What is Static Application Security Testing (SAST)? How Does It Work?

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Trinh Nguyen

2024-05-05 16:28:38

gct solution static application security testing

What is Static Application Security Testing (SAST)? How Does It Work?

The global Static Application Security Testing (SAST) market is projected to reach $3.1 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 12.5%. This highlights the increasing importance of SAST in securing software applications. SAST tools analyze code without execution, identifying vulnerabilities early in the development process. In this blog, GCT Solution’s experts will explore the benefits, workings, tool types, comparisons with other testing methods, and best practices of SAST for enhanced application security.


What is Static Application Security Testing (SAST)?

Static Application Security Testing (SAST) is a software security testing technique that analyzes an application's source code, bytecode, or binary code without executing the application. SAST tools scan the application's codebase to identify potential security vulnerabilities, design flaws, and coding errors that could lead to security breaches.

Unlike dynamic application security testing (DAST), which tests the application in a running state, SAST examines the application's code statically, without executing it. This allows SAST tools to identify a wide range of security issues, including:


  • Injection flaws: SQL injection, command injection, and other types of injection vulnerabilities.
  • Broken authentication and session management: Weaknesses in user authentication and session handling.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS): Vulnerabilities that allow the injection of malicious scripts into web pages.
  • Insecure direct object references: Unprotected access to sensitive data or functionality.
  • Security misconfiguration: Insecure default configurations, incomplete or ad-hoc configurations, open cloud storage, etc.
  • Sensitive data exposure: Unintended exposure of sensitive information, such as credentials, personal data, or financial information.


Imagine you have a web application that allows users to log in and view their account information. The developers of this application have written the code for the login page, where users enter their username and password.

Now, SAST would involve analyzing this login page code to look for any potential security problems. For example, the SAST tool might check if the code is properly validating the user's input to prevent things like SQL injection or cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.

The SAST tool would thoroughly scan the code, line by line, to identify any areas where the code might be vulnerable to these types of attacks. It would then provide a report to the development team, highlighting the identified issues and recommending ways to fix them.

This is really useful because it allows the developers to address the security problems early in the development process, before the application is even deployed. This can save a lot of time and money compared to trying to fix security issues after the application is already in use.


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Benefits of SAST

The primary benefits of using SAST in the software development process include:


1. Early Vulnerability Detection: 

SAST tools can identify security vulnerabilities in the source code, bytecode, or binary code before the application is deployed, allowing developers to fix issues early in the SDLC when it is more cost-effective to do so.


2. Comprehensive Code Analysis: 

SAST tools can analyze the entire codebase, including third-party libraries and frameworks, to identify a wide range of security vulnerabilities that may not be easily detected through other testing methods.


3. Improved Code Quality: 

By identifying and addressing security issues during development, SAST helps improve the overall quality and security of the application's codebase.


4. Compliance and Regulatory Requirements: 

SAST can help organizations meet various compliance and regulatory requirements, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).


5. Reduced Remediation Costs: 


Fixing security vulnerabilities early in the SDLC is significantly less expensive than addressing them after the application has been deployed. According to a study by the SANS Institute, the cost of fixing a vulnerability discovered during the design phase is 6 times lower than fixing it during production.


6. Increased Developer Awareness: 

SAST tools can provide developers with detailed information about the security vulnerabilities in their code, helping to increase their awareness of secure coding practices and improve their overall security skills.


7. Continuous Security Monitoring: 

SAST can be integrated into the software development pipeline, enabling continuous security monitoring and testing throughout the SDLC.

According to a report by MarketsandMarkets, the global SAST market is expected to grow from $1.7 billion in 2020 to $3.1 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 12.5% during the forecast period. This growth is driven by the increasing adoption of DevSecOps practices, the growing need for compliance with security regulations, and the rising awareness of the importance of secure software development.




How SAST Works?

SAST works by analyzing the source code of an application to identify potential security vulnerabilities, without actually running the application. It's like having a security expert thoroughly inspecting the blueprint of a building before it's even built.

