Application security testing

April 4, 2023 // 5 min read

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Application security testing (AST) is the process of making applications more resilient to security threats by evaluating the application to identify potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Although organizations have invested billions of dollars into application security, web applications are still vulnerable to a range of cyberattacks. To keep software safe, it’s important to use application security testing tools.

Benefits of application security testing

Application security testing is an essential part of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) because it helps identify security weaknesses and vulnerabilities in source code. Implementing application security testing into your SDLC provides several benefits, including:

  • Improved security and software quality. Application security testing helps developers identify and fix security concerns at the development stage—before the software ships to production. After the application launches, application security testing continues to identify vulnerabilities so developers can quickly remediate them.

  • Protection of sensitive data.** By safeguarding private information and finding errors that might expose sensitive data, application security testing helps developers get ahead of bad actors. This is business critical for companies that handle sensitive data, such as credit card and bank account numbers, personal data, and customer records.

  • Reduced risk of a security breach. A single data breach can cost millions of dollars, including remediation, legal fees, victim assistance, ransomware paid to hackers, and penalties imposed by state and local governments. In some cases, organizations might need to slow down or halt their business operations and revenue generation until the security issues are resolved. Application security testing helps prevent data breaches from taking place—by ensuring that all the barriers are in place to keep malicious hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities.

  • Enhanced compliance. Application security testing helps organizations stay compliant with data protection laws by using the most current security protections available.

  • Increased productivity. By minimizing the time it takes to remediate security issues, applications security testing gives developers more time to do their jobs—which is building applications.

To keep software safe from the threat of bad actors that are only growing more sophisticated over time, it’s pivotal to integrate application security testing into your software development lifecycle. You’ll empower your developers to build highly secure applications faster and more efficiently and help protect your organization from costly data breaches.

Application security testing tools

Depending on their needs, most organizations use a combination of application security testing tools, including:

  • Static application security testing (SAST) scans binary code or application source code when the application is not running to find vulnerabilities based on design or implementation.
  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST) tests running web applications for security issues by mimicking the same techniques that malicious attackers use to find application vulnerabilities.
  • Interactive application security testing (IAST) includes dynamic and interactive testing. It uses actual inputs and actions in a controlled manner to probe the application under test.
  • Mobile application security testing (MAST) addresses mobile-specific issues like data leaks from mobile devices and jailbreaking, in addition to typical security vulnerabilities.
  • Software composition analysis (SCA) inventories open source and third-party commercial components used within an application, identifies security vulnerabilities within those components, and provides ways to remediate the issues.
  • Runtime application self-protection (RASP) analyzes user behavior and application traffic at runtime to identify and prevent cyber threats.

Selecting the right application security testing tool

The following best practices are designed to help you choose the best application security testing tool for your needs and effectively integrate it into your development workflow to quickly find and fix vulnerabilities.

Identify your requirements and goals.

It’s important to choose an application security testing tool that scans for the specific vulnerabilities in your application and performs reviews in the appropriate programming languages for your project.

For example, you might want to get started with a SAST tool if you have access to the application’s source code, or a DAST tool if the application was delivered to your team as an executable. If the application uses open source and third-party commercial components, then an SCA tool might be the most effective choice. Also, remember that developer teams typically use a combination of application security testing tools to meet their needs.

Research and compare application security testing tools.

Speed and accuracy are two key requirements. The application security testing tool must fit into your team’s delivery schedule and provide accurate results. If it takes too long to scan code, or if it delivers too many false positives that your developers need to triage, it will cause costly delivery delays.

Before you choose your application security testing tool, be sure to engage with the vendor, participate in a demo, and try it for free. Of course, the price needs to fit within your budget.

Plan the implementation process. Consider the following steps:

  • Deploy. Set up the licensing requirements, required control and authorization access, and procure the resources needed to get the tool up and running.
  • Customize. Tailor the tool to fit the needs of your organization. You can configure it to reduce false positives, for example, or write new rules so it finds additional vulnerabilities.
  • Integrate applications. Onboard your applications and make sure regular scans of apps are synced with their release cycles, builds, or code check-ins.
  • Run early and small. Focus on running scans early in the development process and for small scopes. Expand the scope as you go.
  • Analyze your scan results. When issues are finalized, track and provide them to the deployment teams for timely remediation.
  • Provide training. Your vendor should provide security awareness training, so developers know how to spot signs of attacks. Plus, your tool should have easy-to-follow tutorials, online training, and documentation.

Conclusion: secure every step

A better SAST tool is one that is integrated into the developer workflow and allows developers to address vulnerabilities in real time. It’s also context-rich, so developers of all security backgrounds can fix the vulnerabilities discovered.

That’s where GitHub’s native SAST tool, code scanning, comes in. As a feature of GitHub Advanced Security (GHAS), this developer-empowering approach takes in source code and examines it for known vulnerable patterns—such as buffer overflows, SQL injection, and cross-site scripting—as it’s being written. The tool then shares the output directly into the developer workflow, allowing developers to integrate fixes natively. It also provides comprehensive information on each vulnerability, including the severity and risk level, as well as suggestions on how to fix it. This makes it simple to secure code before it ever reaches production.

With always-on protection, GHAS continually monitors code and surfaces findings immediately, while allowing developers to automatically test their code at every git push. This allows them to see security issues in their pull requests as part of the code review process and prevents security issues from ever making it into the main branch.

Along with code scanning developers use secret scanning to prevent breaches by proactively scanning for secrets pre-commit. Furthermore, if push protection is enabled, secret scanning searches for secrets that may have accidentally been pushed into code. This involves scanning code for patterns from GitHub partners, including Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, Slack, and Google Cloud. Because scans take less than a second, GHAS quickly catches leaks as they occur.

GHAS also offers:

  • Supply chain security to catch vulnerable dependencies before they’re introduced into the codebase.
  • Security overview for a centralized, single view of security risks across the entire enterprise.
  • GitHub Actions, which supports third-party security capabilities, including SAST engines, DAST, infrastructure as code scanning (IaC), and container scanning.

Together, these GHAS features provide developers with just the right security information at just the right time. Whether the alerts are through the SAST, SCA, or secret scanning, you can be confident that your teams will be given the latest, most cutting-edge security intelligence, along with the cleanest suggestions available for fixing those issues.

In summary, empowering developers with application security testing tools like GHAS to quickly and easily secure code themselves, helps speed remediation times from months to just a few minutes, and empowers developers to ship secure code faster.

Frequently asked questions

What is application security?

Application security testing (AST) is the process of making applications more resilient to security threats. While organizations have invested billions of dollars into application security, web apps are still vulnerable to cyberattacks. To keep software safe from the threat of bad actors that are only growing more sophisticated over time, it’s pivotal to integrate application security testing and tools into your everyday workflow.

What is an application security example?

One application security example is implementing strong password policies, or even passwordless options, to ensure good password practices. Additional measures that can be taken to secure applications include multifactor authentication, security patches and updates, encryption, and security testing and monitoring.

How do I secure an application?

To secure an application, it’s important to use application security testing tools, which scan applications for specific security vulnerabilities to identify and prevent cyberattacks. When a security issue is found, the application security testing tool notifies the developers so they can remediate the issue.

Why do we need application security?

No one wants their sensitive data stolen by hackers. Application security protects data from cyberattacks and helps companies avoid the damages that come with data breaches, including loss of customer trust and damage to the brand’s reputation.

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