Tech companies suffered countless cyber-attacks and data breaches in 2019 due to ‘compromised’ applications. Security defects in the code are now common occurrences because of rapid software development. Therefore, conducting traditional security tests do not suffice to provide full-proof protection against such attacks.

In the software world, there has never been a better time to integrate Application Security Tools into the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) mainly to lend support to development teams with regular and continuous security testing.

What is Automated Security Testing?

Automated testing is a practice (Read: tool) to reveal any potential flaws or weaknesses during software development. Automated testing occurs throughout the software development process and does not negatively affect development time. The entire process of automated security testing ensures that applications you are developing deliver the expected results and also reveal any programming errors in the beginning.

automated-testing-stacks

Before we go further, do you know that almost 40% of all significant software testing is now automated?

Despite this, a significant amount of testing nowadays is conducted manually and at the final stages of the development cycle. Why? Because a large number of developers at the companies are not well-equipped to develop automated test strategies. The advantage of automated testing when developing software internally or for production is that you can use it to reveal potential weaknesses and flaws without slowing the development time.

DevSecOps

DevSecOps refers to an emerging discipline in this field. As software companies branch into new sectors such as wearables and IoT, there is a need for a thorough audit of all the current tools to combat security issues that may arise during the development process.

In this article, we are listing the general process and best practices of automated security testing.

  • Conducting a Software Audit:

    The first step in automated security testing should begin with a complete audit of the software. During the audit, companies can quickly discover any significant risks emerging from the product. It is also the best way to integrate automation seamlessly into a client’s current workflow.

  • Seeking out Opportunities for Automation:

    Since the past few years, companies are facing a strong push towards the automation of routine, repetitive, and mundane tasks. This wave of automation has come to the software testing world as well. In general practice, some primary factors determine if the company should automate a specific task or not. Factors like

If the tasks are straightforward: The very basic factor is the simplicity of the task. The Automation process should start with the simplest tasks available and slowly move towards covering more complex tasks. In companies, all complex tasks, at some point, still need human interaction. Some of the simple tasks include file and database system interactions.

If the tasks are repetitive and mundane: Automation is also ideal for those frequent tasks that are mundane and repetitive. With automated testing processes, you can also repeat a multitude of programmed actions to ensure the program’s consistency.

If the process is data-intensive: Automation is also helpful to comb through large volumes of data at once in an efficient and timely manner, making it ideal for data-intensive processes. To ensure that the correct use of data, testers can also use special automation tools to perform tests with even overwhelming sets of data.

Companies usually perform automated testing on some specific areas of software testing. Those areas include:

  • Tools for code analysis: Code analysis tools can secure DevOps efforts, which automatically scan codes and identify any vulnerabilities present within the code itself. As a result, software teams receive some invaluable information while they work and identify problems before the quality assurance team.
  • Scanning for appropriate configurations: Certain software tools can ensure the correct configuration of applications to use in specific environments, such as mobile environments or web-based environments.
  • Application-level testing: During application-level testing, scanners such as OWASP Zap and Burb Intruder can also ensure that applications are not carrying out any malicious actions.

automated security testing vs manual penetration testing

Bringing the Team on Board

Software teams are traditionally reluctant to integrate automation into their testing process. Why? Apart from the fear of change, the biggest reason is their wrong perception of the accuracy of the results. Many developers also consider automated testing more costly and time-consuming.

Automated security testing is NOT a replacement for manual testing in terms of accuracy. It is only a practice to automate the most mundane, tedious, and repetitive tasks in the testing processes.

Some issues that come up in automation do exist. These are risks in which a human needs to determine the logic that a computer would need to see the flaw. As an example, a system that gives every user permissions to modify and edit all files freely.

An automated system would have no way of knowing what the intended behavior is, nor would it have any idea of understanding the risk that this implies. This is where humans are introduced to the process.

It’s also why automated security testing should not replace manual testing, which is the only way to ensure thoroughness and accuracy.

Instead, it’s intended to automate the most tedious, mundane, and repetitive tasks that are associated with testing. Through this, the programming team can have more time to test the areas of the solution that requires manual testing, such as the program’s internal logic.

Another common issue with the software teams is the overestimation of the amount of required time to develop an automated process. Modern software testing systems are not overly expensive or time-consuming owing to the number of frameworks and APIs available. The key is to find out what works for your organization or not, and that will ultimately save the organization time, money, and resources.

Selecting the Right Automation Tools

When choosing to automate the software testing process, developers have a myriad of choices to choose from, both commercial as well as open-source solutions. While Open source solutions are robust and have a well-maintained framework, they sometimes lack the advanced technology or customer service that comes with a commercial solution. Some of those tools are.

