Imagine waking up one day to find that your bank account has been drained, your social media accounts have been hacked, and your personal information is all over the dark web. This is the reality for millions of people every year, all because of cyber attacks.
What if you could prevent these attacks from happening in the first place? That's where security testing comes in.
In this article, we'll embark on a journey into the fascinating world of security testing. We'll delve into its definition, types, underlying principles, and best practices.
What is Security Testing?
Security testing is a process of evaluating the security of a system or application. It involves identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in order to determine the potential risks and threats to a system's security. Security testing can be performed at any stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), from requirements gathering to deployment and maintenance.
The primary goal of security testing is to identify and fix vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers. This helps to protect the system and its users from unauthorized access, data breaches, and other security-related incidents. It can also help to improve the overall security posture of an organization by identifying and addressing security risks before they can cause damage.
Security testing is like a game of cat and mouse. On one side, you have the security testers, who try to identify and exploit vulnerabilities before the attackers can. On the other side, you have the attackers, who are constantly developing new and sophisticated ways to breach security systems.
To stay ahead of the attackers, security testers need to be creative and think outside the box. They need to be able to see the world from the attacker's perspective in order to identify the weaknesses in their systems better.
Types of Software Security Testing
There are many different types of software security testing and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses.
- Vulnerability scanning is a type of automated testing that uses tools that identify known vulnerabilities in software applications and systems. Vulnerability scanners typically work by comparing the system against a database of known vulnerabilities. This type of testing is relatively inexpensive and it can be performed quickly, but it’s not as comprehensive as other types of testing, such as penetration testing.
- Penetration testing is a type of manual testing that simulates a real-world attack on a software application or system. Penetration testers use a variety of tools and techniques that try to exploit vulnerabilities in the system. This type of testing is more comprehensive than vulnerability scanning, but it’s also more expensive and time-consuming.
- Static application security testing (SAST) is a type of testing that analyzes the source code of a software application in order to identify potential security vulnerabilities. SAST tools can be used to find a wide range of vulnerabilities, including coding errors, security misconfigurations, and insecure design practices. This type of testing is typically performed early in the SDLC, most often before the application is deployed.
- Dynamic application security testing (DAST) is a type of testing that analyzes a running software application in order to identify potential security vulnerabilities. DAST tools can be used to find a wide range of vulnerabilities, including injection attacks, cross-site scripting (XSS), and broken authentication. This type of testing is typically performed later in the SDLC, usually after the application has been deployed.
- Security code review is a type of manual testing that involves reviewing the source code of a software application to identify potential security vulnerabilities. Security code reviews can be performed by individual reviewers or by a team of reviewers. This type of testing is typically performed early in the SDLC, most often before the application gets deployed.
- Risk assessment is a process of identifying, evaluating, and prioritizing the security risks to a software application or system. Risk assessments can be used to identify the types of security testing that are needed the most, and for prioritizing the remediation of vulnerabilities. Risk assessments are typically performed throughout the SDLC, from the early design stages to the post-deployment phase.
- Security audit is a comprehensive review of a software application or system in order to identify and assess security risks. Security audits typically involve a combination of manual and automated testing, as well as a review of security documentation and policies. Security audits are typically performed on a regular basis to ensure that the security of the application or system stays maintained.
The type of testing that is best for a particular application or system will depend on a number of factors, such as the size and complexity of the system, the types of vulnerabilities that are being targeted, and the available budget.
Security Testing’s Key Principles
The six key principles of security testing are:
- Confidentiality means that only authorized users should be able to access sensitive information. Security testers help to ensure confidentiality by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities that could allow unauthorized users to access sensitive data. For example, a security tester might test a web application to see if it’s possible to inject malicious code into the database. If the application is vulnerable to SQL injection, an attacker could exploit this vulnerability to steal sensitive user data, such as passwords or credit card numbers.
- Integrity means that information should be accurate and complete, and that it should not be modified without prior authorization. Security testers help to ensure integrity by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities that could allow attackers to modify or corrupt data. For example, a security tester might test a financial system to see if it’s possible to alter transaction records. If the system is vulnerable to tampering, an attacker could potentially exploit this vulnerability and commit fraud.
- Availability means that systems and data should be accessible to authorized users only when needed. Security testers help to ensure availability by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities that could cause systems or data to become unavailable. For example, a security tester might test a website to see if it’s vulnerable to denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. If the website is vulnerable to DoS attacks, an attacker could launch an attack to make the website unavailable to its legitimate users.
- Authentication is the process of verifying the identity of a user. Security testers help to ensure authentication by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities that could allow attackers to impersonate legitimate users. For example, a security tester might test a web application to see if it’s possible to brute-force user passwords. If the application is vulnerable to brute-forcing, an attacker could eventually crack a user's password and gain unauthorized access to their account.
- Authorization is the process of determining what resources a user has access to. Security testers help ensure authorization by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities that could allow users to access resources that they’re not authorized to access. For example, a security tester might test a file system to see if it’s possible for users to escalate their privileges and access files that they’re not authorized to access. If the file system is vulnerable to privilege escalation, an attacker could exploit this vulnerability and gain access to sensitive files.
