Observability has become crucial in software engineering as modern applications grow more complex and distributed. The rise of microservices coupled with the widespread adoption of application programming interfaces (APIs) and cloud-native architectures have necessitated a more comprehensive understanding of system performance and health. This movement started in the 2010s and has led to the widespread adoption of observability practices, enabling teams to infer the internal state of a system by analyzing its metrics and traces alongside the logs.
The dawn of observability has numerous benefits for these modern software engineering teams. It allows them to diagnose problems faster, enhance performance monitoring, improve collaboration and make data-driven decisions. These practices have helped the teams improve the stability, performance and resilience of their systems. We’ve also seen the rise of a new role — the Site Reliability Engineer, or SRE. SREs are responsible for ensuring that services and applications run smoothly, maintain high availability and meet performance requirements, reinforcing and maximizing the benefits of observability. But what about security? How has security featured in the observability movement, and how can teams benefit?
Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) is a security testing approach that works by instrumenting the application or its runtime environment, allowing real-time monitoring and the analysis of the application's behavior during runtime. Integrating IAST into observability practices can provide faster vulnerability detection and enhanced security insights. IAST has helped teams understand and detect software vulnerabilities in both their application code and libraries, similar to how Application Performance Management (APM) tools helped teams to understand the performance of their systems at runtime.
IAST comes into its own
For an example of where IAST comes into its own, cast your mind back to Dec. 8, 2021: the day the internet caught fire.
The Log4shell vulnerability — a critical security issue that affected the widely used Log4j logging library — highlighted the importance of IAST in observability. Teams that had incorporated IAST into their observability stack were able to quickly identify where the vulnerable Log4j library was running in their production environments, prioritizing their remediation efforts. They could even see whether or not the library was actually invoked by their applications, confirming to a high degree whether they might be vulnerable to an attack.
Compare that with the teams who took the “traditional security” route: They were busy scrambling to understand which of their applications were live from scans of thousands of code repositories in their enterprises.
This is just one example of security observability having a profound effect on the remediation of real issues, helping teams focus on what matters.
Security observability tools can also provide value — over and above vulnerability detection — in understanding whether an application is making secure connections with other systems and resources such as data stores. IAST is capable of detecting all of the routes within an application or API and reporting on whether these routes get used. This happens from inside of the API, using sensors to detect all of the route controllers within an application and recording every time the route is exercised.
In a world where APIs are proliferating, many IAST users are already reaping benefits by understanding whether API routes should be removed from the application, effectively reducing the application's attack surface. By providing insights into API usage and security issues, IAST enables teams to understand their risk and prioritize their efforts.
In addition to APIs, event-driven architectures have grown significantly, focusing on reacting to events or messages from different components. These components use message queues for asynchronous data transmission, enhancing scalability and responsiveness. IAST is valuable for such architectures, as it aids developers in identifying and addressing data processing, serialization, and deserialization of risks. By securing communication between distributed components and minimizing the application's attack surface, IAST strengthens the security of these dynamic, interconnected systems.
In summary, security observability is transforming how development teams manage Application Security (AppSec) and assume responsibility. With observability, both development and security teams can efficiently track and evaluate application performance in real-time, detect possible security concerns and actively mitigate vulnerabilities. Consequently, IAST is emerging as a crucial instrument for contemporary software engineering teams, guaranteeing the deployment of secure, dependable and high-performance applications.
If you want to learn more about what IAST is, how it works, the advantages of IAST vs. Static Application Security Testing (SAST) vs. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST), and all the benefits that IAST brings to your AppSec program, check out our glossary page.