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Application Security Testing (AppSec Testing)


Application security testing describes the various approaches used by organizations as they attempt to find and eliminate vulnerabilities in their software. Also referred to as AppSec testing and AST, application security testing is the process of testing, analyzing, and reporting on the security level of a software application as it moves through the software development lifecycle (SDLC). The idea of AppSec testing is to successfully prevent vulnerabilities in software before you launch, then quickly identify vulnerabilities once in production, so that you have stronger source code and can make applications much more secure to inside and outside threats.

Traditional Approaches to Application Testing Tools

Application security testing can be static, dynamic, or interactive, and it can be manual, automated, or a combination of both. Traditional application security testing tools typically include a combination of web application firewalls (WAFs), static application security testing (SAST) tools, and dynamic application security testing (DAST) tools. Newer AppSec solutions introduce innovations such as automation and DevOps security integration.

  • A web application firewall (WAF) is a network defense that filters, monitors, and blocks HTTP traffic to and from a web application. Unlike a regular firewall that serves as a safety gate between servers, a WAF is able to watch application-level traffic and decide to allow or disallow based on predefined security policies and the data that is visible over the network.
  • Static application security testing (SAST) tools try to model the entire application by guessing how all the source code, libraries, frameworks, and components fit together and will operate when run. This involves analyzing an application’s source code, byte code, and binaries looking for coding and design conditions that introduce vulnerabilities. SAST solutions analyze an application from the “inside out” when it is in a non-running state, trying to gauge its security strength.
  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST) tools generate thousands of requests and bombard your application with them to see if they can get anything through. Also known as black box testing, DAST tests an application's exposed interfaces for vulnerabilities from the “outside in.” DAST is good at finding externally visible vulnerabilities but it is heavily reliant on experts to write tests, making it difficult to scale. It also can find issues that show up in webpages, but can't see anything internal to your application and doesn’t exercise much of your code.

Although useful, both static and dynamic application security testing tools are difficult to set up and false positives are often an issue. AppSec vulnerabilities are the leading cause of enterprise breaches and create major headaches for IT organizations, yet traditional approaches to the problem are too slow and error-prone to be effective in modern high-speed software development processes like Agile and DevOps.

What is Software Composition Analysis?

An important part of code analysis is Software Composition Analysis (SCA). Today’s software applications rely heavily on open-source components, and SCA is the process of automating visibility into the use of open source software (OSS) for the purpose of risk management, security, and license compliance. SCA helps ensure that the open source components that developers embed in their applications meet basic security standards and do not introduce risk to organizations.

Continuous Application Security vs. Snapshot in Time

The majority of strategic business processes are supported by software, and high profile data breaches have ensured that everyone is well aware of the repercussions of a cyber-attack. Application security has become increasingly critical as software pervades every aspect of our business and personal lives.

Because legacy testing tools only provide a snapshot in time, they can’t keep up with today’s agile software development lifecycle processes or the many devices that run software in production. Similarly, strategies such as penetration testing, a form of ethical hacking, are only able to find a fraction of an application’s vulnerabilities.

Why IAST is superior to other AppSec approaches

Just imagine if you could find vulnerabilities while eliminating 99% of all false positives in your software development efforts. Interactive application security testing (IAST) tools allow you to do just that.

Contrast Security has invented a new ground-breaking way to perform fast and fully automated vulnerability analysis from within a running application. This revolutionary new approach (IAST) embeds security expertise in the application itself, automatically extracting context and using that information – along with both static application security testing (SAST) and dynamic application security testing (DAST) techniques – to identify vulnerabilities accurately and efficiently. This embedded (agent-based), scalable, always on solution fits seamlessly across development and production environments, using Contrast sensors that provide real-time vulnerability and attack telemetry throughout application workflows.

Interactive application security testing (IAST) combines SAST and DAST techniques to increase the timeliness and accuracy of application security tests. Using an interactive application security testing approach, IAST security can cover more code, produce more accurate results, and verify a broader range of security rules than either SAST or DAST tools working alone.

IAST solutions deploy agents and sensors that continuously monitor and analyze applications as they run. They can be self-learning and produce real-time analyses as software is developed and tested. This makes them ideal for Agile, DevOps, and DevSecOps environments as they enable IT to find and fix security flaws early in the SDLC when they are easiest and cheapest to remediate.

Because IAST uses sensors embedded in an application to monitor its behavior, it is able to discover vulnerabilities very quickly and accurately. In an age of next-generation web and mobile apps, IAST provides greater testing accuracy and fewer false positives that other testing methods, and with faster results.

Security as Code

Static, dynamic, and even human security testing all have extreme difficulty completing comprehensive code analysis and finding deep security flaws. But with IAST-based Contrast Assess, rules or “sensors” become part of the organization’s immune system, enabling developers and DevOps teams to deliver “security as code.” Contrast Assess infuses software with vulnerability assessment capabilities that enable the automatic identification of security flaws. AppSec experts can translate their research into new sensors in Contrast Assess, and then deploy them into the development process, making “security as code” a very powerful and flexible application security strategy.

The DevOps Juggling Act

DevOps security refers to the practice of safeguarding an organization’s entire development/operations environment through the use of coordinated policies, processes, and technology. But it is a constant juggling act:

  • Developers throw code over the wall and expect it to deploy perfectly.
  • Business owners want DevOps to deploy faster, yet have no outages or data breaches.
  • Security teams want to stop deployments and slow down release cycles.
  • No one knows if the production application is under attack until it’s too late.
  • Applications are elastic ... but application security is not.

