Mobile App Security

A Deep Dive into Mobile Application Penetration Testing

Updated on: October 20, 2021

A Deep Dive into Mobile Application Penetration Testing

Mobile apps are the next big thing in the world of software. As the number of smart devices continues to increase, likely, the number of mobile applications will also continue to grow. While the latest innovations in mobile devices have made many tasks quicker and easier, there’s no denying that the security of these problem-solving applications is not an easy task.

Mobile apps are a part of a larger mobile ecosystem that interacts with everything from the mobile device, network infrastructure, servers, and data centers. This gives rise to a complex attack surface. The attack surface is further expanded with the increased use of mobile devices with advanced capabilities such as sensors, global positioning systems (GPS), and near-field communication (NFC). With the increasing sophistication of cyber-attacks and the million-dollar bounties being offered for bugs in mobile apps, organizations have begun investing in mobile application penetration testing.

Recent examples of mobile app data leaks/hacks

Latest data surveyed by “report” shows that the data breaches have dramatically increased in the past few years. Hackers are developing new methods to access your personal information by compromising the applications installed on your mobile devices.

Here are some examples of recent data breaches via mobile app compromise:

  • LinkedIn: In June 2021, LinkedIn encountered a vast data breach due to which data scraped from the 700 million users who appeared on a dark web forum earlier this year, impacting more than 90% of LinkedIn’s total user base.
  • Pixlr: Pixlr is a general and free online photo editing application that suffered a data breach of 1.9M users. The records include name, email, password (hashed), gender, country, IP address
  • Clubhouse: The clubhouse is a social audio app that suffered a data breach in April 2021. database containing 1.3 million scraped Clubhouse user records were leaked for free on a popular hacker forum.

It’s one small security loophole v/s your Android & iOS app

Get your mobile app audited & strengthen your defenses!

What are the different types of Mobile apps organizations use?

In the mobile app industry, there are three main types of apps developers or organizations use to cater their customers. Each class runs code on a different kind of device. Let’s take a look at these basic types and what they involve.

1. Native Mobile Apps

Native mobile apps are the ones that are downloaded on mobile devices. These kind of apps are usually created for a specific platform like Android or iOS. There are many different types of programming languages that are used to build native applications such as Java, Kotlin, Python, Swift, Objective-C, C++, and React.

2. Hybrid Apps

Hybrid mobile apps are a relatively new concept for mobile development. The idea is to combine the best of both worlds: iOS and Android applications. They run on a mobile operating system and can be downloaded from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Flutter is a UI software development kit created by Google to develop cross-platform applications for Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows, Google Fuchsia, and the web from a single codebase.

3. Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

A Progressive Web App is a software app based on the web that will install on a system. In a nutshell, PWA is a web app but looks similar to regular (native) mobile apps. The primary purpose of PWA is to bring the best of the web to the app world and eliminate the hassles and limitations of traditional apps. A PWA works like a regular website and can be opened and used by any browser (including mobile browsers), but the main difference is that PWA apps also function as mobile apps and can be added to the home screen to be accessed like a native app.

Top 5 mobile app security risks

1. Insecure Data Storage: Data storage is one of the most important aspects of any application or device. If the application stores, transmit or process sensitive information, they need to keep it secure. This usually occurs when developers incorrectly assume users or malware cannot access specific device or system files. Hackers can access your device’s data or steal your information if you fail to store it securely.

2. Untrusted Inputs: The concept of trusted user input is not new. However, most developers are not aware of how it works, what problems it might cause and how to protect themselves from it. This is especially important for mobile applications, as most of their source code is available online, so there is no point in hiding it.

3. Insecure Communication: Insecure communication is a threat that can never be underestimated. When mobile applications are not developed carefully, they can leave their backend systems exposed to hackers. When mobile apps transmit data over the public Internet, mobile carrier networks disclose sensitive data to attack. 

4. Insufficient Cryptography: If there is one thing that the world knows about cryptography, it is essential to keeping our data safe. Insufficient cryptography can be caused by many reasons, including the lack of knowledge of the developers on a good encryption process or the inability to implement good encryption on the software. 

5. Code Obfuscation: Code obfuscation is the process of transforming the source code of a software application to hinder attempts at reverse engineering or decompilation. Attackers use reverse engineering to understand how an app works to formulate exploits.

Related Guide – What is Network Penetration Testing & How to Perform It

Why Mobile Application Penetration Testing is important?
Image: Insecure Transmission of Sensitive Data

How does penetration testing help secure a mobile app?

With more than 4.37M apps available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, any organization with or plans to have a mobile app should consider mobile application penetration testing to secure their customer information stored in these apps.

Mobile penetration testing tests mobile applications/software/mobile operating systems for security vulnerabilities by using either manual or automated techniques to analyze the application. These techniques are used to identify security flaws that may occur in the mobile application. The purpose of penetration testing is to ensure that the mobile application is not vulnerable to attacks.

Mobile application penetration testing is a vital part of the overall assessment process. Mobile application security is becoming a critical element in the security of any company. Also, the data is stored locally on the mobile device. Data encryption and authentication are the essential concerns of safety for organizations having mobile applications. Mobile apps are the most lucrative target for hackers. The reason is that mobile apps are used by almost all the people on this planet. 

Related Guide – How to Perform Mobile Application Security Testing

Make your mobile application the safest place on the Internet

with our detailed and specially curated web app security checklist.

5 Parameters to test while performing Mobile Application Penetration Testing

The parameters for mobile application penetration testing include the below pointers.

