With the unprecedented rate at which applications are attacked, cybersecurity has become a cornerstone of technological resilience. As many organizations have learned the hard way, web applications have become a primary target for cyber attacks. Safeguarding them is not just an option but a necessity for any security-conscious organization. This is where Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) comes into play and stands as a critical defense mechanism in an organization's security stack, helping to identify vulnerabilities and protect against these threats.
Dynamic Application Security Testing, often shortened to DAST, is designed to detect security vulnerabilities in a web application or API while running. Unlike traditional security methods adopted in the software development lifecycle that rely on static analysis, DAST tools offer a more practical and real-world testing approach. It simulates attacks on a live application, identifying potential security breaches that attackers could exploit. DAST has many benefits, especially when added to a comprehensive security testing stack.
In this blog, we will look at the basic building blocks of Dynamic Application Security Testing, why it is a critical part of modern security testing practices, and how it differs from other security testing methods. Then, we'll explore the intricacies of DAST, including its advantages and potential drawbacks. Lastly, we will look at a detailed overview of each of the top 8 DAST tools of 2024. These insights will be instrumental in navigating the complex yet crucial domain of application security. Let’s begin by looking at the fundamentals of DAST.
What is Dynamic Application Security Testing?
Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a testing process that identifies security vulnerabilities in web applications while they are running. Unlike static methods that analyze source code, DAST examines the application from an external perspective, simulating an attacker's approach. When using DAST, developers can quickly uncover issues such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and insecure server configurations that are exposed only during an application's operation.
Many companies have introduced DAST tools into their stack to leverage their ability to test any web application, regardless of the programming languages or frameworks used. This makes DAST an extremely versatile tool in cybersecurity, especially with such a vast ecosystem of languages and frameworks used by modern developers. More than just a web application security scanner, DAST offers insights into how an application behaves under attack-like conditions by assessing applications in real-time. Having these insights gives developers a lot of context in terms of the severity of the vulnerability and how to fix it. While DAST is instrumental in detecting runtime vulnerabilities, it's often used with other testing methods, such as Static Application Security Testing (SAST), as part of a comprehensive security testing stack.
Why Do You Need a DAST Tool?
At StackHawk, we firmly believe that every developer should have access to the benefits offered through DAST (as well as other complimentary security tooling!). Since we know that web applications are constantly exposed to a range of security threats, DAST tools are a critical component in a developer's toolkit to ensure that any security defects in an application are found immediately and remedied before they can hit a production server.
The primary reason for integrating Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tools into your cybersecurity strategy is their effectiveness in detecting exploitable vulnerabilities in real-world scenarios. Unlike static analysis tools that evaluate code in isolation, DAST tools test applications in their operational environment. This approach helps uncover security flaws that could be missed when developers are writing the code and are only observable when the application is running. Some of the most common and highly exploited vulnerabilities, such as cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and misconfigurations, are easily identified by DAST tools. By testing and detecting these issues, developers using DAST can help prevent potential breaches that could lead to data loss or other security incidents.
When it comes to flexibility, Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tools are particularly valuable because they require no access to an application's source code. Other tools require the source code to be scanned line-by-line, which can lead to false positives and time-consuming investigations. Because DAST runs more on a “black box” testing approach, it is ideal for testing both in-house and third-party applications, ensuring comprehensive security coverage. Additionally, DAST's ability to seamlessly integrate into continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines enhances the efficiency of the development process. It allows for regular, automated testing of web applications and APIs, as often as every pull request or commit developers push into source control. This automation ensures continuous security monitoring and immediate vulnerability detection.
How Does DAST Differ From Other Security Testing Methods?
Understanding the unique position of Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) within an organization’s testing stack is the best way to understand the value of DAST. Next, let’s look at other popular testing methods, like Static Application Security Testing (SAST), Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST), and manual penetration testing, and see how each application security testing solution compares to DAST.
DAST vs. SAST: While DAST tests a running application from the outside, SAST analyzes the source code from within. SAST is effective early in the development cycle, identifying issues before the application is runnable. SAST can, therefore, be used from the first line of code onward. However, SAST tools may miss runtime vulnerabilities that DAST can detect. DAST, on the other hand, requires a functioning version of the application and is better at identifying issues that emerge while the application is running. Vulnerabilities like misconfigurations and runtime injection flaws are where DAST shines.
