Code scanning 101

Learn how code scanning works, tools to use, and best practices.

0 minutes de lecture

Code scanning is one of the most foundational pieces of application development. When development teams scan their code for issues early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC), they drastically reduce the number of risks, defects, and bugs that make it to production. Fixing code issues early in the SDLC is much less costly and time-consuming than running all security and quality tests right before production. 

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of code scanning, including:

What is code scanning?

Code scanning is a technique for analyzing code throughout the SDLC. Most commonly, developers use code scanning to identify vulnerabilities and/or errors throughout the development pipeline. Teams use various code-scanning methods to find issues in different parts of their applications. Often, they perform these techniques on a schedule or schedule them to kick off automatically when a developer performs a specific task.

When teams scan code for security issues and errors, they see several benefits, including: 

  • Fewer errors and vulnerabilities in the application. By catching issues early in the SDLC, teams can ensure the application reaches production with minimal errors.

  • Less work for developers later in the pipeline. Code scanning enables development teams to fix issues whenever they commit new code. Correcting problems while in development, versus weeks or months down the road, is much more efficient and cost-effective. 

  • More robust security posture across the entire organization. Code vulnerabilities can create gaps in the organization’s whole security posture. If a single application contains security issues, all the networks and databases that interface with it could also be at risk. By fixing vulnerabilities as they happen, teams strengthen the overall security posture and facilitate security best practices outside of coding, such as secrets management.

Code scanning and code security

Security code scanning techniques are essential to securing applications in today’s fast-paced development world. By catching vulnerabilities early in the development process, teams can minimize the number of security issues in production. Waiting until the end of the SDLC to fix all issues leaves teams with a tough choice: Do we release the application on time but with risks left unresolved, or do we work on mitigating risk but delay the release? 

Code scanning throughout the SDLC empowers teams to continue moving at the speed of DevOps without compromising security best practices.

Security code scanners can detect several types of security vulnerabilities within first-party source code, third-party components, and cloud infrastructure. They often flag security issues from the OWASP Top 10, such as SQL injection, insecure design, security misconfiguration, vulnerable and outdated components, and software and data integrity failures. 

How to scan code for vulnerabilities

Teams should use security code scanning techniques to find vulnerabilities across a varied development environment. Two of the most common methods include:

  • Static application security testing (SAST). This scanning technique focuses on checking first-party code in real time. Often, teams set SAST code checks from tools such as Snyk Code to run automatically as soon as a developer performs a pull request.

  • Interactive application security testing (IAST). IAST takes a “behind-the-scenes” look at an application’s functionality during the QA/testing stage. It monitors the application’s behaviour as an automated test or human tester interacts with it and then flags any security issues that arise from these interactions.

As your team considers code-scanning tools, keep an eye out for the following features: 

For language-specific tool recommendations, check out Snyk’s lists of top scanning tools for Java and Python. Snyk has code scanning coverage for all of the major languages, including Java, JavaScript and Python.

Best practices for scanning code

Successful code scanning requires strategic planning from the security and development teams. The following best practices can help you get started on your code-scanning journey:


1. Regularly schedule code scans. Your code scans should follow a consistent cadence, such as scanning every X number of days, making scans available to developers as they code,  etc. 

2. Integrate code scanning into the CI/CD pipeline. It’s helpful to integrate security code scans into your existing CI/CD practices. For example, some teams run SAST scans alongside unit tests during continuous integration.

3. Train developers on secure coding practices. By learning how to code securely, development teams can avoid creating vulnerabilities in the first place. Educate developers on their coding errors as soon as they happen to help them learn secure coding practices for the future. 

4. Use code scanning in tandem with manual code review. Teams should use automated code scanning and manual code reviews together. Manual code review allows developers to spot visible errors before running automated scans, possibly catching issues a code scanner couldn’t spot.

5. Address and prioritize the issues detected by code scanning. Knowing that your application contains code issues is just the first step. Next, your team must establish a plan for triaging and fixing issues. It helps to use a code scanner that can provide actionable remediation steps. 

6. Complement security code scanning with other application security best practices. Teams should also leverage software composition analysis (SCA), which finds and fixes vulnerabilities and licensing issues in third-party components such as open source code and container base images, and dynamic application security testing (DAST), which tests the applications in production by simulating front-end attacks.

Code scanning with Snyk

Snyk offers a developer-first experience for code scanning. We designed our SAST product, Snyk Code, to offer fix suggestions as developers write code in their IDE or CLI. Snyk Code can also plug into your CI/CD pipeline to scan pull requests as they happen. This proactive approach prevents team members from merging vulnerable code into your codebase. 

Learn more about Snyk’s application security solution for securing your code throughout the development pipeline. 

Up Next

How to find security vulnerabilities in source code

Learn tactical guidance for discovering and remediating source code vulnerabilities and the benefits of a SAST tool like Snyk Code.

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