Different types of code security practices

Developers can protect software applications from unauthorized access, modification, and exploitation by implementing different types of code security practices, such as white-box and black-box testing, static and dynamic application security testing, and software composition analysis. Read on to learn more.

April 13, 2023

In many ways, business data can be considered a form of high-value currency. The right data can help companies successfully advertise to millions, generate valuable consumer insights, and develop strategies to influence consumer behavior. However, this utility also makes business data uniquely vulnerable to theft, hacking, and system breaches. Hackers are constantly looking for vulnerabilities in software codes to gain unauthorized access, steal sensitive information, or disrupt critical systems. This makes it vital for developers to deliver well-tested and secure applications to clients. 

The first step toward ensuring complete code security is understanding code security and testing practices from a holistic perspective. 

What is code security?

Code security refers to measures taken to protect software code and applications from unauthorized access, modification, or exploitation. It involves identifying and addressing potential security vulnerabilities in the source code, design, and architecture of software applications. 

Code security tests can be run at different stages of the software development life cycle (SDLC), depending on the guidelines laid down by the stakeholders and the development objectives. A good code security regimen: 

  • Ensures the complete operational and architectural health of the project, and 
  • Ensures that the application works as expected to provide the intended user experience. 

White-box testing 

A project's operational and architectural health is usually tested using white-box testing methods. The practice is called white-box or clear-box testing since the tester can access the software application's source code, architecture, and design here. The primary objective of white box testing is to ensure that all internal components of the software application are working correctly and the software is performing as expected.

White box testing can be performed at different levels of software development, including unit testing, integration testing, system testing, and acceptance testing. Some techniques used in white box testing include code coverage analysis, static analysis, and dynamic analysis.

Black-box testing

Black-box testing is a technique that focuses on testing the functionality of an application without any knowledge of its internal workings or structure. The tester has no access to the source code or the application design, and the application is treated as a ‘black box’ whose behavior is only observable from the outside.

Black box testing aims to identify defects or errors in the application's behavior that may affect its usability, functionality, or performance. The tester tests the application by providing input data and observing the output data without any knowledge of how the application processes the data internally. 

A good mix of white-box and black-box testing practices can help development teams ensure competent code security that meets prescribed standards and development objectives. 

Best code security practices 

Here are some of the most common and effective code security practices used by development teams today.

Static Application Security Testing (SAST)

Static Application Security Testing is a technique that helps identify security vulnerabilities in the source code of an application. SAST involves analyzing an application's code, configuration files, and other related resources to identify potential security vulnerabilities. SAST can identify security issues before they are deployed and become security risks. That makes it an essential component of an application’s pre-deployment security program. 

SAST is particularly useful for identifying security issues in applications that are developed in-house. It is more cost-effective than identifying and fixing security issues after deploying the application. Examples of SAST tools include Fortify, Checkmarx, and Veracode. These tools can identify various security vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and buffer overflows. 

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

Dynamic Application Security Testing is used to run security tests on an application while it is running. It involves simulating attacks on the application to identify vulnerabilities in real time. This approach helps identify dynamic vulnerabilities that may not be detected by other testing techniques. 

DAST tools send a series of requests to the application, mimicking a real user’s interaction with the application. These requests are designed to identify vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and other vulnerabilities. DAST tools can also identify issues related to authentication, authorization, and session management.

DAST is an important technique because it can be used to test applications already in production. This makes it an effective alternative for identifying vulnerabilities in deployed applications. DAST can be used to run regular security checkups to ensure that applications remain secure after release. 

Software Composition Analysis (SCA)

Software Composition Analysis, or Origin Analysis, is a technique used to identify vulnerabilities in third-party software components in an application. SCA starts with an analysis of the composition of an application, where developers identify the third-party components that it relies on. They then test for potential vulnerabilities and security issues associated with those components.

SCA tools check each external component against a database of known vulnerabilities to identify possible security issues. They can also identify licensing issues and ensure that the components used in an application comply with licensing requirements. SCA is becoming increasingly important for businesses that rely on open-source software. Open-source software is used by a large number of organizations because it is free, easy to use, and customizable. However, it can also introduce security risks if the software components are not properly vetted for vulnerabilities or licensing issues.

Further, many regulations and standards require organizations to approach application security comprehensively, including identifying and mitigating risks associated with third-party software components. SCA can help organizations comply with these regulations and standards by identifying vulnerabilities or licensing issues associated with the components used in their applications. 

Examples of SCA tools include Black Duck,, and Sonatype. These tools can be integrated into the software development platforms, allowing developers to identify vulnerabilities and licensing issues early in the SDLC. 

Database security scanning

Database Security Scanning is a security testing technique that focuses on identifying database vulnerabilities and security issues. Databases contain sensitive data such as customer information and financial data, making them an attractive target for hackers. In early 2020, unknown attackers scanned the internet for unsecured MongoDB databases and accessed them without proper authentication. They then encrypted the data stored in them and demanded payment in exchange for the decryption key. This attack affected thousands of MongoDB databases and resulted in significant data loss for some organizations.

Database security scanning can help prevent mishaps like these. Database security scanning tools work by scanning databases for vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and other security issues. These tools can identify issues such as weak passwords, misconfigured access controls, and outdated software versions. By identifying these issues, organizations can take active steps to mitigate such risks and ensure the security of their databases.

