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App Security Insights

What is Mobile App Security Vulnerability Scanning?

Feb 14, 2018 11:07:07 AM / by AppSolid Team

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Mobile app developers have faced a wide variety of threats in their quest to fortify their products and protect their users. As smartphones and tablets have flooded the marketplace, developing effective countermeasures against mounting security risks has become a paramount issue for mobile apps.

Hackers and other malicious users are becoming more and more innovative with their attack methods with each passing year, and the rising number of widespread cyberattacks is a testament to their success in infiltrating some of the biggest organizations in the world. Thankfully, mobile app security vulnerability scanning can outfit developers with the tools they need to mount a strong defense in response.

Most security breaches are preventable, but the reason mobile apps fall prey to them has more to do with weaknesses built into their  software than anything else. Hackers are not so much implanting apps with vulnerabilities — though that can occur as well — as they are exploiting what is already there.

This is precisely why vulnerability scanning is such an essential tool for developers who truly have their users’ best interests at heart. Mobile app security is, first and foremost, about prevention, and vulnerability scanning is undoubtedly the best way to ensure that your mobile app is performing optimally.

We’re sure that you are already intrigued about the power you can wield with vulnerability scanning on your side. However, before you begin planning how to integrate this tool into your security framework, let’s acquaint you with a bit more detail about how it works.

Vulnerability Scanning Defined

So we’ve alluded to it a bit in the above section. But you might still be wondering… what exactly is vulnerability scanning? In a nutshell, it can be broadly defined as any security measure that is implemented within a computer system with the express purpose of identifying any existing points of weakness.

This tactic is often  used by either individuals running their  personal security software or developers like yourself with an eye on security. Yet, it can also be applied by hackers who are looking for an access point to crack into a protected system. Such potential for a security breach is precisely why so many app developers have set out to add vulnerability scanning as a key feature within their security systems.

Although both sides may have vulnerability scanning available to them, developers have an advantage in that they can more smoothly integrate such capabilities into their existing coding and functionality. No one, after all, knows your system like you do, and you’re naturally in the best position to ensure that any vulnerability scanning you add into your infrastructure interacts with other systems and creates an intricate set of checks and balances that provides your team and your users with optimal protection.

Any vulnerability scanning software does create the possibility that it may overload your system, causing it to crash suddenly and unexpectedly. That’s why it is so important that you design your system to complement any vulnerability scanning. This will provide the safest environment for you and establish a stronger foundation for any activity occurring within your app.

Of course, not all vulnerability scanning tools are created equal. Their effectiveness (and cost) vary wildly, but let’s briefly mention some of the different types of scanners you may encounter in your research.

  • Network vulnerability scanner: As its name implies, this is a system that is tasked with scanning your entire network for any weaknesses, providing broader coverage than a tool designed to work solely for your software.
  • Web application security scanner: Likewise, this type of scanner applies only to web applications and searches their framework for vulnerabilities. You can similarly find  scanners that are designed specifically for mobile apps such as yours, as they have sprung up with the relatively recent ascendance of mobile technology.
  • Network enumerator: Hackers are perhaps more likely to use this scanner, which aims to obtain information about a system’s users across a given network of computers. However, it does have its practical uses.
  • Computer worm: Like network enumerators, this type of scanner — which is really a form of malware — is an earmark of cyber-attackers. With this tool, hackers can easily identify vulnerabilities and use that knowledge to gain unauthorized access.
  • Port scanner: Speaking of access points, a port scanner’s entire purpose is to explore a server or host for any open ports. While a useful tool for hackers, you might also choose to implement a port scanner to ensure that you maintain restricted access across your app.

An Essential Ingredient

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If you haven’t figured it out by now, vulnerability scanning can provide a tremendous service to your app and could very well be one of your security system’s most valuable assets. In fact, any kind of testing you do to your coding will likely prove to be a great help.

Regular testing of your code is one of the simplest, most proactive elements of a sound security strategy, and with the rampant pace that technology (and hackers) are moving these days, you need to do everything you can to keep your app from falling behind. Outdated code will only increase the prevalence of vulnerabilities, leaving you an easy target for a cyberattack.

Vulnerability scanning is among the most effective forms of testing, since it keeps a constant, watchful eye out for any risk factors or threats that could damage your app or compromise your users. The earlier you catch wind of any suspicious behavior, the sooner you can leap into action and curtail or prevent the harm entirely  that hackers may be looking to inflict on your app. You’re implicitly asking users to trust you every single time they use your product, and the least you can do is minimize the threats they are exposed to.

