Static Code Analysis, also called Static Application Security Testing (SAST) or source code analysis, is a white box testing process of analyzing and evaluating a program’s code for vulnerabilities while it is being developed. In recent years, demand for software companies to deliver high security in software products has established a concern among developers about security-related threats connected to their products’ source code. The purpose of such an analysis is to identify all possible loopholes of the software system which can compromise a system’s security when deployed into the customer’s network.
Static Application Security Testing can occur very early in the software development life cycle because it does not require the application to be executable. It helps developers identify vulnerabilities in the initial stages of development and solve them before the application is complete.
Static Code Analysis provides developers with an understanding of possible errors in their code, with which they can remove any loopholes before proceeding to the next stage of development. The reported representation of code errors makes navigation easier. SAST Tools can also provide in-depth guidance on the issue and how it can be fixed.
What Comprises a Static Code Analysis?
Static analysis involves a set of rules and methods used to analyze the source code of a program and establish criteria to check its correctness and reliability. It reviews the source code without executing it and reveals a wide variety of information such as the structure of the model used, performance modeling and optimization techniques, control flow, syntax accuracy, fault localization, assertion discovery, clone detection, debugging, application reliability and many more.
But given the variety of the information, this process is very extensive, requiring multiple developers and a lot of time and resources to complete the testing manually. Depending upon the type of information that the developer wants to obtain, there are multiple Static Code Analysis techniques:
This static code analysis focuses on risks associated with the factors of user interaction with the program. It includes the user interface structure and any errors associated with the user interaction model. With the help of this analysis, developers can accurately identify any risks or errors associated with how the interface and interaction are simulated to the user.
This static flow analysis works on finding errors and loopholes in the control flow of the calling structures used in the source code. The sequence of calling these processes or functions is analyzed along with their associated conditions. The control transfers are mapped through this static analysis technique, and any liabilities are identified.
Fault analysis utilizes logic to determine faulty or inoperable parts of the source code. Such faulty code can lead to possible vulnerabilities in the system. These risks are identified and prevented through static code analysis by analyzing the applied conditions in the code.
Data analysis is used to collect data related to objects such as data structures. This analysis ensures that the code has accurate operations and that it adequately utilizes the defined data. Static analysis using this technique helps maintain the accuracy, definition, and context of data. The program checks if they use these things accurately or have any vulnerabilities.
Types of Static Code Analysis
Static code analysis can be done at any stage of the software’s development cycle, but performing it at earlier stages reduces the cost, time, and risk of detecting these errors later. Static flow analysis is traditionally done manually, but the process is time and resource intensive. For more extensive programs, performing manual analysis becomes almost impossible when bound by time constraints. Such rigorous testing also requires the analyzer to know proper code security measures and techniques of static analysis. Furthermore, even if the manpower is increased to allow faster testing, it is still prone to many errors.
Modern-day developers have access to static code analysis tools that automate the process of this security analysis, making it much faster and easier. Both types are explored below:
Manual Static Analysis
Manual static code analysis is performed by human editors, and the time-consuming process requires analysis of only a limited number of liabilities at a time. Developer’s reviews and 3rd party reviews are the two main types of manual static analysis based on whether the program is being developed by an individual or an organization.
In the personal review, the programmer manually performs the static code analysis to evaluate the code for errors and risks. While in the case of a team or organization, the analysis is performed by one or more people rather than the original developer. For a more professional manual analysis, the developer can even hire third parties to perform the analysis.
Self-analysis performed by the developer involves analyzing the code as it is written and structuring a proper review process after the code is written. A third-party analysis is a formal approach that provides:
- Documentation of all the defects found.
- An estimate of rework effort.
- Any suggestions to improve the control or data flow of the code.
Automated Static Analysis
Automated static code analysis is performed with the help of tools. They consistently check the code for errors in real-time. This type of analysis does not require the developer to know the static code analysis techniques. It follows a set of rules predefined to the tools to find any errors, risks, and loopholes in the code. These tools drastically reduce the human labor and time required to perform static analysis.
These tools analyze the code and provide report feedback highlighting major flaws, errors, and security issues found in the code. By automating the analysis process, the developer now only has to check the identity errors for false positives and negatives and correct the accurate errors manually.
Static Code Analysis analyzes and evaluates a code during development to check for security risks. It’s an increasingly significant process, due to rising client concern for high security products. That’s why we’ve discussed what happens in it, what its types are, and how they function. We’ve also written a number of articles on other essential analysis tools such as lexical and data flow analysis, so to secure your systems further, be sure to check those out.
Code analysis is the testing of source code for the purpose of finding errors and vulnerabilities before a program is distributed to the customer or made open to the market. This code is a written text which is written by developers in text editors and then provided to automated tools to obtain an analysis of possible errors and loopholes in it.
Static Code Analysis vs Dynamic Code Analysis
The output of a source code analysis consists of high-level information relating to the program, including metrics identifying program properties, function invoke rates, call graphs and other automated representations. Based on these outputs, with one focusing on code structure and code understanding and the other on the code’s performance during the program’s execution, two types of code analysis can be characterized. To summarize both types of code analysis, Static Analysis is concerned with code properties and source code metrics, and Dynamic Analysis is with execution metrics.
