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October 26, 2021

Ever wondered how weevils manage to infest grains stored in containers, despite our best efforts? These bugs use even the smallest of crevices to reach their food. Security vulnerabilities in application codes are just like these tiny cracks that can make organizations susceptible to attacks. Attackers exploit different ways to identify such loopholes and damage the business of an organization.

Static Application Security Testing (SAST) is an effective white-box security testing technique, which plays a significant role in identifying these threats and facilitating their mitigation. The SAST methodology scans the enterprise code throughout the lifecycle of application development.

The online community known as the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) provides further assistance on web application security. It hosts a rich set of documentation and articles related to these topics, including the role of SAST.

Why adopt SAST?

Secure coding practice is imperative for developing safe applications. When web applications are deployed on servers or the cloud, and on mobile devices, insecure coding can expose them to several malicious activities.

The following are a few critical security attacks:

  • Denial of Service (DoS) - In this attack, attackers can shut down the entire machine or application by making it inaccessible to users.
  • Sensitive data exposure - This attack occurs when sensitive data is either not encrypted or inadequately encrypted with a weak algorithm. User credentials, personal information, credit card number and Card Verification Value (CVV), and medical or health data are some such sensitive data that need protection from this attack.
  • SQL injection - In this attack, attackers can insert Structured Query Language (SQL) queries in the code of an application to manipulate its execution.

These security attacks can ruin the brand name and reputation of an organization. SAST provides a fast and automated form of security testing, which effectively addresses the gaps of manual testing in terms of both time and effort. It is especially beneficial in handling voluminous code that can run into millions of lines.

With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain-based technologies, the susceptibility of internet applications to security attacks has increased manifold. The use of IoT in many industries and the execution of applications on smartphones and desktop computers allow attackers to exploit the weaknesses in these technologies.

Two common ways to mitigate security vulnerabilities identified in SAST

Manual code review: This is a simple assessment method. However, it involves huge investments in the form of human resources and time.

Static analysis tools: These tools can easily identify those points in a source code where attackers can inject malicious inputs to exploit an application.

According to OWASP standards, the following are the top ten vulnerabilities in code:

  • Injection
  • Broken authentication
  • Sensitive data exposure
  • XML External Entities (XXE)
  • Broken Access Control
  • Security misconfiguration
  • Cross-site Scripting (XSS)
  • Insecure deserialization
  • Using components with known vulnerabilities
  • Insufficient logging and monitoring

Many static analysis tools in the market provide continuous assessment reports to developers to address security vulnerabilities during the initial stages of implementation itself. Additionally, they provide recommendations along with examples of compliant codes to address the issues. Many tools offer integration support with Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), making it convenient for developers to fix the vulnerabilities on the fly.

Advantages of automated mitigation

Automated mitigation saves human effort and organizational spend. Tools available in the market enable developers to fix vulnerabilities without any manual effort, irrespective of the number of issues found in the code.

Nowadays, DevOps teams in organizations use various Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) tools and frameworks to build and deploy applications on the testing and production environments. An SAST assessment can be made a part of the CI/CD pipeline to optimize the efforts spent on security testing.

Reshaping the future with SAST

Thousands of data breaches occur every day across the world. From investing large sums of money for implementing security practices to adopting the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), organizations are taking multiple preventive measures to secure their applications and prevent the loss of revenue due to security breaches. Including SAST in the CI/CD pipelines can be an appropriate solution to safeguard applications. It also helps create periodic awareness about the security risks and mitigation strategies for developers.

Given the enormity and complexity of each organization’s codebase and the possibility of various security vulnerabilities, manual code review might not be an effective strategy for preventing security breaches. Coupled with the choice of the right technology stack and adoption of appropriate security guidelines, SAST and automated static analysis tools can be the perfect solution to keep the pesky security bugs at bay!

Marimuthu Vadivel is a Product Specialist, currently working on TCS SAST, which is an automated and sophisticated white-box security testing tool that helps enterprises safeguard their applications against security attacks. It also auto-remediates security vulnerabilities in the code. He has over 15 years of industry experience, including Java-based product development, reverse engineering, and 4 years of experience in static application security testing. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the Government College of Technology, Coimbatore.

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