leverage these security weaknesses in the application to eavesdrop or hijack user sessions in a large number of cases.

It also revealed that 16% of tested applications had medium, high, or critical security risks. The most common high-risk vulnerabilities were vertical privilege escalation flaws, cross-site scripting errors, and default credential use.

There’s no doubt that identifying security vulnerabilities in the software development lifecycle can save a significant amount of time, money, and resources. Enterprises use static application security testing and dynamic application security testing to identify and remediate vulnerabilities in the software.

Before we dive into static application security testing (SAST) and dynamic application security testing (DAST), let’s take a quick look at the importance of application security.

Why is Application Security Testing Important?

Organizations always look to secure their networks. Then, in order to support the business, they deploy applications on these networks. Vulnerabilities in these applications oftentimes lead to a complete compromise of an organization’s network.

According to a report, 83% of the 85,000 tested applications had at least one security flaw. A total of 10 million security flaws were discovered in the process, with 20% of all applications having at least one critical security flaw.

As the number and complexity of applications is growing, security concerns are also rising among enterprises. The software development life cycle is much more complicated now considering users’ demand for feature-rich applications and ease of usability. Maintaining software security has become a fairly difficult task today.

Many successful cyberattacks abuse vulnerabilities in the application layer, which indicates the need for companies to be extra vigilant about application security. For instance, a simple coding error could allow injection attacks or unverified inputs which may lead to severe data breaches.

Organizations need application security solutions that integrate into their application development environment and help identify security vulnerabilities in a timely manner. Application security techniques should cover an entire application from its conceptual phase, through its development phase and on to when it is deployed in the production environment.

By integrating application security testing in your SDLC, you can ensure better security within your application and detect vulnerabilities in the running application as well.

Today, the safety and security of sensitive information is a top priority of many business leaders. Losing sensitive data such as customers’ personal information, PII, social security numbers, bank details, confidential agreements, third-party contracts, etc. can be detrimental to a company’s reputation and brand value.

Many companies are now going to great lengths to assure customers that their data is safe with them. Especially in the credit card industry and retail business where applications need to store sensitive data of customers such as their credentials, passwords, bank details, etc.

While there are numerous application security testing techniques, there are two primary security testing methods used by organizations:

  • Static testing: It is used by developers to identify potential security vulnerabilities in the application by reviewing the application code. It helps developers check their code for security standards and ensure that security issues are identified early in the SDLC.
  • Dynamic testing: It helps analyze the application in a runtime environment. Here, testers can simulate attacks on the application to detect underlying security vulnerabilities that may have gone undetected during static testing or were introduced after the application was deployed in the production environment.

What is Static Application Security Testing?

Static application security testing (SAST) is a method designed to identify security vulnerabilities in the source code, byte code, or binaries of an application. SAST analyzes an application from the inside out without it being in the production environment i.e non-running state.

What happens in a SAST?

SAST scans the application’s binaries, or source code to accurately identify the weakness in the code so that developers can mitigate the underlying security vulnerabilities.

What are the benefits of SAST?

  • It allows you to detect highly complex vulnerabilities in source code, byte code, or binary.
  • SAST detects security vulnerabilities as code is being developed.
  • It helps identify vulnerabilities with their precise location in the code, which makes it easier for developers to locate vulnerabilities quickly and eliminate them.
  • It provides an efficient framework for detecting security vulnerabilities before they become security threats to your end-users or organization.

What are the challenges of SAST?

  • SAST tools are difficult to use and are language-specific (PHP, Java, Python, etc).
  • It requires access to source code, or binaries, which some organizations might not want to give up to the application testing team.
  • It needs to be integrated into the SDLC before the software is deployed into the live environment, which can make it difficult to implement.
  • It often results in false positives, which leads to a waste of time and money.
  • SAST can only identify security vulnerabilities within the application’s code. Thus, it can’t detect security vulnerabilities outside the application’s code such as security defects found in third-party interfaces.
  • Certain types of vulnerabilities can be difficult for SAST to identify, e.g, logic flaws, authorization issues, and so forth.

What is Dynamic Application Security Testing?

Dynamic application security testing (DAST) is a set of technologies designed to identify potential security vulnerabilities while the application is running (preferably in a non-production environment). DAST analyzes an application “from the outside in” to detect weaknesses in the application.

What happens in a DAST?

DAST simulates controlled attacks on a running web application to identify potential security vulnerabilities in a running environment.

What are the benefits of DAST?

  • It helps identify security vulnerabilities associated directly with the operational deployment of an application.
  • DAST allows you to mimic the actions of an attacker to uncover different vulnerabilities that may not be discovered by other testing techniques.
  • It finds vulnerabilities in the web application in the runtime environment and hence, does not need to access the source code of the application.
  • DAST helps you to discover vulnerabilities outside the source code and in the third-party interfaces.
  • DAST tools are language-independent and rely on API, HTTP, and WebSockets, and interaction with an application from the outside.

What are the challenges of DAST?

  • DAST tools are unable to determine the exact location of a weakness in the code and have difficulty following coding standards.
  • Since DAST requires the application to be running in a production environment, you can’t run it until later in the development process.
  • DAST is not capable of mimicking attacks by someone who has internal knowledge about the application.

Final Thoughts

Businesses cannot overlook application security testing today, especially with the rapidly increasing number of cyberattacks. Application security testing is not a one-off approach to be followed at the end of the software development lifecycle. What’s more important is having a secure SDLC throughout. This helps you establish a secure SDLC process with well-structured security measures.

Does your organization already have a secure SDLC? Great, well done! One way to determine whether you have a robust security system in place is by running a quick security audit. At Cypress Data Defense, we can help you do that and ensure that you have a secure SDLC.


Author Bio – Aaron Cure:  Aaron Cure is the Principal Security Consultant at Cypress Data Defense and an instructor and contributing author for the Dev544 Secure Coding in .NET course.   After 10 years in the U.S. Army, I decided to switch my focus to developing security tools and performing secure code reviews, penetration testing, static source code analysis, and security research.