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Mobile Application Security Testing Guide

A Comprehensive Guide to Mobile Application Security Testing

July 6, 2022
 by 
Rohan SinghRohan Singh
Rohan Singh

As we walk across this digitally advanced world, we are exposed to a plethora of cyberattacks and several other security concerns. With more than seven billion mobile phone users and over 50 percent of the population having access to the internet via their mobile devices, the world is challenged with mobile-first security threats. Mobile applications are often not immune to data breaches, cyber threats, and other privacy concerns. In a survey of IT professionals carried out in 2020 and 2021, more than 7 in 10 respondents have encountered smishing attacks. Such vulnerable scenarios urge businesses to focus immensely on mobile app testing to establish the desired security, prevent any nuisance and offer robust security to users.

The types of the mobile apps commonly in use

  • Mobile web apps: These apps can be accessed from any internet browser and don't require any specific installation process or storage space for using the app. Mobile web apps can easily adapt to the different screen sizes and devices.
  • Native apps: These applications are written in specific programming languages to function on a particular OS to make the most of the functionalities of the devices that run on that OS. 
  • Hybrid apps: These applications combine the best of the native and web apps. Generally, the hybrid apps are written using Javascript, HTML, and CSS web technologies and function across devices running with different operating systems. 

Why is it important to care about mobile application security?

Users often trust the mobile apps blindly or are unaware of the security breaches these can cause. Compromised privacy of sensitive information is a widespread issue that users face due to inadequate security measures integrated into the apps.

Launching an app with neglected app security testing can lead to the following issues:

  • Compromised login information

This allows hackers to access login credentials and hack the user accounts to carry out malicious activities and expose sensitive data from apps.

  • Stolen financial information

With the advent of extensive digitalization, users of banking and other financial apps have increased exponentially. This has increased the opportunity for hackers to leverage the digital platform to access the financial information and resources of several users. The recent Ginp trojan incident is a significant example of financial stealth. This banking trojan, Ginp, was up to a campaign related to COVID-19 that promised to show the users the information on infected people around them. After receiving a particular command, Ginp would open a web page named Coronavirus Finder that has a simple interface showing the number of infected people near you and would urge users to pay a small sum to display the location of those infected. The page required users to provide their credit card details that the hackers directly accessed.

  • Reduced growth resources

An organization can suffer from severe setbacks after an attack. even if the app wasn't compromised severely, having to redirect your growth budgets for repairing the damage might cost years of business development 

  • Compromised reputation

Hacking of user accounts, data leakage, and other security issues disappoint users significantly and lead to uninstalling the apps and cancellations of subscriptions. These occurrences directly impact the business's reputation and lead to losing its loyal customer base.

Recommended post: Why is Automated Mobile Application Security Testing a Priority for Businesses

Understanding the different mobile app security issues: Android vs. iOS

Be it an Android device or an iOS, security issues are constant across them. However, as the apps are built and distributed differently on Android than their iOS counterparts, the security issues on these platforms tend to differ significantly.

  • App security issues in Android

One of the primary reasons behind significant hacking instances in Android apps is Android's open-source environment. Besides, Android operating systems are often devoid of a strict screening process for applications to encourage the development and sharing of more apps, making it the house of several vulnerable mobile applications.

The common security issues in Android apps include:

  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
  • Cryptojacking
  • Phishing and social engineering
  • Malvertising
  • Permissions based issues
  • Rooting
  • App security issues in iOS:

Despite leveraging meticulous screening processes for their applications, iOS apps are often used by the affluent divide, making them a major target for hackers. Some of the primary security issues detected in the iOS apps are:

  • Jailbreaking
  • Phishing and social engineering
  • Allowing 301 redirects
  • Stolen certificates to host apps
Check out: How to improving software security?

Development loopholes in mobile app security

Every mobile app launched might come across many development fall-outs while building the app. Some of these common errors committed are:

  • Ignoring insecure interprocess communication
  • Lack of proper deployment of security practices for the components of the apps
  • Not leveraging universal links
  • Overlooking configuration flaws like disclosure of sensitive information in error messages, fingerprinting in HTTP headers, and TRACE availability
  • Improper testing of the codes in every development stage and on run time
  • Not planning for caching and logging vulnerabilities

Key mobile app security testing techniques

Primarily there are two approaches to security testing, the first one being the standard testing.

Standard Testing

This testing approach is executed at the end of the app development cycle. The principal methodologies utilized under this approach to security testing are:

White-box, black-box, and gray-box testing

White-box testing: This method refers to the process where the tester has knowledge about the app's ins and outs, along with access to the source code and various documentation. White box testing enables faster testing and more sophisticated test cases.

Black-box testing: in this approach, the tester doesn't possess any prior knowledge of the app that allows the testers to behave like users or even hackers and exploit the publicly available information.

Gray-box testing: This approach to security testing is one of the most commonest, where certain information like the credentials are provided to testers while the rest has to be discovered by the tester.

Vulnerability analysis

This is a self-explanatory method of testing that is generally automated and performed with various scanners. The two primary approaches to vulnerability analysis are:

Static analysis: This approach of testing deploys an examination of software components without actually running the app. It aims to review the implementation of security controls. The testing can be executed in both automatic and manual ways. Automatic analysis helps pick the low-hanging fruit quickly by checking the code against the preferred rules or standard practices. In contrast, manual code analysis enables testers to identify the security vulnerabilities in design flaws, business logic, and common standards violations.

Dynamic analysis: the dynamic testing attempts to identify the vulnerabilities and security loopholes while the mobile app runs. Such analysis generally identifies the common errors in server configuration, authorization, authentic issues, data leaks in transit, and many more.

Penetration testing

This method of testing is a full-scale thorough security testing process for mobile apps in the final stage of their development. Following is the structure it tends to obey:

Preparation — testers identify the testing goals, the right security controls, and the data to be considered sensitive. Besides, testers address different legal issues at this stage.

Gathering intelligence — The testing team gathers and analyzes the app's environmental and architectural contexts.

Mapping the app — This stage in penetration testing offers a deeper understanding of the mobile application, answering questions like what are the entry points, what does it gather and store, what are the possible security vulnerabilities, and much more to help testers prioritize better.

Exploitation — testers attempt to penetrate the app and exploit the previous stage's vulnerabilities at this level.

Final report — In this last stage, the testing team lists the vulnerabilities identified, details the exploitation process, documents the security risks, and reports the entire data.

Also read: Why should you invest in Mobile App Security Testing?

SDLC

The second approach to security testing refers to security as part of the development process. 

Challenges that hinder mobile app security testing

A mobile app has several areas of vulnerability as users download and share content. Testing the apps from the point of view of data security is significant though other apps in the proximity can also pose a threat. Thus multiple factors of application security become challenging yet are vital for testing. Some of these are:

Threat analysis

While applications are downloaded and installed, it might be possible that a log is created for the same. As the app is downloaded and installed, a verification of iTunes or Google account takes place, which might bring a risk of credentials landing in the hands of the hackers.

In the case of Single Sign-on as well, the login credentials of the user are stored. Therefore applications dealing with login credentials require threat analysis.

The data displayed in the app is the most crucial threat that requires efficient analysis and security.

The data sent and received from web services pose a threat from attacks; as a result, the service calls must be encrypted for robust security.

While placing an order, interaction with third-party applications connects the user to net banking or transaction sites that require a thoroughly secure connection. 

Vulnerability analysis

Any mobile app poses the risks of several security loopholes that are checked, and the potential countermeasures are tested in vulnerability analysis. Network, device, and OS resources utilized by the app are tested efficiently for understanding and slotting the vulnerabilities. Besides, it is essential to analyze the critical or high-level threats and identify the measures to protect against them. 

Prior to performing a vulnerability analysis, the team must be completely ready and prepared with an appropriate list of the most crucial security threats, the solution required to manage them, and the list of bugs or issues identified in case of a published working app in the previous releases.

Security threat from hackers

The world has witnessed a plethora of cyber attacks in the recent past. According to Statista, in December 2021, the number of global mobile cyber attacks accounted for 2.2 million approximately. There have been several shocking hacking instances, for example, the World Health Organization was targeted amidst the pandemic crisis by unknown attackers bombarding the organization with phishing messages to access their digital systems. 

Security threats from rooted and jailbroken phones

Primarily rooted phones are a phenomenon common in Android, while jailbroken phones are typical to iOS. In any phone, not every operation is available to a user, for instance, overwriting system files, upgrading OS to a version not available for that phone generally, and many more. Therefore, people run software available in the market for attaining complete admin access to the phone.

The key security threats due to rooting or jailbreaking are:

  • The installation of additional apps on the phone
  • The code utilized for rooting or jailbreaking might have unsafe code in itself that poses a threat of getting hacked
  • The rooted phones are never by manufacturers and can behave in unpredictable ways

Security threat from app permissions

Permissions granted to an app often lead to a number of security threats.

Following are some of the most critical permissions leveraged by attackers for hacking:

  • Network-based location: Today, several apps ask for location or check-in information and require permission to access the network location. Often hackers exploit this permission and wrongly access the user's location to launch location-based malware.
  • Retrieving running apps: certain apps like battery saver and security apps, user permissions to access the apps running currently, and the hackers utilize these running apps' permission to breach the security of the apps or access illegally the information of the other running apps.
  • Automatic starting or booting: Some applications require permission from the OS to be started as soon as the device is started or restarted, like email apps, battery-saving apps, and others. Malware often leverages this to run during every start or restart automatically.

