Automated Security Testing: 6 Best Practices

Jun 29, 2023 | Best Practices, Best Practices, Test Automation Insights

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The expanded use of agile and DevOps practices has led to faster code releases, but every new software release or update opens the door to security threats. Hackers never stop looking for potential security vulnerabilities in software applications. Ignoring or bypassing the problem in the name of speed can lead to the release of malicious code, so it’s a good idea to employ automated security testing. 

What is security testing? A security testing process strengthens application protections by ensuring security remains a focus throughout the software development life cycle (SDLC). 

The Importance of Automated Security Testing in Software Development

Security issues often pop up after release, thanks to undetected bugs that slipped past the testing process. This often happens when testers and development teams rely on manual security testing to get through every scenario. If a defect doesn’t affect functionality, it’s easier to slip by the testers and into production. 

Automated security testing tools can alleviate security risks by weeding out potential bugs and vulnerabilities that may lead to compromised data. Data security issues can come with hefty fines and other penalties depending on your industry and applicable laws. The sooner you start looking for security problems, the lower the risk of them impacting your ability to do business. 

Automated security testing also helps you enforce policies to prevent hackers from using your software and applications to gain unauthorized access. These bad actors may exploit weaknesses in your code to release malware, hijack your systems, or steal information.

Best Practices for Implementing Automated Security Testing

Security tests typically happen after a product is delivered, but waiting that long can cause testers to miss authentication issues and other internal security flaws. That led to the evolution of DevSecOps, a practice that integrates security checks at various phases of the development and testing process to identify potential security vulnerabilities.

Instead of waiting until the end of the SDLC, security automation testing is performed throughout the entire life cycle. Automated testing platforms help enterprises ensure that security testing occurs at every phase, reducing the chances of exposing critical vulnerabilities to hackers. These automated tools can also handle some of the repetitive tasks involved in testing and free your team to work on more pressing issues.

As applications become more complex, security automation tools are needed to help testers perform automated security penetration testing. This type of “ethical hacking” evaluates the security of a system, network, or application. Testers simulate the kind of real-world attacks hackers often use, so they can find any weaknesses in software infrastructure that might become a point of exploitation. 

Below is an overview of the best practices for implementing automated security testing. 

1. Create a Comprehensive Security Testing Strategy

Setting up a security policy strategy requires you to systematically establish guidelines and procedures for executing security test activities. That way, you’re better positioned to find any vulnerabilities in your application. 

Start by defining the scope of the policy. Evaluate any networks, systems, or applications required to undergo security testing. Include internal and external systems and third-party software interacting with other company infrastructure. 

Consider any industry regulations or security standards applicable to your industry. If you’re building a website accessible to European customers, it may be subject to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If a hacker exploits a vulnerability and gains access to those customers’ data, your organization could be fined and penalized. 

Other guidelines worth considering include:

  • ISO 27001 
  • PCI DSS
  • HIPAA
  • OWASP 

Decide which testing methodologies and techniques you need to assess the security vulnerabilities in your software accurately. It’s much easier to go through multiple scenarios with the right security automation tools. You can also schedule the frequency of when you wish to execute the tests and what factors to consider like:

  • How critical a system is to an application
  • The sensitivity of the data being handled
  • How often the environment might change
  • Regulatory requirements

Figure out the roles of those involved in the security testing and their responsibilities. Consider including consultants, development teams, and system administrators in the process, along with security team members. Spell out the tasks assigned to each role, and communicate all responsibilities clearly to every team member. 

Document your testing processes by creating detailed procedures and guidelines for every security testing activity. Include steps for planning and scoping the testing and details of what automated security testing tools and techniques you will use. 

2. Set Up a Secure Testing Environment

Create a dedicated testing environment that’s separate from production. Isolating your automated security penetration testing ensures the confidentiality and integrity of your processes. You should also use different networks, servers, and databases for security testing. Employ network segmentation tools like Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs) and firewalls to control access to your test environment. 

