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What Is Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)?

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a method for testing the security of applications. It involves testing the application at runtime to identify security vulnerabilities. Unlike other testing methodologies, DAST tools don't have access to the application and API's source code. Instead, they perform actual attacks on the application, similar to how a real hacker would do it. This makes DAST tools highly effective for automated penetration testing of web applications.

By simulating attacks like SQL injection, cross site scripting (XSS), external XML entities (XXE), and cross-site request forgery (CSRF), DAST solutions can identify and help protect against common web application vulnerabilities like the OWASP Top 10. While scanning source code can also be helpful in identifying vulnerabilities, testing an application at runtime is the most effective way to determine if external attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities. With DAST, you can identify and mitigate these security risks before they can be exploited by malicious actors.

Test Your Web App for 10,000+ Attacks

Integrate vulnerability testing into your DevOps pipeline. Find & fix vulnerabilities fast with zero false positives.

See Our Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) in Action

Book a Demo

and see how easy AppSec can be

Why Is DAST Important?

Testing applications solely during development is inadequate for safeguarding them against potential breaches in the production stage. It is imperative to establish a comprehensive application security program to mitigate overall business risk. By employing DAST alongside other strategies, it becomes possible to identify and prevent potential attack vectors from being exploited.

DAST resolves these challenges and empowers your organization to:

  • Provide precise vulnerability reports based on the application’s current state
  • Support developer education by offering actionable remedies for security issues
  • Seamlessly integrate security testing into the software development lifecycle (SDLC)
  • Efficiently implement DevSecOps by incorporating feedback derived from DAST into SecOps and DevOps tools
  • Enhance the protection of applications and code
  • Offer high-quality vulnerability assessment reports to expedite the remediation process

In order to evaluate an application's security posture in the real world, DAST plays a crucial role in a comprehensive security testing program. As a part of the software development lifecycle, it ensures the identification and resolution of security issues before the application is launched into production.

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Fully adaptable

DAST doesn't require a specific langunage or framework - you can use it in any environment, regardless of the tools you're utilizing for your project

Minimum False Positives

The lack of false positives allows you to focus on fixing bugs & creating new features, rather than trying to resolve false positives

Shifting Left

DAST is fully integrated early into the SDLC, allowing developers to detect potential vulnerabilities very early on

Business Logic Attacks

One of the biggest benefits of DAST is that it simulates business logic attacks, simulating a real-world situation and looking for vulnerabilities in your app's logic

DAST PRO’s and CON’s

Benefits of DAST

DAST offers several benefits, including:

  • Identifying vulnerabilities: DAST tools can identify security vulnerabilities in web applications that could be exploited by attackers. This helps developers and security teams understand how an application may be exploited and take steps to remediate these vulnerabilities.
  • Real-world testing: DAST tests an application in its operational state, allowing it to identify vulnerabilities that may not be caught by other types of security testing, such as static analysis or manual code review.
  • Quick testing: DAST tools can quickly scan an application to identify vulnerabilities, allowing security teams to prioritize remediation efforts based on risk severity.
  • Comprehensive testing: DAST can test the entire application, including its user interface, web services, and back-end components, providing a more comprehensive evaluation of an application’s security posture.
  • Cost-effective: DAST is a cost-effective way to evaluate the security of web applications, as it does not require access to the application’s source code or specialized security expertise.
  • Compliance: DAST can help ensure that web applications comply with industry standards and regulations, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

DAST Limitations

While DAST is a powerful tool, traditional DAST has a few limitations, including:

  • Limited coverage: Traditional DAST tools only test an application’s external behavior, such as its user interface and web services, and do not assess its internal workings. This limits their ability to identify certain types of vulnerabilities, such as those that occur in the back-end components of an application.
  • False positives: Traditional DAST tools can generate false positives, which are warnings that a vulnerability exists when it does not. This can result in wasted time and effort, as well as lead to potential security gaps if real vulnerabilities are ignored due to too many false positives.
  • Limited context: Traditional DAST tools operate without full knowledge of the application’s context, such as business logic or the intended user experience. This can result in a lack of accuracy in identifying vulnerabilities and their potential impact on the application.
  • Inability to detect all types of vulnerabilities: Traditional DAST tools may not be able to detect all types of vulnerabilities, such as those that require a complex chain of actions to exploit.
  • Requires significant expertise: Traditional DAST tools require specialized expertise to interpret the results and determine the severity of any identified vulnerabilities. This can be a significant challenge for smaller organizations or those with limited security resources.

How Does DAST Work?

DAST tools launch automated scans that simulate malicious external attacks on the application. The goal is to identify unexpected outcomes. For example, a test can inject malicious data to uncover injection flaws. A DAST tool typically tests all HTML and HTTP access points. To find vulnerabilities, the test emulates random user behaviors and actions.

A new generation of DAST solutions is emerging, which leverage AI to address the challenges of traditional DAST:

No need for manual tuning

next-generation DAST automatically creates test sets and dynamically identifies the structure of the underlying application.

No false positives

leverages machine learning algorithms and fuzz testing to analyze findings like a human penetration tester, and determine if they are real vulnerabilities or not.

