A Guide to Mobile Application Penetration Testing

by | Sep 23, 2022 | How-To, Penetration Testing

There are many mobile applications (apps). More than 3.59 million applications are available in the iOS App Store right now, while more than 3.48 million apps are available in the Google Play store. The number of iOS mobile applications launched in the App Store worldwide in June 2022 alone was 36 thousand, while the prevalence of mobile ransomware is increasing by 415% annually, according to Statista’s most recent study. Don’t let these numbers discourage you. Businesses may use methods and technologies to lessen malicious software’s likelihood of impacting them. By being proactive with penetration testing (pen testing), your company can keep its mobile app(s) and users safe from this rise in malware. This post aims to give you a guide to mobile application penetration testing and the many kinds of pentesting techniques you can use immediately in your company.

Mobile Application Penetration Testing

It is crucial to comprehend the specifics of pentesting operations and when to administer one. Penetration testing ranks fourth on the list of cybersecurity skills that are currently limiting the growth of their organization, according to a joint study by the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) and the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA). 23% of organizations report having a shortage of pen testers. Companies may identify network flaws that need quick patching and protection by doing mobile application penetration testing. Organizations should try to be as optimistic as possible and see the test as a learning opportunity when they engage in a mobile pentest scenario. Finding a single vulnerability is not the objective; instead, it is to identify hundreds of different cyberattack vectors.

Common Mobile Application Attack Vectors

Attack VectorNotes
Physical SecurityMobile phones are regularly taken or misplaced. It’s far more probable than even a laptop to fall into the wrong hands, putting all the data available through applications on the device at danger, whether it’s a company-owned or a personal device.
Weaker AuthenticationOn mobile devices, it is more challenging to enter strong passwords (longer combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters). As a result, it is often more challenging to enforce robust or multi-factor authentication on mobile devices.
Direct Access to DataConventional client operating systems support multiple users with distinct environments. Multi-user scenarios are not yet available on mobile devices. The same applications and data will be accessible to anybody who enters the correct PIN.
Less Safe BrowsingDue to smaller mobile form factors, certain information, such as whole URLs, typically shown in a browser is not immediately available to mobile users. This makes it more difficult to detect fraudulent websites, making life simpler for phishers.
MalwareMobile devices are at risk from viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, and other malware, just like any other device that connects to the internet. New attack classes result from new computing environments. Well-known examples are worms that propagate through Bluetooth links or SMS texts.

OWASP (The Open Web Application Security Project) has the top 10 list of mobile application vulnerabilities listed below:

According to a 2017 poll, 42% of small firms already have a mobile app, and 30% plan to create one soon. Testing the environment using mobile pentesting against security vulnerabilities is necessary to reduce the danger of unauthorized intrusions or cyber crimes caused by the incorporation of mobile app malware.

One thing to remember is that breaking into mobile apps is quite different from pen-testing online applications. When doing mobile pentests, the business must use a different setup and methodology than when conducting web app pen tests. A new security strategy is also necessary to safeguard mobile applications’ sensitive data stored on the client side.

Consider purchasing a computer with at least 100 GB of free hard drive (HD) space and 16MB of RAM (for setting up the virtual testing environment). Depending on what your penetration testing services team prefers, you might test directly on a PC or use emulators on virtual computers. Penetration testers have been known to have better control over their testing environments thanks to emulators, making it possible to store device states using snapshots and images. They are beneficial in enabling the pentesting tool or approach to operate against many potential targets due to their incredible adaptability. In the end, using emulators for mobile pentesting offers the pentesting team convenience and significant cost savings. However, as emulators can only approximate the mobile environment to a certain extent, it might be challenging to transfer the desired functionality to actual hardware. Conducting a pen test on a genuine, platform-specific device may help make it more effective. So, to pen test iOS programs, an Apple iPhone would be used to pentest Android apps, and a Google Nexus or Samsung Galaxy S9. This testing against real devices enables your business to assess the security elements that consumers must interact with to utilize the app, such as fingerprinting or camera components. Teams doing pen tests should evaluate how the program will act given its present operating system (OS).

Genymotion Emulator for Android Devices

Black Box Pen Testing

Black box pentesting is more concerned with developing test cases via wholly external penetration testing viewpoints than white box testing, one of the two primary forms of mobile device penetration testing. These mobile device penetration testing techniques provide the pentester with little to no app knowledge, which is why they are known as “zero-knowledge tests.” As a result, the pentester can act as an actual attacker in a hacking scenario when the attacker merely has access to information that is accessible to the public or may be found. You can guarantee that a genuine hacker can access your mobile app if the pentester can accomplish so using a flaw. This exploitation gives your team the proof they need to identify the precise locations where the proper app security measures must be implemented to safeguard the mobile app environment adequately. The company may receive a more accurate understanding of what regular penetration assaults might do to their organization thanks to the realistic findings obtained via black box pentesting.