DAST vs. IAST: IAST combines elements of both SAST and DAST, analyzing applications from within as they run. This method provides more comprehensive coverage by detecting both static and dynamic vulnerabilities. However, IAST tools can be more complex to integrate and operate. They also require access to the application's internal components. With DAST, these are both not an issue since DAST works externally, treating the application as a black box.
DAST vs. Penetration Testing: Penetration testing is a manual process where security experts attempt to breach application defenses, similar to how an attacker would. While it provides deep, insightful analysis, it is time-consuming and dependent on the tester's skills. Where pen testing may be limited by a tester's knowledge or even human error, DAST offers a more consistent, automated approach. However, it may not cover the depth of a skilled penetration test.
DAST stands out for its ability to test applications in their operational state, identifying vulnerabilities that only become visible during runtime. It's an essential tool in a multi-layered security strategy, complementing other methods like SAST, IAST, and penetration testing. Organizations can achieve a more robust and thorough security posture for their web applications by using DAST in conjunction with these methods.
Pros and Cons of Using DAST
While Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a powerful tool in the cybersecurity toolkit, it's important to weigh its advantages and limitations to understand its best use cases.
Pros of Using DAST
1. Real-Time Analysis: DAST tools analyze applications in their running state, detecting vulnerabilities only visible during operation, such as runtime injections and misconfigurations. This also means that false positives, vulnerabilities that exist in the code but can’t be exploited, are less frequent.
2. Technology Agnostic: DAST is independent of the programming language or technology stack, making it versatile for testing a wide range of web applications. Some DAST platforms, such as StackHawk, also support applying DAST to APIs, regardless of the technology used.
3. No Source Code Required: DAST does not require access to an application's source code. This feature is particularly beneficial for testing third-party services where source code is unavailable. Virtually every application within a company's portfolio can be easily tested with DAST.
4. CI/CD Integration: DAST can be integrated into Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment pipelines, enabling automated and regular security assessments without disrupting the development process. This allows developers to follow their existing code workflow while receiving iterative feedback on potential bugs and security defects within the code.
Cons of Using DAST
1. Limited Early Detection: DAST requires a fully functional version of the application, meaning it cannot detect issues during the early stages of development, unlike SAST. This proves the importance of using multiple types of security testing as part of the development process to ensure you’re covered from all angles and at all stages.
2. Potential for False Positives/Negatives: Like many automated testing tools, DAST may generate false positives or miss particular vulnerabilities (false negatives), requiring manual review for confirmation. This specific con is seen a lot less in DAST versus other methods; however, it is something for users to be aware of.
3. Scope of Testing: DAST primarily focuses on vulnerabilities exposed through web interfaces and may not identify issues related to backend processes or internal application logic. That being said, many leading DAST solutions, such as StackHawk, do allow for testing of APIs, including REST, SOAP, gRPC, and GraphQL endpoints.
4. Limited Insight into Code Issues: Since DAST operates from an external perspective, it offers limited insights into the specific lines of code causing the vulnerabilities. That being said, DAST reports still give developers a good idea of where any issues are within the code. To further this point, when paired with a SAST solution, quickly locating the problem in the code becomes even less of a concern.
To wrap things up, DAST is a critical component for web application security testing, particularly effective in identifying real-world operational vulnerabilities. However, its limitations highlight the importance of integrating it with other other security tools and testing methods for a comprehensive security strategy. Although this is not an exhaustive list, it covers the main benefits and pain points seen by those adopting DAST tools. By understanding the pros and cons of DAST, organizations can better utilize it in conjunction with other tools and methodologies to fill in the gaps.
Top 8 DAST Tools of 2024
Now that we’ve explored the building blocks of DAST and its inner workings, it’s time to look at some of the leading tools on the market. In the dynamic web application and API security world, choosing the right DAST tool is crucial in getting the desired results and upping your security game. The top 8 DAST tools of 2024 stand out for their unique and key features, including the highlights and lowlights of adopting each platform. Let’s take a look at each in detail.
Founded with a focus on a developer-friendly approach to DAST, StackHawk has quickly become a go-to for teams integrating security into their DevOps workflows. It distinguishes itself with a robust API and an interface that makes it easy for developers to incorporate security testing into their routines. On top of this, it is one of the only DAST platforms that support comprehensive API testing for REST, GraphQL, SOAP, and gRPC-based APIs.
