What is application security, and why 90% of Mobile Apps are vulnerable?

6 min read

Application security is the process of finding, fixing, and preventing security vulnerabilities. Much of this takes place during the development phase. However, it consists of tools and methods to protect apps once they are released. This is ending up being more critical as hackers progressively target applications with their attacks.

Application security is getting a lot of attention. Hundreds of tools are used to secure various elements of your applications portfolio, from locking down coding modifications to assessing unintended coding threats, examining file encryption alternatives, and checking permissions, and gain access rights. There are specific tools for mobile apps, network-based apps, and for firewall programs developed especially for web applications.

What types of mobile apps can be attacked?

Native Apps: These apps are native to a specific platform like iOS or Android. And as they are optimized for a particular platform, they work effectively and offer a better user experience. Nevertheless, due to their structure, it is rather tough to maintain them.

Web Apps: These apps work on web-hosted servers. Normally, CSS, HTML5, or Javascript are used for their development. Moreover, these apps can’t access much of the native gadget’s functionality like contacts, camera, or location. However, as they are open to web servers, prospective security threats are constantly inevitable.

Hybrid Apps: these apps consist of a mix of the functions of native and web apps. They can be downloaded from app stores. They can also enjoy device features and at the same time, they depend on HTML and web servers too.


Why 90% of Mobile Apps are vulnerable?

The majority of the time, mobile apps have privacy and security gaps in code functionality. Apps are permitted access to more data points than needed and this opens more opportunities for dangerous stars to sniff into the system. Using unapproved APIs and untrusted libraries present comparable problems too. In several instances, an absence of appropriate encryption also exposes delicate user data to hackers. Another typical phenomenon that makes mobile apps more susceptible to attacks is the possibility of reverse engineering. In the later part of the blog site, we will see how it deeply affects the security of mobile apps. But before that, let’s analyze the types of attacks that are common when it comes to mobile apps.


All Types of Attacks on mobile apps can be divided into four types:

Browser-Based Attacks: Ranging from phishing, clickjacking, and data-caching to man-in-the-middle attacks, browser-based attacks occur over the web servers. In the case of these attacks, hackers inject malicious scripts into app elements that are served via web internet browsers.

Phone or SMS Based Attacks: When it comes to phone/SMS attacks, hackers target mobile devices by distributing malware by means of unapproved messages. Moreover, other phone-based attacks like baseband attacks have a place to be. In these attacks, threat actors might gain control over the device’s digital baseband processor and manipulate cellular activities.

OS-Based Attacks: OS-based attacks aimed at the mobile phone’s operating system. Typically, adjustments like Android rooting and iOS jailbreaks lead to these kinds of attacks. Weak passcodes and encryption might also cause these attacks.

Application-Based Attacks: In these attacks, hackers utilize the vulnerabilities in the mobile app itself to access private user data. Inappropriate SSL injection, weak encryption, and unwanted authorizations may lead to application-based attacks.


How to Build a Completely Secure Mobile App? 

We analyzed how various types of mobile apps are vulnerable to various kinds of attacks. Now, we should take into consideration what must be done in order to prevent such attacks from occurring. According to The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) coding checklist, there are numerous ways of reaching this. Generally, a developer can alleviate most of the security vulnerabilities and effectively maintain mobile app security while coding. The list below highlights some of the secure coding practices which developers need to follow in order to develop an entirely protected mobile app. Nevertheless, despite all these procedures, there is still some margin or error. Luckily, there are some strategies that effectively eliminate the possibility of any remaining mistake. Let us see how.


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How Code Obfuscation and Remediation Assist in Mobile App Security?

Once any app goes public, so does its source code. Being a developer, you would never ever desire any hacker to review your code and begin damaging your application. They might even repackage the app with some malicious code. In order to avoid such problems, use the strategies of code obfuscation and remediation. These 2 techniques keep hackers from reverse engineering your app and understanding your app code. They also erase the possible loopholes in the code to ensure your app’s security at all times.


What is Code Obfuscation helps to secure the code?

Code obfuscation is merely the approach of modifying the source or machine code in order to make it hard for hackers to check out or understand it. While the performance of the code stays the exact same, obfuscation helps coders in concealing the reasoning and function of the code successfully. Typically, coders use a tool called an Obfuscator to carry out the obfuscation process. It simply transforms the original code into some program that performs the exact same functions however makes it almost difficult for hackers to check out or understand the reasoning of the code. Code obfuscation might likewise be carried out manually. Some standard steps in code obfuscation may consist of:

  • Encrypting some part of, or the whole code.
  • Changing the class or variable names to some unclear labels.
  • Placing some useless or unutilized code to the application binary.
  • Hiding or removing possibly delicate metadata.


