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Dynamic application security testing (DAST)

What is dynamic application security testing?

Dynamic application security testing (DAST) — A security practice performed on applications in their running state to identify vulnerabilities such as exposed interfaces of web-based applications and data malformation.

How does DAST work?

DAST uses black-box security testing to evaluate applications’ health and performance without exposing source code. This helps identify runtime issues such as authentication problems, wrong server configurations, and vulnerabilities.

DAST simulates attacks to review applications’ integrity following common tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and proactively identifying problems that malicious actors could use to cause incidents. Running applications must be tested before they are deployed because black-box testing discovers problems with how applications are configured and whether they would perform effectively and securely.

Why is DAST important?

DAST tools help users enhance security practices by monitoring for excess memory consumption, inadequate encryption, loose permissions, poor performance, and code injections.

Memory consumption: Malicious actors insert code across databases or websites to scrape information and/or damage systems, and this causes an increase in memory consumption. With DAST tools, you can evaluate how different sections of RAM are consumed to identify increasing activity in specific areas and investigate for malicious code.

Encryption: Federal mandates require organizations to encrypt applications to protect sensitive data. DAST validates the integrity of encryption by attempting to unencrypt files, identifying weaknesses in encryption algorithms, and protecting users from attackers who attempt to bypass these safeguards.

Permissions: It is important to identify what users can access to determine the value of their permissions and whether the rule of least privilege is followed. This allows enterprises to understand which users can access highly sensitive information and whether risk is being properly managed across all users on their networks.

Performance: Applications’ performance and consumption of CPU and RAM are monitored to verify that payloads are executed properly to the CPU and RAM.

Code injection: SQL injections make up over 60% of web application attacks. SQL injections occur when attackers alter the queries that applications make with their databases. DAST tools locate SQL injections when applications are in production and protect against these attacks.1

Static application security testing (SAST) protects against common TTPs such as SQL injection while identifying abnormal memory consumption and performance when applications are in production and managing user risk. This helps organizations produce reliably stable and secure environments in production.

Who uses DAST tools?

DAST tools are used by DevOps, app sec, and web application teams.

DevOps teams: Must review the performance and integrity of applications before they are deployed in order to foresee how they will perform when they reach production.

App sec teams: Must understand the security vulnerabilities and attack vectors to which applications are susceptible when they reach production.

Web application teams: Must validate the performance of web applications and enforce best practices for memory consumption and execution.

Business benefits of DAST

DAST tools help users improve their DevOps security workflows, locate vulnerabilities, and test websites and applications to reduce risk, improve efficiency, increase visibility, and secure dynamic environments.

Reduce risk: DAST locates runtime vulnerabilities and issues related to common attack vectors in preproduction, allowing teams to understand which TTPs are likely to exploit their applications.

Improve efficiency:  DAST tools can be integrated into CI/CD pipelines to automatically test applications and enforce policies, ensuring consistent security practices and accelerating reaction times and the development process. DAST tools can also automate penetration testing, locating vulnerabilities across networks.

Increase visibility: DAST can assess your applications’ composition and security integrity in production to review your app sec posture in real time.

Secure dynamic environments: Agile development with frequent deployments and updates causes organizations’ security posture to constantly change, making it hard to assess the integrity of the environment. DAST tools quickly deliver relevant, up-to-date information, allowing teams to keep up with rapid changes.2

Challenges with DAST tools

DAST tools generate false positives, provide alerts without context for remediation, and have slow scanning, leading to inefficient security operations.

False positives: Noisy alerts cause security teams to spend time on issues that do not impact their applications’ security, generating slower response times.

Alerts without remediation context: Alerts show that issues exist and where they reside but provide no details on how to address or remediate them. This obligates security teams to investigate alerts and decide how to handle issues.

Slow scanning: While DAST scans provide up-to-date information on how applications perform in production, facilitating these scans takes a long time, leading to a gap in visibility from when the scan is initiated to when it is completed.3

Learn more

For further insights into DAST, explore the following articles:

Special Report


The Evolution of Application Security

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Blog Report


Why you need to upgrade your application security testing

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DNA of an app: Why traditional app sec testing misses modern threats

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