In the era of mobile apps, Apple’s famous trademark “There’s an App For That” said it best. We rely on our smartphones for countless tasks, from managing our banking info to staying in contact with family and friends. Because of our reliance on mobile phones in our daily lives, mobile app security is paramount.
Mobile app security testing emerges as the unsung hero in the battle against vulnerabilities and threats. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the world of mobile app security testing, understand its significance, explore key focus areas, tackle common challenges, and highlight best practices and tools to keep your mobile app armor-clad.
Unpacking Mobile App Security Testing
Mobile app security testing is the systematic examination of a mobile application to identify vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and potential threats. This process aims to ensure that an app’s security measures are robust enough to withstand attacks and protect sensitive user data.
Security testing is crucial to protect user data, maintain user trust (preserving your brand’s reputation), and save money by preventing security breaches that could lead to potential lawsuits. There are also numerous data protection laws that can lead to legal consequences if not followed.
Challenges in Mobile App Security Testing
Mobile app security testing, while crucial, comes with its own set of challenges. Here are some common challenges associated with mobile app security testing:
- Diverse ecosystems: The multitude of mobile devices, operating systems, and versions make comprehensive testing a challenge.
- Rapid development: Agile development often leaves little time for thorough security testing.
- Evolving threat landscape: New security threats continually emerge, requiring testers to stay updated.
- Resource limitations: Security testing requires specialized tools and skills. Smaller development teams or startups may face resource limitations, hindering their ability to invest adequately in security testing.
- Emulation vs. real devices: While emulation and simulators are useful for initial testing, they may not replicate real-world scenarios accurately. Testing on actual devices is essential to identify device-specific vulnerabilities.
- Network variability: Mobile apps operate in diverse network conditions, including 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, and poor connectivity areas. Testing the app’s behavior under different network conditions is challenging but necessary.
- Rooted or jailbroken devices: Users often root or jailbreak their devices to remove limitations. Security testing should account for such devices and assess vulnerabilities that might arise from them.
- Dependency on third-party libraries: Mobile apps often rely on third-party libraries or SDKs. Testers should ensure these dependencies are secure and don’t introduce vulnerabilities.
Types of Mobile App Security Testing
Mobile app security testing encompasses various approaches and techniques to identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities in mobile applications. Here are some of the common types of mobile app security testing:
Static Application Security Testing (SAST)
SAST involves analyzing the source code, bytecode, or binary code of an application without executing it. This type of testing identifies vulnerabilities by reviewing the code for known security flaws, coding errors, and potential vulnerabilities in the app’s logic.
Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)
DAST focuses on assessing the running application from the outside. Testers use DAST tools to interact with the app, sending inputs and analyzing outputs to detect vulnerabilities such as injection attacks, security misconfigurations, and authentication issues.
Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)
IAST combines elements of both SAST and DAST. It monitors the application during runtime and analyzes the source code to identify vulnerabilities in real-time. IAST provides contextual information about the security issues detected.
Mobile Application Scanning (MAS)
MAS tools are designed specifically for mobile app security testing. They assess an app’s security by conducting dynamic analysis, scanning for vulnerabilities, and evaluating the app’s behavior on real devices or emulators.
Penetration testing, or ethical hacking, involves simulating real-world attacks on a mobile app to identify vulnerabilities. Skilled testers attempt to exploit weaknesses in the app’s security defenses, uncovering potential risks.
Vulnerability assessment tools scan the app for known vulnerabilities, security misconfigurations, and weak points. This type of testing provides a snapshot of the app’s security posture.
Focus Areas for Security Testing
Depending on what your app offers, you’ll want to prioritize different areas of your mobile app security. However, you should consider focusing your testing in the following areas:
One of the fundamental aspects of mobile app security is data encryption. Data encryption is the process of encoding digital information by taking plain text and transforming it into an incomprehensible format (ciphertext). Encrypted info can only be decrypted and read by someone with a decryption key (e.g., an account owner).