- Non-repudiation means that it should be impossible for a user to deny performing an action. Security testers help ensure non-repudiation by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities that could allow users to deny performing actions that they have actually performed. For example, a security tester might test a digital signature system to see if it’s possible to forge digital signatures. If the system is vulnerable to digital signature forgery, an attacker could forge a digital signature on a document and then deny signing the document.
Security Testing’s Best Practices
To ensure the best results for your future digital projects, it’s important adhere to the following best practices that exist in the industry:
Be proactive, not reactive
Don't wait until you've been attacked to start your security testing. Be proactive and test your systems regularly in order to identify and fix vulnerabilities before the attackers can find and exploit them.
You can use a variety of automated testing tools to scan your systems for vulnerabilities on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can also hire a specialized firm that can perform penetration tests on your systems.
Think like an attacker. What are the most likely ways that an attacker could try to breach your systems? Once you know this, you can focus your efforts on those areas.
Don't put all of your eggs in one basket: Use a variety of tools and techniques to test security
It’s important to use a variety of testing methods to get a complete picture of the security posture of your systems. No single approach can catch each and every vulnerability.
You can use a combination of SAST, DAST, and penetration testing to identify security vulnerabilities in your application. SAST tools analyze source code for vulnerabilities, while DAST tools scan running applications for vulnerabilities while penetration testers simultaneously simulate attacks on your application to identify security vulnerabilities.
Focus on the high-risk areas
Not all vulnerabilities are created equal. Some vulnerabilities are more serious than others and pose a greater risk to your systems. Therefore, it's important to focus your testing efforts on the high-risk areas.
You can use a risk assessment tool to identify the high-risk areas in your systems. Once you know which areas are at a high risk level, you can focus your efforts accordingly.
Don't forget to test the low-risk areas as well. Even low-risk vulnerabilities can be exploited by attackers if they are chained together.
Automate as much as possible
Manual testing of security can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Therefore, it is important to automate the testing as much as possible.
You can use CI/CD pipelines to automate the testing process. CI/CD pipelines automatically build, test, and deploy software applications. You can integrate security testing tools into your CI/CD pipeline to automatically scan your code and running applications for vulnerabilities.
Don't just find vulnerabilities, fix them: Remediate security vulnerabilities promptly
Once you have identified security vulnerabilities in your application, it’s important to remediate them promptly. This will help reduce the risk of attackers exploiting these vulnerabilities.
You can prioritize the remediation of security vulnerabilities based on their severity and risk level. You can also use a vulnerability management tool to track and manage the remediation of security vulnerabilities.
Security Testing’s Future Trends
|Shift to DevSecOps||Test of security is becoming increasingly integrated into the software development lifecycle (SDLC) through DevSecOps practices. This means that security is considered at every stage of the development process, from design to deployment.|
|Increased use of automation||Automation is playing an increasingly important role in security testing, since it helps organizations identify and fix vulnerabilities more quickly and efficiently. It’s especially important when taking into consideration the growing complexity of digital systems and applications, as well as the need for more frequent testing.|
|Rise of cloud security testing||As more organizations move to the cloud, there’s a growing need for testing cloud security in order to identify and mitigate security risks in their cloud-based systems and applications.|
|Focus on emerging technologies||New and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and blockchain are creating new security challenges. Security testers need to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies so that they can test these systems effectively.|
|Increased collaboration between security teams||Security teams need to work together more closely in order to improve the overall security posture of an organization. This includes collaboration between security testers, developers, and other IT teams.|
In a world where data breaches and cyber threats happen every second, the necessity of security testing cannot be overstated. Don’t consider it as a luxury, think of it as a matter of survival. Failing to prioritize security is like leaving the front door of your digital fortress wide open for malicious actors to come in and exploit your system’s vulnerabilities.
Whether you are a business safeguarding sensitive customer data or an individual protecting your online identity, security testing should be your frontline defense against an ever-advancing army of cyber threats. Putting your head in the sand and ignoring your security is not an option.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between QA and Security testing?
QA testing focuses on ensuring that software meets its functional requirements and operates as expected. QA testers typically test software from the perspective of a regular user. Security testing is focused on identifying and fixing vulnerabilities in software that could be exploited by attackers. Security testers typically test software from the perspective of a malicious user.
It’s important to note that QA testing cannot replace security testing. Even if the software passes all of its QA tests, it still might have security vulnerabilities. Thus, it’s essential to test its security for identifying and fixing these vulnerabilities before the software gets released to the public.
Can security testing be automated?
Yes, it can be automated. There are a variety of tools available that can scan for vulnerabilities in code, web applications, and networks. These tools can help improve the security of systems and applications by identifying and fixing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by attackers. However, it’s important to note that automated tests cannot replace manual testing completely. The latter is still needed in order to identify and fix vulnerabilities that automated tools might miss.