Mobile Application Penetration Testing: Checklist and Top 10 Risks

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Mobile Application Penetration Testing: Checklist and Top 10 Risks

Mobile applications are now a major part of many people’s lives, with some of them even serving as the backbone of major businesses. Unfortunately, as the industry grows, so does the potential for security breaches and fraudulent activity. This is not something to be overlooked. According to recent research, more than 2 million malicious applications are freely available on Google Play Store alone. Online penetration testing is the best way to ensure that your mobile application has been properly developed and not contain any vulnerabilities. In this article, we’ll go over what mobile penetration tests are, why they’re necessary, and give you some tips on how to perform them yourself.

What is Mobile Application Penetration Testing?

Mobile application penetration testing is locating and exploiting flaws in mobile apps. It’s very similar to web application penetration testing, except that instead of looking at websites, you’re looking at mobile apps. Its main goal is to find and fix security flaws before they are discovered or exploited by malicious actors.

Why Do You Need to Perform Penetration Tests on Mobile Applications?

Like any other type of application, mobile apps need to be tested for security vulnerabilities. By identifying and fixing these vulnerabilities early on, you can help protect your users, your data, and your company’s reputation.

Penetration tests for mobile applications should be done before the app gets released to the public. However, it is recommended that you do them regularly afterward to find any new vulnerabilities caused by updates or third-party integrations. We’ve compiled a list of things you should keep in mind before starting to ensure an effective penetration test.

What to Keep in Mind When Performing Mobile Application Penetration Tests?

Mobile application penetration testing can be broken down into three main stages: pre-testing, static analysis, and dynamic analysis.

Pre-Testing is the first stage, and it’s all about planning your attack. You’ll want to do some homework before starting anything; this involves creating a strategy and a testing plan. You should include an information-gathering phase and then move on to assessing identification, authentication, authorization, and session management as well as client software security mechanisms like SSL/TLS transport layer security services such as cryptographic algorithms (i.e., MDx, SHA), key exchange protocols (i.e., Diffie-Hellman) and trust/key-manager implementations (i.e., Public Key Infrastructure).

Static Analysis is the second stage, and it’s where you will be performing a manual code review of your app. This usually involves decompiling apps written in an object-oriented programming language like Java or Objective C, disassembling compiled binaries into assembly code using tools. Finally, you will perform a static code analysis using IDEs like Eclipse or Apps built into your mobile device manager (e.g., Xcode).

Dynamic Analysis is the last stage where you’ll be running tests on an emulator of real devices. You should start this phase by setting up a test environment that mirrors the actual production environment as closely as possible. This will allow you to replicate any real-world conditions that may occur during an attack.

Now that we’ve gone over what mobile penetration testing is and why you need to do it let’s look at the OWASP Top Ten Mobile Risks.

The OWASP Top 10 Mobile Risks:

  1. Improper Platform Usage –  Developers often fail to use relevant system security features when developing mobile applications. This can leave your app open to attacks.
  2. Insecure Data Storage –  Apps need to store data securely on devices and ensure the sensitive data is encrypted before storing. If developers fail to do so, they can leave valuable information easy to decipher by attackers who have gained access to a mobile application.
  3. Insecure Communication – It may be possible for an attacker to intercept network traffic or reverse engineer the protocol being used. This can lead to sensitive data being stolen.
  4. Insecure Authentication – Poorly implemented authentication schemes represent an opportunity for attackers to access the user’s accounts by stealing their login credentials or session tokens.
  5. Insufficient Cryptography – Mobile apps are often required to use cryptography to protect data. If the cryptographic algorithms or keys being used are not strong enough, attackers can easily bypass them.
  6. Insecure Authorization – Lack of proper authorization checks can allow unauthorized users to access other users’ accounts. This can be extremely costly when it comes to payment and banking apps.
  7. Client Code Quality – Applications developed using insecure coding practices may inherit those flaws and put the entire application at risk.
  8. Code Tampering – If an attacker can gain access to the application’s source code, they may modify it and gain unauthorized access or tamper with the application’s logic.
  9. Reverse Engineering – If an attacker manages to reverse engineer the application, they may be able to identify flaws in the code put in place by developers.
  10. Extraneous Functionality –  Some apps have hidden functionality that attackers can exploit to create backdoors and access sensitive data.

Now that we know about the OWASP Top Ten Mobile Risks let’s take a look at how you can go about avoiding them in the first place.

Best Practises for Mobile Application Security

There are many things you can do to mitigate the risks posed by mobile applications, such as:

  •       Performing penetration tests will help you find and fix vulnerabilities in your apps before attackers can exploit them.
  •       Using a secure coding standard will help you ensure that your apps are written securely, minimizing the number of potential vulnerabilities.
  •       Employing proper authentication mechanisms includes using strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and/or biometric authentication.
  •       Storing sensitive data securely – Several ways to do this include encrypting the information or storing it on secure servers.
  •       Ensuring that mobile devices meet security requirements – This includes keeping them up-to-date with patches and updates (wherever possible) and using antivirus software.
  •       Following legal guidelines regarding user consent when dealing with sensitive information includes collecting as little data as possible.

Things to Know: Checklist for Mobile Application Penetration Testing

The checklist for mobile application penetration testing is as follows:

  •       Is the app built with secure coding principles in mind?
  •       Does the app use standard cryptographic techniques and mechanisms to protect sensitive data?
  •       Do passwords or other authentication tokens expire after a certain period, and/or are they revoked when a user changes their password?
  •       Does the app protect sensitive data by encrypting it at rest and in transit?
  •       Are secure authentication mechanisms used to authenticate users accessing applications or services, such as strong passwords, two-factor authentication, or biometrics (where available)?
  •       Does the application use appropriate session management techniques to prevent session hijacking?
  •       Does the app properly sanitize user input to prevent cross-site scripting and other attacks?
  •       Are all network communications encrypted using SSL/TLS?
  •       Do you have a plan for dealing with Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)?
  •       Have penetration tests been performed on the application by a third-party security company that has experience testing mobile apps?


Mobile applications have become an integral part of today’s business, so it is important to ensure that they are secure from hackers. OWASP Top Ten Mobile Risks provide a good starting point for performing mobile application penetration testing and mitigating these risks. Remember to use secure coding practices, employ strong authentication mechanisms and store sensitive data securely to keep your mobile applications safe.

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Mobile Application Penetration Testing: Checklist and Top 10 Risks