Application layer attacks are a pervasive threat to modern enterprises. Applications and modern business operations go hand-in-hand and having an application security solution have become just as important as protecting physical hardware. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is one of the core testing methodologies that companies are using to detect cyber attacks. But what is DAST exactly?
DAST is a type of black-box application testing that can test applications while they are running. When testing an application with DAST you don’t need to have access to the source code to find vulnerabilities. This is called a penetration test to find issues and configuration errors from outside of the application, from the perspective of an attacker.
DAST software works by automatically scanning application vulnerabilities in web applications. Once the software finds a vulnerability it sends an alert to the user so remediation measures can begin. The notification tells users the issues they need to resolve to secure the application.
Why is DAST Important?
DAST has an important role in helping to identify vulnerabilities in an application during production. DAST software tests the HTTP and HTML interfaces of applications that attackers would use to break into a service. Running a DAST penetration test helps you find those vulnerabilities before an attacker does.
Dynamic testing is also necessary to find specific issues and attacks that other testing methodologies would miss. For example, a DAST solution can detect SQL injection attacks that attempt to disrupt the database of a web application with bogus SQL code.
Now attackers are launching more and more attacks at the application layer it is a business necessity to implement a form of application testing. Companies that don’t are unable to identify these attacks when they occur, and can experience significant damage if an attacker successfully breaches the network.
DAST vs SAST
DAST is one of many application testing methodologies. One of the most popular alternative methodologies is Static Application Security Testing (SAST), a white box testing methodology, which can search through the source code of applications at rest.
SAST takes an inside-out perspective and can be used early in the software development lifecycle to fix vulnerabilities. SAST software highlights defective segments of code so that a developer can take steps to remedy the situation.
The main advantage SAST has over DAST is that it can not only find errors in source code but it can highlight those errors to the user so they can be changed. The use of these tools early in the SDLC also saves money. Although it is important to note these solutions also have to support the programming language and application framework being used by the application.
The edge DAST has over SAST is that you can test for vulnerabilities from the perspective of an attacker. Most attackers wouldn’t have access to the source code when trying to break into an application so running a penetration test has more real-world benefits. DAST also has the advantage of versatility. A DAST solution doesn’t need to have the same programming language or framework to scan an application for vulnerabilities.
However, for the best results, it is advisable to combine the two tools together. Using a combination of DAST and SAST tools provides you with the widest coverage against security threats.
DAST and SAST vs IAST
While DAST and SAST are still popular application testing models many companies are starting to switch to hybrid solutions like Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) to stay secure. An IAST installs an agent on an application server to run scans while an application is running.
The user can run automated or manual tests and the IAST Solution will report on any vulnerabilities found. IAST solutions are generally used during the testing phase of the SDLC. By finding faults early on in the SDLC, IAST keeps prices down and leads to more efficient releases.
The key advantage that IAST has over DAST is its automation. It can find vulnerabilities and drive remediation forward much faster than DAST. Its automation allows it to fit into the CI/CD pipeline and enables developers to fix issues in less time, highlighting bad code on the screen. In comparison DAST finds issues but it doesn’t highlight the code segments that caused the issue as a SAST tool does.
IAST’s advantage over SAST is that it can find vulnerabilities in running applications. However, it is important to note that IAST cannot replicate the penetration testing approach of DAST. Using a combination of DAST, SAST, and IAST tailored towards your use cases is the best approach for now.
The simplicity of DASTtools makes them stand out against alternative platforms like SAST because you don’t need any special knowledge in order to use them. In this section we’re going to look at some of the top DAST tools:
- Netsparker (ACCESS FREE DEMO) This vulnerability scanning system can be used for development testing and includes DAST, SAST, and IAST capabilities. The service focuses on Web application security. Available as a SaaS platform or for installation on Windows and Windows Server.
- Acunetix (ACCESS FREE DEMO) This security scanner offers DAST plus SAST and IAST. This is an on-demand vulnerability scanner for Web applications that is also available in a continuous version. Offered as a cloud service or for installation on Windows, macOS, or Linux.
- Appknox This automated DAST tool focuses on automated Web application security scanning and higher versions offer on-demand tests. This is a cloud-based platform.
- Veracode Dynamic Analysis This is an automated DAST tool that implements continuous scans of development environments and operational systems. This tool is a SaaS platform and is very easy to use.
Netsparker is a very popular DAST solution that provides in-depth vulnerability scanning for any web application. The software is sophisticated enough to detect all direct impact vulnerabilities with zero false positives. Issues that Netsparker can detect include SQL Injection, Reflected XSS, Local File Inclusion, Unvalidated Redirect, Remote File Inclusion, and Old Backup Files.
One of the main strengths of Netsparker is its ability to scan thousands of web applications in a matter of hours. It can even automatically verify identified vulnerabilities. This means that you don’t have to waste time and money manually verifying vulnerabilities with your team.
