OWASP Security Culture

Security testing

Use security tests to verify that the required security controls are in place, as defined in the security requirements. This chapter will discuss the selection of security tools; adding security tests into the development pipeline; the types of testing and tools that can be used; vulnerability management; and the use of penetration testing. For a detailed guide on how to conduct security testing refer to the OWASP Web Security Testing Guide.

Using security tools

Care should be taken when selecting and embedding security tools. Security tools should be easy for a developer to use, ideally embedded within a developer native tool, rather than be operated solely by an application security engineer. The security team should tune code scanner tools to ensure a minimum of false positives are reported such that the tool provides value, and does not waste the developers' time. Too many false positives could lead to developers ignoring true positives.

Security tools should give a good indication of what the found issues are and how to fix them. Security tool findings can be provided directly to the developers, to allow for rapid feedback on any security issues. In some cases it will be necessary first for the security team to provide an analysis of the findings.

Security tests can be configured to fail a code build if the tests do not pass. For development on a new codebase it can be useful to add in security tests from the start, such that developers are used to these checks.

Adding security tests into the development pipeline

Security tests have traditionally been conducted after code has been deployed. However, security tests can also be added in earlier phases of the SDLC, such as develop and commit1. Security tests can run as the code is written, with feedback delivered directly in the IDE (Integrated Development Environment). Security tests can happen at commit time, checking for known insecure patterns in the source code before being added to the code repository or merged to the main branch, this is known as Static Application Security Testing (SAST). Security tests are run at build time, such as checking for any vulnerabilities in libraries, known as Software Composition Analysis (SCA); or vulnerabilties in container images. Security tests run at deploy time, which allows automated testing on a running application, known as Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)..

Security Testing Tools by SDLC Phase Diagram
Figure 7-1: Security Testing Tools by SDLC Phase Diagram

Types of security tests

This section will provide a list of the OWASP projects that can be used in the different SDLC phases. See also Free for Open Source Application Security Tools

Checks at coding time

  • IDE plugin: part of a Static Application Security Testing (SAST) tool that highlights secure coding recommendations in real time within the developer's Integrated Development Environment as they write code

Tests at commit time

  • Static Application Security Testing (SAST): provides feedback upon commit of source code. For more details see OWASP Source Code Analysis Tools
  • Secrets scanner: check for sensitive data such as passwords and api keys that may appear in committed source code or configuration files
  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC) analysis: infrastructure resources can be defined and created from static files, providing the opportunity to run security checks when the files are committed before the infrastructure changes are made.

Tests at build time

Tests at deploy time

  • Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST): tests performed on the running application. Tests can be conducted in a non-production environment before moving to production. For more details see OWASP Vulnerability Scanning Tools

Vulnerability management

As vulnerabilities are identified from security testing tools they need to be recorded and managed. As mentioned in the threat modelling section, vulnerabilities should be defined with an Impact and Likelihood risk rating. Risk ratings use a quantitative rating such as the OWASP Risk Rating Methodology, or qualitative using for example low; medium; high. When vulnerabilities are assigned a risk rating, this allows their remediation to be prioritised accordingly. An organisation may implement a required timeframe that vulnerabilities of a particular risk rating are to be remediated.

Penetration testing

A penetration tester plays the role of the attacker to find and exploit vulnerabilities. This helps provide a more accurate risk rating than vulnerability scans alone. Although penetration testing occurs at the end of the SDLC, the results of the penetration test can provide feedback for tests in the earlier phases. Such as additional rules for SAST and DAST scanners, and to use SCA to confirm vulnerabilities found by the penetration test2.

A penetration test report should clearly detail found vulnerabilities, and how to fix them. It is also helpful to show how the vulnerability was exploited. This helps a developer test that their fix has worked.

A security team needs to help the development team interpret the penetration test report and provide guidance. An application security engineer may first check the report to remove any false positives before assigning developers to address the found vulnerabilities.

  1. Scott Gerlach, Developer's struggle with security, OWASP 20th Anniversary. 2021. 

  2. Daniel Krasnokucki, Feedback loop in DevSecOps - mature security process and dev cooperation, OWASP 20th Anniversary. 2021.