Simply put, DevOps cannot be successful without bringing the Security team along.

DevOps gives information security groups the opportunity to integrate security earlier in the software development process, building best practices into all parts of the DevOps lifecycle. From inception, design, build, test, release, support, maintenance, and beyond, DevOps teams can use security tools such as automated security monitoring and automated pen testing to deliver security-as-code that:

  • Enables the development of more secure software.
  • Empowers developers to proactively solve security problems as they arise.
  • Makes application security elastic.
  • Automates security into the pipeline
  • Monitors attacks the same way performance is monitored

How Instrumentation Works

Contrast Security has invented a new instrumentation technology that uses sensors to continually monitor the behavior of applications while they run. Interactive application security testing (IAST) is performed inside the running application, continuously monitoring and identifying vulnerabilities. Contrast Security’s aspect-oriented programming techniques create IAST “sensors” that allow Contrast to extract context, data flow, and control flow information from within the application, providing access to the actual data values passing through the running code. Because of this wealth of information, Contrast can identify problems that other tools cannot, achieving an unprecedented level of accuracy without generating false positives.

As an example, Contrast provides remediation guidance which is easy to understand and implement for vulnerabilities such SQL Injection, showing the developer exactly how untrusted data flows through the application and gets embedded in an SQL query without either validation or parameterization.

Contrast Security continues to be recognized as a visionary in the 2023 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Application Security Testing

We believe the 2023 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Application Security Testing validates that the Contrast Secure Code Platform is a good fit for organizations needing accurate, continuous application security testing solutions. 

The AST (Application Security Testing) market must support developer and security teams as they meet ever-increasing enterprise demands and prevent constant application security threats. As the only unified code security platform on the market, Contrast leverages the power of instrumentation to embed security within the application’s runtime. This solves the challenges that legacy application security tools present in modern software environments, all with low overhead.

In particular, Contrast’s IAST (Interactive Application Security Testing) and RASP (Runtime Application Self-Protection) solutions stand out in the market. 

  • Contrast Assess (IAST): Development teams can secure every line of code with Contrast's IAST solution that continuously detects and prioritizes vulnerabilities and guides them on how to eliminate risks. All with industry leading accuracy, efficiency, scalability, and coverage.
  • Contrast Protect (RASP): Contrast Protect with RASP is production application and API protection that blocks attacks and reduces false positives, helping developer teams prioritize vulnerability backlogs.

Download Gartner Magic Quadrant for AST


DevOps and DevSecOps Drive Innovation

DevOps increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity by integrating development and ops people around a shared set of goals, tools, and processes. DevSecOps adds security to that equation by integrating security into DevOps. The idea is to combine security with agility throughout all stages of the application development lifecycle, without reducing the agility or speed of developers or requiring them to leave their development toolchain environment.

The DevSecOps process mandates a strong collaboration between developers, release engineers, and security teams as they work toward common quality, agility, and security goals. With DevSecOps, everyone is responsible for security, and there is a “security-as-code” culture that infuses the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC).

Gartner has observed that a major driver in the evolution of application security testing is the need to support enterprise DevOps initiatives. And integrating security into DevOps to deliver DevSecOps requires changing mindsets, processes, and technology. Security and risk management leaders must adhere to the collaborative, agile nature of DevOps to be seamless and transparent in the development process, making the Sec in DevSecOps silent.

In addition, the rapid adoption of DevOps is forcing security teams to shift away from traditional AppSec approaches that rely on one-time tests late in the application development process and focus instead on integrating security throughout the application development lifecycle.

The Power of Automation

It is no secret that software applications today are complex and can potentially be riddled with many different security issues. From bad code to misconfigured servers and everything in between, solving this problem requires security to always be top of mind.

One of the goals of DevSecOps is to build security testing into the development process. This requires the creation of strong security policies and standards that can be applied without slowing down the development process. Security has to be integrated and also automated, so that organizations can move fast and still ship high quality products.

Runtime application security protection tools (RASP) tools such as Contrast Protect run within the application in production and can help identify and prevent security issues in real time. Contrast doesn’t scan; instead, the application is instrumented with smart sensors to analyze code. Instrumentation provides developers with code analysis and security feedback as soon as they write their code – not in weeks or months. The beauty of using an interactive application security testing technique is it can help organizations tame application security challenges without disrupting software development lifecycles (SDLCs).

Contrast Protect works well with legacy, containerized, and cloud-based applications, to provide:

  • Accuracy: Contrast Protect (with RASP) doesn’t need to “learn” applications – instead it becomes part of them. And, unlike other RASP solutions, Contrast does not require any changes to applications or the runtime environment.
  • Coverage: Regardless of whether applications are accessed via browsers, mobile clients, thick clients, or desktop applications, Contrast Protect ensures attacks are detected, stopped, and logged. Contrast works perfectly with web applications, in containers, frameworks, in the cloud, web services, and APIs.
  • Scalability: As Contrast Protect becomes part of the application, it scales as the application scales. Every application protects itself constantly and therefore removes the bottlenecks caused by legacy security appliances.
  • Performance: Even under the heaviest attack load, Contrast Protect provides sub-millisecond protection. Because protection is infused directly into the applications themselves, there is no faster way to enforce security policy.

Software Composition Analysis tools such as Contrast SCA deliver automated open source risk management by embedding security and compliance checks in applications throughout the development process, and then performing continuous monitoring in production. Contrast is the only solution that can identify vulnerable components, determine if they are actually used by the application, and prevent exploitation at runtime.


Learn More About Contrast Security

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