Here's how it typically works:


  1. Code Scanning:

The SAST tool scans through the application's source code, line by line, looking for any patterns or constructs that could potentially be exploited by attackers. This could include things like improper input validation, insecure coding practices, or the use of outdated or vulnerable libraries.

For the login page of a web application, for example, the SAST tool might scan the code to ensure that it properly sanitizes and validates the user's input for the username and password fields, to prevent SQL injection or cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.


  1. Static Analysis:

The SAST tool then performs a static analysis of the code, which means it examines the code without actually executing it. This allows the tool to identify potential security issues that might be difficult to detect during runtime.

The SAST tool, for instance,  might analyze the code's control flow and data flow to identify any instances where user input is used directly in a SQL query or in the generation of HTML output, which could lead to SQL injection or XSS vulnerabilities.


  1. Vulnerability Identification:

Based on the code scanning and static analysis, the SAST tool identifies potential security vulnerabilities and generates a report detailing the issues, their severity, and the recommended remediation steps.

For example, the SAST tool might identify a piece of code that concatenates user input directly into a SQL query, and flag it as a potential SQL injection vulnerability. The report would then provide guidance on how to properly sanitize and validate the user input to mitigate this issue.


  1. Remediation and Verification:

The development team can then use the SAST report to fix the identified security issues in the code. Once the fixes are implemented, the SAST tool can be run again to verify that the vulnerabilities have been properly addressed.

The developers would update the login page code to properly sanitize and validate the user input before using it in the SQL query, based on the SAST tool's recommendations, for example. The SAST tool would then re-scan the code to confirm that the SQL injection vulnerability has been resolved.

SAST tools can be integrated into the software development lifecycle at various stages, such as during code commits, before code merges, or as part of a continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline. This allows developers to address security issues early and often, reducing the overall risk of security breaches.


Types of SAST Tools

There are several types of SAST tools available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Some of the most common SAST tool types include:


1. Source Code Analyzers: These tools analyze the application's source code, such as Java, C/C++, C#, or Python, to identify security vulnerabilities. Examples include SonarQube, Checkmarx, and Veracode.


2. Bytecode Analyzers: These tools analyze the compiled bytecode or intermediate representation of the application, rather than the source code. This allows them to identify vulnerabilities in languages that are not easily analyzed at the source code level, such as Java and .NET. Examples include FindBugs and PMD.


3. Binary Analyzers: These tools analyze the application's compiled binary or executable code to identify security vulnerabilities. This is particularly useful for analyzing third-party libraries or closed-source components. Examples include Fortify and Coverity.


4. IDE Plugins: These are SAST tools that are integrated directly into the developer's Integrated Development Environment (IDE), such as Visual Studio, Eclipse, or IntelliJ IDEA. Examples include SonarLint and CodeQL.


5. Cloud-based SAST: These are SAST services that are hosted in the cloud and can be accessed through a web interface or API. Examples include Snyk, Veracode, and Checkmarx Cloud.


6. Open-source SAST: These are free and open-source SAST tools that can be integrated into the software development process. Examples include OWASP ZAP, Bandit, and Flawfinder.


When selecting a SAST tool, organizations should consider factors such as the programming languages used in their applications, the level of integration required with their development tools and processes, the accuracy and reliability of the tool, and the overall cost and maintenance requirements.




SAST vs. Other Security Testing Methods: A Comparison

SAST is one of several security testing methods used in the software development process. It is often compared to other approaches, such as:


1. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST): DAST tests the application in a running state, simulating real-world attacks to identify vulnerabilities. DAST is complementary to SAST, as it can detect vulnerabilities that may not be easily identified through static code analysis, such as configuration issues or runtime errors.


2. Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST): IAST combines elements of both SAST and DAST, using an agent-based approach to monitor the application's behavior and identify vulnerabilities during runtime.


3. Software Composition Analysis (SCA): SCA focuses on identifying vulnerabilities in the third-party libraries and components used in the application, rather than the application's own code.


4. Manual Code Review: Manual code review involves human experts manually inspecting the application's source code to identify security vulnerabilities. This approach is often more comprehensive than automated SAST tools but is also more time-consuming and resource-intensive.


The table below compares the key characteristics of these security testing methods:













Source code, bytecode, binary

Running application

Running application

Third-party components

Vulnerability Detection

Wide range of vulnerabilities

Runtime vulnerabilities

Wide range of vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities in third-party components


Integrated into SDLC

Separate from SDLC

Integrated into SDLC

Integrated into SDLC











Expertise Required











In practice, organizations often use a combination of these security testing methods to achieve a comprehensive security assessment of their applications. SAST is particularly useful for identifying security issues early in the SDLC, while DAST and IAST can uncover vulnerabilities that may not be detected through static analysis alone. SCA complements these approaches by identifying vulnerabilities in the third-party components used in the application.


Best Practices for SAST

To effectively implement and leverage SAST in the software development process, organizations should follow these best practices:


1. Integrate SAST into the SDLC: 

Incorporate SAST into the software development lifecycle, such as during code commits, before code merges, or as part of a CI/CD pipeline. This ensures that security issues are identified and addressed early in the development process.


2. Customize SAST Configurations: 

Tailor the SAST tool's configuration to the specific needs of the organization and the application being tested. This includes defining custom rules, setting appropriate severity thresholds, and integrating with other security tools and processes.


3. Prioritize and Remediate Vulnerabilities: 

Establish a clear process for prioritizing and remediating the security vulnerabilities identified by the SAST tool. Focus on addressing high-severity issues first and ensure that all vulnerabilities are addressed in a timely manner.


4. Provide Training and Guidance: 

Educate developers on secure coding practices and the use of SAST tools. Offer training and guidance to help them understand the identified vulnerabilities and how to fix them effectively.


5. Continuously Monitor and Improve: 

Regularly review the results of SAST scans, analyze the types of vulnerabilities being identified, and make adjustments to the SAST tool's configuration or the development process as needed. This helps to continuously improve the security of the application.


6. Collaborate with Security Teams: 

Establish strong communication and collaboration between the development and security teams. This ensures that security concerns are addressed throughout the SDLC and that the SAST tool's findings are properly interpreted and acted upon.


7. Measure and Report on SAST Effectiveness: 

Track and report on the effectiveness of the SAST program, including the number of vulnerabilities identified, the time to remediation, and the overall impact on the application's security posture. This helps to demonstrate the value of SAST and secure buy-in from stakeholders.


8. Leverage SAST in DevSecOps: 

Integrate SAST into the organization's DevSecOps practices, ensuring that security is seamlessly woven into the entire software development and deployment process.

By following these best practices, organizations can effectively leverage SAST to improve the security of their applications and reduce the risk of security breaches.




Final Thought:

As the SAST market continues to grow, driven by the increasing adoption of DevSecOps practices and the need for compliance with security regulations, organizations must prioritize the integration of SAST into their software development workflows. By following best practices, such as customizing SAST configurations, prioritizing vulnerability remediation, and collaborating with security teams, organizations can leverage the full potential of SAST to enhance the security and integrity of their applications.

Ultimately, the effective implementation of SAST, alongside other security testing methods, is essential for organizations to stay ahead of the evolving threat landscape and deliver secure, high-quality software to their customers.

If you are seeking a seasoned IT provider, GCT Solution is the ideal choice. With 3 years of expertise, we specialize in Mobile App , Web App, System Development, Blockchain Development and Testing Services. Our 100+ skilled IT consultants and developers can handle projects of any size. Having successfully delivered over 50+ solutions to clients worldwide, we are dedicated to supporting your goals. Reach out to us for a detailed discussion, confident that GCT Solution is poised to meet all your IT needs with tailored, efficient solutions.

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