Penetration testing is a widely used technique across the IT infrastructures of networks, web applications, and databases for maintaining security. Given its wide scope in the field of cybersecurity, its usage has been expanded throughout various sectors such as mobile application penetration testing.
One of the main characteristics of the mobile app penetration testing process is the need for a detailed plan in terms of the steps required for successful testing. The entire process requires a large amount of resources in terms of time, expertise, and money. Therefore, pentesting amateurs should make sure to do prior research before engaging in an internal or external testing procedure.
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6 Aspects to Keep in Mind for Mobile App Penetration Testing
As mentioned, it’s always the best procedure to be informed about the best practices involved in mobile app pentesting procedures before moving forward. You may be aware about the importance of the procedure, but there are other aspects that should influence the kind of testing process to be followed.
There are multiple web application penetration testing tools available on the market for conducting the process, so it’s essential to list out the requirements and expected results in framing one’s choice. Many options are free of cost and available online while others are provided by the vendors themselves, depending on the right testing environment for the mobile application. Some of the common mobile app penetration testing tools available are Burp Proxy, Apktool, Cydia, OWASP ZAP, and Wireshark.
For example, the Apktool is a free online application for reverse engineering tactics in third-party Android applications. The tool can be used to analyze the Java bytecode and disassemble it into the .smali format while using resources from the APK archive. It’s also useful for patching vulnerabilities and making changes in the manifest file.
Preparing the pentesting environment
The pentesting environment should be modified according to the mobile application for more accurate results. For example, an iPhone environment is supposed to be the most difficult one for hackers to enter into but that doesn’t make it completely impossible. Initiating an environment similar to the one being potentially hacked makes the simulation as realistic as possible with a better picture of the possible security issues that may arise.
An important aspect of the mobile app penetration testing process is evaluating the security of the server environment, which includes both the server from where the app is downloaded and where it’s hosted. Tools such as Nmap are used to test the possibility of open redirects, authentication issues between the phone and the server from the user’s perspective, proper authorization before uploading files, and the risk of cross-origin resource sharing.
Testing teams should use network sniffers to evaluate the security of network connectivity between the smartphone (or any other wireless device) and the server for downloading the application. These tools can provide crucial data about various aspects of the network such as the data packets, the network traffic, etc. As hackers can utilize the same public information for designing specific attacks, so can ethical hacking teams for setting up suitable security barriers. Testers also use this information to observe the authentication, session management, and identity validation aspects of the mobile application as well as the encryption protocols in place for security data transfers.
The importance of source instrumentation
Testers will have already gone through the source code of the mobile application to look for vulnerabilities and the context of operations for designing testing methods. Initiating source instrumentation involves designing a special piece of code and placing it onto the existing source code during the development phase. This leads to the purposeful development of a backdoor so that testers can ensure the security of the source code objects from the very beginning. They will also work on resolving any hidden coding flaws or security errors that could build up to a significant vulnerability to be exploited later.
- Binary and file-level analyses
Testers usually conduct penetration testing procedures for targeted application programming interfaces (APIs) with possible weaknesses such as weak authorization mechanisms. They use tools such as IDA to discover security issues such as SQL injection attacks, buffer overflow, etc.
Mobile application penetration testing is important to ensure overall security since there’s constant processing of sensitive customer data. Developers usually utilize tactics such as reverse engineering to pentest Android applications and find out possible flaws in the application’s source code. Reverse engineering methods include digging into APK files, resolving vulnerabilities in .smali files and .so libraries, using debugging tools, and utilizing dynamic code analysis with suitable frameworks. The Open Web Application Security Project’s (OWASP) Mobile Security Testing Guide (MSTG) provides guidelines for optimal security testing of mobile applications and the necessary tools.
These are a few of the useful tips to be aware of before stepping into the mobile app penetration testing process, be it an amateur or expert.