How does Code Obfuscation Work?

The procedure of code obfuscation includes some basic however trusted techniques. Together they can develop a strong layer of defense and protect your code from attackers. Below you can see some standard obfuscation strategies and also described how they work:

  1. Renaming Obfuscation: Renaming obfuscation, as the name suggests, alters the aliases of the key methods and variables. Without modifying the program execution, this strategy makes it harder for any human to understand the customized code. Even if hackers try to analyze the logic of the source code, they may need to be incredibly attentive while looking out for aspects and variable names. The modified names may have specific different calling schemes like a mix of letters, numbers, or even unprintable or invisible signs. This code obfuscation technique is widely used for mobile application security while coding by a majority of Java, Android, iOS and.NET developers.
  2. Control Flow Obfuscation: This form of code obfuscation simply entangles the control flow of the application code. In control flow obfuscation, a valid executable logic is produced using the traditional branching, conditional and iterative constructs. But, upon decompilation, the code would yield non-deterministic semantic results. This technique makes it rather hard for the hacker to break the logic of the decompiled code. Nevertheless, utilizing control flow obfuscation might also result in degraded runtime performance
  3. Instruction Pattern Change: In this method, the basic compiler guideline patterns are converted into particular various or unclear constructs. Usually, these instructions are suitable for machine languages and map less easily with high-level languages like C# or Java. This strategy is really frequently used throughout short-term variable caching. Using this, overhead transient variables are eliminated from Java or.NET runtimes utilizing their stack-based nature
  4. Dummy Code Insertion: Another way of code obfuscation is dummy code insertion where some dummy code is placed into the executable. This insertion does not have any result on the logic or the execution of the program and makes the reverse engineering of the code actually tough.
  5. Removal of Unused Code and Metadata: Reducing the number of details that can be extracted from your code might restrict the activities of the opponents. This obfuscation method does the exact same. Here, pieces of unused code, debugging info, and unneeded metadata are eliminated from the source code. Apart from guaranteeing security, this strategy also enhances the runtime performance of the mobile app.


What is Remediation? 

As the name suggests, remediation is simply the act of damage control. In mobile app security, remediation basically consists of some reliable techniques that developers can implement to prevent attackers from infiltrating into their apps. Generally, hackers gain insights into a mobile app through reverse engineering. Applying proper remediation techniques will make your app more complex and pose hardships for hackers to crack its code.  


How does Remediation Work? 

A number of remediation strategies can enhance the complexity of your code and make reverse engineering challenging. Usually, if your app manages high volumes of user data, you must consider applying anti-debug methods. In Android applications, you can do this by utilizing JNI (Java Native Interface). As for iPhone applications, you should prefer writing code portions in low-level C to prevent reverse engineering. 

There are other secure code practices as well:

Restricting Debuggers

A hacker’s ability to engage or disrupt an application’s runtime may be decreased by avoiding its attachment to any type of debugger. If this is made sure, an attacker must first figure out the debugging constraints before breaching right into the app to a reduced degree. To add this intricacy to your mobile app, you might carry out several methods. In Android apps, designers ought to set ‘android: debuggable=”false”‘ in the application manifest. This would certainly protect against runtime interactions as well as also malware injections. ‘PT_DENY_ATTACH’ might be utilized when it comes to iOS apps.

Trace Checking

If you are concerned about mobile application security while coding, you should consider the trace checking technique. It is feasible for a mobile app to inspect whether or not it is being tracked by a debugger or any other debugging device. There are several ways of identifying this, like assessing the moms and dad procedure, checking the return value of ‘ptrace attach’, contrasting timestamps on various circumstances of the program, examining procedure status flags, or blacklisting debuggers. After looking for debuggers, the app may perform numerous defense activities like alerting the webserver admins or disposing of file encryption type to protect delicate customer information.


In the upcoming years, security will play a key role in distinguishes one mobile application from the other. And that is why following secure coding practices focusing on the elements of security becomes a necessity. Before any mobile application goes public, it has to be made sure that it adheres to the fundamental safety demands. Strategic coding methods like obfuscation and remediation also have their own value as they safeguard the core logic and purpose of the application’s code. When combined with each other, every one of these coding rules will form an unyielding arsenal that will never allow your mobile app to get hacked. 


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