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DAST versus SAST? Glad You Asked about Application Security  

Ron Ulko
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Dynamic application security testing (DAST) tools take aim at a foundational dilemma of fast-moving software development pipelines: the need to find and fix vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by real-world attackers. Dynamic application security testing technologies leverage automated software to find gaps in a given application’s defenses, including by checking for the common web app flaws in the OWASP Top 10

So what’s the difference between dynamic application security testing and static application security testing, or SAST? And how does each methodology relate to Synack’s approach to pentesting? Spoiler alert: We believe having human eyes on an organization’s attack surface will provide more actionable vulnerability findings.

Like their DAST counterparts, SAST tools also provide an automated way to pick up on potential problems in a product’s code. The earlier SAST or DAST processes can fit in along the timeline of a typical web application or API’s development, the thinking goes, the better the chance a potential vulnerability gets discovered and fixed before it triggers a costly cybersecurity breach.

The main distinctions between SAST and DAST methodologies lie in where and when they’re used. SAST tools can come into play at the very outset of continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines by scanning source code for a predefined list of known issues. 

DAST tools, by contrast, work exclusively on actively running applications, meaning they can only “shift left” organizations’ security strategies so far. (Shifting left refers to considering security flaws from the start of software development.) And while SAST tools are often applied straight to source code and dependencies, DAST tools presume the automated “attacker” knows nothing about a given web app’s inner workings.

DAST and SAST tools are often used in conjunction with one another in a bid to maximize the chances of finding critical vulnerabilities. And if that sounds like a lot to keep track of, well: they’re just two methodologies in a whole suite of security tools at defenders’ disposal. Ultimately, neither can be 100% effective at uprooting security flaws. 

AppSec professionals have a lot on their plates and use a variety of manual and automated techniques to seek out software bugs as part of their CI/CD processes, often bringing in extra help from quality assurance or other internal teams. This creates a difficult situation where both the developers and security professionals have to sift through false positives to determine what parts of the code need to be patched for release.

Automated Tools versus Human Ingenuity in Application Security

Automated tools don’t typically discern between what is a real, exploitable vulnerability and what registers as a vulnerability given the automated parameters. SAST tools act like a spell check for developers, important but otherwise low-hanging fruit. While DAST tools can find signatures and patterns, it’s no match for human ingenuity.

The Synack Platform helps overtaxed security teams by allowing tests of many assets on the same platform, including web, host, cloud and mobile. And crucially, we combine automated tools with the creative power of over 1,500 elite security researchers on our Synack Red Team (SRT).

The SRT are better at finding critical vulnerabilities because they match an actual attacker’s expertise. SRT members stay on top of the latest tactics, techniques and procedures and the diversity of the community allows for finding a specialist for the most niche use cases.    

Synack data can be automatically pulled into local tools, and our renowned Synack Operations team works to ensure false positives don’t trip up security teams’ workflows.  

The standout difference of the platform stems from the SRT community who are uniquely equipped to provide realistic, continuous and on-demand evaluations of our clients’ environments. To learn more about how Synack’s offensive approach sets us apart from fully automated tools, book a demo