Automated Security Testing: Best Practices and Best Tools

Automated Security Testing: Best Practices and Best Tools

As software becomes increasingly complex, the risk of security breaches escalates. Automated security testing combats these risks by enabling systematic and continuous testing of defenses against potential cyber threats.

What Is Automated Security Testing?

Automated security testing involves using specialized tools to conduct security assessments on software applications, networks, or entire systems. The primary objective of this testing is to uncover vulnerabilities and security flaws without manual intervention, enhancing the efficiency of security assurance efforts. This type of testing has become vital in identifying potential security issues that malicious entities could exploit.

Automated security testing encompasses a variety of methods, each suited to different stages of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) and tailored to detect specific types of vulnerabilities. Here are the main methods:

  • Static application security testing (SAST). This method involves analyzing source code, byte code, or binaries for security flaws without executing the code. SAST tools scan an application from the inside out in a non-running state to detect issues like input validation errors, insecure dependencies, and potential backdoors. SAST is particularly useful during the development phase as it helps developers identify and fix security issues early in the software lifecycle.
  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST). Unlike SAST, DAST tools test an application in its running state, simulating attacks against a web application to find vulnerabilities. This outside-in approach can identify runtime issues such as session management weaknesses, authentication problems, and SQL injection vulnerabilities. DAST tests an application’s resilience against attacks in a production-like environment and is typically used after an application has been deployed.
  • Interactive application security testing (IAST). Combining elements of both SAST and DAST, IAST tools analyze applications from within as they run. IAST tools monitor application behavior and data flow in real-time, detecting security vulnerabilities only observable during execution. This method provides the advantages of both static and dynamic testing, offering a comprehensive view of the application’s code health and runtime security posture.
Why Is Automated Security Testing Important?

Automated security testing is essential for organizations trying to uphold high-security standards.

Here are the benefits of creating a robust automated security testing strategy:

  • Scalability. Automated testing provides a significant advantage in terms of scalability. As organizations expand and their systems become more intricate and widely distributed, manual testing becomes impractical due to the sheer volume and complexity of the tasks.
    Automated security testing tools efficiently manage large-scale systems, performing thousands of tests simultaneously across multiple environments. This capability ensures that security testing scales with the organizational infrastructure, maintaining a high level of coverage without compromising the depth or frequency of tests.
  • Consistency. Another key benefit of automated testing is its consistency. Unlike manual testing, where outcomes vary depending on the tester’s skills and conditions, automated tests execute the same sequences of actions every time they are run, providing uniform results.
    This repeatability helps ensure that once a vulnerability is patched, the same issue can be reliably tested to confirm it has been resolved.
  • Speed. Automated testing enables rapid assessment of new code or changes to existing code, providing feedback in a fraction of the time required for manual testing. This speed helps identify vulnerabilities more quickly but also aids in accelerating the development process by integrating security into the continuous deployment pipeline. As a result, security and development teams can address issues without slowing down the development cycle.
  • Cost-effectiveness. While the initial investment in automated security testing tools and setup is substantial, the long-term savings are significant. By identifying vulnerabilities early in the development cycle, automated testing reduces the costs associated with fixing security flaws in later stages or after deployment, where remediation tends to be more complex and expensive.
    Furthermore, automated testing minimizes the risk of costly security incidents with severe financial and reputational consequences.

Automated Security Testing Best Practices

To maximize the effectiveness of automated security testing, organizations must adopt best practices that ensure comprehensive coverage and alignment with broader objectives.

Develop a Comprehensive Testing Strategy

A testing strategy clearly outlines what aspects of the system need to be tested, at what intervals testing should occur, and the methods to be used. It should incorporate automated and manual testing techniques to cover different aspects of system security.

Additionally, the testing strategy should align with the organization’s risk management framework and adhere to its IT security policy. This alignment ensures that the testing efforts directly contribute to the organization’s overall security goals, focusing on the areas of highest risk and compliance requirements.

Integrate Early and Often

It is critical to incorporate automated security testing early in the software development lifecycle. This integration, often described as “shifting left,” refers to the practice of testing early in software design and development stages. By doing so, security becomes a fundamental part of the development process rather than an afterthought.

Frequent testing throughout the development stages allows for the early detection and remediation of vulnerabilities, reducing the potential for costly and complex fixes later in the lifecycle. This practice enhances the software’s security and fosters a culture of security awareness and responsibility among teams.

Keep Test Suites Updated

The threat landscape continuously evolves, with new vulnerabilities and attack techniques emerging regularly. To keep pace with these changes, organizations must ensure that their automated testing tools and methodologies are updated.