Detects business logic vulnerabilities

accesses web applications like a real user and tries different control flows, until it discovers a user interface path that exposes a security weakness.

Detects zero day vulnerabilities

while traditional DAST can only detect known vulnerabilities from manually updated lists, next generation DAST leverages AI detection capabilities and real time data from other users of the platform to detect zero day attacks.

Advanced reporting

provides reports and compliance audits on par with those created by a human tester.

What is the Role of DAST in Application Security (AppSec)?

By automating testing, analysis, and reporting processes, application security testing (AST) tools identify and address security vulnerabilities. Embraced by the DevSecOps movement, these tools ensure that security is integrated at each stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

AST tools are typically categorized into four main types:

Static application security testing (SAST)

provides white-box testing which analyzes the source code while its components are at rest.

Dynamic application security testing (DAST)

provides black-box tests that models how applications are attacked from the outside.

Interactive application security testing (IAST)

provides instrumentation of the application code. The goal is to detect and report issues during runtime.

Software composition analysis (SCA)

scans the code and analyzes open source software components, looking for vulnerabilities and checking license compliance.

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DAST solutions have unique advantages when protecting web applications:

  • A downside of SAST solutions is that they have to support the programming language and application framework in use by the application.
  • In DAST, only issues that represent a real risk are reported. With SAST it can be challenging to determine if a finding represents a real risk or not.
  • Modern DAST can be used as early as the build phase of the SDLC. You can simulate attacker behavior without lengthy pen-testing. SAST takes place earlier in the SDLC, but can only find issues in the code, not the full application.
  • DAST detects risks that occur due to complex interplay of modern frameworks, microservices, APIs, etc. SAST solutions are limited to code scanning.
  • In comparison to SAST, DAST is less likely to report false positives.

Dynamic analysis tools offer language agnostic capabilities, distinguishing them from SAST tools. They don't require the same programming language or framework as the application being scanned. Unlike SAST tools, dynamic application security testing solutions operate similarly to actual hackers by not having access to the source code. This characteristic grants dynamic analysis tools more real-world benefits.

Integrating DAST into the SDLC

Although it has been in existence since the mid-90s, DAST struggled to find its footing in the SDLC until recently when DevOps transformed the landscape. With the advent of dynamic analysis tools, DAST solutions can now be easily integrated with popular issue trackers like JIRA, GitHub, ServiceNow, and Slack. These solutions, just like other automated AST options, can also be incorporated with CI platforms such as Jenkins, CircleCI, TravisCI, JFrog Pipelines, or Azure DevOps. Consequently, organizations are increasingly looking to implement application security testing early in the SDLC to detect and address security concerns in a timely and cost-effective manner.

cyber security for SME

Test Your Web App for 10,000+ Attacks

Integrate vulnerability testing into your DevOps pipeline. Find & fix vulnerabilities fast with zero false positives.

See Our Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) in Action

Book a Demo

and see how easy AppSec can be

DAST Best Practices

By following these best practices, your organization can improve its overall security posture and avoid costly security breaches.

Enable Effective Collaboration with DevOps

To ensure that your organization's security is not compromised, it is important to follow certain best practices when utilizing Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tools. One crucial aspect of this is to foster collaboration between the DAST and DevOps teams. By integrating the DAST tool with the ticketing and bug tracking systems used by DevOps, vulnerabilities can be easily and effectively addressed. This promotes a DevSecOps mindset, encouraging security to be a top priority in your organization.

Adopt Defensive Coding Practices

By designing preventive measures into the application during development, the application will be more secure and less vulnerable to attacks. Developers do not necessarily need formal security training to write secure code, but can benefit from basic precautions to ensure commonly exploited vulnerabilities are not present.

Use DAST as Early in the SDLC as Possible

Integrating DAST into the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) as early as possible is also key. Early testing can identify vulnerabilities before they make it into production, saving time and money on remediation efforts.

Integrate DAST with Your CI/CD Pipeline

Running DAST at every stage of the CI/CD pipeline, from early development to production deployment, can provide valuable insights and recommendations to identify and fix vulnerabilities quickly.

Warrior Network’s Next-Gen DAST Solution

Warrior Network’s stands apart from other DAST solutions in its development-centric approach. It has been purpose-built with the needs of developers in mind, offering automatic testing of applications and APIs for vulnerabilities with each and every build.
This all-encompassing solution conducts comprehensive tests on a range of targets, including web applications, internal applications, APIs (REST/SOAP/GraphQL), and serverside mobile applications. Bright integrates seamlessly with your existing workflows and tools, triggering scans on every commit, pull request, or build with unit testing. It boasts blazing-fast scans, allowing it to keep up with the fast pace of high-velocity development environments.

What sets Warrior’s Network’s apart is its intelligent interaction with applications and APIs, rather than simply guessing and crawling. Its AI-powered engine comprehends application architecture, and generates targeted and sophisticated attacks. Before reporting any findings, Bright verifies and exploits them to avoid false positives.

cyber security for SME

See Our Additional Guides on Key Security Testing Topics

Together with our content partners, we have authored in-depth guides on several other topics that can also be useful as you explore the world of security testing.