You have finally decided to fight cybercrime and protect your application. Great. But picking correctly from the wide range of static code analysis tools available on today’s market has become a challenging task. Besides being ineffective in locating application layer vulnerabilities, picking the wrong solution can lead to developer disengagement, which is the worst thing that can happen to your organization. Hence, a successful application security program involves picking the right solution for your technical needs, along with features needed for full engagement.
The Three Pillars of Application Security
There are three main pillars on which your security gameplan should be built upon to achieve optimal developer engagement, along with the desired vulnerability detection capabilities.
1 – Tools – The first pillar deals with the picking of the right solution/s from the vast choice of static code analysis tools available today. Since your developers are going to be the primary users, you want to get their buy-in before selecting the solution. The security scanner has to be developer friendly. It must not introduce limitations to your developers work environment and it also must not slow down their development efforts, while ensuring fast remediation times.
2 – Skills – Developers are not security experts. You want to make sure your static code analysis tools come with a variety of services and educational programs which can assist the developers (i.e – exporting results for offline scrutiny), while also helping them grow their AppSec expertise.
3 – Methodology – Creating and solidifying a secure Software Development Life Cycle (sSDLC) is a sustainable remediation strategy that provides good remediation performance. You need to make sure that you have the ability to enhance the organization’s application security maturity level by integrating the scanner at all stages of the SDLC, while also having the ability to design your program so that you have clear KPIs and milestones along the way to ensure your success.
Static Code Analysis Tools Comparison – The 10 Point Checklist
The focus of this article will be on the tools pillar. Not many static code analysis tools provide ease of use, robustness and flexibility. Hence, making the right choice is of utmost importance. The following 10-stage AppSec checklist has been designed to assist you in making the right choice for your developers.
1- Programming and Scripting Language Support.
The modern IT organization has complex development setups, with the various teams working with different programming and scripting languages, often in a cross-platform setup. It’s important to check that the static code analysis tools you are considering are capable of scanning the language/s your application has been made of, with the required platform compatibility.
2 – Vulnerability Detection Capabilities.
Organizations today are required to scan for sector-specific security standards. For example, all organizations processing/using credit-card information have to comply with PCI DSS, while health-care related organizations are required to follow HIPAA. Based on the sector you belong to, it’s paramount to check if the solution can scan for the security standard/s you need.
3 – Are Security Scan Queries/Rules Customizable?
Application testing often needs customized security scan queries/rules to provide accurate results. Not having this feature can cause False Negatives (FN) to appear, eventually leading to the releasing of the application with lingering vulnerabilities. Hackers can then exploit these undetected vulnerabilities and cause extensive damage (data theft, denial of service, etc).
For example, if your organization has a unique sanitization method that it needs to test for, only customizable static code analysis tools can make this happen properly.
4 – Does it require a fully buildable set of source?
Many static code analysis tools require a build to be reached in order to start scanning. If you want your security solution to enter the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) earlier, your best bet is a source code scanner that doesn’t require a build to start working. While many open-source scanners can provide good results after the build is reached, earlier remediation provides better ROI.
5 – Can it be integrated into your developer’s IDE?
Static code analysis tools can be very effective, but have little to no value without the involvement of the developers in the organizations. The best way to achieve this crucial buy-in is to integrate the security solution into the developer IDEs and involve them directly in the security process. This is a crucial factor, if you want an effective long-term security solution for your organization.
6 – Can it be integrated into your Build Servers?
Also known as Continuous Integration (CI) servers, build servers are basically the regulators within the development process. They help the developers to define the frequency of the building, along with QA testing to ensure the functionality of the code. If your security solution is also built into these build servers, your remediation capabilities are significantly enhanced.
More and more organizations are using build servers such as Ant, Maven and Jenkins. It’s worth checking which static code analysis tools can be integrated into build servers. You can then define specific thresholds to stop the build when a medium or severe vulnerability is detected. This way you can stay on the top of things and enforce security protocols.
7 – Can it be integrated into your repository?
It has become important to integrate security into all the stages of development. One such crucial stage involves the Source Code Control System (SCCS), also known as the Version Control System (VCS), where changes to the code are recorded. Old versions can then be recalled as per the requirements with little overhead. Leading code analysis tools can be integrated here as well.
8 – Can it be integrated into your bug tracking tools?
Treating security as QA bugs is becoming common practice in the modern organization. This helps your developers get involved directly in the security process, while also raising their AppSec awareness. In other words, with the scanner integrated into your defect tracking system, you can see all QA and security flaws in one unified window. Another important application security functionality.
9 – Does it have the capability to scan third-party software components?
Modern web and mobile applications often third-party open-source components inside. Even flawless in-house developed application code is of no use if the third-party components are outdated or unsafe. This is why static code analysis tools that can investigate these open-source components enter the picture. Having this capability can help prevent the next high-profile hacking.
10 – Can it be integrated into DevOps/Agile/CICD?
Last but not the least, you have to filter out the static code analysis tools that are not suitable for Iterative Development scenarios (Agile, DevOps) or Continuous Integration (CICD) setups. This basically means that your scanner should be fast, customizable and should be able to reside within the SDLC, while providing accurate results with minimal False Positives (FP).
Another important functionality you should check for is Incremental Scanning. With this Agile/DevOps/CICD-friendly feature, your scanner doesn’t re-scan unchanged code. This significantly improves scanning speeds and blends into the dynamic nature of continuous development, where developers are constantly making small changes to the application code.
Sequential Design Process/Waterfall is becoming a thing of the past, along with old security techniques like Penetration (Pen) Testing and Manual Code Reviewing. While these application security methodologies can still be used as supplementary tools, there is little doubt that static code analysis tools are required for optimal security performance.
Its all about making your developer’s life easier
Besides the 10 important parameters mentioned in this article, it’s also recommended to examine your shortlisted static code analysis tools for added value that helps boost ROI.
One feature worth mentioning is Best Fix Location. This is when the scanner not only shows the developer where vulnerabilities are located in the application code, but it also suggests “Best Fix” spots where single corrections can eliminate multiple vulnerabilities. This significantly reduces remediation times and speeds up the development process, while making life easier for your developers.
Fast remediation times are always welcome, but its also about raising AppSec awareness amongst your developers and cementing a security methodology that is embraced by everyone in your organization.
The best static code analysis tools today offer features beyond the obvious scanning. While the scanning/detecting performance is still the main factor when it comes to deciding on a security solution, developer buy-in and long term implementation cannot be neglected anymore. Watch the skills and methodology pillars before making your decision. Pick wisely and stay safe!