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What is Static Application Security Testing (SAST)?

What is Static Application Security Testing (SAST)?

Harold Bell
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Static application security testing (SAST), sometimes referred to as source code analysis or static analysis, is a white box methodology for testing that analyzes application source code before it is compiled for security vulnerabilities.

According to Gartner, the term SAST represents a set of technologies created to help developers analyze binaries, byte code, and application source code to detect coding and design conditions that flag security flaws.

SAST is a commonly used application security (AppSec) tool which identifies and helps remediate underlying the root cause of security vulnerabilities. SAST tools do not need a system to be running to perform a scan because they analyze web applications from the inside out. For example, SAST testing may be used for regulatory compliance with the payment card industry data security standard (PCI/DSS), or to improve insight into software risk.

Why SAST is important

The reality is, there are far more developers than security staff. SAST tools can analyze 100% of the codebase much more rapidly than human secure code reviews. It takes only minutes for these SAST tools to scan millions of lines of code to identify critical vulnerabilities. Ultimately, these tools help organizations achieve key goals, such as:

Shift Left Security Testing

Integrating SAST into the earliest stages of software development helps shift security testing left. Detecting proprietary code vulnerabilities and other security issues during the design stage while they are easier to resolve is an important practice.

Secure Coding

SAST readily identifies basic coding errors so development teams can easily comply with the best practices for secure coding standards.

Simply Use

Integrating SAST earlier in the existing CI/CD pipeline and DevOps environment saves developers from needing to trigger or separately configure scans. This makes it more efficient, convenient and easier for them to use, and eliminates the need for developers to leave their environment to conduct scans, see results, and remediate security issues.

How does SAST work?

Because it can take place without code being executed and does not require a working application, SAST takes place very early in the software development life cycle (SDLC). This helps developers quickly resolve issues and identify vulnerabilities in the project’s initial stages without passing on vulnerabilities to the final application.

SAST testing typically happens in several steps:

  • Select a static analysis tool that can comprehend the underlying software framework and perform code reviews of applications written in the right programming languages.
  • Create the scanning infrastructure, and take steps to deploy the tool. This includes setting up access control and authorization, handling the licensing requirements, and procuring required resources such as databases and servers for deployment.
  • Customize the tool and configure it to find additional security vulnerabilities or reduce false positives by updating existing rules or writing new ones.
  • Build custom reports and create dashboards for tracking scan results as you integrate the tool into the build environment.
  • Prioritize high-risk applications and onboard all applications.
  • Analyze and triage scan results to remove false positives, track results, and deploy results to the proper teams for timely remediation.
  • Deliver robust training and the proper governance to ensure development teams employ SAST tools properly. Include SAST and software security touchpoints within the SDLC, and as part of your application development process and into deployment.

Static vs Dynamic Application Security Testing (SAST vs DAST)

There are important differences between SAST and DAST.

Static application security testing (SAST) comes early in the CI pipeline and focuses on bytecode, source code, or binary code to identify coding patterns that are problematic or conflict with best practices. Although modern SAST supports multiple programming languages, the methodology is programming-language dependent.

Dynamic application security testing (DAST) is an approach to black-box testing. Because it requires runtime to scan applications, it is applied later in the CI/CD pipeline. DAST doesn’t depend on a specific programming language so it is a good method for preventing regressions.

Consider the major differences in DAST vs SAST:

  • ​​SAST scans source code lines for vulnerabilities. In contrast, DAST works solely on the inputs and outputs from a running application and lacks any information about its code.
  • Another major difference is speed, in that especially for complex running applications, a DAST tool requires some time to execute, compared to how long the SAST tool takes to scan the source code.

In practice, given the difference between SAST and DAST tools, best practices suggest using both. A SAST tool and DAST tool complement each other, and each finds vulnerabilities the other does not.

Static vs Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST vs SAST)

Like DAST, interactive application security testing (IAST) focuses on application behavior during runtime. However, IAST analysis takes more of a hybrid approach, combining analysis of internal application flows with scanning and black-box testing. IAST is most beneficial in its ability to connect source code with DAST-like findings. But this also makes IAST both programming-language dependent (as it needs to scan source code), and restricts it to being performed later in the CI/CD pipeline.

SAST vs SCA

The SCA vs SAST comparison is somewhat of an apples to oranges analogy. Software composition analysis (SCA) focuses on the application’s third-party code dependencies. In contrast, SCA tools discover all software components including all direct and indirect dependencies and supporting libraries. SCA is very useful for applications that use many open-source libraries.

How to implement SAST

In general, there are several steps to implement SAST:

  • Select the cloud or on-premises for the means of deployment. The decision depends on how much control is needed, how much scalability, cost, and other factors.
  • Configure and integrate SAST into the SDLC. It is possible to analyze the source code as it’s compiled, scan it as it is merged into the code base, run SAST in IDE, or simply add SAST in your CI/CD pipeline.
  • Choose the extent of the SAST analysis. A complete SAST analysis is the most comprehensive and lengthy and consists of a full scan of all applications and their code. An incremental scan analyzes only changed code. A desktop configuration scans code in real time as it’s written.

Customize the process to identify new security flaws or reduce false positives by revising old rules or creating new ones. Prioritize results based on factors such as severity of threat, compliance issues, CWE, responsibility, risk level, or vulnerability.

SAST FAQs

When is SAST performed?

Before we get into when SAST should be performed, let’s first answer the question: What is SAST?

SAST, or static application security testing, is an important process that takes place in the early stages of the software development process, usually around the same time the code for the software program is written. It’s easily woven into the development process and the CI/CD pipeline.

An API security checklist should be used during SAST to ensure every step of the process is completed and verified. Following API security best practices also ensures all issues are efficiently tracked and reported. When issues are found, teams should work together to quickly address them so processes are performed on time and as securely as possible.

What types of vulnerabilities can SAST detect?

API vulnerabilities include buffer overflows, XSS (cross-site scripting), IDOR (insecure direct object references), and SQL injection. These are just a few disruptions that can dramatically affect the stability of your security protocols. Any undetected vulnerability can cause significant damage to your programs and jeopardize the safety of your confidential information.

Solid SAST protocols ensure your programs run smoothly and that the highest level of security is always maintained. Finding vulnerable areas and making adjustments as soon as they are discovered will ensure all your systems are secure.

Can SAST be used on all types of applications?

SAST can be used on various applications where the source codes are accessible. This includes desktop applications, mobile apps, and many other web applications. Any security platform, especially those that use SAST, will vary in effectiveness depending on the programming language used during its creation.

Are there any limitations to SAST?

SAST/DAST and API security testing are highly effective, but there are some limitations. While SAST cannot analyze a running application for potential abnormalities, DAST (Dynamic Application Security Testing) can. SAST also has difficulty identifying any malfunction that only occurs when the program is operational.

Authentication problems and server configuration errors are two of the most common limitations of SAST. However, it’s crucial to understand the difference between SAST & DAST to ensure you choose the correct security testing for your application.

For a comprehensive security platform to further protect your APIs, consider NoName Security. NoName Security provides complete API security to detect various API threats and keep your application safe.

Harold Bell

Harold Bell is the Director of Content Marketing at Noname Security. He has over a decade of experience in the IT industry with leading organizations such as Cisco, Nutanix, and Rubrik, and has been featured as an executive ghostwriter in Forbes Technology Council and Hacker News.

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