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Mobile App Security Audit: All You Need To Know

Updated on: April 13, 2020

Mobile App Security Audit: All You Need To Know

Article Summary

Creating an App for your services can go a long way in increasing your internet presence. But what if your mobile app is insecure? It can turn your efforts into a fiasco, to say the least. Therefore it important to do a proper Mobile app security audit before releasing it to the public. A careful mobile app security audit can go a long way in protecting your customer’s data.

Creating an App for your services can go a long way in increasing your internet presence. But what if your mobile app is insecure? It can turn your efforts into a fiasco, to say the least. Therefore it important to do a proper Mobile app security audit before releasing it to the public. A careful mobile app security audit can go a long way in protecting your customer’s data.

Today we are going to discuss why Mobile App Security Audit is important for your company and steps on how to do the Security Audit of your mobile app on your own.

The article also talks about security audit tools that can come handy while doing a security audit of your mobile app.

Why Mobile App Security Audit?

A single Data Breach can ruin your customer’s trust in your company forever.

Any successful cybersecurity breach can crumble your entire company and destroy your market reputation. Further, 43% of cyber-attacks are targeted at small businesses like yours.

Hackers are interested in information such as email addresses, phone numbers, account numbers, etc. If a hacker can access this information through your Mobile App (which is the case mostly), it invariably becomes a hot target.

A good security audit can help simulate real-life attacks that your Mobile App may face. It eventually improves the security and integrity of your app.

Mobile App Classification

Mobile Apps can broadly be divided into 3 major categories.

1. Native Apps:

Apps that are made for a particular platform such as Android or IOS. They have higher speed as everything runs natively on the device. However due to their structure sometimes it is difficult to maintain them.

2. Web Apps:

These apps require web-hosted servers. These apps are built using CSS HTML5 or JavaScript. Further, they can’t access much of the device’s functionality like contacts, camera or location. Thus they require a web-based security approach during the Mobile App Security Audit.

3. Hybrid Apps:

They are a hybrid mix of both Web Apps and the Native Apps. They enjoy the merits of both the worlds. But the Mobile App Security Audit of these apps can be tricky as they have a large attack surface that an attacker can exploit.

Common Attack Vectors on Mobile Apps

After knowing the basic categories of mobile apps, we can now move on to discuss the common attacks against them.

Following is the list of the attack vectors that hackers perform in order to gain unauthorized access in a mobile app:

1. Browser-Based Attacks

These attacks include methods such as phishing, clickjacking, data-caching, and man-in-the-middle attacks. All the attack methods that happen using a web server or a browser can be used to exploit the Web-based mobile applications.

Hackers use malicious scripts and inject them into the app components that are served using the browsers.

2. SMS Based Attacks

The attacker can potentially gain unauthorized access to the app and the phone just by sending one malicious text to the phone via SMS.

Yes, this appears a lot like those 90s hacker movies. But it exists even today. Recently, this vulnerability was found in the famous social app – Twitter. You can read more about the vulnerability here.

Attackers can use SMS based attacks to execute more adverse hacks such as an account takeover (ATO). This can also be done as a chained attack using this vulnerability.

3. Application-Logic Based Attacks

In these attacks, hacker exploits a flaw in the application logic that can gain them access to sensitive data such as email addresses, passwords, account numbers, etc.

Vulnerabilities such as improper SSL Injection, weak encryption or improper permission structure, etc. are known to trigger application-logic based attacks.

Steps & Tools for Mobile app Security Audit

Moving on. Let’s see the methodology to do an out and out mobile app security audit.

It is recommended to use a Linux distribution for the guide as it will be easier to install tools and run commands in the terminal than PowerShell or cmd prompt.

That said, here are the two main areas that you need to audit – Network and Source code.

1. Network Proxy

During the security audit of the mobile app, you will require to intercept the proxy to analyze the packets coming in and going out of the app. The recommended tool for it, is BurpSuite.

To set up the intercepting proxy follow these steps:

1. Start BurpSuite
Go to Proxy>> Options
Then Click on Proxy Listeners then Add
Add a new listener on any port except 8080 on LAN IP of the device (ex 192.168.0.102)

2. Once you have the listener setup,
go to Wifi Network Details>>Proxy>>Manual
Now add the Listener IP in the Hostname Tab. Add the port number right after.

Proxy settings
Adding Hostname and Port

3. And you are done. Now all the traffic to your mobile will go through your network proxy.

One should look for requests that can be tampered with for attacks such as SSRF or CSRF.

