Updated: 11/8/2019

With reports of website vulnerabilities and data breaches regularly featured in the news, securing the software development life cycle (SDLC) has never been so important. Enterprises must, therefore, carefully choose the correct security techniques to implement. Static and dynamic analyses are two of the most popular types of code security tests. Before implementation however, the security-conscious enterprise should examine precisely how both types of test can help to secure the SDLC. Testing, after all, can be considered an investment that should be carefully monitored.

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Static and Dynamic Analyses Explained

Static analysis is performed in a non-runtime environment. Static application security testing (SAST) is a testing process that looks at the application from the inside out. This test process is performed without executing the program, but rather by examining the source code, byte code or application binaries for signs of security vulnerabilities. In the static test process, the application data and control paths are modeled and then analyzed for security weaknesses. Static analysis is a test of the internal structure of the application, rather than functional testing. Dynamic analysis adopts the opposite approach and is executed while a program is in operation. Dynamic application security testing (DAST) looks at the application from the outside in — by examining it in its running state and trying to manipulate it in order to discover security vulnerabilities. The dynamic test simulates attacks against a web application and analyzes the application’s reactions, determining whether it is vulnerable. Having originated and evolved separately, static and dynamic analysis have, at times, been mistakenly viewed in opposition. There are, however, a number of strengths and weaknesses associated with both approaches to consider.

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Static and Dynamic Analyses

Static analysis, with its whitebox visibility, is certainly the more thorough approach and may also prove more cost-efficient with the ability to detect bugs at an early phase of the software development life cycle. Static analysis can also unearth errors that would not emerge in a dynamic test. Dynamic analysis, on the other hand, is capable of exposing a subtle flaw or vulnerability too complicated for static analysis alone to reveal. A dynamic test, however, will only find defects in the part of the code that is actually executed. The enterprise must weigh up these considerations with the complexities of their own situation in mind. Application type, time, and company resources are some of the primary concerns. 

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When to Automate Application Security Testing

Used wisely, automated tools can dramatically improve the return on testing investment. Automated testing tools are an ideal option in certain situations. It also helps to automate tests that are run on a regular basis during the SDLC. As the enterprise strives to secure the SDLC, it must be noted that there is no panacea. Neither static nor dynamic testing alone can offer blanket protection. Ideally, an enterprise will perform both static and dynamic analyses. This approach will benefit from the synergistic relationship that exists between static and dynamic testing.

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Neil is a Marketing Technologist working on the Content and Corporate teams at Veracode. He currently focuses on Developer Awareness through strategic content creation. In his spare time you'll find him doting over his lovely wife and daughter. He is a Co-Owner of CrossFit Amoskeag in Bedford NH, his favorite topic is artificial intelligence, and his favorite food is pepperoni pizza.

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