  • Contrast Security: Contract Security is a runtime application security tool that runs inside applications to identify any potential faults.
  • Burp Intruder: Burp Intruder is an infrastructure scanner, used to ensure whether applications are interacting correctly with the environment.
  • OWASP ZAP: OWASP ZAP is an infrastructure scanner which is open-source in nature. It functions similarly to Burp Intruder.
  • Veracode: Veracode refers to a code analysis tool to find vulnerabilities within an application structure.
  • BDD Security: BDD Security is a test automation framework where users can employ natural language syntax to describe security functions as features.
  • Mittn: Mittn is an open-source test automation framework that uses the Python programming language.
  • Microsoft Azure Advisor: Microsoft Azure advisor is a cloud-based consultant service that provides recommendations according to an individual’s requirements.
  • GauntIT: GauntIT is a test automation framework, ideal for those accustomed with Ruby development.

Depending on the company’s automation strategy, it may have to create custom scripting for their automation processes. The company’s network can use ‘Custom Scripting’ to make it more lightweight, customized, and optimized.

Custom scripting has the benefit of being tailored to your network security threats. However, it can be a hefty-cost solution, also requiring an internal development team. To make sure you choose the right solution for your needs, consider following the process in the image below:

automated security and testing

Integrating Automated Testing Processes

The integration of automated testing processes to a company’s product pipeline is an iterative process. During the software development phase, there is continuous testing to find out potential risks and flaws. Processes like these ensure that the potential vulnerabilities do not remain unaddressed.

A significant chunk of the security-related testing occurs in the later stages of the production cycle, causing issues and delays to the product and the company. However, if the companies perform consistent testing, it leads to a more thoroughly secured product and also avoids last-minute delays before release.

Breaking Large Projects into Smaller Steps

When working with large intensive projects, DevSecOps works well if the project consists of smaller, manageable steps. Instead of automating the entire solution at once, the formation of smaller automated processes within the larger production cycle leads to a better result.

Following this process would not only avoid any hiccups within the development cycle but also give developers the required time to adjust to newer automation standards. To acclimatized developers to the latest standards and to ensure training is in-depth and non-disruptive, introducing new tools one by one is also a good practice to follow.

Checking for Code Dependencies

The days of in-house coding has vanished mainly as most organizations do not develop codes in-house. They tend to use a large amount of third party open source codes for each application, which has some significant vulnerabilities. Organizations are thus required to automate their processes after identifying the code dependencies, ensuring that third-party code has no known vulnerabilities.

Testing against Malicious Attacks

Due to the rise of the rate of cybercrimes, applications should go through rigorous testing to prevent denial of service attacks (DDoS) and other malicious attacks. Broken solutions reveal some particular vulnerabilities, and this is why it is essential to conduct stringent tests on the application under challenging circumstances.

Organizations are seeing an increasing number of malicious attacks. These attacks may focus on any aspect of a client’s organization that is accessible from outside of the network. By regularly testing your application under particularly strenuous circumstances, you can secure it through various scenarios.

Training Development Team in Best Practices

In-depth training of programmers is also vital to avoid already identified vulnerabilities and flaws from occurring again in later production cycles. It is a proactive approach to make applications more inherently secure. This simple approach does not only improve the consistency of the product, but it also avoids costly modifications, if you discover flaws at the later stage.

As you identify vulnerabilities and flaws within your software solutions, programmers will need the training to avoid these issues in further production cycles.

Though the process of identifying issues is automated, the problems that are found should still be logged for the benefit of upcoming projects and future versions of the product. By training programmers proactively, an organization can, over time, make their applications more inherently secure.

Not only does this improve the consistency of the end product, but it also avoids costly modifications when flaws are discovered and require mitigation. Via training and company-wide messaging, developers can be trained on coding more securely.

If developers do not become apprised of issues, the same mistakes will continue to happen. Automated testing will not be as effective as it could be. It isn’t just cheaper and faster than manual testing; it’s also more consistent. Every test will run identically on each application and in each environment.

By automatically testing applications and identifying lax policies, the software life cycle for both on-premise and cloud-based web applications becomes shorter.

Through the years, organizations have still been manually testing their software security in-house or by professionals. However, by implementing automated testing as a standard practice, they can streamline their product deployment process to a high degree, reducing the overheads associated with the process. Regular training ensures that software teams are incorporating automation best practices into their processes.

Choosing Automated over Manual Testing

Automated testing is not only cheaper and faster than manual testing, but it is also much more consistent. It doesn’t make mistakes as each test runs identically on different applications and environments, and that can save you both time and money. Keeping manual tests in place only where human assessment is needed also conserves your company’s human resources.

To implement automated testing, organizations will require large-scale efforts to promote and apply best practices throughout their projects. Including training their software teams so they can incorporate it into their respective processes seamlessly. Need more detailed advice on how to automate security testing? Reach out to one of our experts today.