Static Code Analysis
Static Code Analysis is classified as a white box testing performed at the early stages of program development. It highlights vulnerabilities in the source code without executing it. Some ways to perform static analysis are Data Flow Analysis and Taint Analysis.
Modern Static Code Analysis is performed by tools that automate the process of finding security flaws, which are reviewed by the developer to analyze the results and take the proper actions to perform corrections. These tools can be integrated into famous platforms to perform real-time analysis as the program is being developed to reduce the time of performing a code analysis separately. This real-time analysis is more practical than finding vulnerabilities at the end stages of the Software Development Life Cycle.
Static Code Analysis, when performed by an analyzer which has a proper understanding of the tool and its rules, offers a variety of benefits:
Static Code Analysis checks the complete code from start to finish, even the code that is not used by the program. This ensures that all errors, bugs and vulnerabilities are identified.
- Test According to Manually Set Rules:
Performing Static Code Analysis according to preset rules can still provide adequate results. But it is best to personalize the rules according to your project to lower the rate of false positives and get a more accurate result.
Static Code Analysis does not require the program to be a finalized product or an executable code. This analysis assists the developer in the development process by performing real-time analysis of the code.
- Highlight Exact Error and its Location:
This analysis can point out the exact code causing the error or bug. Additionally, it provides a short synopsis of what that error could be, making it easy to solve.
- Reduced Cost and Time Consumption:
Performing this analysis at the early stages of the SDLC can help solve the risks early. Therefore, you avoid the cost and time extensive process of tackling these errors at the final stages.
Performing Static Code Analysis without proper configuration can result in false positives being reported as errors, resulting in more time consumed to get to the more critical errors.
- Not Concerned with the Runtime Environment:
Static code analysis is applied without running the application, focusing mainly on the structure rather than the code’s operations or the program’s performance factor.
- Not All Languages are Supported:
The static code analysis tool might not support the language used in your program.
If the analysis is not performed along the development process and is performed separately, the tools can take a lot of time to finalize an analysis of the complete code.
Dynamic Code Analysis
Dynamic code analysis is designed to test an executable application for any vulnerabilities that can compromise the application’s security or proper working. This analysis simulates an actual runtime environment to identify errors associated with compile time and runtime processes.
When performing this analysis, tools attack the executed program from multiple angles with potentially malicious inputs. All negative responses are reported as errors and vulnerabilities. Dynamic Analysis is performed at the testing phase of the SDLC as it requires an application to run for it to be tested.
- Simulate the actual runtime environment
Dynamic Analysis can simulate a realistic deployment environment to analyze how the program will react to real-world attacks and potential exploits. This reduces damages caused by any errors found after the application is deployed into the market.
- Can test the application without Code
Dynamic Analysis can be performed on any executable as it is concerned with the black box testing of the application.
- Can help Identify False Negatives in any Other Code Analysis
This analysis can point out any errors overlooked by other code analyses that are performed without executing the application.
- Detect Liabilities that Other Analysis Can Not:
Since Dynamic Analysis detects vulnerabilities in a running application, it can detect loopholes in the application that are difficult to detect in source code. Some vulnerabilities, like memory allocation issues and configuration issues, are only visible when the code is active. These tools can also detect issues within third-party dependencies and libraries.
- Only points out the problem:
Dynamic analysis is not concerned with the code, so it cannot identify any structure errors. Furthermore, even if a problem is found, its source and cause are not detected. Thus developers have to find the source of the problem manually.
The process is time-consuming and can take a huge effort to perform the initial analysis. After the analysis is done, the process of finding the cause of vulnerabilities and correcting them can involve backtracking, as it can only be performed after the application is complete.
Like any code analysis, Dynamic Analysis can also result in many false positives, which need to be manually assessed by the analyzer.
Setting up an analysis depending on your project can be difficult. It might require expert help to perform an accurate, custom analysis.
- Both types detect defects. The difference is in terms of the development stage that they can be implemented.
- Dynamic code analysis can miss errors relating to code properties and source code metrics, while static analysis can not identify vulnerabilities relating to execution metrics.
- Testing the code comprises dynamic analysis, while reviewing the code defines static analysis.
- Both analyses can work independently but should be used to complement each other for the best security analysis.
- Static code analysis works best with code review, while Dynamic code analysis is performed as automated testing to generate real-time performance data.
- When performing Dynamic Code Analysis after Static Analysis, it is best to focus on factors such as performance, logic, and security validation as these are not concerned with the Static Code Analysis.
- In a development process, once the code issues are resolved through Static Code Analysis, they can be tested by real-time execution through Dynamic Analysis to remove all factors of data vulnerabilities.
Code analysis tests source code to detect errors before distribution of a program. It’s divided into two types: static code analysis, which identifies vulnerabilities in a code without execution, and dynamic code analysis, which simulates an actual runtime to identify error. Here, we’ve discussed how the work, and what their advantages and disadvantages are, so that you can determine which one you need to use. Good luck!