Custom AppSec Testing
Published on 3 January 2024 by Michal Kamensky
Is this as good as it gets? Triaging hundreds of findings, two weeks after deploying the code, with high rates of false positives and no time or resources left to spend on finding and addressing anything besides the low hanging fruit? Is this our fate in the appsec industry?
It is the reality of many organizations out there. But it doesn’t have to be.
We put a lot of effort, time, and resources into our organization’s security. Every respectable software company does. We have static and dynamic scanning tools to check our code for vulnerabilities, but they don’t live up to their promise. Why?
The problem with all those tools is that they are generic. They assume we’re all pretty much the same. That we write code the same way, use the same popular frameworks, copy the same code snippets from Stack Overflow. And under this assumption, it makes sense that a finite number of generic rules can find all the problems when scanning any application.
But until AI writes all of our code (in the not so distant future), we’re still unique. With our own unique code bases and corporate bureaucracy that hinders changes we want to make and, after all, our own unique business logic, otherwise we wouldn’t have a separate company and product, would we?
Okay, that makes sense, but what’s the solution? Each company needs to develop its own scanning tools?
Well, not exactly. Companies are already coming up with their own unique guidelines and best practices that accumulate over the years as the product grows and as more features and functionalities are added. For example - using a certain 3rd party library only with a wrapper, or verifying a user is authenticated before they can perform certain actions.
But this raises a new problem - who enforces that? Who ensures those guidelines are actually implemented? Who keeps track of all of them - or even remembers them all? Is it the responsibility of the security team? The developers? Should those guidelines be checked at every code review?
And that brings us back to the question of automation - should each company develop its own scanning tools to scan its unique applications and verify the implementation of its unique security guidelines?
The answer is still no. Well, not completely. We do need our own unique rules to scan our app statically and dynamically, but there’s no reason to develop our own engine.
And for that exact purpose, some SAST products have started offering the capability to customize the rules they run. Other products, like Semgrep or CodeQL, allow you to rewrite the basic generic rules, or even write your own rules completely from scratch. Likewise, PenTests are a common practice for a reason, and there are tools like Nuclei and Burp Suite that enable automating the process of custom dynamic testing.
Those tools can be integrated directly into your CI/CD pipelines, running automatically with each deploy, and produce results - actually relevant ones, in a matter of minutes.
Now that we understand the problem and the solution, let’s define exactly what we’re trying to address:
Generic vulnerabilities with generic solutions - those are exactly the problems that generic tools are built for. They find true positives where there’s a problem and don’t return false positives where there is a mitigation in place.
Generic vulnerabilities with bespoke mitigations - generic tools will find the issue, but might not recognize our mitigation, therefore returning multiple false positives, making all its findings useless - having to go over all of them to check if there’s a true positive one where we forgot to implement our mitigation.
Unique vulnerabilities - generic tools are pretty useless here, doesn’t matter if there’s a mitigation here or not, they just won’t realize there’s an issue in the first place. This is the case of false negatives.
It’s worth learning how to address these cases with your own custom rules, and now it’s easier than ever!
You can see practical examples in the various talks I have given on the topic at conferences and meetups.