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Dynamic Application
Security Testing vs.
Penetration Testing


StackHawk|November 23, 2022

In this post, we will compare dynamic application security testing vs. penetration testing, who should use it, and how it works.

Whether we like it or not, cybersecurity is a rapidly evolving arena. It's just a matter of time before your business or organization falls victim to a cyberattack. The difference between becoming a victim and not is preparedness.

Organizations that are prepared for these attacks have a greater chance of mitigating the damage and preventing data loss. And the most effective and appropriate way to prepare is by properly implementing DAST tools and penetration testing. 

Both dynamic application security testing and penetration testing are security processes used to evaluate the security of applications. However, they're not the same. 

Dynamic application security testing, or DAST, is a technique to find vulnerabilities in websites and applications. It was developed as a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to penetration testing and is used by many companies today.  

This post will discuss the use of DAST, who should use it, and how it works. We'll also discuss how it differs from penetration testing and why companies need it. 

What Is Dynamic Application Security Testing?

Dynamic application security testing is a type of security testing performed on various kinds of applications. It's designed to identify vulnerabilities in applications that attackers could exploit. Companies can use DAST to assess the security of applications at any stage of development, from initial design to production. 

Organizations can use DAST to test web-based applications, thick client applications, mobile applications, and web services. DAST is a black-box testing technique that doesn't require access to the application's source code. 

DAST tools work by conducting automated scans of web applications. They crawl the application to identify potential vulnerabilities and then attempt to exploit them. If a vulnerability is found, the DAST tool will report it to the user.  

Security teams use DAST to find a wide range of vulnerabilities, including SQL injection flaws, cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities, and directory traversal flaws. DAST is an essential tool for application security, as it can find vulnerabilities that would be difficult to find using other methods such as manual testing. It's also a relatively easy and quick way to assess the security of applications.  

However, one should not use DAST solely to test application security, as it can only find vulnerabilities known to the DAST tool (and not business logic vulnerabilities). 

What Is Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing (also known as pentesting) is an authorized simulated attack on an application, system, or network to find vulnerabilities. The end goal of pentesting is to find security risks, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities in a system, network, or application so that they can be addressed before an attacker has a chance to find and exploit them.  

Penetration testing can be used to perform security testing on both internal and external applications. It can be conducted using various methods, including network and application layer attacks, social engineering, and physical security testing.  

Penetration testing should be performed regularly as part of a comprehensive security program to identify and remediate potential security risks. Penetration tests can be manual or automated and have both advantages and disadvantages. 

Manual penetration testing is carried out by ethical hackers who use their skills and knowledge to try and find vulnerabilities in a system. This type of testing can be comprehensive, as experienced professionals often carry it out. However, it can also be very time-consuming and expensive. 

Automated penetration testing is carried out by software designed to scan for vulnerabilities. This type of testing is often quicker and more cost-effective than manual testing, but it can sometimes miss certain kinds of vulnerabilities. 

Dynamic Application Security Testing vs. Penetration Testing image

How Is DAST Different From Traditional Penetration Testing?

DAST is a type of security testing that assesses the security of an application by testing it in its running state. This is in contrast to traditional penetration testing, which typically assesses the security of an application by testing it in a static state (in most cases). 

DAST is a more comprehensive approach to security testing, as it can identify known security vulnerabilities within less time and with low human intervention. Companies can also use DAST to test the effectiveness of security controls, such as web application firewalls. 

Traditional penetration testing is still a valuable security testing method, but it has its limitations. Additionally, penetration testing doesn't always provide a complete picture of an application's security posture. 

DAST is a more modern approach to security testing that offers many benefits over traditional penetration testing. 

Other Key Differences Between DAST and Penetration Testing

  • DAST doesn't require knowledge of the application's inner workings; all that's needed is a URL.

  • DAST can be performed without disrupting the regular operation of the application. Traditional penetration testing often requires shutting down the application or putting it in a "test" mode.

  • DAST can be performed automatically without needing a human tester. This makes DAST more efficient and less expensive than traditional penetration testing.

  • DevOps teams can easily integrate DAST tools with modern-day CI/CD tools to provide comprehensive security testing of web applications.

When to Use DAST vs. Penetration Testing

There's no specific answer to this inquiry. It really depends on your specific needs. DAST may be a better option if you're looking for a more comprehensive assessment of an application's security. However, penetration testing may be a better option if you're specifically interested in identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities. 

DAST is generally considered less invasive than penetration testing, as it doesn't require access to the underlying systems. Pentesting can be more disruptive, as it may need access to systems and networks to test for vulnerabilities. 

DAST is typically used when organizations want to assess the security of their web-based applications without disrupting business operations. Pentesting is often used when organizations want to identify and remediate vulnerabilities in their systems and networks. 

On the other hand, penetration testing can help you verify the effectiveness of your security controls. This is important, as you want to ensure that your controls are working as intended. 

Find and Fix Application Security Vulnerabilities with Automated Testing


DAST is growing in popularity as a complementary penetration testing method. DAST is especially useful in modern development environments where test-driven development and Agile methodologies have become more common. 

In this post, we've explored the differences between DAST and penetration testing, as well as how security tests can complement each other to provide a more comprehensive testing strategy. If you're interested in learning more about how this security testing method works or want to know how to implement it into your testing strategy, we encourage you to contact us.  

Thank you for reading, and we look forward to hearing from you soon! 

This post was written by Keshav Malik. Keshav is a full-time developer who loves to build and break stuff. He is constantly on the lookout for new and interesting technologies and enjoys working with a diverse set of technologies in his spare time. He loves music and plays badminton whenever the opportunity presents itself.

StackHawk  |  November 23, 2022

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