Source Code Analysis
One of the most frustrating and potentially time-consuming stages of development is debugging and testing. Not only can analyzing source code manually be nearly impossible when dealing with several million lines of code, but there is a massive potential that human editors can miss something. The most common way of avoiding this is to implement source code analysis into the development pipeline.
What is source code analysis?
Source code analysis is essentially automated debugging. There are several ways to accomplish this, but the most common is using various static code analysis tools. These tools compare each line of code, function call, variable, and every other component of the source code to multiple databases of potential bugs. This helps programmers quickly find potentially severe bugs and security issues, such as buffer overflows and SQL injection, that attackers may exploit once the software goes live.
All code analysis tools operate and analyze the code based on predefined rules. These rules tell the software what to look for and how severe the bugs or exploits may be. In some cases, the tools may provide simple fixes, while in other situations, they may only be able to highlight the problem that the programmer needs to address. The two primary types of analyzers are interprocedural and intraprocedural, with the former being far more complex and often costly.
Source code analysis can be used to identify various types of bugs, but for the remainder of this article, we’ll focus on using source code analysis to detect security bugs in applications. Application security source code analysis typically falls into two categories: static and dynamic analysis.
What is the difference between static and dynamic application security testing (SAST and DAST)?
Static application security testing, or SAST, examines the code before compilation and execution. It is a white-box application testing method that allows the testing software to access all of the source code and associated libraries laid bare. In web applications, it is often used for finding flaws such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and other common vulnerabilities.
Dynamic application security testing, or DAST, is a method of testing the software while it’s in action. DAST is considered a black box method of testing since it deals with the compiled and installed application and does not allow access to the source code or raw components. It focuses on attacking the application while running to determine if common vulnerabilities are likely to be exploited.
SAST and DAST are used to find potential exploits with varying frequencies at various points during the development life cycle. SAST is a process that should be incorporated as a frequent operation during early development and should be conducted with all components. DAST is best utilized in an environment closely simulating the post-production operating environment.
What are some of the most popular tools? Commercial and free?
SonarQube is not only free, but it’s open source, which makes it incredibly robust and adaptable. It allows continuous code analysis, covers over 25 programming languages, and integrates with various development platforms like Azure DevOps, the Git family, IntelliJ IDEA, and even Visual Studio. It comes in free and paid versions available to individuals and organizations.
Veracode Static Analysis
Veracode Static Analysis is an analysis tool that thoroughly inspects all code in development. It provides real-time inspection and feedback to the user and can drop error rates by up to 60%. It averages just 1.5 minutes per scan and boasts barely over 1% false positive rate. It works with more than 25 languages and supports more than 100 different industry frameworks. The IDE integration is seamless and provides pipeline scans relayed to the dev team. Veracode is paid but has a free demo option.
Snyk Code is another static code tool that uses proprietary semantic analysis to root out more bugs and exploits. It is best used by those that develop in cloud platforms and can even automatically fix issues in code, containers, and more. Like Veracode, it’s simple to integrate into the IDE and supports the most popular languages. Snyk Code scans much faster than most other suites and shows real-time results. The best thing about Snyk is that it’s free for individual developers and small coding teams.
What tools are good at detecting, and what requires manual review?
In nearly all situations, code analysis tools will require manual review and intervention to address found bugs and vulnerabilities. Most tools will integrate with the development platform and become part of the coding environment, providing the programmers with real-time analysis and feedback on the code and allowing them to fix the issues.
Some tools, like Snyk, will even provide the coders with automatic fixes that do not require human intervention to deploy. Others, like Checkmarx, allow the developers to fix multiple bugs at a single point to consolidate fixes. Even when the fixes aren’t automatically deployed, the real-time feedback allows programmers the opportunity for on-the-job training by fixing mistakes and vulnerabilities before they are compiled into the application.
How can source code analysis tools be built into a development pipeline to reduce security risk?
Making sure that applications are developed with a constant eye on security is vital. Here are some steps that any software team can take to make sure their development pipeline is as secure and efficient as possible.
- Create accurate threat models that get the entire team on the same page regarding what needs protecting and the plan to meet that goal.
- Implement checks and safeguards to committed code. Having a real-time IDE security scan is vital. This will warn a coder if they are implementing potentially problematic vulnerabilities and instantly provides feedback on neutralizing.
- Once code has been committed, giving the developers immediate feedback is crucial to keeping the pipeline running smoothly. This is another reason static analysis is essential because it does not require a functioning application. Code scan reports should be available to all dev team members to prioritize remediation quickly.
- Ensure that monitoring continues even after deployment. Once the application is deployed, continuing to scan and monitor everything in the dynamic environment can help everyone stay ahead of any new exploits.
Should I hire a security expert?
Building automated source code analysis into a development pipeline is crucial to preventing common security issues from ending up in production code. However, even with the best source code analysis tools, vulnerabilities still find their way into the software. That’s why it’s a good idea to hire a security expert to take a different and unbiased look at your application’s security. Including a Source Code Review in the scope of a security assessment allows a security expert to perform static application security testing (SAST) by using automated tools to establish a baseline and manual source code analysis to identify security issues the tools missed. During a Vulnerability Scan or Penetration Test, the security expert can use automated and manual methods to test the application code as it’s running with dynamic application security testing (DAST).
Want to learn more? Schedule a call with a cybersecurity expert today!