What is DAST, and how it can improve web application security
Many organizations, from national security agencies to multinational corporations, will use white-hat piracy equipment to look for software vulnerabilities. White hats, or teams of ethical piracy, test environments through the eyes of threat actors and provide organizations with information about vulnerabilities that can be exploited.
The dynamic application security test, or DAST, works by the same logic. Developers can know everything there is to know about an app from the inside, but how can they be sure of its integrity until it responds to an attack from the outside? DAST is a type of application security that seeks to identify vulnerabilities by attacking a web application in the same way that a hacker would: without mercy, by trial and error, without any prior knowledge or access to the underlying source code of the application .
DAST integration benefits organizations
Why should organizations consider implementing dynamic application security testing? Because attacks on web applications will not stop soon.
A 2021 NTT study 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 yielded similar findings: Web applications led the list of attack vectors, with nearly 20% of hackers perpetrated through exploitable vulnerabilities. Specifically, attacks on mail servers using exploits skyrocketed from 3% in 2020 to 30% in 2021. Without guarantees like DAST, why would hackers consider otherwise as long as these vulnerabilities persist year after year?
DAST vs. 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, scans are performed with full access to the internal operation of an application. This approach contrasts with DAST processing, which uses the perspective of an alien and has no 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.
In contrast, SAST tests applications that are at rest, as it focuses exclusively on the weaknesses of the source code itself.
DAST should not be confused with penetration testing. While feather testing generally requires a human to identify vulnerabilities manually, DAST does not require human input. Instead, it automates the process of identifying and notifying vulnerabilities, giving developers more time to make corrections earlier in the software development lifecycle.
How DAST Can Improve Web Application Security
As companies face increasing pressure to protect their web applications from attacks, it’s no surprise that cybersecurity experts recommend integrating DAST at the beginning of the software lifecycle. Here are some of the main reasons why implementing DAST in SDLC can improve the security of web applications:
# 1: Reduce false positives
Dynamic web application testers significantly reduce the number of false positive alerts as they help distinguish vulnerabilities from benign ones. DAST working in conjunction with IAST is especially powerful, as its combined search adds precision to confirm which vulnerabilities are real.
# 2: Identify vulnerabilities that can only be found in the runtime / production environment
Some vulnerabilities can only be identified when an application is running. Vulnerabilities in software libraries, incorrect server configuration, or incorrect validation of user input can evade static and manual testing.
# 3: Can address the complexity of microservices / containers
More organizations use distributed microservice architectures, which can increase the attack surface and the range of vulnerabilities that appear in the SDLC. DAST can observe microservice interactions and help developers classify farms as they appear at runtime.
# 4: Integrates well with other web application scanners, such as IAST
To get a solid 360-degree view of the potential vulnerabilities in your web application, organizations can’t do better than integrate DAST with other application security testing tools. For example, software provider Invicti integrates DAST with IAST: IAST uses crawlers to access every corner of the application, while working with DAST to identify the exact location of vulnerabilities.
# 5: It can reduce reporting times, speed up correction
DAST integration at the beginning of the SDLC allows for faster reporting times and smarter correction. Instead of identifying weaknesses in production or even later, DAST allows developers to quickly detect and fix blind spots before they appear as a security issue below.
Former Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu writes, “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory you gain you will also suffer defeat.”
As anachronistic as it may be to re-gloss Tzu’s teachings for the modern era, it is difficult to argue their relevance. Think of an example from another industry: car manufacturers know every part of the machinery that is used to make their cars. However, they still do shock tests to see how the structural integrity of the car under pressure works.
Success on the cyber battlefield also requires observing, anticipating, and even simulating the dangers that invade from the outside, so that one can be prepared to stop the actual attack when it occurs. DAST provides organizations with an effective way to measure how their applications respond to intrusion attempts at the beginning of the SDLC, but without any of the consequences that accompany a real-world attack. By integrating DAST along with other scanning methods, organizations can increase the visibility of their attack surface and resolve blind spots before it’s too late.