Pen testing is a well-established practice for many organizations. With such diverse environments consisting of different applications from different vendors, it’s safe to assume security weaknesses are lurking somewhere. But why aren’t these security flaws found earlier, by the creators themselves? In this blog, we’ll explore why applications should also go through security testing and review during the development stage.
The Difference Between Static Application Security Testing (SAST) Testing and Application Pen Tests
A Static Application Security Test (SAST) is the process of examining an application’s implementation (the source code). This analysis includes a full source code audit (also referred to as a code review).
While design and operational flaws must be taken seriously, the majority of time and effort during an application security assessment is typically spent on the source code review. An auditor usually inspects the code and analyzers’ output, looking for any weaknesses that could be exploited by a threat actor. Depending on factors such as the amount of code, processes, and availability, auditors may use commercial SAST tools. They will then manually inspect any abnormalities flagged in the results.
An application pen test, on the other hand, replicates attacks to better assess the level of risk for uncovered security weaknesses and focuses on the exposed surface of the application. The tester may be given no other information than what is available to users to better replicate a real-world breach. These scenarios illustrate the attack paths threat actors could use, showing just how much damage could be done as a result of a specific vulnerability. Application penetration tests help prioritize security weaknesses so developers know which fixes are the most urgent. External, third-party pen testers typically also include recommendations for mitigation.
While both SAST and application pen tests are effective tools independently, they are even more powerful when used together as part of an Application Security Program. Ideally, security tests like SAST should be a part of your Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC), with activities such as static and dynamic analysis continuously performed and aligned to your development process. Pen tests can then be used for major releases, which may also include testing the operation conditions. Certain third-party testers are able to complete a source code audit as part of the application pen test, which can help pinpoint exactly where in the code the vulnerabilities are located.
When Should Audits and Pen Tests be Performed?
As noted earlier, security testing should be a built-in part of the development process. Recurrent checks, code audits, and penetration tests should be included in any SDLC. Unfortunately, the pressure of deadlines can often result in best practices being skipped, and security testing of any kind often ends up being less thorough.
However, as soon as the application is in the wild, threat actors are able to begin digging for vulnerabilities. Once a vulnerability has been discovered, developers must drop everything to establish a workaround or create a patch, which is much more disruptive to the release cycle than missing a deadline. Depending on the severity, the organization may take a hit to its reputation, since their application could be perceived as unsafe or unreliable.
Who Should Perform Source Code Audits and Pen Tests
Some organizations have their own in-house security team with the security tools needed to perform such tests themselves, but typically a third-party service is used. Utilizing an outside team has a few key benefits:
They save the developer’s time. Oftentimes, developers are tasked with performing their own security tests, in addition to everything else needed to push a release out the door. Having an external team team take the lead not only leaves them more time to work on other tasks, it also cuts down the remediation process, since a pen testing team can provide suggestions on next steps.
They’re a second pair of eyes. Just as any good writer needs an editor, any good developer can use a fresh perspective to spot anything they may have missed. Additionally, most applications, particularly web applications, have code that is borrowed from elsewhere, like an API library. This code is typically assumed to be without flaws, but it is often not the case. The first time the borrowed code may be reviewed is by a pen test or code audit.
They’re specialized in cybersecurity. Pen test teams are experts in their field—they know what to look out for and how threat actors think. They’re also given a specialized task that focuses their perspective—instead of looking at the application holistically, they are scrutinizing it strictly from a security angle.
Celebrate Your Latest Release With Confidence
Perhaps the most compelling reason to test and audit your applications is the peace of mind it can bring. A great application can lose any chance of success if it is overshadowed by the doorway it opens to attackers. Pen testing before deployment is the best way for every application to catch problems before it is too late, and ensures that both you and your application is trustworthy and reliable.
Does Your Application Need Pen Testing or a Static Application Security Test?
The Security Consulting Services Team at Core Security can test your web, mobile, desktop and embedded system applications for any weakness and provide recommendations.