Testing SAML security with DAST

Single sign-on (SSO) is the foundation of secure access to modern web application environments, allowing users to log in once and apply that authentication to multiple other applications. One of the most common ways to implement SSO is using SAML, or the Security Assertion Markup Language – an open standard for communicating authentication and authorization requests and responses between systems. Any weaknesses in how your application handles SAML messages could compromise your web application, so SAML security is a vital consideration.

In the past, checking SAML endpoint security was only possible through painstaking manual testing – but that is changing. This post presents an overview of SAML security testing, introduces new security checks in Invicti’s Acunetix Premium vulnerability scanner, and shows how advances in dynamic application security testing (DAST) are making it possible to partially automate SAML security testing.

A brief introduction to SAML and SSO

SAML is a complex format for exchanging security-related data in a variety of situations. In practice, SSO is by far the most common use for SAML today, so let’s start with an overview of a typical SAML message flow in an SSO situation for a web application.

Three parties are involved in a SAML data exchange: a user agent (such as your web browser), a service provider (SP), and an identity provider (IdP). In everyday terms, the service provider is the application you want to access and the identity provider is the system that can authenticate you. Figure 1 below shows the SAML messages

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