When it comes to cybersecurity, threats from bad actors can be extremely subtle. That’s why it’s extremely important to consider every possible attack vector to best protect your organization and sensitive data. One such attack vector can come in the form of exploits in application security, and being that all applications contain bugs of some kind, it’s important to perform secure code scanning. That said, secure code scanning can come in a number of different forms which is why, in this article, we’ll explore the different secure code scanning options and highlight the key concepts to be aware of.

Secure Code Scanning Approaches

Before we get into the different secure code scanning options available, it’s important to note that secure code scanning – which, in the static sense, can include code reviews, as well as vulnerability scans – is not the same thing as pen testing. However, secure code scanning can act as a complementary strategy to penetration testing. With this in mind, secure code scanning includes a number of different approaches, and below we’ll have a brief look at each of them. 

Secure Code Review

As the name suggests, a secure code review involves the evaluation of the source code of an application with the intention to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the code. A secure code review can be performed manually or with the help of automated tools. This is by no means a detailed report on every bug and issue of the source code but rather serves as a general guide for developers to make the code more secure by highlighting the areas of concern. 

Software Composition Analysis (SCA)

With the increase in the use of open source components, it is necessary to inspect each open-source element carefully from a security standpoint. Software Composition Analysis (SCA) helps attain this objective. SCA tools determine the open-source version and provide the organization with an understanding of any potential security risks or vulnerabilities. SCA tools also detect license compliance data and ensure all license obligations are being fulfilled. 

Static Application Security Testing (SAST)

Static Application Security Testing is done on the source code without executing it and this is typically performed early on the software development lifecycle (SDLC). SAST checks how the code is written and highlights any security concerns, and it can also help the developer stay wary of any violations by analyzing the code in real-time. In addition, custom rules can be incorporated, or industry standards like MISRA or CERT may be used. 

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

In contrast to SAST, dynamic application security testing (DAST) is done during runtime or black box testing. In DAST, simulations of attacks are performed to identify common vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting, SQL injection, and denial-of-service. DAST is also helpful in discovering problems that may exist in the application as well as potential configuration mistakes of the server. Both manual, as well as automated tools, can be used.

Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)

IAST is different from both static application security testing (SAST) and Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) in that it works inside the application by ‘interacting’ with it. The functionality of the application is tested in real-time in a QA or test environment. IAST is considerably faster than SAST as it does not scan the complete codebase but rather focuses on the specific test cases. In a sense, IAST overcomes the limitations of SAST and DAST and is highly scalable, easy to deploy, provides quick results, and has a low rate of false positives.  

Secure Code Scanning Tools

There are a number of secure code scanning tools available including those offered by the community-led, non-profit foundation OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project), GitHub, Checkmarx and others. However, navigating the process of identifying security threats in your applications can be exhaustive and complex, so if you want to know more about how to get started with this process and ensure your applications and assets are safe, be sure to reach out to our secure code scanning experts at halborn@protonmail.com.

Rob Behnke
02.03.2022