Static Application Security Testing

What is SAST?

Static application security testing (SAST) is a testing methodology that analyzes source code to find security vulnerabilities that make your organization’s applications susceptible to attack. SAST scans an application before the code is compiled. It’s also known as white box testing.

What problems does SAST solve?

SAST takes place very early in the software development life cycle (SDLC) as it does not require a working application and can take place without code being executed. It helps developers identify vulnerabilities in the initial stages of development and quickly resolve issues without breaking builds or passing on vulnerabilities to the final release of the application.

SAST tools give developers real-time feedback as they code, helping them fix issues before they pass the code to the next phase of the SDLC. This prevents security-related issues from being considered an afterthought. SAST tools also provide graphical representations of the issues found, from source to sink. These help you navigate the code easier. Some tools point out the exact location of vulnerabilities and highlight the risky code. Tools can also provide in-depth guidance on how to fix issues and the best place in the code to fix them, without requiring deep security domain expertise.

Developers can also create the customized reports they need with SAST tools; these reports can be exported offline and tracked using dashboards. Tracking all the security issues reported by the tool in an organized way can help developers remediate these issues promptly and release applications with minimal problems. This process contributes to the creation of a secure SDLC.

It’s important to note that SAST tools must be run on the application on a regular basis, such as during daily/monthly builds, every time code is checked in, or during a code release.

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Why is SAST an important security activity?

Developers dramatically outnumber security staff. It can be challenging for an organization to find the resources to perform code reviews on even a fraction of its applications. A key strength of SAST tools is the ability to analyze 100% of the codebase. Additionally, they are much faster than manual secure code reviews performed by humans. These tools can scan millions of lines of code in a matter of minutes. SAST tools automatically identify critical vulnerabilities—such as buffer overflows, SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and others—with high confidence. Thus, integrating static analysis into the SDLC can yield dramatic results in the overall quality of the code developed.

What are the key steps to run SAST effectively?

There are six simple steps needed to perform SAST efficiently in organizations that have a very large number of applications built with different languages, frameworks, and platforms.

  1. Finalize the tool. Select a static analysis tool that can perform code reviews of applications written in the programming languages you use. The tool should also be able to comprehend the underlying framework used by your software.
  2. Create the scanning infrastructure, and deploy the tool. This step involves handling the licensing requirements, setting up access control and authorization, and procuring the resources required (e.g., servers and databases) to deploy the tool.
  3. Customize the tool. Fine-tune the tool to suit the needs of the organization. For example, you might configure it to reduce false positives or find additional security vulnerabilities by writing new rules or updating existing ones. Integrate the tool into the build environment, create dashboards for tracking scan results, and build custom reports.
  4. Prioritize and onboard applications. Once the tool is ready, onboard your applications. If you have a large number of applications, prioritize the high-risk applications to scan first. Eventually, all your applications should be onboarded and scanned regularly, with application scans synced with release cycles, daily or monthly builds, or code check-ins.
  5. Analyze scan results. This step involves triaging the results of the scan to remove false positives. Once the set of issues is finalized, they should be tracked and provided to the deployment teams for proper and timely remediation.
  6. Provide governance and training. Proper governance ensures that your development teams are employing the scanning tools properly. The software security touchpoints should be present within the SDLC. SAST should be incorporated as part of your application development and deployment process.

What tools can be used for SAST?

Synopsys offers the most comprehensive solution for integrating security and quality into your SDLC and supply chain.

SAST in IDE (SecureAssist) is a real-time, developer-centric SAST tool. It scans for and identifies vulnerabilities as developers code. SecureAssist integrates into the integrated development environment (IDE), where it identifies security vulnerabilities and provides guidance to remediate them.

Synopsys Static Analysis (Coverity) also finds critical defects and security weaknesses in code as it’s written. It provides full path coverage, ensuring that every line of code and every potential execution path is tested. Through a deep understanding of the source code and the underlying frameworks, it provides highly accurate analysis, so developers don’t waste time on a large volume of false positives.

Coverity scales to accommodate thousands of developers and can analyze projects with more than 100 million lines of code with ease. It can be rapidly integrated with critical tools and systems that support the development process, such as source control management, build and continuous integration, bug tracking, and application life cycle management (ALM) solutions, as well as IDEs.

How is SAST different from DAST?

Organizations are paying more attention to application security, owing to the rising number of breaches. They want to identify vulnerabilities in their applications and mitigate risks at an early stage. There are two different types of application security testing—SAST and dynamic application security testing (DAST). Both testing methodologies identify security flaws in applications, but they do so differently.

Here are some of the key differences between the two testing methodologies: