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DAST vs. IAST in ‘24: Understanding Application Security Testing

As cyber threats become more advanced, the tools and methods used to test and secure applications also evolve. Two critical methodologies in application security testing are DAST (Dynamic Application Security Testing) and IAST (Interactive Application Security Testing). Both play vital roles in identifying vulnerabilities but approach the task differently.

This article aims to explore and compare DAST and IAST in a clear and concise manner. We will discuss what each methodology entails, how they are implemented, and their respective strengths and weaknesses. By understanding the differences and similarities between DAST and IAST, developers, security professionals, and students can make more informed decisions about which testing methods best suit their needs.

FeatureDASTIAST
Definition
Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a security testing methodology that involves testing an application from the outside in its running state. It’s often used to find vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit.
Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) combines elements of both static and dynamic analysis and is typically implemented as agents within the test environment to observe application behavior and report issues.
Testing Environment
Operates in a live environment or a production-like staging environment.
Can be used in development, QA, or staging environments.
Application State
Tests applications in their running state.
Tests applications during runtime, allowing it to observe application behavior.
Detection MethodIdentifies vulnerabilities through simulated attacks on a running application.
Monitors application behavior and data flow in real-time, using knowledge of the code structure from static analysis.
Detection of Vulnerabilities
DAST covers vulnerabilities that can be detected from outside the application, like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and other vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit after deployment.
IAST can identify a wider range of issues than DAST, including those that require understanding of the internal workings of the application. It covers both runtime issues (like DAST) and can also identify issues in the source code (like SAST).
Implementation
Requires no access to the source code.
Requires integration with the application runtime environment.
Ease of Use
Generally easier to set up and requires less configuration, as it does not need access to source code.
May require more initial setup and configuration, especially to ensure the IAST tool is properly observing the application behavior.

What is IAST?

IAST, or Interactive Application Security Testing, is a security testing method that combines aspects of both the static application security testing (SAST) and dynamic application security testing (DAST) testing approaches. It is integrated into the application runtime environment and continuously monitors the application’s behavior and data flow while it is in use. This method can detect vulnerabilities in real time as the application interacts with various inputs and states.

IAST is called “interactive” because it actively interacts with the application during its execution. Unlike DAST, which tests from the outside, or SAST, which analyzes static code, IAST works from within the application, observing its operations and responding to its behavior. This interactive approach allows IAST to provide immediate feedback and more accurate findings by understanding the application’s context and how data flows through it. This makes IAST particularly useful for identifying complex vulnerabilities that are only evident during the application’s runtime and in its specific operational context.

What is DAST?

DAST, or Dynamic Application Security Testing, is a method used to test the security of an application from the outside while it is running. It simulates attacks against a web application to find vulnerabilities that an actual attacker could exploit. DAST tools typically test for issues like SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and other security threats that are visible in the running application but may not be evident in the source code. This approach is useful for identifying runtime problems, configuration errors, and other issues that are only observable when an application is active. 

What are the benefits of IAST over DAST?

Real-time Analysis

IAST provides immediate feedback during the software development lifecycle and testing phases, identifying vulnerabilities in real-time. In contrast, DAST typically identifies vulnerabilities post-deployment or during later testing stages.

More Comprehensive Coverage

IAST can detect a broader range of vulnerabilities, including those in non-HTTP interfaces and internal processes, due to its ability to analyze both static and dynamic aspects of applications. DAST focuses mainly on vulnerabilities exposed through web interfaces.

Contextual Understanding

IAST understands the context and logic of the application, leading to more accurate identification of complex vulnerabilities like business logic flaws, which DAST may not detect.

Lower False Positives and Negatives

The contextual information IAST gathers could allow for more accurate results, reducing the number of false positives and negatives compared to DAST.

Efficiency in Remediation

The immediate feedback from IAST enables quicker remediation of identified vulnerabilities, a development process that is critical in agile and fast-paced development environments. With DAST, the feedback loop is longer, potentially delaying fixes.

What are the benefits of DAST over IAST?

No Access to Source Code Required

DAST operates externally, testing the application in its running state without requiring access to the application source code. This makes it suitable for testing third-party applications where source code is unavailable.

Ease of Setup and Use

DAST tools are generally easier to set up and use as they don’t require integration into the application’s codebase or runtime environment, unlike IAST tools.

Environment Independence

Since DAST interacts with the application from the outside, it is not dependent on the programming languages or frameworks used by the application, offering broader applicability.

Black Box Testing Perspective

DAST provides a real-world attacker’s perspective, testing the application in the same way an external hacker would, which can reveal vulnerabilities that may be missed by methods that require internal access to runtime applications.

Detection of Runtime and Configuration Issues

DAST is particularly effective in identifying issues related to the runtime environment and server configurations, such as misconfigurations, SSL/TLS issues, and authentication problems.

Non-Invasive Method

As DAST does not require integration into the application’s runtime, it’s non-invasive, meaning there’s no impact on the application’s performance during testing.

Complementary to IAST

DAST can be used in conjunction with IAST for a more thorough examination. While IAST provides in-depth, real-time analysis, DAST adds an external viewpoint, ensuring a more comprehensive security assessment.

Can IAST and DAST complement each other?

IAST (Interactive Application Security Testing) and DAST (Dynamic Application Security Testing) can indeed complement each other effectively in a comprehensive application security strategy. Each has its strengths and limitations, and using them in tandem can provide a more robust security assessment and integrated development environment. Many DAST tools also utilize IAST to catch vulnerabilities more efficiently and thoroughly.

Different Perspectives: DAST offers an external, attacker-like perspective, testing the application as it would be seen from the outside. IAST, on the other hand, provides an internal viewpoint, analyzing the application from within. Together, they cover a broader range of potential security vulnerabilities.

Varied Stages of Testing: IAST is well-suited for use during the development and testing phases, offering real-time feedback to developers. DAST is typically employed later in the development dynamic testing lifecycle, or even post-deployment, to test the application in its final, running state in a production-like environment.

Comprehensive Vulnerability Coverage: While DAST excels in finding runtime and environmental issues, IAST is more adept at identifying complex vulnerabilities that involve the internal logic and data flow of applications. Combined, they can detect a wide array of security weaknesses.

Balanced Approach to False Positives/Negatives: IAST tends to have fewer false positives due to its understanding of the application’s context. Although DAST may have more false positives, it provides a critical external perspective. Using both can balance these aspects and provide a more accurate overall picture.

Enhanced Security in DevOps: In a DevOps environment, where speed and continuous integration deployment are key, IAST can provide fast, in-depth feedback during development, while DAST can serve as a final check before deployment or as a regular security assessment tool for live applications.

Cross-Verification of Findings: Findings from DAST can be cross-verified using IAST, and vice versa. This can help prioritize vulnerabilities and ensure that detected issues are genuine.

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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Altay Ataman
Altay is an industry analyst at AIMultiple. He has background in international political economy, multilateral organizations, development cooperation, global politics, and data analysis. He has experience working at private and government institutions. Altay discovered his interest for emerging tech after seeing its wide use of area in several sectors and acknowledging its importance for the future. He received his bachelor's degree in Political Science and Public Administration from Bilkent University and he received his master's degree in International Politics from KU Leuven .

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