Organizations perform major official activities on their extremely convenient mobile devices. This extra step to convenience has opened up a Pandora box of mobile app security threats that organizations need to protect themselves against.
The number of cyberattacks increased by 125% between 2021 and 2022, according to a study by the World Economic Forum. It has become more important than ever for organizations to secure their apps to protect their users against mobile app security threats and provide a seamless user experience.
Top 6 Mobile App Security Threats
1. Insecure Authentication/Authorization
Authentication is the process of verifying if the user is actually who they are claiming to be. Authorization is the process of verifying if the user is allowed to perform the action they’re trying to accomplish.
Malicious actors can exploit authentication and authorization through automated attacks that leverage available resources or custom-built tools.
They can exploit these mobile app security risks in two ways:
- Fake or bypass authentication by directly submitting service requests to the app’s backend. They will circumvent any direct interaction with the app.
- Log in as a legitimate user and then force-browse to a mobile application threats and execute administrative functionality.
You can test for authorization mobile app vulnerabilities using the following methods:
- Execute privileged functionality with a low-privilege user or without any user credentials
- Check if authorization decisions are made within the mobile device or the backend server
- Employ binary attacks to modify or bypass the authorization logic
- Test the app in offline mode and see if any unauthorized functionality can be accessed
You can test for authentication mobile app security risks using the following methods:
- Bypass offline authentication and access sensitive sensitive functionality in the app
- Remove any session tokens from the requests in the backend server and test if any functionality can be executed anonymously
- Check the strength and security of the authentication scheme used by app
- Test the mobile app in both online and offline mode and check for authentication mobile mobile app vulnerabilities
When testing you should look for authentication/authorization mobile app security threats:
- Insecure Direct Object Reference (IDOR) mobile app vulnerability
- Hidden endpoints and functionalities
- User Role or Permission Transmissions
- Ability of the app to execute a backend API service request without providing an access token
- Local storage of passwords and confidential information
- Weak password and encryption policy
- Usage of FaceID and TouchID for authorization
2. Insecure Communication
Modern applications exchange data with remote servers to perform certain tasks through a mobile device’s carrier network and the internet. A malicious actor can intercept and modify, leak, and/or delete this data if this information is not encrypted.
These attacks can happen through:
- Compromised or monitored WiFi networks
- Rogue carrier or network devices such as routers, towers, etc
- Malware on the mobile device
These attacks can exploit mobile app vulnerabilities such as:
- Deprecated protocols
- Poor configuration settings
- Inconsistency in protocols such as SSL/TLS only in few workflows
You can prevent these attacks by following mobile app security best practices checklist.
3. Inadequate Supply Chain Security
An attacker can insert malicious code into the mobile app’s codebase or modify the code during the build process to introduce backdoors, spyware, or other malicious code. An attacker can also exploit mobile app vulnerability in third-party software libraries.
This will allow the attacker to steal data, spy on your users, take control of your app and hence the device leading to unauthorized access, data manipulation, denial of service, identity theft and more.
This attack occurs due to:
- Lack of secure coding practices
- Insufficient code reviews and testing
- Insufficient or insecure app signing and distribution process
- Weakness in third-party software components or libraries
- Insufficient security controls for data, encryption, storage
- Exposing sensitive data to unauthorized access
This mobile application threats can arise due to:
- Lack of security in third-party components such as libraries and frameworks
- Malicious insider threats
- Inadequate testing and validation
- Lack of security awareness
You can prevent these mobile application vulnerabilities by employing the following prevention methods:
- Implement secure coding practices, code review and testing
- Ensure secure app signing and distribution processes
- Use trusted and validated third-party libraries or components
- Establish security controls
- Monitor and detect supply chain security incidents
4. Unprotected Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
Privacy controls are concerned with protecting PII such as names, addresses, payment information, email addresses, IP addresses, health information, religion, sexuality, political opinions and more. If this information reaches malicious actors, they could impersonate, blackmail, and/or harm the victim.
PII could undergo three violations:
- Violation of confidentiality – leaked data
- Violation of integrity – manipulation of data
- Violation of availability – destruction/block of data
Obtaining PII requires the attacker to breach security. They could eavesdrop on the network communication, access file system, clipboard, or logs with trojan or if they have access to the mobile device, they can take a local backup of the data. An app can be vulnerable to this attack if it processes some form of PII. And this is most apps. Client apps’ IP addresses are visible to a server, logs of the apps’ usage, and metadata sent with crash reports are all PII.
This attack happens through:
- Insecure data storage and communication
- Data access through insecure authentication and authorization
- Insider attacks on the apps’ sandbox
The safest approach to prevent privacy violations is to minimize the amount and variety of PII that is stored and processed. This requires full awareness of all PII assets in a given app.
Follow a few simple steps to protect PII from mobile application vulnerabilities:
- Assess the importance of the PII
- Reduce the amount of PII being processes
- Make the data anonymous by hashing, bucketing, and/or adding noise
- Add expiration periods to the data
- Make users aware of the additional risk of making PII available
You can employ threat modeling to determine the most likely ways that privacy violations may occur. Automated and manual cybersecurity tools might reveal common pitfalls like logging of sensitive data, leakage to clipboard, or URL query parameters.
5. Improper Credential Usage
Adversaries can exploit mobile application vulnerabilities in both hardcoded credentials and improper credential usage. Once these mobile app security risks are identified, an attacker can use hardcoded credentials to gain unauthorized access to sensitive functionalities. They can misuse credentials by gaining access through improperly validated or stored credentials bypassing the need for legitimate access.
