DAST vs Penetration Testing: Know the difference


Although improvements in technology have many advantages, it has also provided a channel for increased cybercrime. Therefore, to avoid falling victim, companies are investing heavily in security applications. However, there is still little knowledge about such systems, including DAST and penetration testing.

So, what is the difference between DAST and penetration testing? Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is an automated security testing tool used in cybersecurity to help detect vulnerabilities in web applications. Penetration testing, in contrast, is a progressive and static manual procedure to identify weaknesses in a system. It deploys the services of tech-savvy individuals to try to find weaknesses in applications and systems.

Penetration testing is more costly than DAST as it requires the services of people to conduct the penetration testing, whilst DAST is normally automated. The advantage of penetration testing is that it is more accurate than the automated alternative of DAST.

In the current world where technology is taking over, institutions conduct most of their businesses online. Therefore, they must be confident that their data is always safe from the initial stages and even when the application is running.

DAST (Dynamic Application Security Testing) involves defense testing but in a dynamic fashion. Others also refer to it as a vulnerability scanner. It functions by formulating attacks on an app when it is already running, the goal being to see whether it can gain access by taking advantage of any loopholes in the system.

Over the years, it has successfully detected vulnerabilities that may lead to grave security breaches like cross-site scripting, path transversal, SQL injections, and many others. It has saved institutions from severe problems and kept them running.

DAST’s principle is the simulation of attacks. It operates like a black-box test while the application is running to detect the infiltration before it happens. As a hacker would attack the system, it attempts to find out the exposed vulnerabilities.

Knowing how an attack will happen is a great way to enable the developers to seal the doorways shut. It is referred to as “Dynamic” given its mode of operation, as it functions while the systems are running. Thus, it can quickly point out issues during runtime.

Some confuse it with SAST. The difference is that SAST scans the app’s code when the application isn’t running. Unlike DAST, it cannot detect runtime issues given that it is in a static state. Therefore, DAST can quickly identify any vulnerability in the system when a legitimate user signs into the application. The advantage of this system is that it has succeeded where other applications have failed.

DAST isn’t limited to one programming language because it doesn’t focus on the source code. Hence, you can use it on any platform, technology, or application. Secondly, since DAST functions by breaking into the application while operating, it has the upper hand in detecting a system’s flaws, unlike other methods.

Additionally, DAST has stood out among other AST methods as a system with the most negligible false positives. It enables the developers to detect actual loopholes in the design and guide them in taking the proper steps to stop them.

What Is Penetration Testing?

The other application security testing on our list is the penetration testing/ pen test. I will look at what it is, how it works, and its role in cybersecurity.

Penetration testing is an application security check by experts that detects exploits by simulating a malicious attack. It may target servers, protocol interfaces, or other application systems to determine whether they can allow breaches, especially at the codes.

After scanning, the information it provides can go a long way to help developers modify their app development by sealing the loopholes detected. It usually follows five steps; that is, planning, scanning, gaining and maintaining access, and analysis. There are also five penetration testing methods, including internal, external, blind, double-blind, and targeted testing. 

The initial step of penetration testing is planning. Here, the system narrows its scope to the task by identifying what is required and the testing methods needed. Next, it acquires the critical information to know how the intended system operates and possible exploits. The second step is scanning.

After conducting a survey, the system will understand how the application will react to an attack. At first, it examines the app’s entire code to check its regular running. Secondly, it confirms the code’s design when it is running (in its dynamic state). At this stage, the system has a closer real-time look into the operations of the application.

What follows is access. The testing method incorporates common attacks like injections and cross-site scripting to detect the intended app’s weaknesses. Once the system finds any, it will attempt to gain access to the data, interfere with the traffic or conduct any other activity that a malicious attacker would do.

Next, the system lingers on to determine the effect of the attack and the extent of the damage it can cause. Lastly, the system collects all its findings and compiles them, stating the vulnerabilities it found, how it benefited through them, and how long it took to stay in the system without detection. The relevant security people will access the report then act accordingly to contain the situation. All this can happen through external testing that checks an institution’s internet presence to access essential data.

Differences Between DAST and Penetration Testing

Given their role in helping to detect an application’s vulnerabilities, many often confuse DAST with Penetrating testing. They both work outside-in in exploit testing, but there is more to it.

DAST takes a dynamic and automated approach in web application testing, while penetration testing implements dynamic and static methods, but the entire process is manual. Secondly, institutions can implement DAST when the application is running, and it can happen at any time. Pen testing, in contrast, is a rare occurrence that mainly occurs once a year. It is also more expensive and time-consuming. However, it is more effective than DAST since it can detect some details that the automated process doesn’t.

