What Is SAST and How It Can Help DevSecOps Adoption


With the rise of cyber-attacks and high-profile data breaches, companies are increasingly recognizing the need to integrate security into every phase of their development cycle. This proactive approach towards security has given birth to the DevSecOps culture, emphasizing the integration of security practices right from the inception of the software development process.

Central to this shift is the adoption of tools like Static Application Security Testing (SAST). But what exactly is SAST, and why is it so vital in the realm of DevSecOps? In this article, we'll dive into the mechanics of SAST, explore its benefits, address some of the challenges it raises, and provide best practices for maximizing its potential in supporting full adoption of DevSecOps within your organization.

What Is SAST?

SAST, an acronym for Static Application Security Testing, is a set of tools designed to analyze source code, byte code, or binary code to find security vulnerabilities that malicious users could exploit. The "static" in SAST implies that this analysis is done in a non-running state, or in other words, the code is not executed during the testing process.

SAST tools work by inspecting your source code, either at the development stage or during integration, for common coding errors and known vulnerabilities. They do this by comparing your code against a set of predefined patterns or rules. When a match is found, it's flagged, allowing developers to address potential security issues before they become a problem.

One of the key features that make SAST invaluable is its ability to provide immediate feedback. This rapid response enables developers to catch and rectify vulnerabilities early in the development lifecycle, saving time, effort, and potentially, a lot of money.

Benefits of Integrating SAST into DevSecOps

Reduction in Post-Deployment Vulnerabilities and Patches

Integrating SAST into DevSecOps can significantly reduce the number of vulnerabilities found post-deployment. Since SAST enables developers to catch and fix security flaws early in the development process, the likelihood of encountering security issues after deployment is drastically reduced. This reduction in post-deployment vulnerabilities translates to fewer patches and updates, resulting in more stable, reliable software.

Enhanced Code Quality and Security

SAST not only identifies security vulnerabilities but also helps improve overall code quality. By scanning the source code for bad practices and coding errors, SAST encourages developers to write cleaner, more efficient code. This higher code quality not only reduces the risk of security issues but also leads to better performance and user experience.

Preventing Late-Stage Security Issues

One of the significant advantages of using SAST is the potential for significant cost savings. Fixing a security issue after a product has been deployed can be exponentially more expensive than addressing it during the development stage. By catching and fixing vulnerabilities early, SAST can help avoid these costly fixes, leading to substantial savings in the long run.

Faster Time-To-Market with Secure Products

Lastly, integrating SAST into DevSecOps can help speed up the time-to-market. With SAST, you can catch and fix security issues early, reducing the back-and-forth between the development and security teams. This streamlined process results in faster delivery of secure, high-quality products to the market.

Challenges of SAST Implementation

False Positives and the Need for Expert Review

One of the most common hurdles with SAST is the issue of false positives. These are cases where the tool flags potential vulnerabilities that, upon further investigation, turn out to be non-issues. Dealing with false positives can be time-consuming and may require the involvement of a security expert to separate the wheat from the chaff.

A high volume of false positives can also lead to 'alert fatigue,' where developers become so overwhelmed with warnings that they start to ignore them. This can potentially lead to real vulnerabilities being overlooked. Therefore, it is important to have a robust review process that can accurately identify real threats.

Integrating SAST Tools Seamlessly into Existing CI/CD Pipelines

Another challenge with SAST implementation is integration with existing Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. While the 'shift left' approach advocates integrating SAST early in the development lifecycle, it's not always a straightforward process.

Depending on the SAST tool being used, developers may face difficulties in smoothly integrating the tool into their existing workflows. This can hinder the seamless operation of the CI/CD pipeline, leading to delays and disruption in the development process.

Ensuring Continuous Updates to Match Evolving Threat Vectors

The cybersecurity landscape is dynamic, with new threats and vulnerabilities emerging every day. To stay ahead of the curve, there is a need for continuous updates to SAST tools to match these evolving threat vectors.

However, ensuring that your SAST tool is always up-to-date can be a challenge. It requires ongoing effort and resources, which not all organizations may have at their disposal. This underscores the importance of choosing a SAST tool that offers regular updates and has a robust mechanism for dealing with new threats.

Best Practices for SAST Implementation to Support DevSecOps Adoption

1. Opt for SAST Tools with Higher Accuracy to Reduce False Positives

The first best practice to be discussed is the importance of choosing SAST tools that are known for their high accuracy to reduce the number of false positives. False positives refer to issues flagged by the SAST tool that are not true vulnerabilities. They can be a significant drain on resources, as they require manual review to determine their veracity.

Choosing a SAST tool with a reputation for high accuracy can significantly reduce the number of false positives. Such tools achieve this accuracy through sophisticated algorithms and techniques that minimize the chances of flagging non-issues. They can differentiate between real threats and harmless code, ensuring that your team's time and effort are not wasted.

However, it is essential to remember that no tool is perfect. Even the most accurate SAST tools may occasionally generate false positives. Therefore, it is equally crucial to have a process in place to quickly and efficiently review and address these issues. This process could involve a dedicated team of security experts or a combination of automated tools and manual review.

2. Complement with Other Security Testing Tools

While SAST is a powerful tool in your security arsenal, it should not be the only one. To create a robust security posture, it is crucial to complement SAST with other security testing tools. This is because SAST, while effective, has its limitations. For instance, it can only identify vulnerabilities in the source code and is less effective at detecting runtime vulnerabilities.

One way to complement SAST is by employing Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST). Unlike SAST, DAST identifies security vulnerabilities by testing the application in its running state. This allows it to detect issues that SAST might miss, such as runtime errors and configuration issues.

Another valuable complement to SAST is Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST). IAST combines elements of both SAST and DAST, providing a more comprehensive view of the application's security landscape. By leveraging these additional tools, you can ensure that your application is thoroughly tested and secured against a wider range of threats.

3. Maintain Transparency and Reporting

Another vital best practice for effective SAST implementation is to maintain transparency and thorough reporting. Transparency is crucial in any security process, as it allows all stakeholders to understand the current state of security and make informed decisions.

With SAST, transparency can be maintained by ensuring that all results from the testing are openly shared and accessible. This includes not just the vulnerabilities identified, but also the false positives and any issues that were flagged but deemed low risk.

Reporting, on the other hand, involves presenting these results in a clear, understandable manner. Good reporting should provide insights into the types of vulnerabilities found, their severity, and the recommended remediation steps. It should also include metrics that provide a broader view of the application's security posture, such as the number of vulnerabilities per line of code or the time taken to remediate issues.

4. Educate Your Team

Lastly, but most importantly, is the need to educate your team. The effectiveness of SAST, or any security tool for that matter, is only as good as the people using it. Therefore, it is vital that your team is well-versed in the principles of secure coding and understands how to use SAST effectively.

This education should not be a one-time event but an ongoing process. As new security threats emerge and SAST tools evolve, your team should be kept up-to-date with the latest knowledge and best practices. This could involve regular training sessions, workshops, or even online courses.

In conclusion, while implementing SAST can come with its challenges, with the right strategy and practices in place, it can significantly enhance the security of your application. It's about making security an integral part of the development process, rather than an afterthought. Remember, the strength of your application's security is only as good as your weakest link, and SAST can help you identify and strengthen that link.

Author Bio: Gilad David Maayan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Check Point, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/giladdavidmaayan/

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