2. Analyzing the Source Code

Now that you’ve analyzed the network traffic of the app, now its time to analyze the source code of the app for any logic flaw or buffer overflows.

For this purpose, there are many manual and automated tools and frameworks available. They are:

QARK (Quick Android Review Kit)

QARK is an open-source mobile app security testing framework designed to assist in source code analysis and point out potential security vulnerabilities in Android apps.

It can help in analyze app with a huge code base and point out minor vulnerabilities that often missed from the human eye. Since it is community-powered its updates might be slow but worth a try.

APKTool

APKTool is the most popular tool used for the APK source code analysis.

It is fairly simple to use. It decompiles the to java source code that can be manually searched for vulnerabilities or feed to other tools for advanced analysis of buffer overflow or insecure password passing.

Like the previous tool, it is also open-source and community-powered, it is something I use too for bug-bounty.

iMAS

Unlike all the tools mentioned above, iMAS is a security analysis framework for IOS apps. It is an open-source mobile app security testing framework that helps developers in encrypting for application data, prompt for password and prevent application tampering and even enforce enterprise policies for IOS devices.

It is now widely been used for security applications in IOS apps across the industry. Thus if your Mobile App works on IOS natively, IMAS is the recommended tool.

Stages of a Mobile App Security Audit

Since we familiar with the tools, let’s plan the stages in which we will perform the Security Audit of the Mobile App.

All good Pentests are usually conducted in 5 stages they are listed as follows:

  • Reconnaissance
  • Threat Modeling and & Vulnerability Identification
  • Exploitation
  • Post-Exploitation
  • Resolution & Re-Testing

1. Reconnaissance

This is the initial enumeration that you perform based on the app type you are attacking. This type will require you get comfortable with the working of the app and any other relevant information that you can find. This may include app version, Andriod version the app was designed for, security patches, etc.

Based on the above information you will decide the attack plan you are going to follow.

2. Threat Modeling and & Vulnerability Identification

Once you have gathered enough initial information to get you started, its time for scanning and fuzzing.

Scanning is the process of looking for vulnerabilities and security issues. It can either be done manually or done via automated tools mentioned above. What I recommend it go for a hybrid process i.e look for vulnerabilities manually while an automated scan is running in the background.

Once you have found some logic flaws or CVE that can get you access, it is time for the next stage.

3. Exploitation

This step mainly includes the exploitation of previously found issues to leak confidential information or some authorized access.

This stage entirely depends on the output of the previous step, therefore invest some time looking for vulnerability in the “Vulnerability Identification” step.

4. Post-Exploitation

This step is all about maintaining access and privilege escalation.

Privilege escalation is the act of further exploiting the bug or a different flaw to gain further privileges on the system ( app in our case). It can be used to increase the damage that can be caused by the security flaw.

Therefore it is important to analyze during the security audit if the bug can be further exploited to gain more privileges on the system.

5. Resolution & Re-Testing

This may be arguably the most important stage during the Mobile App Security Audit. It helps in reducing false positives and further makes your report more authenticated.

Once you have created the proof of concept of the security flaw, you must recheck the steps if they are still working was not any false positive or a fluke. It is recommended to analyze whether the bug can be exploited through a unique pathway that you missed during the previous steps.

Best Coding Practices

A lot of headaches can be saved if you make sure the developers are following secure coding practices during the development of the Mobile App. Few of them are mentioned below:

  • Encrypt All Data
  • Use Updated Libraries
  • Employ Authorized APIs only
  • Implement High-Level Authentications
  • Deploy Tamper-Detection Measures
  • Gives Required Privileges Only
  • Employ Proper Session Handling
  • Install a firewall

Conclusion

The blog talked about why Mobile App Security Audit is important for your company. It simplified the mobile app security audit process by breaking it down for you to follow. You also got to know about various mobile app security tools to use.

Cybercrimes are only rising since the web made the first appearance some 30 years ago. Know that hackers are waiting for you to make one security mistake so that they take over your website and mobile app. Once they gain unauthorized access, they have all the power to steal, abuse, or tamper with your customer and website data. There no single method to hack into a website, hackers endanger your company in a hundred other ways.

Staying Secure is not a choice but a necessity.

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Jinson Varghese

Jinson Varghese Behanan is an Information Security Analyst at Astra. Passionate about Cybersecurity from a young age, Jinson completed his Bachelor's degree in Computer Security from Northumbria University. When he isn’t glued to a computer screen, he spends his time reading InfoSec materials, playing basketball, learning French and traveling.You can follow him on Medium or visit his Website for more stories about the various Security Audits he does and the crazy vulnerabilities he finds.
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