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Why Mobile App Binary Scanning is Essential to Safeguarding Applications

This guest post was contributed by Krishna Vishnubhotla, VP of Product Strategy, Zimperium

Krishna Vishnubhotla, Zimperium

Do you know how many applications you have on your mobile? Probably many more than you think. Are they all secure? What security permissions have you granted to each one? 


Smartphones and mobile apps have transformed our daily lives, allowing us to perform countless actions and access a huge amount of information at the touch of a finger. This increased dependency on our mobile devices, however, have encouraged cybercriminals to begin targeting users through their mobile devices, attacking vulnerabilities in services that are built into applications. In fact, 80% of the zero day mobile vulnerabilities actively being exploited in the past year were for iOS and there has been a 138% year-over-year increase in critical Android vulnerabilities discovered.


In the ever-evolving landscape of mobile app development, safeguarding your apps against vulnerabilities is paramount. It’s not just a matter of ticking off security boxes; it’s about ensuring your users’ data and trust remain intact. Despite the need for source code scanners to aid secure coding, binary scanning of mobile apps is equally crucial. Mobile app binary scanning, goes beyond other code scanning by uncovering mobile-specific exploitable vulnerabilities and keeping pace with high-frequency mobile application releases. This article will explore the top five reasons binary scanning is needed in addition to having source code scanner, to ensure apps are safe and secure from even the most complex cyberattacks.


1. Post-deployment Modifications


Binary scanning aids in detecting post-deployment modifications to applications. These modifications can include changes or injections made after deployment, such as through dynamic code loading or updating mechanisms. Such alterations are not part of the static source code and, therefore, require analysis of the application's binary to ensure ongoing security after deployment.


2. Third-party Library/SDK Flaws in your Apps


Modern mobile applications extensively use third-party libraries and SDKs to expedite development and introduce sophisticated functionalities. But most of the time, only a part of the SDK capabilities are used; the rest is ignored. These components can contain vulnerabilities, malware, and malicious URLs you may be unaware of, especially if their source code is unavailable for review or hasn't been adequately scrutinized. Binary scanning enables the identification of flaws within these black-box components, ensuring a comprehensive security posture.


3. Runtime Environment Vulnerabilities


A key reason to incorporate binary scanning into your security practice is its ability to detect runtime environment vulnerabilities. These are issues that only become apparent when the application is executed in a specific environment or under particular conditions. Such vulnerabilities are often invisible in static source code analysis because they emerge from the interaction between the application and its runtime environment, including the mobile operating system, device hardware, and other installed applications.


4. Insufficient Protections


By identifying vulnerabilities related to reverse engineering, debugging, and execution on compromised devices or emulators, binary scanners play a pivotal role in enhancing mobile application security. Through comprehensive analysis of the compiled application binary, these tools detect inadequacies in obfuscation techniques, the absence of anti-debugging measures, and the lack of checks for unsafe execution environments. 


5. Data Leakage


Binary scans serve as a critical tool in identifying and mitigating risks associated with insecure data storage and communication, two of the most prevalent avenues for data leakage in mobile applications. By analyzing the compiled application binaries, binary scanners can detect instances of unencrypted or inadequately protected sensitive data stored on the device. Additionally, binary scans scrutinize the app's networking functionalities to identify insecure communication practices. The use of unencrypted data channels falls under this category, as well as improper implementation of SSL/TLS protocols, or failures in SSL certificate validation—all of which could leave sensitive user data exposed to interception during transit. 


A Layered Security Approach is Key


With the complexity of today’s mobile applications and the cyber threats they face, it's paramount that organizations understand the importance of a layered security approach, integrating both source code and binary scanning solutions. By taking this step, organizations can ensure that their mobile applications are being safeguarded from even the most sophisticate vulnerabilities and threats. 


About the author:

Krishna Vishnubhotla is a seasoned professional in the SaaS industry, specializing in catalyzing startup growth through adept product and marketing strategies. With a keen focus on mobile application security products, he has a proven track record in defining and executing product visions that drive significant revenue growth. In addition to managing a global customer success portfolio, he established high-value strategic partnerships. His leadership skills extend to spearheading revenue generation efforts, serving a diverse clientele across multiple industries.

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