Protect sensitive data used to execute your test conditions. Use a virtual private network (VPN) or protocols like HTTPS to secure transmitted data. You can further prevent unauthorized access by using disk or file-level encryption.

3. Establish a Secure Data Handling Process During Testing

Start by classifying the information used for security testing. Look for and separate data like personally identifiable information (PII) and anonymized data. Replace actual customer data with scrambled or made-up information that maintains the format but doesn’t expose personal details. 

Using synthetic data eliminates the risk of exposing actual data while testing. Synthetic data should have the same format as real data but not exist in any other system or platform. You can use it to simulate testing situations, including how your application’s security controls function. 

Make sure you have data transmission protocols for moving information within the testing environment. Avoid using unsecured channels or public networks that might get intercepted, and use strict access controls to prevent users from accessing information used during testing. 

4. Enhance Security Checks Through Vulnerability Scanning and Penetration Testing

Vulnerability scans identify vulnerabilities within your systems, networks, and software applications before malicious actors exploit them. Make sure you use quality security testing tools with a reliable vulnerability scanner to avoid false positives and overlooked weak points. 

Penetration testing goes beyond vulnerability scanning by using realistic attacks to test the security of your company’s infrastructure. They help you determine your success in reinforcing your security posture throughout your organization. Once you identify critical weaknesses, you can prioritize remediation efforts and boost your overall security. 

5. Implement Secure Coding Practices for Application Development

Security coding practices are guidelines and techniques developers use when writing software code. It helps them build applications with fewer security risks and vulnerabilities. Using secure coding practices lowers the chances of a bad actor compromising the security of an application. 

6. Conduct Regular Security Scans and Audits

Security scans are automated security processes examining applications for known misconfigurations and vulnerabilities. Examples of security scans include:

  • Network scanning: Reviews network infrastructure for issues like open ports, entry points, and services. 
  • Web application scanning: Identifies vulnerabilities that typically exist in web applications. They examine known problem areas like input fields, session management, and authentication mechanisms. 
  • Wireless network scanning: Scans for weaknesses in the security protecting wireless networks like poor encryption or rogue devices. 

Security audits evaluate an organization’s security practices, policies, and controls. They’re used to perform a systematic review of all security measures. The goal is to assess the effectiveness of your security posture and identify potential gaps. Below are examples of audits executed using security automation tools: 

  • Compliance audits: Look at how well a company abides by outlined security standards or regulatory requirements. 
  • Configuration audits: Evaluate the system configurations employed by organizations against security best practices. 
  • Policy and procedure audits: Look at the effectiveness of the security procedures and policies put in place by a company. Reviews include an examination of policy documentation and implementation methods. 

Effective Techniques for Automated Testing

How you conduct software security testing will vary depending on your desired outcome. Below are some data validation techniques often used with automated security testing tools.

Input Validation and Data Sanitization

You can automate security testing to validate all user input. That way, you ensure hackers can’t use attacks like cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and command injection. Check the length of input and the type of data being sent. Make sure it’s appropriately encoded so that only safe data passes into an application.

Testing Authentication and Authorization Mechanisms

One common practice performed during automated security penetration testing is to check the procedures used to authenticate users accessing the testing environment. Employ safe password storage practices and enforce standards around password complexity. Many businesses employ multi-factor authentication (MFA) to enhance security protections. 

Evaluate Session Management and Access Control

Another way testers rely on automated security testing is by confirming the validity of secure session management techniques like employing unique session identifiers and enforcing session expiration. That prevents bad actors from tampering with session data. You should employ secure communication protocols if you need to transmit sensitive information. Validate certificates and use secure cipher suites for added data protection. 

Explore the Full Power of a Robust Automated Security Testing Tool

Ranorex Studio provides testing teams with everything they need to evaluate security processes within their organization. Take advantage of additional features like the code editor, Ranorex Recorder, Ranorex Driver, and Ranorex API. Find out more about the benefits of our platform by trying it out for yourself. 

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