Database security scanning is a continuous process and should be integrated into the SDLC. By identifying and addressing database security issues early in the development process, organizations can avoid costly security breaches and improve their overall security posture. Further, database security scanning should be performed regularly - even after applications are deployed - to ensure that databases remain secure and compliant with regulations.

In addition to using database security scanning tools, organizations should implement other security measures such as encrypting sensitive data, logging database activity, and monitoring unusual activity. Taking a holistic approach to database security allows organizations to reduce the risk of security breaches and protect their sensitive data.

Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) and hybrid tools

Interactive Application Security Testing is a type of security testing that combines elements of SAST and DAST. IAST tools analyze an application's source code and run it in a test environment to detect security vulnerabilities in real time. 

Unlike SAST and DAST, which are standalone testing techniques, IAST is a hybrid approach combining both benefits. IAST tools can detect vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and buffer overflow vulnerabilities. By analyzing the application's source code and running it in a test environment, IAST tools can detect complex vulnerabilities that would be missed by static or dynamic analysis alone. This also helps IAST provide more accurate results than other testing techniques. 

Another advantage of IAST is that it provides a more efficient approach to application security testing. Because IAST is automated, it can test applications more quickly and efficiently than manual testing techniques. This saves organizations time and resources, allowing them to focus on other critical aspects of application security.

IAST is also a useful tool for DevOps teams. Since it can be integrated into the software development life cycle, IAST can help organizations identify and address vulnerabilities early in development. This can help prevent costly security breaches and reduce the risk of delays in software development.

Popular examples of IAST tools include Contrast Security, Checkmarx, and Veracode

Application Security Testing as a Service (ASTaaS)

ASTaaS isn’t a testing technique but a testing paradigm that has helped businesses simplify and streamline their security testing processes. It is a cloud-based security testing solution that provides organizations access to various security testing tools and services. ASTaaS is a subscription-based model that allows organizations to choose from a range of security testing services, including SAST, DAST, SCA, and more.

The main advantage of ASTaaS is that it allows organizations to outsource their security testing needs to a third-party provider. This can be particularly beneficial for small and medium-sized businesses that may not have the resources or expertise to implement and maintain an in-house security testing program.

ASTaaS providers typically offer various security testing services, including vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, and security code reviews. These services are often delivered via a cloud-based platform, making them easily accessible and cost-effective.

Another advantage of ASTaaS is that it can help organizations stay up-to-date with the latest security threats and vulnerabilities. ASTaaS providers typically update their testing tools and services regularly, ensuring that organizations have access to the latest security testing technology.

However, ASTaaS is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each company has unique security needs and may require a tailored approach to security testing. Additionally, outsourcing security testing to a third-party provider may raise concerns about data privacy and confidentiality.

Supplementary security testing tools 

Supplementary security testing tools help development teams simplify their testing processes by automating important tasks such as eliminating false results and monitoring testing performance and efficiency. These tools can be integrated into security testing ecosystems to gain further visibility into the testing process and modify it according to the business’s specific needs. 

Correlation tools

Application Security Testing correlation tools or AST correlation tools are designed to aggregate and correlate the results of different AST tools like SAST, DAST, and SCA. These tools work by ingesting the output from AST tools and graphing them to identify vulnerabilities that may have been missed by individual tools. 

For instance, a SAST tool may identify a potential vulnerability in the source code, but a DAST tool may detect that the same vulnerability can be exploited through a specific network request. This correlation helps developers gain a more comprehensive idea of the scope and impact of the potential code loophole. When used well, correlation tools can help organizations prioritize and remediate vulnerabilities more effectively for more efficient security testing. 

Some examples of AST correlation tools include ThreadFix and Checkmarx SCA

Test-coverage analyzers 

Test-coverage analyzers are tools used in software development to measure how well the source code is being tested by the test suite. They analyze the code and the test suite to determine which parts of the code are being perused by the tests and which parts are left out.

These tools provide a quantitative measure of the code coverage of a testing process, which is the percentage of the code that is tested up to the required standards. The higher the code coverage, the more confidence developers can have in the quality of the code.

Development teams can choose from several different types of test-coverage analyzers, including: 

  • Line coverage analyzers: These analyzers measure the number of lines of code that are checked by tests. They provide a basic level of code coverage, but they do not measure whether all possible execution paths have been extensively tested.
  • Branch coverage analyzers: These analyzers measure the number of execution paths through the code that are exercised by the tests. They provide a more comprehensive measure of code coverage than line coverage analyzers.
  • Path coverage analyzers: These analyzers measure the number of possible execution paths through the code that are exercised by the tests. They provide the most comprehensive measure of code coverage but can be more difficult to use and interpret.

Test-coverage analyzers can be used in combination with other types of testing tools such as static analysis tools and dynamic analysis tools to provide a more holistic picture of the software's quality and security.

Some popular code-coverage analyzers are JaCoCo, Istanbul, and Codecov

Test better with Cortex 

At Cortex, we work tirelessly to ensure your development teams can code and test better. Our complete development process visibility solutions help teams generate high-value insights about every stage of the SDLC including security testing. Our special security testing module further helps developers monitor important parameters like code coverage, API package versions, and the overall on-call health of applications. 

All your security vulnerabilities and high SEV incidents can be mitigated quickly by using the Cortex query builder to search across all potentially impacted services and build a Scorecard to work as an organization on resolution.

Book a demo to see Cortex in action today!

What's driving urgency for IDPs?