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Mobile App Security Testing For Beginners: 8 Things To Keep In Mind

Mobile apps are becoming as essential to everyday digital life. There are so many apps out there for all manner of different functions. With the rise of mobile apps, so too rises the vulnerabilities involved in the process. Now, more than ever, programmers need to take security testing seriously. Here are the basics you need to know.

 

Testing 

Before anything else, we should define what types of security testing are out there.

 

White-Box Testing

White-Box Testing is done by a tester who has full knowledge of the app’s ins and outs, and they go out of their way to exploit any vulnerabilities they find. It’s basically hacking one’s own app and is often done by experienced programmers who can understand the things they note about the app’s security. This is often done on more secure mobile devices as well and is intended to be a real stress test of the app for internal code review.

 

Black-Box Testing

In contrast, black testing is meant to simulate what a complete stranger would know. They would not have access to any data about the app’s development and are expected to find vulnerabilities with the knowledge they have and publicly discoverable information. This is the most “practical” security stage, as it deals with more realistic scenarios, and also allows for zero bias in testing, as someone with full knowledge of the app’s history might have.

 

Gray-Box Testing

Gray-Box Testing is the most common type in the information security industry. It blends elements of both, giving the attackers some information about the app, but not all of them. The importance of doing all three of these testing types is to make sure all bases are covered. Three different perspectives mean there’s very little room for error. 

Here is a visual representation of the three types:

Black Box – Putting a coin in a normal vending machine and getting a soda.

Gray Box – The front of the vending machine is opened, but not the back.

White Box – The vending machine is free to tinker with as the user pleases.

 

Monitoring

There are two types of security monitoring to consider when testing for regular use.

 

Point-In-Time Monitoring

Point-In-Time involves periodic assessments of your app’s security. It’s a simple snapshot of whether or not an app is secure. This type of monitoring is primarily used by businesses that have been allocated a small budget for their security team, or for a quick example to give potential clients with regards to your security.

The downside of this type of monitoring is it leaves vulnerable gaps between checkups where hackers can wreak havoc without your knowledge. While it’s less cost-intensive than continuous monitoring, those savings could potentially be outstripped by one lucky attack on your app. It’s a type of monitoring that’s only used as a last resort.

 

Continuous Security Monitoring

As the name bluntly states, continuous security monitoring is a constant overview of a mobile app’s security status. Think active maintenance vs regular checkups. Social media platforms and their apps follow this method of security monitoring, because of the real-time nature of their platform. 

There’s too much risk involved with leaving vulnerable gaps for apps that are used 24/7. Overall, continuous monitoring is the industry standard, especially among corporations. Failure to do so often leads to major breaches of security. Not only that, continuous monitoring gives developers way more information about an attack than a point-in-time method.

 

Analysis

Once an app has been tested and monitored for a good amount of time, that’s when vulnerability analyses can be done. There are two main types of analysis to keep in mind. 

 

Static Analysis

Static Analysis involves examining an app’s vulnerabilities and components without the app being active. This means analyzing the source code while the app isn’t running. This process can be done either manually, automatically, or a blend of both for extra caution. The strength of the static analysis is that it scales well with your app, and automation is a bit easier than dynamic. The cons of static analysis are that they are only a small part of the overall app’s health. 

 

Dynamic Analysis

In contrast, Dynamic Analysis involves evaluating apps in real-time use. This is a practical but more complex form of analysis, as it simulates the real situations of an attack.  In turn, this leads to a lot less room for false flags, because the result of a vulnerability is quickly seen by the developer.

 

Pentesting

The last term you need to be familiar with is Penetration Testing, AKA, Pentesting. This is done in the final stages of app development and is a combination of all the things you’ve learned thus far. 

You are expected to gather as much information about an app, map out an attack plan, then put it into action. Whether or not it succeeds, a  comprehensive report is expected afterward, and this determines the future of your app’s release.

 

Conclusion

Mobile app security testing is what allows developers to see the gaps in their defenses. There are static and dynamic elements in play, and each facet from everyday use to active attacks needs to not only be spotted but rectified.  The above knowledge should get you started on the path to total mobile security.

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