Mobile Application penetration testing

White Box Pen Testing

In contrast to black box pen testing, white box pen testing uses the pentester’s complete understanding of the mobile app environment. The company may provide the pentester with information on the mobile app’s source code, documentation, schematics, or other details to provide them a reason for doing their testing. It isn’t too stretch to call this kind of pen testing “full-knowledge testing,” as it is the reverse of the black box version. In a white box pen testing scenario, penetration testers are essentially provided a map with different “stops” to make along the road, making the test considerably more effective and efficient. Therefore, a white box pen test’s enhancements focus on preventing internal attackers from utilizing network expertise to acquire sensitive authorization data (SAD) or information that might potentially cause the firm to fail.

Methodology for Mobile Application Penetration Testing

According to a recent survey on the status of mobile app security, 84% of users of mobile apps think their financial and health applications are sufficiently safe. This figure may reassure mobile app developers, but the numbers may drop sharply if many mobile data vulnerabilities are discovered in these sectors. Organizations may learn vital information about source code flaws that might result in data bottlenecks in the future by conducting pentests. Before a mobile app is released, security gaps and attack vectors should be closed. This will help guarantee the app’s viability throughout its whole existence.
Before the app is made public, the development team may resolve any vulnerabilities by conducting a mobile pentest. This will help prevent network-related breaches. Make sure you have a pentester who is more than competent before you start using the mobile pen test technique. This person should be able to record any vulnerabilities and provide essential solutions to your team. Your team must move fast to patch any security holes once the mobile pentest findings are received to prevent a compromise. These are the critical components of a mobile pentest for which you should be ready.


You must be ready whenever your business takes the prudent decision to have a pentest on your mobile application(s) done. To the benefit of the pentester and the customer, the first step is ensuring that each phase of the procedure is precisely described. Expectations are established and maintained consistently between the parties in this fashion. The company must create a data categorization policy as part of the preparation stage, labeling sensitive data and providing a centralized document for the pentester to consult. On the other side, the pentester’s job is to research the company and use any available public information to better understand its target.

Staging Mobile Attacks

The pentester will launch the first wave of client assaults once the pentesting setup and pentester are ready. The pentester has pre-identified certain file types as their principal targets, and these assaults are planned accordingly. The pentester will use specific techniques to access the client-server tier architecture’s mobile app server. These early attacks’ primary purpose is to examine network traffic and layer protection via code analysis and source code debugging. After completing that assignment, the pentester will decide on the precise follow-up assaults that will aid in discovering vulnerable files with inadequate access restrictions. The pentester may find vulnerabilities that potentially leak API keys stored in an inaccessible folder using techniques like SQL injections, application fuzzing, and parameter manipulation. The fundamental objective of a pentester after breaching a network’s design without privileged access is to get administrator-level access and keep that access, which effectively gives them control of the kingdom.

Vulnerability Reporting

During the mobile application penetration test, the pentester records anything along the journey relevant to the objectives set during the planning stage of the mobile application penetration test. The pentester submits a report detailing all significant vulnerabilities found during the test using the simulated sequence of attacks. Suppose the client’s environment has a mobile security fault. In that case, the pentester must elucidate the problem and give documentation detailing what the client needs to do to reproduce the results and test viable fixes. The pentester must sufficiently demonstrate their lack of involvement in the exploit if harmful behavior is found in the environment during the test that goes beyond the anticipated compromise in which they consented to take part. The pentester should provide suggestions for closing the found gaps in a prioritized list with each vulnerability’s context in the final report that he or she submits to the client.

Mobile Application Penetration Testing Reporting

Final Thoughts

The fact is that 85% of businesses claim that their company faces a moderate risk from mobile attacks, and 74% claim that the threat has increased in the previous year. The easiest way for firms to lower these numbers is to concentrate on penetration (pen) testing to close data gaps and vulnerabilities in their mobile apps. The company will be able to profit from having a less hazardous mobile network architecture that better serves its bottom line by adhering to the process of finding a certified pentester and carrying out the necessary due diligence in planning a mobile pen test. Set up a conversation with Artifice Security for more details on mobile application penetration testing, or use the contact form below.

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