Learn how DAST can help you shift security left.

How DAST Can Help You Shift Security Left

What Is DAST?

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a security testing methodology that is used to find security vulnerabilities in a running application. Unlike static application security testing (SAST), which analyzes source code, DAST tests the application in its running state. This allows it to identify vulnerabilities that may not be detectable through static analysis.

DAST works by simulating attacks on an application and observing its response. It can identify a wide range of vulnerabilities, including input/output validation issues, server configuration mistakes, and other security flaws that can be exploited by attackers. DAST can be used throughout the SDLC, but it is most commonly used during the testing and production stages.

DAST offers several key benefits. It provides a real-world view of an application’s security posture, helping to identify vulnerabilities that might be missed by other testing methodologies. It is also relatively easy to set up and run, making it a practical option for many organizations.

What Is “Shift Security Left”?

The term "Shift Security Left" has become a popular buzzword in the world of software development. It refers to the idea of incorporating security considerations into the earliest stages of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Traditionally, security has been an afterthought, addressed only after the software has been developed or even deployed. However, this approach often leads to vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers.

Shifting security left means integrating security practices right from the design and development phase, making it an intrinsic part of the entire SDLC. It's a proactive approach that aims to identify and rectify vulnerabilities during the development process, rather than after the software is live. This shift not only reduces the risk of a security breach but also saves time and resources in the long run.

The shift left strategy is part of a broader movement towards DevSecOps, which integrates development, operations, and security to create a more streamlined and efficient SDLC. By making security an integral part of the development process rather than a separate phase, businesses can develop more secure software faster and more efficiently.

Benefits of Shifting Security Left in the SDLC

There are several key benefits associated with shifting security left in the SDLC. Firstly, it enables developers to detect and address security vulnerabilities early in the process, thereby reducing the risk of security breaches. Early detection not only prevents potential damage but also saves time and resources that would otherwise be spent on fixing vulnerabilities after the software has been deployed.

Secondly, it fosters a culture of security within the development team. By integrating security considerations into every stage of the SDLC, developers become more aware of security issues and are better equipped to design and build secure software. This shift in mindset can have a profound impact on the overall security posture of an organization.

Lastly, shifting security left can lead to improved collaboration between the development and security teams. When security is integrated into the development process, it becomes a shared responsibility. This encourages communication and collaboration between the two teams, leading to more effective and efficient security practices.

Challenges to Shifting Security Left

While there are numerous benefits associated with shifting security left, there are also several challenges that organizations may face. One of the primary challenges is the need for cultural change. Traditionally, security has been seen as the responsibility of a separate team, and integrating it into the development process requires a shift in mindset. This can be a significant hurdle, particularly in larger organizations.

Another challenge is the need for training and education. Developers need to understand how to incorporate security practices into their work, and this requires training and ongoing education. There is also a need for the right tools and technologies to support the shift left strategy.

Finally, there is the challenge of balancing speed and security. Most development teams face constant pressure to deliver software quickly. However, integrating security into the development process can slow things down. This can be a difficult balance to strike, and it requires careful planning and management.

How DAST Fits into the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)

DAST can play a critical role in the SDLC, particularly when it comes to the shift left security strategy. By integrating DAST into the early stages of the development process, organizations can identify and rectify vulnerabilities before the software is deployed. This not only enhances the security of the software but also saves time and resources.

During the development phase, DAST can be used to scan the application for vulnerabilities as it is being built. This allows developers to address security issues as they arise, rather than waiting until the end of the process. DAST can also be used during the testing phase to ensure that the application is secure before it is deployed.

In addition to its role in the development and testing phases, DAST can also be used during the operation and maintenance phase of the SDLC. By continuously scanning the application for vulnerabilities, DAST can help to ensure that the software remains secure even after it has been deployed.

Implementing DAST to Shift Security Left

Implementing DAST to shift security left involves several key steps, including defining security requirements early, choosing suitable DAST tools, integrating DAST into the Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipeline, addressing findings promptly, and regular security training.

Define Security Requirements Early

To successfully implement DAST and shift security left, it's vital to define your security requirements at the beginning of your project. This involves identifying potential risks and threats and determining the necessary precautions to mitigate them. By doing so, you establish a clear security framework that guides the entire development process, ensuring that all team members are on the same page regarding security expectations.

Moreover, defining security requirements early in the SDLC allows you to align your security measures with your business objectives. You can identify the most critical assets that need protection, ensuring that your security strategy prioritizes these areas. Additionally, this also allows you to determine the acceptable level of risk for your project, enabling you to make informed decisions about resource allocation for security testing and remediation.

Choose Suitable DAST Tools

The next step in leveraging DAST to shift security left is choosing suitable DAST tools. The right tool can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of your security testing process. When selecting a DAST tool, consider factors such as the tool's ability to identify and report vulnerabilities, its ease of use, and its compatibility with your existing systems and processes.

Furthermore, it's beneficial to choose a DAST tool that offers comprehensive coverage of the OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities, as these are the most common security risks found in web applications. The tool should also be able to simulate various attack scenarios to test the robustness of your application's security measures.

Integrate DAST into the CI/CD Pipeline

To maximize the benefits of DAST and shift left security, it's essential to integrate DAST into your CI/CD pipeline. This allows for continuous security testing throughout the development process, leading to early detection and remediation of vulnerabilities.

Integrating DAST into the CI/CD pipeline involves configuring the DAST tool to run automatically whenever changes are made to the codebase. This ensures that every update is thoroughly tested for security vulnerabilities before it's integrated into the main codebase. Additionally, integrating DAST into the CI/CD pipeline enables you to maintain a consistent security posture throughout the development process, reducing the risk of vulnerabilities being introduced in later stages.

Address Findings Promptly

While implementing DAST and shifting security left can aid in the early detection of vulnerabilities, these efforts will be ineffective if the identified issues are not promptly addressed. It's crucial to establish a process for reviewing and remediating the findings from DAST.

This process should involve prioritizing the identified vulnerabilities based on their potential impact and the likelihood of exploitation. High-risk vulnerabilities should be addressed immediately, while lower-risk issues can be scheduled for remediation in future development cycles. Additionally, the process should include retesting the application after remediation efforts to ensure that the identified vulnerabilities have been effectively resolved.

Regular Security Training

Finally, regular security training is a fundamental part of leveraging DAST to enhance your shift left security strategy. Developers need to be aware of the latest security threats and best practices for mitigating these risks. Regular training sessions can help to equip your team with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively incorporate security measures into their work.

Moreover, security training should not be a one-time event. As new threats emerge and security practices evolve, ongoing training is necessary to ensure that your team stays up-to-date with the latest developments in the field. This will enable them to proactively identify and address potential security issues, contributing to the overall effectiveness of your shift left security strategy.


In conclusion, leveraging DAST to enhance your shift left security strategy involves a comprehensive approach that includes defining security requirements early, choosing suitable DAST tools, integrating DAST into the CI/CD pipeline, addressing findings promptly, and regular security training. By implementing these steps, you can effectively shift security left and create a more secure, high-quality software product.

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Imperva, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.