App testers should ensure that data is encrypted during transmission and storage to prevent unauthorized access. While data encryption doesn’t protect hackers from accessing a user’s account, it does ensure that only the intended user can access encrypted data.
User authentication is used to prove that that the person accessing an account is the legitimate account holder. Testing user authentication and permissions is important to prevent unauthorized access. Test user authentication mechanisms and permissions to prevent unauthorized access.
The OWASP Mobile Application Security Testing Guide states that user authentication testing should include:
- Identifying and testing all authentication factors the app uses (from passwords to fingerprint/face ID authentication to two-factor authentication).
- Locating all account access endpoints that provide critical functionality.
- Verifying that authentication factors are enforced on all server-side endpoints.
Mobile app developers use a variety of programming languages and frameworks, and it’s possible that common vulnerabilities (like SQL or XML injection) can arise in a mobile app’s code if secure coding practices weren’t followed.
App testers should test for the following to ensure secure coding:
- Injection flaws
- Memory corruption bugs
- Cross-site script (XSS) injections
APIs can become vulnerable entry points for attacks if not secured correctly. Testers should examine APIs used in their app and check all potential vulnerabilities that could lead to unauthorized access, data breaches, and other security risks.
To test API security, it’s recommended that you first ensure a controlled testing environment by isolating the testing environment. Then, you can test some of the following API features and functionalities:
- Security of all API endpoints
- Authentication effectiveness and security
- Integrity of input validation and data
- Efficient and secure handling of errors
- Effectiveness of rate limits and throttling mechanisms
Session management is the process of managing a user’s session and should help ensure that a user’s account is safe from hackers without forcing the user to constantly log back into their account. Test your app’s session management to prevent session hijacking.
- Session tokens
- Cookies and cookie attributes
- Session fixation
- Exposed session variables
- Cross-Site Request Forgery (XSRF)
- Log out functionality
- Session timeout
- Session puzzling
- Session hijacking
The Best Tools for Testing Mobile App Security
There are several specialized tools designed for mobile app security testing, each with its unique features and strengths. Here are some essential tools for mobile app security testing and why you should consider using them:
- OWASP ZAP: The OWASP Zed Attack Proxy (ZAP) is a widely used security testing tool for web applications, but it can also be used for testing mobile apps that communicate with web services. ZAP helps identify vulnerabilities like injection attacks, broken authentication, and insecure direct object references.
- Mobile Security Framework (MobSF): MobSF is an open-source mobile app security testing framework that supports Android and iOS apps. It offers static and dynamic analysis, API testing, and web API fuzzing. MobSF is versatile and can be used for both black-box and white-box testing.
- Drozer: Drozer is a powerful Android security testing framework that assists in finding and exploiting security vulnerabilities. It allows security testers to assess the security of Android apps by interacting with them at runtime.
- QARK (Quick Android Review Kit): QARK is an open-source tool designed specifically for Android app security testing. It analyzes Android apps for potential security issues, such as insecure storage, code vulnerabilities, and excessive permissions.
- Burp Suite Mobile Assistant: This extension of the popular Burp Suite tool is designed for testing the security of mobile apps. It allows you to intercept and modify mobile app traffic, identify vulnerabilities, and assess the security of backend services.
- Veracode Mobile Application Security Testing: Veracode offers a cloud-based mobile app security testing platform that provides static and dynamic analysis of Android and iOS apps. It also offers a mobile app reputation service to assess the security of third-party components.
- Checkmarx: Checkmarx provides a mobile application security testing solution that focuses on identifying and remediating vulnerabilities in the source code of Android and iOS apps. It offers static and runtime scanning.
Mobile app security testing is not a mere formality but a crucial shield against a multitude of security threats. It ensures the protection of user data, upholds trust, and helps your app comply with legal requirements. While facing challenges due to device diversity and evolving threats, testers can mitigate these by following best practices and utilizing powerful testing tools. By making mobile app security testing an integral part of your development process, you can build not just a functional but a resilient and trustworthy mobile app.