There’s a very real chance that vulnerability scanning is a topic that is entirely foreign to you. Although we implore you again to perform your own research to ensure that you have as much information about your options as possible, we think you’ll find that the amount of resources out there when it comes to code testing and vulnerability scanning is considerable. Here, for example, are just a few of the popular products in the market right now:

  • AppSolid: We know, we know. Shameless plug. However, despite our own lack of objectivity regarding AppSolid, our tool is definitely one we are proud to stand behind. The down-to-basics approach of “SCAN, PROTECT, TRACK” makes the process palatable even to newcomers without sacrificing any of the comprehensive power of its capabilities. Our vulnerability analysis provides full-app protection from security threats for both Android and iOS platforms, presenting one of the most powerful options out there.
  • Neopwn: Exclusive to Android devices, this is one of many open source tools out there but stands apart as one of the best. Its Linux operating system features custom software packets and even a security auditing setting specifically for smartphones. Developers looking for a low-cost way to cover the basics of vulnerability scanning may find a lot to love here, including the accessibility of remote access through both SSH and VPN.
  • OWASP Zed Attack Proxy Product: Another open source option, this one hails from the renowned team over at the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). Run by many international volunteers, you wouldn’t expect this tool to be among the best of its kind. Alas, its consistent updates and non-existent cost certainly make it an incomparable product for developers who want the most return on their investment.

HP Enterprise Software: No matter what your personal feelings are regarding HP, we had to highlight the company’s testing software. Covering all formats — iOS, Android, Blackberry and even Windows — and a variety of app types and networks, there’s very little chance that this tool wouldn’t be beneficial for your app. Indeed, the system seems to be designed precisely with a one-size-fits-all approach in mind, removing the guesswork involved in finding a service that fits your needs.

What to Watch Out For

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We’ve established what vulnerability scanning is and how it can benefit your app. Next, let’s address the 500-pound gorilla in the room, namely the very risk factors that such a system would ostensibly be identifying. Mobile apps today face a variety of potential vulnerabilities, but here are some of the most common:

  • Weak code: Your coding is the lifeblood of your app. If it isn’t properly protected, you’re leaving your app open for attack. The first line of defense then is to ensure that your code meets industry standards and has an inherently defensive design at work that will discourage hackers from infiltrating your system. Remember, the investment that you make in your app’s code will either come back to haunt you or make all the difference in the world regarding your app’s long-term prospects.
  • Malicious code: Since we’re already on the subject of code, let’s take on the exact opposite of the top-notch coding you should be aiming for. While having weak code will leave your system vulnerable, malicious code means that hackers have likely already begun to infiltrate your app, implanting their  damaging bits of code within the greater scheme of things. This can also happen simply with the passage of time, as bits of code become outdated, or if your team recycles coding that doesn’t quite gel with your system. In any case, you want to remove malicious code as soon as possible.
  • Malware: We’ve briefly discussed one form of malware in computer worms, but a good vulnerability scanning system will help you suss out any types of malware that might threaten your app. It can take many shapes, including the aforementioned malicious code, and can often be overlooked by coders. But malware has a much harder time hiding from vulnerability scanners, one of many reasons to invest in one.
  • Poor encryption: Encryption perhaps most of all, is what protects your app and its data from prying eyes. Without effective encryption, your coding is essentially an open book to any hackers or other malicious users looking to inflict harm. A data breach will cost you in many respects, and weak encryption — or even none at all — will cause the likelihood of a successful attack to skyrocket. Don’t. Risk. It.
  • Lack of binary protection: Reverse engineering (a tactic in which hackers deconstruct a bit of target code so that they can learn how to best attack it) is a common method leading up to a cyberattack. Binary protection guards against this and many other possibilities but remains mysteriously among the most underused tools that developers have at their disposal. Thankfully, many systems — including ours — include binary protection as a key component.
  • Unanticipated errors: Despite your best efforts, you, your team and your users will make errors along the way in shaping and fortifying your app. It’s simply human nature. Of course, hackers will be looking for any opportunity to act and will show little regard for the apparent care that has gone into 99.9% of your work. All they need, in many cases, is one little slip-up to crack open the door to your app. Perhaps these user errors simply amount to a poor password or a delay in a required update. They can still compromise the security of your app and need to be addressed before they do any significant damage.

Keep Your App Secure

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Early in your app’s development, you may be so focused on the design, functionality and marketing aspects that you might overlook just how critical its security is. Hopefully, by outlining the role vulnerability scanning plays, we have convinced you at least in part to update your approach to keeping hackers at bay.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your app is reasonably safeguarded against the very worst threats it might encounter, that you can at last feel confident in your ability to provide the premium service your users expect? Vulnerability scanning is one surefire way to realize that goal in one fell swoop.

Of course, an airtight security framework should ideally factor into the development process from the beginning. However, it’s never too late to fortify your app and preserve all the time, effort and resources you’ve invested in it. With this tool, you’ll be able to offer your users a stronger level of protection from the hordes of malicious users who, it seems, are hellbent on exploiting sensitive data for their  questionable ends.

While you might think you can simply wait until you have more time and/or resources to make significant improvements to your app’s security, remember that every moment you leave your app exposed, that’s another chance for a cyber-attacker to identify and act on any lingering vulnerabilities within your system. If that happens, the integrity of your app (and, in fact, your very reputation) might incur irreparable damage. It’s simply not worth the risk.

Get Secure & Stay Secure: The Unconventional Guide to Mobile Application Security

Topics: Mobile Application Security, Vulnerability Scanning

Written by AppSolid Team