The two systems may have a similar end goal, but they are not the same. For one, penetration testing entails the hiring of professional security personnel who think and act like hackers. These individuals are professionals in breaching applications where they work like the institution’s security police. They operate in real-time, and the company can detect breaches and point out the specific weak points for the developers to seal.

However, one downside is that this method is quite costly; therefore, most institutions implement it a few times a year or just once. It is also likely to generate false negatives; hence, requires frequent testing to be sure. Besides, it is a complicated process that needs an informed staff to comprehend and relay the results. On the other hand, dynamic AST relies on requests and feedback to determine any vulnerabilities.

Compared to pen testing, the process is automated; hence, faster, and has few occurrences of false positives. The best part about DAST is that it can happen at any time, unlike penetration testing that is rare given the financial implications. Pen testing is also known to have a lower investment return than DAST because it is used even during application deployment. 

The only downside with both methods is their little attention to remediation. Unlike other systems, pen testing and DAST aren’t very active in identifying the root of the problem. In penetration testing particularly, the experts do not have access to the code. Instead, their role is to detect, and report loopholes they find. Consequently, it becomes tasking for the staff to locate the issue and correct it at the coding stage.

Do You Need DAST or Penetration Testing?

The current technology has advanced, with developers creating new apps every day. Therefore, read on to understand whether DAST and pen testing are necessary for your software systems and, if so, how essential they are in application development.

Dynamic Application Security Testing and Penetration Testing are essential tools to secure your web, applications, and reputation. With AppSec, you will guard your finances and keep your image intact by maintaining data confidentiality. Your clients will trust you with their sensitive information, and you will always stay in business. These tools will help you prevent impending threats, remove any weaknesses in the web, comply with the laws and regulations, keep your business running, and save on recovery costs.

DAST is an AppSec tool that keeps infiltrators at bay by testing the app’s weaknesses. It can save your resources, and it helps that it covers a broader testing area, including a third-party interface. Additionally, it allows you to play the role of an attacker to see whether there are exploits that cybercriminals can use. Unlike other tools, DAST enables you to identify threats in real-time by recognizing runtime intrusion.

However, pen testing is quite vital when you are using third-party applications or outsourced services. It will ensure that you are secure and block out any malicious activities. It will also help you notice the threats and how severe they are; then, align them by priority to help you deal with the more urgent vulnerabilities first. Furthermore, pen testing can identify flaws you never knew existed in the networks, servers, and applications.

Once you can point them out, you will know your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly. After a thorough security check, you can work on improving your staff and internal control system. Consequently, you will enhance your business productivity, earn more profits at minimum costs, and maintain your employees’ and clients’ confidence. Lastly, you will have complied with the standards set by the relevant security system organizations such as the GLBA.

What Is Application Security?

Application security involves all the steps in keeping in-app data safe from access by malicious users. It starts from the initial stage of development of the application and proceeds provided the app is running. It may be software or hardware that steps in to guard against infiltrators by sealing any app vulnerabilities.

If an individual or institution deploys a hardware method, it may involve using a router that hides the IP address. On the other hand, they may integrate software security measures to set up a firewall in the application to prevent unauthorized entry, limiting what users can access.

Application security is an integral part of an institution. Therefore, it is mandatory to add them into daily operations and further test them if there are any vulnerabilities. While the software measures come in handy during the app designing, mainly when coding, the hardware system can happen when the app is running; however, most find software application security more foolproof. Such methods may also incorporate safety measures like routine checking to confirm their viability.

If present, the institution has to seal them by setting up a more robust firewall to block infiltrators. It is necessary since more applications link to the cloud. Therefore, it has led to more stringent security protocols at the network and in the applications. With tech advances, malicious users find it easier to go after apps. Therefore, there is an urgent need for security testing even after setting up strict security measures.

Security testing may be a part of the coding process at the initial stages of web development to check for vulnerabilities. Through it, you will be sure that the app meets the recommended security protocols.

Next, the developers have to be confident that only the intended users gain access to the system. Here, they usually try to break the security just like a cybercriminal would. Consequently, they can detect any loopholes and fix them in the process.

Wrap Up

DAST and penetration testing have the same working principle, detection of vulnerabilities in applications. However, they have different modes of operation. For instance, while DAST is an automated process, pen testing is manual, deploying the services of professionals. Secondly, DAST is dynamic, used when the app is running, but pen tests can happen even during the web development process.

However, a manual approach is slower, time-consuming, and quite costly compared to an automatic process. Fortunately, this process is more accurate and effective in detecting flaws. Regardless of the method you go for, you will have the advantage of stopping attacks even before they happen.

Recent Posts