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  • Lokajit Tikayatray

Static Code Analysis: Why You Must Do It and How

A security person

As organizations worldwide expand aggressively on their digital footprint, incidents related to security breaches become more frequent. Companies are losing millions of dollars due to data thefts caused by vulnerabilities exposed by the application code.

As per IBM’s data breach report, on average, companies lost USD 3.85M per data breach globally in 2020. The average annual cost of a data breach in India is estimated to be around USD 2M. In the same year, the average cost is pegged to be around USD 8.64M in the United States.

Security breaches also have adverse impacts on the company’s reputation.

Organizations spend much more time reinstating their consumer’s trust after security incidents. Most of these breaches can be prevented by doing thorough security testing during the application development phase.

Even today, many companies do not take security seriously. They do not make sufficient effort to socialize the importance of security-related testing among their employees.

Hence, most developers are either unaware of the cost of security breaches or consider security testing as an overhead to their daily activities.

As responsible software developers, each of us needs to be conscious of the security risks caused by our code. We must know how to mitigate such risks as early as possible in the development lifecycle.

This is where static code analysis comes into play to make the developer’s life easy and protect our code from security risks.

What Is Static Application Security Testing (SAST)?

Static application security testing (SAST) is a set of technologies designed to analyze application source code, byte code and binaries for coding and design conditions that are indicative of security vulnerabilities. SAST solutions analyze an application from the “inside out” in a nonrunning state.Gartner

As we see in the above SAST definition from Gartner, static code analysis is a white-box testing methodology. It usually needs to have access to the application code and the implementation to find the vulnerabilities.

With advanced SAST tools, it is now possible to scan the compiled code to find 3rd party library vulnerabilities.

However, SAST does not need the application to compile or be running.

The analysis can be done anytime during the coding phase. Thus it provides developers with immediate feedback on security loopholes in a very early stage of development.

Based on the SAST report, developers can modify the code to avoid security risks and still implement it as per the initial design.

Hence, it does not necessitate a massive change to the implementation. This gives the developers the flexibility to code, run SAST, revise, and test again to remediate issues least expensively.

Why Is Static Code Analysis and SAST Essential for Every Application?

Developers generally focus on the functionality and design aspects of the software. We don’t pay much attention to making the application robust enough to avoid security flaws.

Most developers find it tedious to go through the security checklist and do the code reviews manually.

We also know that the number of software developers is often much more than the number of security consultants in any company.

Hence, it is practically impossible for security experts to go through every code that the developers produce.

This is where the SAST comes to the rescue. SAST can scan your entire application code and proactively expose the flaws that make the application vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Using the tools and DevOps, the team can automate the whole process to avoid manual errors.

Some of the common vulnerabilities reported by the static analysis security testing are — SQL Injection, LDAP Injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and buffer overflows.

How to Perform SAST Effectively?

SAST does not need the application to be running. Hence, each developer can execute the testing in the early stage of SDLC. This helps the team to embed the security analysis process in the development cycle instead of treating it as an afterthought.

To execute static analysis security testing, you can use the following steps irrespective of your application’s platform, framework, or language.

Set up the infrastructure

Generally, security consultants are involved in this step to choose the right product available in the market that best suits your company’s needs. The decision depends on the programming language and the framework used by most applications.

Once the product is chosen and deployed in the appropriate infrastructure, the authentication and authorization mechanism is set up for the tool.

Custom configure the tool

Each tool comes with a specific set of predefined rules based on industry standards. It is good to fine-tune the rules to reduce the number of False Positives (an issue that does not need to be fixed at the moment due to technical justification).

Many companies choose to modify the existing rules to fit their organization’s security policies better.

Onboard your application to the tool

Once the required infrastructure is ready and the tool is configured with an initial set of rules, it is time to onboard your application. SAST scans can be performed on the entire codebase or in an incremental manner.

In either case, developers should regularly perform the scan to ensure the application is void of any vulnerabilities. As a best practice, static code analysis should be part of the development pipeline.

Analyze the scan results

The scan produces a comprehensive list of vulnerabilities found within the code. In this step, the developers need to triage the scan’s output, starting with the high vulnerable issues.

Not all issues reported by the scan might be real vulnerabilities. Based on the team’s evaluation, each issue can be classified as a True Positive (an issue that needs to be fixed)or a False Positive.

Remediate the vulnerabilities

Once the team identifies the true positives, they should prioritize the fix for each of them. True positives are real problems that, when left unattended, will expose the application to security threats.

Final Thoughts

Now you know why static code analysis is essential for every software. It is easy to set up and execute and saves a lot of unnecessary headaches for your organization.

If your team is not doing SAST already, you can initiate the discussions and make them aware of the advantages of doing static code analysis.

You can check out the reference section for further reading on SAST. I have also provided the link to details on industry-leading SAST tools.

Thanks for reading the article. I hope this is helpful for you to understand the importance of static code analysis.

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