  1. Architecture, design, and threat modeling: Understanding the architecture of the mobile app while performing mobile app penetration testing is a crucial step. Once understood, the manual tests must include tests for insecure design and architecture.
  2. Network communication: Transferring data over public networks is where hackers steal user-sensitive data. Mobile app penetration testing must focus on network communication which includes testing how the data travels over networks.
  3. Data storage and privacy: Clear text storage of sensitive data is a gift of attackers or hackers. Most applications store sensitive data such as user passwords, API keys, etc., in clean text, usually held in Strings.xml file.
  4. Authentication and session management: Mobile application tests must include testing for session management issues such as session expiration on password change, misconfigured backup codes for multi-factor authentication, etc.
  5. Misconfiguration errors in code or build settings: Most mobile application developers don’t care about error messages. Mobile application developers check for debug messages and error codes while developing to reveal no application-related internal information to the end-user.
Top 5 Mobile Application Security Risks
Image: Top 5 Mobile Application Security Risks

Methodology of Mobile App Penetration Testing:

Mobile application penetration testing is done 4 steps mentioned below:

Step 1. Preparation and Discovery:

Information gathering is a necessary process used in the penetration testing process. Few essential things to keep in mind while performing the discovery phase are:

  1. Understanding the design and architecture of the application.
  2. Understanding network-level data flow of the application
  3. Using OSINT to gather data

Step 2. Analysis, Assessment, and Evaluation

After the completion discovery phase, pentesters begin the analysis & assessment phase. In this phase, the application is observed before and after installation in the device. Some joint assessment techniques are as follow:

  1. Static and dynamic analysis
  2. Architecture analysis
  3. Reverse engineering
  4. Analysis of file system
  5. Inter application communication

Step 3. Exploitation

The exploitation phase includes testing the application with simulated real-world attacks to understand how it will behave when an attack occurs. Target mobile applications are tested with malicious payloads, for example, a reverse shell or a root exploit. A team tries all the vulnerabilities that are found by penetration testers with self-crafted and publicly available exploits.

Step 4. Reporting

Once the exploitation phase is done, the team prepares a detailed report of the attacks performed. The information usually includes which endpoints were tested, how much damage was done, risk analysis, and the vulnerabilities found with their respective steps of exploitation and remediation.

Related Blog – Sample Penetration Testing Report

Mobile App Security Best Practices
Image: Mobile App Security Best Practices

Difference between Static and Dynamic Analysis

Static and Dynamic analysis of mobile application plays an important role in the mobile application penetration testing methodology. Let’s understand differences between them.

S No.Static AnalysisDynamic Analysis
1Static Analysis is done without executing the mobile application.Dynamic Analysis is done when the mobile application runs on the device.
2Static Analysis is done on the decompiled source code and the provided filesDynamic Analysis is done on local filesystem, inter application communication and the communication with server.
3Static Analysis includes testing of code quality, debug & error messages and business logic issues.Dynamic Analysis includes testing of network level communication, forensics and weak cryptography, etc.

Common Open Source Mobile Application Penetration Testing tools.

  1. MobSF: Mobile Security Framework is an open-source automated android pen-testing, malware analysis, and security assessment framework capable of performing static and dynamic analysis.
  2. Drozer: Drozer is an open-source android penetration testing tool by F-Secure Labs which allows users to search for security vulnerabilities in apps and devices.
  3. Clutch: Clutch is an open-source iOS decryption tool. Clutch supports the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and all iOS versions, architecture types, and most binaries.
  4. Cycript: Cycript is an open-source tool used to explore and modify running applications on either iOS or Mac OS X using a hybrid of Objective-C++ and JavaScript syntax.
  5. Frida: Frida is a free and open-source dynamic code instrumentation toolkit that works by injecting the QuickJS JavaScript engine into the instrumented process. 
  6. Radare2: radare2 is a popular open-source tool used for disassembling, debugging, patching, and analyzing binaries that are scriptable and support many architectures and file-formats, including Android and iOS apps.

Related Guide – External Pentesting

The list of open source tools is limitless, and it’s impossible to get all of them listed here..

Astra’s Solution to your Insecure Mobile Apps

It is a well-known fact that mobile application penetration testing is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort and money. Astra’s mobile app penetration testing solutions will help you to save a lot of your time and effort. The solution  is a web-based tool that will keep you from all the worries of mobile application penetration testing.

Get your mobile application tested by a team of experts and uncover weaknesses in your mobile application before hackers discover them.

Image: Astra’s Pentest Dashboard

The top features of Astra’s Mobile VAPT solution are:

  1. Vulnerability Assessment & Penetration Testing (VAPT)
  2. Static & dynamic code analysis
  3. Network devises Configuration
  4. Server Infrastructure Testing & DevOps
  5. Keep in the loop with an intuitive dashboard
  6. A common solution for android and iOS applications

It’s one small security loophole v/s your Android & iOS app

Get your mobile app audited & strengthen your defenses!

Summary

Do you know, 43% of Android mobile apps, 38% of iOS mobile apps are prone to high-risk vulnerabilities. With more than 4.5M applications, it is a necessity to have penetration testing for mobile applications. It is essential to make sure that your application is safe and secure from hackers. Astra’s Mobile App VAPT Solution is a one-stop solution for all your needs. Astra’s experts in the field of mobile application penetration testing help organizations identify vulnerabilities and secure their apps before they get exposed to malicious attacks.

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Keshav Malik

Keshav is a hacker by heart. He loves playing with fire (code) and loves discovering bugs. Not only in web applications but in all kinds of software. His first introduction to the world of Cyber Security was through bug bounty programs. He quickly made a name for himself as a bug hunter and now actively participates in bug bounty programs. Other than Infosec, he loves creating full stack web applications using cutting edge technologies.
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