Developer-centric interface with excellent reporting capabilities
Seamless CI/CD pipeline integration
Strong API support across the platform
Fully supports API testing, including REST, GraphQL, and gRPC
May require some learning curve for non-developers to use the platform
Invicti, formerly known as Netsparker, is a well-known platform providing precise vulnerability scanning. It is particularly noted for its Proof-Based Scanning technology that automatically verifies identified vulnerabilities, saving time and reducing false positives.
High accuracy with Proof-Based Scanning
Comprehensive scanning capabilities
Effective for large enterprises
Can be cost-prohibitive for smaller organizations
Some users report a complex setup process
Acunetix has been a leader in the DAST space, known for its speed and advanced scanning technology. It's adept at handling complex web applications and detecting intricate vulnerabilities, making it a favorite for fast-paced tech environments.
Fast scanning capabilities
Detects complex vulnerabilities efficiently
User-friendly for various skill levels
Higher cost bracket
Some reports of a high amount of false positives
BurpSuite by PortSwigger is a comprehensive set of tools for security testing. It's a blend of automated and manual testing tools, highly valued by security professionals for its depth and flexibility in penetration testing.
Versatile toolset for detailed security analysis
Strong community and extensibility
Excellent for manual penetration testing
A comprehensive tool that can be overwhelming for beginners
Some aspects require in-depth security knowledge to leverage
GitLab, primarily known for its all-in-one DevOps platform, incorporates DAST into its integrated security testing suite. Its one-stop-shop nature appeals to teams looking for cohesive development and security solutions and are already running within the GitLab ecosystem.
Integrated into a comprehensive DevOps platform
Streamlines workflow with unified tooling
Good for teams already using GitLab for development
Limited DAST capabilities that are less extensive than specialized tools
Only applicable for users already committed to the GitLab ecosystem
6. Bright Security
Bright Security, formerly NeuraLegion, focuses on automating security testing in the early stages of development. Offering various approaches to testing, its ease of use and integration capabilities make it a good fit for agile and DevOps-focused teams.
Emphasis on early-stage testing automation
User-friendly for agile teams
Good integration with CI/CD pipelines
May lack some advanced features of specialized DAST tools
Newer in the market, lesser-known than established competitors
Checkmarx is a comprehensive application security platform offering a powerful scanning engine and broad integration capabilities. It provides a holistic view of security, ideal for organizations with complex and multifaceted security requirements.
Powerful scanning engine
Broad integration with development tools
Suitable for complex, large-scale environments
Potentially overwhelming for small-scale users
Requires significant upfront investment in training and setup
Synopsys offers a wide array of security testing tools, including Dynamic Application Security Testing tools. It's known for its thorough analysis and scalability, catering to large enterprises and organizations with extensive security needs.
Comprehensive security analysis
Scalable for large enterprises
Covers a broad spectrum of testing needs
Cost can be prohibitive for smaller organizations
Complexity may require dedicated security expertise
As you can see, each DAST tool has its own unique set of strengths and challenges. When selecting a DAST tool, organizations must consider how its specific features align with their development team's size, expertise, and security priorities. The right tool will fit seamlessly into your existing processes and allow developers to features to create more secure software.
As we conclude our journey of reviewing Dynamic Application Security Testing and the top DAST tools of 2024, it's evident that DAST is an indispensable component of any security testing stack. Each of the top 8 DAST tools we've discussed offers unique features and capabilities tailored to meet the diverse needs of organizations of all sizes. Whether you are a small startup or a massive enterprise, the key to optimizing your cybersecurity strategy lies in selecting a tool with robust features and seamless integration with your development processes, security goals, and budget. On top of just relying on DAST, many companies also opt to use other types of tools in their stack, such as SAST and software composition analysis (SCA) tools.
Keeping the above factors in mind, StackHawk checks all the boxes and provides a platform that has made significant strides in blending ease of use with powerful testing capabilities. With easy integration and a wide array of support for web applications and APIs, it is an excellent starting point for those looking to integrate Dynamic Application Security Testing into their software development lifecycle and security stack.
Finally, investing in the right DAST tools is more than just a security measure; it's crucial to maintaining trust and reliability within your software and services. In an era where cyber threats are ever-evolving, staying informed and adaptable with tools like StackHawk is critical to safeguarding the data within your organization and the trust of your customers. To start with Dynamic Application Security Testing, try StackHawk today and take the next step in improving your organization's security posture.