How to Conduct Mobile Application Security Assessments Effectively

November 28, 20235 min read

Conducting a mobile application security assessment involves a series of steps designed to identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities within the app. Here’s a detailed guide on how to perform such assessments effectively.

Preliminary Steps

Before diving into the security assessment, it’s crucial to set the stage for a thorough evaluation.

  • Understanding the Application: Start with a comprehensive overview of the app, its functionalities, and backend services.
  • Defining Scope of Assessment: Clearly outline what components of the application will be assessed, including third-party services and APIs.
  • Gathering Documentation: Collect all relevant documentation, including design documents, previous audit reports, and developer guidelines.
  • Setting Up the Assessment Environment: Establish a controlled testing environment that replicates the production setting as closely as possible.
  • Identifying Regulatory Requirements: Be aware of data protection regulations like GDPR, PCI DSS, or HIPAA that the app needs to comply with.

Static Analysis

This phase involves reviewing the app’s source code without executing it.

  • Code Review: Examine the source code for insecure coding practices and vulnerabilities using both manual review and automated tools.
  • Identifying Hardcoded Credentials: Search for any hardcoded passwords, tokens, or secrets within the code.
  • Analyzing Dependencies: Evaluate third-party libraries and frameworks for known vulnerabilities.
  • Assessing Data Storage Practices: Ensure sensitive data is stored securely and encrypted if necessary.

Dynamic Analysis

In dynamic analysis, you evaluate the app’s behavior during runtime.

  • Intercepting Traffic: Use tools to intercept and analyze the data transmitted between the app and its servers.
  • Input Validation Testing: Check for issues such as SQL injection or cross-site scripting by providing malicious inputs.
  • Session Management Evaluation: Assess how the app handles user sessions and authentication tokens.
  • Reverse Engineering: Attempt to reverse engineer the app to understand how it operates and look for vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

Network and Communication Security

Since mobile apps often communicate over networks, this area requires attention.

  • Analyzing Encryption: Verify that the app uses strong encryption standards for data transmission.
  • Evaluating Certificate Pinning: Check if certificate pinning is implemented to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.
  • Testing Network Level Security: Simulate network attacks such as denial-of-service (DoS) to test the app’s resilience.

Authentication and Authorization

Assess how the app manages access control.

  • Authentication Mechanisms: Review how the app authenticates users and ensure that it’s robust and doesn’t allow for easy bypass.
  • Authorization Testing: Ensure that users can only access the functionalities and data they’re permitted to.

Client-Side Security

Investigate the security measures in place on the device.

  • Testing Data Storage: Evaluate how the app stores data locally and ensure it’s done securely.
  • Reviewing Local Permissions: Check what device permissions the app requires and whether they’re justifiable for its functions.
  • Mobile Platform-Specific Checks: Conduct checks specific to iOS (like plist configuration) or Android (like manifest files and intents).

Compliance and Reporting

Make sure to document the assessment and report it in a clear and actionable manner.

  • Documentation of Findings: Log all findings with detailed explanations and possible implications.
  • Risk Assessment: Assign a risk level to each vulnerability based on its potential impact and likelihood.
  • Mitigation Strategies: Propose strategies to address each vulnerability.
  • Reporting: Compile a comprehensive report that includes an executive summary for leadership and a detailed technical write-up for developers.

Post-Assessment Activities

Your work doesn’t end with handing over the report.

  • Verification of Fixes: After vulnerabilities have been addressed, verify that the fixes are effective and haven’t introduced new issues.
  • Advisory for Future Development: Provide recommendations for best practices in coding, testing, and operations to prevent future vulnerabilities.
  • Follow-Up Assessments: Schedule regular follow-up assessments to ensure ongoing security as the app evolves.

Conducting a mobile application security assessment is an iterative and detailed process. Security assessments should be a part of the development lifecycle, ensuring that each release of the app maintains a high standard of security to safeguard user data and maintain trust. With these detailed steps, security professionals can perform comprehensive evaluations that will contribute significantly to a robust mobile application security posture.