Home Is Dynamic Testing the Missing Piece of Application Security?

Is Dynamic Testing the Missing Piece of Application Security?

The importance of application security cannot be overstated, as software applications are responsible for processing and storing sensitive data, maintaining business continuity, and protecting valuable intellectual property. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a powerful method for identifying vulnerabilities that other forms of testing may not detect.

By integrating DAST into the development process from the outset, organizations can significantly improve their security posture, reduce costs associated with fixing vulnerabilities, and ensure compliance with industry regulations. In this article, we explore the key capabilities of DAST, discuss the challenges of application security, and delve into the benefits of running dynamic testing early in the software development lifecycle.

Application Security: A Quick Refresher

Application security refers to the measures taken to ensure the security of software applications from unauthorized access, modification, or destruction. It involves protecting the application and the data it processes and stores.

Application security includes both the design of secure software as well as the deployment and ongoing maintenance of applications to ensure they remain secure. It also involves identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities in the software that attackers can exploit to gain access to sensitive data, disrupt service, or execute malicious code.

Application security is of critical importance for several reasons

  • Protecting sensitive data: Applications often process and store sensitive data such as personal information, financial data, and business-critical information. The compromise of this data can result in severe financial, legal, and reputational consequences for organizations and individuals.
  • Compliance requirements: Many industries have regulatory requirements for the security of applications and data, such as HIPAA for healthcare, PCI DSS for the payment card industry, and GDPR for personal data privacy. Failing to comply with these regulations can result in severe penalties and reputation damage.
  • Business continuity: Applications are critical to business operations, and their downtime or disruption can result in financial losses and loss of customers. Application security helps ensure the availability and reliability of these critical systems.
  • Protection from cyberattacks: Applications are frequently targeted by attackers who exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access, steal data, or execute malicious code. Application security helps identify and mitigate these vulnerabilities to prevent attacks.
  • Protecting intellectual property: Applications often contain valuable intellectual property such as trade secrets, proprietary algorithms, and confidential business information. Application security helps ensure the protection of these assets from unauthorized access and theft.

What Is DAST: Key Security Capabilities

DAST stands for Dynamic Application Security Testing. It involves testing the application while it is running to identify vulnerabilities and security issues in real-time by simulating attacks. DAST tools examine the application from the outside, emulating the actions of an attacker to see how the application responds to different types of inputs and interactions.

DAST does not require access to the application’s source code or system configuration, making it a popular approach for testing third-party or off-the-shelf applications. During a DAST scan, the tool interacts with the application as a user would, sending various inputs and monitoring the application’s responses for any unexpected behaviors or errors.

DAST tools can identify various security issues, including input validation errors, injection flaws, broken authentication and access controls, and other vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit. It is useful for identifying vulnerabilities that may not be detected through other forms of testing, such as static analysis, and for testing web applications with complex and dynamic interactions with users and external systems.

Challenges of Application Security and How DAST Can Help

Legacy or Third-Party Applications

Legacy or third-party applications often present challenges to application security because they may have vulnerabilities that were not considered or were not known at the time of their development. Additionally, these applications may not be designed to take advantage of modern security features or may not be updated regularly, which can leave them vulnerable to attacks. It can be difficult to secure these applications without introducing compatibility issues or disrupting business operations.

DAST can be used to test legacy or third-party applications to identify vulnerabilities and security flaws. By testing these applications in a realistic manner, organizations can gain a better understanding of the security risks and can take steps to mitigate them.

Code Injections

Code injection attacks, such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS), are common methods used by attackers to exploit vulnerabilities in applications. These attacks occur when an attacker can inject malicious code into an application, allowing them to execute arbitrary code, steal data, or gain unauthorized access to the application or underlying systems.

DAST can be used to test applications for code injection vulnerabilities, such as Structured Query Language (SQL)  injection or cross-site scripting (XSS). By simulating attacks and attempting to inject malicious code, DAST can help identify vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit.

Application Dependencies

Applications often rely on third-party libraries, frameworks, and APIs to provide functionality, which can introduce security risks if they are not properly vetted and maintained. These dependencies may have vulnerabilities or be subject to supply chain attacks, which can be difficult to detect and mitigate.

DAST can be used to test applications and their dependencies, identifying vulnerabilities in third-party libraries and frameworks. By testing for known vulnerabilities and misconfigurations, organizations can take steps to address them before attackers exploit them.

Poor User Access Controls

Weak user access controls can allow attackers to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or functionality within an application. This can occur if user permissions are not properly configured or if access controls are not properly enforced.

DAST can be used to test applications for poor user access controls, such as weak authentication and authorization mechanisms. By testing for vulnerabilities in these areas, organizations can identify weaknesses and take steps to address them.

DDoS Attacks

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can overwhelm an application or its underlying infrastructure, causing it to become unavailable to legitimate users. These attacks can be difficult to prevent or mitigate, particularly if they are launched from a large number of distributed sources.

While DAST cannot directly prevent DDoS attacks, it can be used to test an application’s resilience to such attacks. By simulating large volumes of traffic, organizations can identify weaknesses in their infrastructure and take steps to mitigate the impact of an attack.

Shifting DAST Left

Traditionally, DAST has been conducted late in the SDLC, after the application has been fully developed and deployed. However, this approach can be time-consuming, costly, and can lead to late identification of significant vulnerabilities that require significant rework or a complete redesign of the application.

Shifting DAST left means integrating DAST into the development process from the outset, ideally as part of the continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline. This allows for earlier identification and remediation of vulnerabilities, reducing the overall cost and complexity of addressing them.

Here are some key strategies for shifting DAST left:

  • Implement automation: Integrate DAST testing into the CI/CD pipeline, using automated tools to conduct regular testing throughout the development process.
  • Incorporate security into the development process: Make application security a priority from the beginning of the development process, with developers building security features into the application as they write the code.
  • Conduct testing throughout the development process: Conduct DAST testing at multiple points throughout the development process, such as during code reviews, integration testing, and pre-deployment testing.
  • Provide training and resources: Ensure that developers have the training and resources they need to conduct effective DAST testing and remediate vulnerabilities.

Security Benefits of Running Dynamic Testing Early in the Development Lifecycle

Running dynamic testing early in the software development lifecycle can provide several security benefits. Here are a few examples:

  • Early detection of vulnerabilities: Dynamic testing can help detect vulnerabilities early in the development process, before they can be exploited by attackers. This allows the development team to fix the vulnerabilities before releasing the software, reducing the risk of security incidents and data breaches.
  • Improved security posture: By running dynamic testing early in the development process, the development team can build security into the software from the start. This helps to create a more robust and secure software product, reducing the risk of vulnerabilities and security incidents.
  • Cost savings: Identifying and fixing security vulnerabilities early in the development process can save time and resources in the long run. It is often easier and less expensive to fix vulnerabilities during the development process than after the software has been released.
  • Compliance with security standards: Many industries and organizations have security standards that must be met. Running dynamic testing early in the development process can help ensure that the software meets these standards, reducing the risk of compliance issues.


As technology continues to advance and cyber threats become more sophisticated, organizations must prioritize application security to protect sensitive data, ensure compliance with regulations, and maintain business continuity. DAST is a valuable tool in the application security testing toolkit, providing a practical way to evaluate application security in real-world conditions and identify vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit.

Featured Image Credit: Provided by the Author; freepik.com; Thank you!

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Gilad Maayan
Technology writer

I'm a technology writer with 20 years of experience working with leading technology brands including SAP, Imperva, CheckPoint, and NetApp. I am a three-time winner of the International Technical Communication Award. Today I lead Agile SEO, the leading marketing and content agency in the technology industry.

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