What to consider while strategizing for mobile app security testing?

With a proper understanding of app security or testing challenges, it is pivotal to devise a suitable strategy for executing the test efficiently. Some of the considerations to be kept in mind while performing the mobile app security testing are:

  • Nature of the application — Tt is an absolute mandate to consider the type of the app while performing a security test. For example, in the case of an app that deals with monetary transactions, it is important to focus more on the security aspects than the functional aspects. On the contrary, the functionalities are more vital for an educational app and hence might not require intensive security testing.
  • Time consumed for the test — Based on the total time allocated for the entire testing process, one must decide how much time is to be dedicated to security testing. It is vital to prioritize efforts according to the time allocated.
  • Efforts required for testing — As security testing is complex compared to the functionality or UI testing due to lesser project guidelines, it is essential to scope out the efforts required for the different use cases.
  • Investing time to understand the concepts — Prior to executing the testing, it is imperative to understand the security concepts thoroughly.
  • Staying up to date — As cybercriminals, hackers, and attackers are evolving each day with more advanced techniques, along with the dynamicity of the apps, testers must keep learning and updating themselves constantly to formulate better security measures. 
  • Creating real-world scenarios — To efficiently impose security measures, testers must replicate real-world scenarios and test in real-time after the app goes live, which helps gauge actual attacks beforehand.
Also check: All you need to know about application security testing

Key recommendations for mobile app security testing

While performing the security tests for mobile applications, there must be a number of considerations to be kept in mind for achieving the best possible testing outcomes. Following are some of the primary guidelines for mobile app security testing:

Creating test cases that cover different scenarios across the complete user journey

It is crucial to ensure that the test cases are reviewed thoroughly for 100 percent coverage. This includes specific phone models or types or multiple versions of an operating system.

Concentrating on web service security

Security testing is essential along with functionality, data format, and different methods like GET, PUT, POST, and others. When the app is not ready in the initial phases, though it is complicated to test the web services, it is crucial too. Some web service-related security tests can include:

  • Verifying whether the authentication token of login is encrypted
  • Ascertaining whether the authentication token is created only when the driver details sent to the web service are valid
  • Verifying and ensuring that no data transactions are done when an altered token is sent to the web service

App (client) security testing

This mode of testing is deployed on the actual app installed on your phone. It is crucial to perform security testing with more than one user session in parallel. Further, app side testing is executed not merely against the app purpose but also the device model and OS-specific features that impact the security of the information.

Leveraging automation tools

With mobile apps targeted at a myriad of devices and operating systems, testers often find it complex to execute security testing on a mobile app. That is when it is advisable to utilize tools for automated mobile app security testing to not only save time but manual efforts that can be directed to other users while the tests run automatically in the background. 

Covering web, native, and hybrid apps

Web app testing is generally more or less similar to testing for a website. For native apps, security testing is performed based on the platform. Native apps are developed using the particular OS' features, and therefore the security features of that particular OS alone impact that of the app. In the case of hybrid apps, security testing is performed considering the web and native aspects of the app. The tests for hybrid applications are similar except for the specific platform-related tests.

Conclusion

With the rising number of malware with newer variants coming into the market and the consequent financial losses, mobile application security has become pivotal in the testing journey. Enhanced security is the key to increasing customer confidence and driving prolific business growth. Therefore, an efficient plan of mobile app security testing and deploying that plan to achieve the best outcomes for users is a quintessence today.

FAQs

What is a Man-in-the-middle-attack?

This is a common type of cyber attack that enables attackers to eavesdrop on the communication between two targets. These attacks occur between two communicating hosts, allowing the attackers to listen to a conversation that generally shouldn't be listened to. 

What are RATs?

RAT in cybersecurity stands for Remote Access Trojan, which is a malware program that provides easy access for total admin control over the target system, allowing cybercriminals to control the computer or the other devices it is installed on.

How does cookie stuffing cause unwanted cyber frauds?

Cookie stuffing, also known as cookie dropping, refers to an illegitimate technique where a third-party drops multiple affiliate cookies on a user's browsers for claiming the commission for referring a user to a website without actually doing so. Publishers are duped into installing certain malicious extensions and integrating questionable scripts.

What is the vitality of cloud-based mobile app security testing?

Cloud-based testing techniques are of great significance today, helping to detect plausible security threats and assisting developers in fixing them immediately in case of large apps with several features. Cloud-based testing also empowers testers to host mobile app testing tools on the cloud that aids in testing your applications with great flexibility anywhere and anytime, unlike the on-premise tools and infrastructure that are expensive and require more time.

A Comprehensive Guide to Mobile Application Security Testing

4 Parts