SAST (Static Application Security Testing) Scanning

SAST (Static Application Security Testing) Scanning

What is SAST scanning and how it works?

SAST (Static Application Security Testing) is a scanning testing technique used to identify security vulnerabilities in software applications by analyzing the application’s source code, byte code, or assembly code. SAST scanning is generally performed during the application development stage to catch vulnerabilities early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Finding vulnerabilities with automation (the SAST way)

Here’s how SAST scanning works:

1. Code Analysis: Source code is submitted to SAST scanners for its structure, syntax, and data flow analysis. Scanners then build an abstract syntax tree (AST) or an intermediate representation of the code to understand its components, dependencies, and control flow.

2. Security Rules: SAST scanners apply a set of predefined security rules to the code under analysis. These security rules are based on known vulnerabilities, coding best practices, and common coding mistakes. The scanners check for code patterns that could lead to vulnerabilities, such as SQL injections, cross-site scripting (XSS), buffer overflows, and insecure cryptographic practices.

3. Vulnerability Detection: SAST scanners look for potential security vulnerabilities, coding issues, and weaknesses in the application’s source code. They flag code segments that violate the security rules and patterns being matched. The identified vulnerabilities are categorized based on their severity and potential impact on the application’s security.

4. Reporting and Remediation: SAST scanners generate reports with details about the identified vulnerabilities, including their location in the code, severity level, and remediation recommendations. Developers can use these reports to understand the security weaknesses in their code and take remediation actions.

5 Benefits of SAST Scanning

Scans early in development: SAST scanning helps identify security vulnerabilities and coding flaws early in the development process, allowing developers to address them before the application is deployed.

Comprehensive Coverage: SAST scanners analyze the entire application’s codebase, including both custom code and third-party libraries, providing a broad view of potential vulnerabilities.

Requires no test cases: There is no need to manually write any test cases as SAST tools use rules and patterns. These rules can be manually implemented by the SAST tool creator or by the community.

Easy to integrate into Development Workflow: SAST tools can be integrated into the development environment, such as integrated development environments (IDEs) or CI/CD pipelines, allowing developers to receive immediate feedback on security issues during coding and automated build processes.

Secure Coding Practices: SAST scanning promotes secure coding practices by highlighting coding patterns and practices that may introduce security risks. Developers can learn from the identified issues and improve their coding skills.

Compliance and Standards: SAST scanning helps organizations meet regulatory requirements and industry standards by identifying and addressing security vulnerabilities and coding flaws that could lead to breaches or non-compliance.

There are several open-source SAST tools available that can help developers identify security vulnerabilities and coding issues in their applications. Here are some widely used open-source SAST tools:

1. SonarQube: SonarQube is a widely used open-source platform for code quality inspection. It supports SAST by analyzing source code in various programming languages, including Java, C#, JavaScript, Python, and more. SonarQube provides detailed reports with vulnerability and code quality metrics.

2. CodeQL: CodeQL, developed by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), is an open-source code analysis engine. Developers can write queries to analyze code for security vulnerabilities and coding errors. CodeQL supports multiple programming languages and can be easily integrated into various development workflows.

3. Bandit: Bandit is a Python-focused SAST tool that identifies security issues in Python codebases. It scans for common security vulnerabilities, such as cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injections, and insecure cryptographic practices.

4. SpotBugs: SpotBugs is an open-source static analysis tool for Java applications. It detects potential coding mistakes, security vulnerabilities, and other issues in Java bytecode. FindBugs offers a wide range of bug detectors and integrates with popular Java development tools. Currently, SpotBugs checks for more than 400 bug patterns. 

5. PMD: PMD is a Java-focused open-source static code analyzer that checks for coding mistakes, potential bugs, and security vulnerabilities in Java code. It supports various rule sets and can be integrated into popular IDEs and build tools.

6. Brakeman: Brakeman is an open-source SAST tool for Ruby on Rails applications. It scans Ruby code for common security vulnerabilities, including SQL injections, cross-site scripting (XSS), and mass assignment issues. Brakeman provides detailed reports and is widely used in the Ruby on Rails community.

There are several commercial SAST tools that offer advanced features, support for multiple programming languages, and integration with development workflows. Here are some widely recognized commercial SAST tools:

1. Veracode: Veracode is a widely used commercial SAST tool that supports a wide range of programming languages and offers comprehensive security testing capabilities. It provides static analysis, dynamic analysis, software composition analysis, and manual penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities in applications.

2. Checkmarx: Checkmarx is a leading commercial SAST tool known for its robust static analysis capabilities. It supports various programming languages and offers detailed reports with vulnerability insights and remediation guidance. Checkmarx also provides integrations with popular development tools and offers additional features like software composition analysis.

3. Fortify: Fortify, developed by Micro Focus, is a popular commercial SAST tool that supports multiple programming languages and offers a wide range of security checks. It provides detailed reports with vulnerability information, prioritization guidance, and traceability to the source code.

4. Snyk Code: Snyk Code is a static application security testing (SAST) tool that helps developers find and fix security vulnerabilities in their code. It is a cloud-based tool that can be integrated with popular IDEs and CI/CD pipelines. Snyk SAST is free for open-source projects.

5. IBM Security AppScan: IBM Security AppScan is a comprehensive application security testing tool that includes SAST capabilities. It supports a variety of languages and frameworks and provides detailed reports with vulnerability findings, code snippets, and remediation advice. AppScan also offers dynamic analysis and interactive application security testing (IAST) capabilities.

6. SonarQube Enterprise: SonarQube, mentioned earlier as an open-source option, also offers an enterprise version with additional features and support. SonarQube Enterprise provides advanced SAST capabilities with language-specific analyzers, code coverage metrics, and integration with IDEs and CI/CD pipelines.

7. Klocwork: Klocwork, developed by Perforce, is a commercial SAST tool that specializes in analyzing complex C, C++, and Java codebases. It offers deep code analysis, advanced security checks, and integration with popular development environments.


SAST and DAST are valuable approaches to application security testing and complement each other, they are often used together as part of a comprehensive security testing strategy.

MeaningStatic Application Security TestingDynamic Application Security Testing
Type of testingWhite-box testing – Analyzes the application’s source code, bytecode, or binary without executing it.Black-box testing – Tests the application in a running state, simulating real-world attacks by interacting with the application’s interfaces.
When performed

Usually performed during the development phase, before the application is deployed.Performed after the application is deployed and running.
What is tested

It analyzes the application’s source code, bytecode, or binary without executing it.It tests the application in a running state, simulating real-world attacks by interacting with the application’s interfaces.

Can find vulnerabilities early in the development processCan find vulnerabilities that are not exposed in the source code

Can only find vulnerabilities that are present in the source codeCan be more time-consuming and expensive to perform
Best practices

Use SAST in conjunction with DAST to get the best coverageUse DAST to supplement SAST and find vulnerabilities that are not exposed in the source code


While SAST scanning is an effective method for identifying security vulnerabilities, it may generate some false positives or false negatives. Therefore, it is important to complement SAST with other testing techniques, such as dynamic application security testing (DAST) and manual code review, for comprehensive application security coverage.


Is sonarqube a SAST tool?

Yes, SonarQube is a poplar SAST tool. SAST stands for Static Application Security Testing. It is a technique of software testing where source code is analyzed to find potential code quality and security vulnerabilities. SonarQube can be used to scan a wide range of programming languages, including Java, C/C++, PHP, Python, and others.

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