/jun 12, 2024

Understanding the Nuances: DAST vs. Penetration Testing

By Jenny Buckingham

Cyberattacks are a growing threat, making it crucial for us to understand the tools and techniques available to secure applications.  Today, we dive into the differences and similarities between Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) and Penetration Testing with insights from a Veracode industry expert and certified penetration tester, Florian Walter.

DAST is an automated technique designed to identify security vulnerabilities in web applications and APIs during runtime. It effectively simulates attacks to detect common issues like SQL injections and cross-site scripting vulnerabilities, making it ideal for continuous security checks across various stages of the software development lifecycle.

Conversely, Penetration Testing involves expert testers manually examining applications to pinpoint vulnerabilities that automated tools might miss. This method provides deep insights, especially in complex environments handling sensitive data, offering a nuanced understanding of application security from a developer's perspective.

Interview with Florian Walter

Jenny: Thank you for joining us today. Can you begin by highlighting the differences between DAST and Penetration Testing?

Florian:  I think the core difference lies in the depth and intelligence behind the testing. DAST is automated and focuses on identifying specific misconfigurations and vulnerabilities during runtime. It's like casting a wide net to catch known issues across the application's surface.

Penetration Testing, on the other hand, is more in-depth. It involves human testers who understand the application from a developer's perspective. They look for vulnerabilities that automated tools might miss, especially those that require a nuanced understanding of the application's logic. Since humans perform penetration testing, it yields more actionable findings with fewer false positives. The testers can thoroughly examine and confirm that issues are exploitable by malicious actors.

Jenny: Interesting. Can you give examples of when each method would be most effective?

Florian: Certainly. DAST is particularly effective in development stages and for ongoing maintenance. It can quickly identify and help remediate common vulnerabilities and misconfigurations, which makes it suitable for frequent, routine checks and bug identification.

Penetration Testing is crucial when you need a deeper security test, such as before a major release or when securing applications that handle highly sensitive data. It's about understanding and mitigating complex security risks that require a human element to detect and exploit. Because penetration testers think like hackers, they can dig into the data, craft their attacks, and test systems and websites in ways that automated tests just can't match. This hands-on approach lets them uncover both known and unknown vulnerabilities.

Jenny: How do these methods relate to compliance requirements?

Florian: Compliance often requires demonstrating that reasonable security measures are in place. DAST can help ensure that an application doesn't have glaring misconfigurations, which is often a baseline requirement. However, for more stringent regulations, like PCI DSS or HIPAA, Penetration Testing might be necessary to show that the application has been tested thoroughly against exploitation scenarios.

Jenny: Do you think one method is more important than the other?

Florian: Not necessarily. They complement each other. DAST provides quick checks for common issues, while Penetration Testing offers a deep dive into the security posture of an application. Using both as part of a comprehensive security strategy is ideal to cover both broad and deep aspects of application security.

Jenny: Any final thoughts on how organizations can choose the right approach?

Florian: It really depends on the specific needs and context of the organization. Factors like the nature of the application, regulatory requirements, and available resources will dictate the appropriate mix of DAST and Penetration Testing. It's also about balancing cost, scope, and the criticality of the application.


Both DAST and Penetration Testing play important roles in securing applications. DAST provides continuous, automated insights into known vulnerabilities and vulnerability classes, while Penetration Testing offers a deep, manual-driven analysis that can uncover more complex security issues that only humans can identify.

At Veracode, we provide the option to integrate Penetration Testing with automated scans such as DAST, offering a comprehensive, multi-faceted security assessment. This ensures that even the most complex security issues are thoroughly investigated, giving you visibility from multiple angles and helping you deliver more secure applications. 

Our Penetration Testing is conducted by certified, trusted researchers who think like hackers, devising attacks that automated tools cannot replicate. With flexible subscription models, we help you easily meet compliance requirements that mandate recurring Penetration Testing.

To find out the best approach for your organization or to experience these benefits firsthand, chat with our AppSec experts or try Veracode DAST for free today.


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By Jenny Buckingham

Jenny Buckingham is a Product Marketing Manager helping developers and security professionals secure their cloud-native application development. With a focus on understanding her customer’s needs, she helps companies leverage powerful solutions to overcome security challenges.