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Navigating DAST Tools

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Research by Statista shows that data breaches more than doubled between 2020 and 2023. As a result, more organizations are using application security testing tools and techniques to mitigate growing cyber threats.

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is crucial in this process. DAST tools simulate real user interactions on software applications to identify vulnerabilities during runtime.

Our industry research shows that more than 45% of organizations now employ DAST tools to help improve their application security testing. By choosing a reliable DAST tool, companies can enhance their application security posture, safeguarding their systems, data, and reputation from the ever-evolving cyber threat.

This article will explore DAST tools, how they work, why they are essential, and how to implement these tools properly.

What is a DAST Tool?

DAST tools are software testing tools that identify security vulnerabilities in web applications during runtime. DAST tools are considered a “black-box” testing method because they don't have internal information about the application or the source code; they test the application from the outside like a hacker would.

Here's a simplified breakdown of how DAST tools work:

  • Configuration: You provide the DAST tool with information about the application you want to test, such as URLs, login credentials, and any specific focus area.

  • Scanning: The DAST tool crawls the application, simulating user actions and exploring different functionalities. During this process, it feeds various inputs to test for vulnerabilities. These inputs can be malformed data, unexpected commands, or attempts to bypass authentication mechanisms.

  • Vulnerability Detection: Based on the application's response to the simulated attacks, the DAST tool analyzes for signs of vulnerabilities. Examples include SQL injection attempts that might reveal sensitive data or script injections that could lead to unauthorized actions.

  • Reporting: After completing the scan, the DAST tool creates a report outlining the vulnerabilities. The report typically includes information like the type of vulnerability, its potential impact, and recommendations for remediation.

  • Remediation: Developers use the DAST report to prioritize and fix the identified vulnerabilities. This might involve patching code, updating configurations, or implementing additional security measures.

Why Do You Need a DAST Tool?

DAST tools address challenges such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), security misconfigurations, and other software vulnerabilities that mainly occur during application runtime. A DAST tool can significantly enhance your application security, offering several benefits, such as:

  • Real-Time Vulnerability Detection: Unlike static analysis tools that examine source code, DAST tools interact with the application in its running state. This allows them to uncover vulnerabilities that only become apparent during runtime, such as authentication, session management, and server configuration issues.

  • Comprehensive Coverage: DAST tools can test the entire application stack, including front and backend components, APIs, and third-party integrations. This holistic approach ensures that security assessments cover all possible attack vectors.

  • Automated Testing: Automation is a key feature of DAST tools, enabling continuous security testing as part of the CI/CD pipeline. This integration ensures that vulnerabilities are detected early and frequently, reducing the risk of introducing security flaws into production.

  • Realistic Attack Simulation: DAST tools can identify exploitable vulnerabilities in the real world by mimicking the behavior of real attackers. This provides a more accurate assessment of the potential impact and severity of any detected vulnerabilities.

  • Ease of Use: DAST tools are easy to use and deploy because they do not require access to the source code. 

Best Practices for Effective DAST Tool Implementation

To maximize the benefits of DAST tools and ensure successful implementation, follow these best practices:

1. Define Testing Scope

Clearly define the testing scope, including specific applications, APIs, and endpoints. Establish clear testing objectives, such as identifying vulnerabilities or meeting compliance requirements. Document the testing scope in a shared document to ensure all stakeholders are informed.

2. Integrate DAST into the CI/CD Pipeline

Automate security testing and vulnerability detection by incorporating DAST tools into your continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) pipeline. Set up workflows to trigger automated DAST scans when code is committed, enabling early detection and remediation of vulnerabilities.

3. Configure DAST Tools Correctly

Customize DAST tools to match your application's specific needs. Set appropriate scan policies, configure authentication mechanisms, and specify areas requiring more rigorous testing. For example, if you have a fintech application, you can set it up to scan the login page, payment gateway, and user data management areas. The DAST tool can be configured to detect SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and authentication vulnerabilities.

4. Combine DAST With Other Security Testing Methods

The best way to achieve comprehensive security coverage is by combining other techniques like Static Application Security Testing (SAST) with DAST tools. You can cross-reference the vulnerabilities detected by SAST with DAST to see if there's a pattern. 

5. Prioritize and Remediate Vulnerabilities

When vulnerabilities are discovered, prioritize them based on severity and potential impact. Assign actionable reports to development teams, providing detailed information and remediation steps. After the vulnerabilities have been fixed, revalidate them using the DAST tool.

6. Continuously Monitor and Update

Regularly update the DAST tool to detect the latest vulnerabilities. Continuously monitor application security, re-scanning after significant changes or updates. Schedule regular updates, such as weekly or monthly.

7. Establish Clear Communication

Set up a clear communication channel between developers and security teams. Ensure DAST reports are actionable, providing detailed information and remediation steps.

8. Educate Developers

Use DAST tools to educate developers on security vulnerabilities and best practices. Create training material, such as videos or blog posts, and provide regular security training and awareness programs.

Complementing Your  DAST Tool With SAST

When selecting a DAST tool, it's crucial to consider factors like accuracy, coverage of vulnerabilities, and ease of integration with your existing development and testing processes. However, regardless of which DAST tool you opt for, it's essential to integrate DAST with SAST for a more comprehensive application security framework. This combination enhances your overall security posture by addressing both runtime and code-level vulnerabilities.

If you need a robust SAST tool that supports over 40 programming languages, offers AI-powered code reviews, and seamlessly integrates with your CI/CD pipeline, Codacy is an excellent choice. Codacy Security provides all the essential features to enhance your application security testing strategy, ensuring your software remains safe and secure. Take advantage of a free trial today to experience the benefits firsthand.


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