It is important to keep employing a comprehensive security testing process to detect and prevent any mobile app vulnerabilities.
Some mobile application vulnerabilities that you should look for:
- Hardcoded mobile application vulnerabilities
- Insecure credential transmission
- Insecure credential storage
- Weak user authentication
You can prevent this mobile app threats by employing the following methods:
- Avoid using hard coded credentials in your mobile app’s code or configuration files
- Encrypt credentials during transmission
- Do not store user credentials on the device. Instead, consider using secure, revocable access tokens
- Implement strong user authentication protocols
- Regularly update and rotate any used API keys or tokens
6. Insufficient Validation and Sanitization of Data
Insufficient validation and sanitization of data from external sources such as user inputs or network data can introduce severe mobile application vulnerabilities. Mobile apps that fail to properly protect themselves against this mobile application threats are vulnerable to attacks such as SQL injection, command injection, and CSS attacks.
Inadequate output validation can result in data corruption or presentation mobile application vulnerabilities, allowing malicious actors to inject malicious code or manipulate sensitive data.
This mobile application threats can occur due to:
- Insufficient Input Validation
- Insufficient Output Validation
- Lack of Contextual Validation
- Failure to Validate Data Integrity
- Errors in application logic
- Incomplete implementation of validation checks
- Lack of security awareness
- Insufficient testing and code review practices
An application can be vulnerable to this threat due to:
- Failure to properly validate user input can expose the application to injection attacks like SQL injection, command injection, or XSS.
- Insufficient sanitization of output data can result in XSS mobile app vulnerabilities, allowing attackers to inject and execute malicious scripts.
- Neglecting to consider specific validation requirements based on data context can create mobile application vulnerabilities, such as path traversal attacks or unauthorized access to files.
- Not performing proper data integrity checks can lead to data corruption or unauthorized modification, compromising reliability and security.
- Neglecting secure coding practices, such as using parameterized queries or escaping/encoding data, contributes to input/output validation mobile app vulnerabilities.
To prevent “Insufficient Input/Output Validation” mobile app vulnerabilities:
- Validate and sanitize user input using strict validation techniques.
- Implement input length restrictions and reject unexpected or malicious data.
- Properly sanitize output data to prevent cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.
- Use output encoding techniques when displaying or transmitting data.
- Perform specific validation based on data context (e.g., file uploads, database queries) to prevent attacks like path traversal or injection.
- Implement data integrity checks to detect and prevent data corruption or unauthorized modifications.
- Follow secure coding practices, such as using parameterized queries and prepared statements to prevent SQL injection.
- Conduct regular security assessments, including penetration testing and code reviews, to identify and address mobile application vulnerabilities.
Employing all of these on your own can get tedious. That’s where Astra Security a provider of mobile application security services comes in. Astra Security is a mobile application threats assessment and penetration testing company that provides round-the-clock security testing services to assess internet-facing assets as quickly and efficiently as possible to detect mobile app vulnerabilities.
Our VAPT offerings help with:
- Better security coverage for web and mobile applications, cloud infrastructure, networks, and APIs.
- Detection and remediation of mobile application vulnerabilities and security gaps of varying criticality.
- Maintenance of compliance with regulatory requirements like HIPAA, SOC2, PCI-DSS, ISO 27001, and GDPR.
- Shifting from DevOps to DevSecOps giving due priority to security testing applications in SDLC.
Users are more conscious about mobile app security and they want protection against these security threats. They have high expectations from the apps they download with respect to their privacy. They will download an app only when they realize they are less likely to encounter an app infected with malicious code. Most users also check developer activity updates to get to know your app better.
It is hence important to understand the various mobile application security threats and effectively implement them to ensure maximum security and to also provide a seamless user experience.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the OWASP 10?
The OWASP Top 10 is a list of the most critical web application security risks, updated every one to two years by a non-profit community of experts. It aims to raise awareness among developers and web application security professionals about the common threats and best practices to prevent them. The OWASP Top 10 covers various categories of risks, such as injection, broken access control, cryptographic failures, and more.
What are the most common mobile application threats in Android?
The most common mobile application threats in Android applications is insecure data storage which can expose sensitive information to unauthorized parties. Other mobile app vulnerabilities include malware attacks, insecure inter process communication, unsecure API, vishing, phishing attacks, etc.
What are common mobile app vulnerabilities in iOS?
Some of the common mobile app vulnerabilities in iOS are:
1. Broken cryptography: This occurs when an app uses weak or outdated encryption algorithms, or implements them incorrectly. An attacker can exploit this mobile application threats to decrypt sensitive data or tamper with the app’s functionality..
2. Improper platform usage: This happens when an app does not follow the security best practices or guidelines provided by the platform vendor, such as Apple. For example, an app may fail to use the Keychain API for storing credentials, or misuse the Touch ID or Face ID features.
3. Insecure communication: This refers to the lack of protection for data in transit between the app and the server, or between the app and other apps. An attacker can intercept, modify, or redirect the network traffic using techniques such as man-in-the-middle attacks, SSL stripping, or DNS spoofing.
4. Lack of binary protections: This means that the app does not implement sufficient measures to prevent reverse engineering, tampering, or debugging by unauthorized parties. An attacker can use tools such as ClutchMod, xcon, or class-dump-z to extract information, bypass security checks, or modify the app’s behavior.