Mobile applications are essential to daily life in this digital era. From entertainment and social media to e-commerce and banking, mobile applications usually offer accessibility and convenience at our fingertips. Nonetheless, with this convenience comes the risk of cyberattacks and data breaches. That’s why application penetration test for mobile apps is crucial.
By conducting a comprehensive test of the security of a mobile application, organisations can identify potential vulnerabilities and attack vectors, ensuring that user data and privacy are protected.
In this post, we’ll discuss the common areas of vulnerability in mobile applications, the importance of penetration testing for mobile applications, and the steps for conducting such tests. Read on!
What Is an Application Penetration Test?
Application penetration testing, or “app pen testing,” assesses a software application’s security by simulating real-world attacks. A penetration test for mobile applications aims to identify security vulnerabilities that might be used by threat actors, such as hackers or malicious attackers, to obtain unauthorised access, steal sensitive data, or compromise the application’s functionality.
During penetration testing for mobile apps, security professionals identify vulnerabilities and simulate attacks using automated tools and manual testing techniques. These techniques can include penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and reverse engineering. The cyber security testing results are then compiled into a report highlighting any vulnerabilities identified, their severity, and recommendations for remediation.
What Are the Types of Penetration Tests for Mobile Applications?
There are several types of penetration testing for mobile applications, including:
1. Black Box Testing
In this pen testing, the tester is usually not provided any information about the source code or the application’s internal workings. The tester has to use different tools and techniques to identify vulnerabilities in the mobile application.
2. White Box Testing
In this type of pen testing, the tester can access the application’s architecture, infrastructure, and source code, unlike black box testing. It allows the tester to identify vulnerabilities in the infrastructure and code.
3. Gray Box Testing
In gray box testing, the tester has access to some details about the application’s infrastructure and architecture but not the entire source code itself. This approach is handy because it combines the advantages of both black and white box testing.
4. Web Services Testing
Most mobile apps rely on web services for communication and data sharing. Besides, web service testing usually focuses on identifying vulnerabilities in the mobile application’s web services.
5. Network Testing
This pen testing focuses on identifying vulnerabilities in the network infrastructure(data transmission and connection) that a mobile application uses to access the internet.
6. Reverse Engineering
Reverse engineering entails analysing the mobile application’s binary code to uncover potential vulnerabilities and understand its behaviour.
7. Fuzz Testing
Fuzz testing entails sending invalid and random inputs to the mobile application to identify potential vulnerabilities from unexpected input.
8. Social Engineering
This pen testing involves simulating a social engineering attack on the mobile application’s users. It includes social media attacks, phishing attacks, and other forms of manipulation to test the user’s capability to identify and respond to such attacks.
Common Areas of Vulnerabilities in Mobile Applications
1. Insecure Data Storage
Consider the consequences of accidentally syncing sensitive data to a public cloud storage service. This poses a huge threat to the privacy of such data.
2. Insecure Authorisation
Assuming authentication to the mobile app has taken place, authorisation vulnerabilities may allow one user to gain access to another user’s data or functionality.
3. Code Subverting
The extent to which an application must protect its code is context-dependent. While the safety of device-side code is crucial in many applications, inadequate or no checks are taken to ensure that it is not subverted.
4. Improper Platform Usage
This occurs when established guidelines are violated, conventions are disregarded, or there is unintentional misuse. For instance, the risk level increases when an app requires access to more resources to meet its functional requirements than it actually needs.
5. Reverse Engineering
To find and exploit vulnerabilities or compromise intellectual property, an attacker might try to reverse engineer the source code of mobile applications. There are various defence levels that can be taken to prevent attackers from using these techniques.
6. Insecure Authentication
The authentication mechanisms in some apps are either not implemented at all or are poorly implemented. Without proper authentication, a hacker using a mobile banking app might potentially access and manipulate a user’s account without their knowledge.
7. Insecure Communication
Most apps risk exposing sensitive data to unauthorised parties without strong encryption in transit.
8. Non-Essential Functionality
It’s common for mobile web applications to include hidden or undocumented functionalities never designed for the production environment. Such functionality usually reduces the general security posture of the mobile application.
9. Insufficient Encryption
This happens when an attempt is made to encrypt the data. Still, the encryption is vulnerable, and the data is not completely protected. As a result, a malicious actor may access or manipulate data that should be inaccessible to them.
10. Poor Client Code Quality
This usually occurs when the application’s poor coding impacts the device side of a mobile app, leading to some security issues, and the mobile application code that sits on the device needs rewriting.
Steps to Perform a Penetration Test for Mobile Application
A pen test for mobile apps contains several steps to thoroughly assess the mobile application’s security. Here are the typical procedures to follow:
Reconnaissance entails initially gathering information about the program by learning its URL, server location, and features. This data can be obtained via online research or by analysing the mobile application’s traffic.
2. Threat Modeling
The next step is to create a threat model to determine where potential attacks may come from and prioritise testing efforts based on each vulnerability’s severity.
3. Vulnerability Scanning
Next, perform automated vulnerability scanning using penetration testing tools like Burp Suite or OWASP ZAP. This step usually helps identify common vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and directory traversal.
4. Manual Testing
After identifying common vulnerabilities, perform manual testing to identify more complex ones that automated tools may not detect. This step involves testing the authentication mechanisms, input validation, access controls, and mobile application functionality.
5. Authentication and Session Management Testing
This step usually involves testing the mobile application’s authentication and session management mechanisms to ensure they’re secure and hard to bypass.
6. Data Validation Testing
The next step is data validation testing, which ensures that the mobile application properly processes input data and prevents unauthorised access to user data.
After testing, it is crucial to document all identified vulnerabilities, their severity levels, and recommended remediation. The engineers and security team will have a better chance of fixing the vulnerabilities if they clearly understand them.
After fixing the reported vulnerabilities, re-testing the system is crucial to ensure no new security vulnerabilities have been introduced.
Frequently Asked Questions on Application Penetration Test
1. What’s an application penetration test?
Unlike web application pen testing, a mobile app pen test involves simulated attacks on a system to obtain access to sensitive information and determine whether a system is secure. These attacks are usually performed internally or externally on a system. They help identify vulnerabilities within a system, offer information about the target system, and uncover exploits that could compromise it.
2. What are the 3 main types of penetration tests?
There are three main types of pen testing for mobile applications, each with varying data provided to the tester before and during the testing. They are:
- Black Box Penetration Testing
- White Box Penetration Testing
- Grey Box Penetration Testing
3. What are the 5 Stages of penetration testing?
- Planning and reconnaissance: This stage involves determining the scope and goals of a test and obtaining intelligence to understand how a target system works.
- Scanning: This stage involves understanding how the target application will respond to different intrusion attempts.
- Gaining access: This stage usually uses web app attacks, like SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and backdoors, to uncover a target’s vulnerabilities.
- Maintaining access: This stage aims to determine whether the vulnerability can be used to attain an uninterrupted presence in the exploited system long enough for a threat actor to gain in-depth access.
- Analysis: This is the last stage, which involves analysing the pen test results and compiling them into a report. The aim is to establish the exploited vulnerabilities, sensitive information accessed, and the time the penetration tester could remain undetected in the system.
4. What is application penetration test vs network penetration test?
Network penetration testing usually focuses on a network’s implementation, design, and maintenance. Also, it looks at the services hosted on it. On the other hand, application penetration test focuses more on apps and the security surrounding them, like insecure use of software and coding flaws.
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