Regular updates to testing suites and protocols are necessary to effectively capture and mitigate new security threats. This practice includes updating the signatures identifying known vulnerabilities, refining the heuristics to detect unusual activity, and improving the automation scripts that drive the testing processes.

Prioritize and Remediate Findings

Automated security testing often generates a large volume of findings, which can vary greatly in severity and potential impact. To manage these effectively, organizations must prioritize which vulnerabilities to address first. This prioritization should be based on the acuteness of the vulnerability, the likelihood of exploitation, and the potential impact on the organization.

High-risk vulnerabilities that could lead to significant data loss or downtime should be remediated immediately. This approach ensures efficient use of resources and reduces the organization’s exposure to critical threats.

Additionally, maintaining a disciplined approach to remediation helps in achieving compliance with industry regulations and standards, which often require evidence of rapid and decisive action on security issues.

Automated Security Testing Tools

Below is a list of tools for each category of automated security testing. Each offers unique features and benefits, making it suitable for different testing environments and organizational needs.

Static Application Security Testing (SAST) Tools

These tools enhance the security of your code by analyzing it early in the development process.

Checkmarx

A leading security solution for developers, Checkmarx offers comprehensive vulnerability scanning for various programming environments, aiming to integrate security directly into the software development workflow.

Features

  • Scans uncompiled/unbuilt code.
  • Identifies hundreds of security vulnerabilities.
  • Compatible with a wide range of programming languages.
  • Integrates seamlessly with developer environments and CI/CD pipelines.

Fortify Static Code Analyzer

Fortify is a robust tool designed to reinforce software against security breaches by scanning code for vulnerabilities during the earliest stages of development.

Features

  • Offers advanced static code analysis.
  • Identifies security vulnerabilities early in the development cycle.
  • Supports multiple programming languages and frameworks.
  • Integrates with various development tools to automate security testing.

Veracode

Veracode delivers a cloud-based service that secures web, mobile, and third-party enterprise applications throughout the software development lifecycle, focusing on scalability and ease of use.

Features

  • Provides a scalable SAST solution that scans binary code.
  • Enables developers to test software without access to source code.
  • Supports various programming languages and frameworks.
  • Offers clear guidance on fixing identified vulnerabilities.

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) Tools

Here are some tools that identify an application’s vulnerabilities while running.

Burp Suite

A favorite among security professionals, Burp Suite is an integrated platform designed for testing web application security. It offers a combination of manual and automated tools to provide thorough vulnerability assessments.

Features

  • Offers both manual and automated scanning capabilities.
  • Features an intuitive user interface.
  • Its powerful scanning engine detects over 100 types of security vulnerabilities.
  • Suitable for web applications.

Acunetix

Acunetix specializes in automated web application security software. It is recognized for its speed and accuracy in scanning for a broad spectrum of vulnerabilities.

Features

  • Fast scanning capabilities.
  • Detects various vulnerabilities, including SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS).
  • Offers automated scanning with detailed reports.
  • Integrates with popular issue trackers and CI/CD platforms.

Invicti

Invicti utilizes advanced crawling technology to perform automated security scans of web applications, emphasizing ease of use, efficiency, and the ability to scale across large environments.

Features

  • Easy to use and scalable.
  • Can scan thousands of web applications.
  • Produces accurate results with minimal false positives.
  • Automatically verifies identified vulnerabilities, providing proof of exploitability.

Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) Tools

These tools provide real-time security testing by analyzing code behavior during execution.

Synopsys Seeker

Seeker by Synopsys provides in-depth security insights by monitoring application behavior in real time.

Features

  • Offers real-time security testing by integrating with the application runtime environment.
  • Provides detailed information about data flows and security flaws.
  • Combines results from static and dynamic analysis to improve the accuracy of findings.

Hdiv Detection

Hdiv Detection protects applications from the inside out, monitoring access and data flow within the app to detect and resolve security vulnerabilities in real time.

Features

  • Performs runtime security testing to identify and report vulnerabilities.
  • Offers comprehensive coverage for several types of vulnerabilities.
  • Integrates easily with existing development processes.

Tinfoil Security

Tinfoil Security focuses on API security, offering a dynamic scanning solution that helps developers find and fix vulnerabilities in APIs, thereby securing web applications from potential attacks.

Features

  • Provides an API scanner that can be integrated into the SDLC.
  • Combines dynamic testing with the insights of static analysis.
  • Provides a detailed assessment of API security vulnerabilities, complementing traditional web application firewalls.

Enhancing Cybersecurity with Automated Security Testing

Automated security testing is vital in bolstering an organization’s defenses against cyber threats. It methodically improves the detection and mitigation of security vulnerabilities, empowering organizations to tackle these issues efficiently and consistently.

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