If you’re looking for a scalable solution with unlimited capacity then Netsparker is a product you should consider. Netsparker is available as a software package, online service, or on-premises solution. To view the price you will have to request a quote directly from the company. You can sign up for a demo.
The Acunetix system specializes in examining Web applications. It is able to scan for the OWASP Top 10 plus 7,000 other Web application exploits. The service can also provide a network vulnerability scanner that searches for more than 50,000 known weaknesses.
An implementation of Acunetix can offer development security scanning or you can use it for IT operations to keep track of the security of live websites and networked applications. The service is able to drill down through APIs to scan the vulnerabilities in their underlying modules.
The three versions of Acunetix are called Standard, Premium, and Acunetix 360. The Standard plan only offers on-demand scans but it still has full DAST capabilities. You can access Acunetix through its hosted Software-as-a-Service version or run the software on your own servers. The system will install on Windows, macOS, and Linux. You can assess Acunetix by looking at the demo system.
Operating system: A cloud service or for installation on Windows, macOS, or Linux
Appknox is a dynamic DAST solution that can detect vulnerabilities in running applications. The system is designed to flag vulnerabilities that are commonly used in like Man in the Middle Attacks (MiTM). All you need to do to install the solution is to upload the application binary to an Appknox cloud-hosted device.
The platform is also very easy to use. You can launch a dynamic scan via the dashboard and then generate a report to highlight the vulnerabilities that need to be fixed.
One excellent feature for cutting down entry points is the API Scan. You can enter the endpoints of your server and then the program will attempt to break into your server. You can scan multiple endpoints in one setting to find any issues that could allow an attacker to hack into your network.
There are three versions of Appknox available to purchase; Essential, Professional, and Enterprise. The Essential version comes with unlimited scans, dynamic scans, API scans, continuous integration, and more.
The Professional version includes all of those features plus manual scans, a dedicated account manager, and more. The Enterprise version contains everything in the other versions plus a private cloud and customized reporting. You can request a demo.
Veracode Dynamic Analysis is a DAST solution that emphasizes automation and ease of use to deliver a tool that’s fast to deploy. For example, you can schedule automated scans so that you don’t need a human user to look for vulnerabilities. However, if a scan ever collides with any other development activities you can press the Pause button to stop the scan.
Scanning web applications is Veracode Dynamic Analysis’s specialty. There is also the option to scan web applications that sit behind login screens with the help of Dynamic Scan Engineers who will create login scripts so automated scans can take place unhindered.
The software is also highly accurate, delivering vulnerability scans with lower than a one percent false-positive rate. That means you can be sure any vulnerabilities found are legitimate.
In terms of ease of use, Veracode Dynamic analysis is second to none. You can launch a scan with a single URL. If you want to scan multiple applications then you can upload a .csv document with a list of URLs. That means you don’t have to do any complicated configuration to start scanning your infrastructure.
If you’re looking for a DAST tool that’s easy to deploy and automate, then Veracode Dynamic Analysis is highly recommended to enterprises of all sizes. However, you’ll have to contact the sales team to view a quote. You can request a demo.
DAST Best Practices
Many companies are hesitant to deploy DAST solutions because of their complexity and cost. While they can be costly there are a number of best practices companies can use to make the transition as productive and cost-effective as possible:
- Use DAST as early as possible
- Combine DAST with SAST
- Collaborate with DevOps teams
Use DAST as early in the SDLC as possible
The earlier you use a DAST solution in the SDLC the better. Identifying vulnerabilities in a web application early in the SDLC saves money throughout the release cycle. Employees will be able to take steps to address the issues found before the application is completely designed. It’s more cost-effective to modify an application early in production than it is after release!
Combine DAST with SAST
DAST works best when combined with SAST. Each methodology covers vulnerabilities that aren’t covered by the other. SAST will give you an under the hood source code perspective whereas DAST will give you a view of entry points from a potential attacker’s perspective. Covering a range of vulnerabilities gives you the best protection against cyber attackers.
Collaborate with DevOps Teams
Finding vulnerabilities is all well and good but if you don’t have close communication with your DevOps team you’ll struggle to address the issues. Every time you find a vulnerability make sure that you pass the information on to your developers. You can do this through the use of notifications with your DAST solution or by using a bug-tracking tool. Open communication will ensure that your time to remediation is narrow.
What is DAST: A Must For Enterprises Using Applications
DAST is vital to any organization using applications to do business. DAST tools occupy an area of application testing that not even high-tech IAST solutions can render obsolete. Being able to run penetration tests on applications outside of the source code allows you to monitor for the web application vulnerabilities and misconfigurations that attackers commonly try to exploit.
The ease with which you can deploy SAST solutions early in the SDLC increases efficiency and drives down costs. These tools are scalable and easy to use because you don’t need access to application frameworks or source code and DAST can work with any programming language.
Even with the growth of solutions like IAST and grey-box testing IAST still has a role to play in keeping modern applications safe. When used correctly on-demand dynamic testing can be a potent weapon against cyberattackers.