Mobile Development

What is Software Vulnerability?: The Top 10 Software Vulnerabilities

Lena Mikrukova ◽ Dec 8, 2022

It’s rare to find someone nowadays who doesn’t use a smartphone, and therefore, mobile apps. Both have become virtually ubiquitous in everyday life. We use them for quickly exchanging information, online shopping, invoicing, and many other tasks. On one hand, this greatly simplifies our lives, but on the other hand, it creates an additional security threat in the form of leaked personal and financial information, or even control of the device itself. This can mean a direct loss for users and a blow to developers’ reputations.

A significant portion of cyberattacks come through mobile apps, as they process large amounts of confidential information.

Security is a fundamental component of a quality product, so it should never be overlooked when developing or maintaining software. So let’s find out more about what exactly a software vulnerability is, the main types of vulnerabilities, and ways to enhance protection and security.

What is a software vulnerability?

A software vulnerability is essentially any defect that allows a system’s controls to be accessed. The defect can be due to the app’s design, or perhaps because of an error in the code itself.

How does a software vulnerability work?

The attacker first does an overall scan of the system to determine whether there is a vulnerability in the software. This gives him an understanding of what types of software are on the system, whether they are up to date, and other details that help him decide what type of attack would be most effective.

Mobile app security includes every component: the security of the apps themselves, the security of the API, and the security of the server. It’s important to account for and work on vulnerabilities in the app itself as well as on the server side.

The Main Causes of Software Vulnerability

The bulk of transactions between an application and the user occur through a server. It stores and processes information that allows the server to work, including authentication, financial, and personal data.

The server is therefore the most important element in an app’s functionality, and thus is the main target for cyberattacks as well.

These attacks can be carried out if there are vulnerabilities in the server configuration and controls.

Quite often, vulnerabilities are also the result of flaws in a system’s design or errors in the code.

The Most Common Software Vulnerabilities

1. Incorrect Use of the Platform

Many sources claim that this is the most common type of vulnerability. Whether you're developing for Android or iOS, either platform has specific rules and requirements for security. But in practice, these recommendations are often followed with flaws and errors.

This vulnerability is due to the misrepresentation and use of some of the features of the hosting platform, for example:

  • Incorrect use of iOS Touch ID, which in turn can lead to unauthorized access
  • Incorrect application of the iOS keychain
  • Intents in Android that are open to the public can reveal personal data or allow unauthorized execution of a command
  • An incorrect platform permission request

This type of vulnerability is addressed on the server side. Things to consider to ensure security:

  • Compliance with the rules and recommendations of the development platform
  • Using safe coding practices and proper server settings
  • Limiting the interaction between applications, closing access to the application, setting restrictions on access to files, and other similar measures
  • Implementing the highest security class for iOS keychains

2. Insecure Data Storage

Attackers can gain both physical access to your mobile device through loss and theft, as well as remote access through malware, thereby accessing your personal information and data. Therefore, it is important to store data in such a way that it is inaccessible to other apps and people.

What steps can developers take to address this vulnerability?

  • Make sure that encryption keys are secured
  • Provide code protection against unauthorized entry using obfuscation and buffer overflow protection
  • Minimize data storage and caching
  • Pay special attention to user access and authorization

3. Insecure Communication

This is also a very common type of vulnerability. If data is transmitted in unencrypted form, then it can easily be intercepted through various methods: proxy servers, cell towers, wi-fi hacking, and malware.

Best practices for this vulnerability:

  • Respect standard blocking protocols
  • Use SSL/TLS certificates from trusted certification authorities for added security
  • In the case of a failure or invalid certificate, warn users immediately

4. Insecure Authentication

This is also a common vulnerability, so it’s important that the mobile app verifies the identity of the user, especially when transferring financial information.

What you can do to be safe:

  • Preferably implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
  • Refrain from using four-digit pin codes
  • Don't store passwords locally
  • Only download app data after successful authentication

5. Insufficient Cryptography

There are a number of things that can cause a mobile app to have broken cryptography and data acquisition:

  • Incorrect digital key management
  • Applying short-term or outdated blocking protocols
  • Bypassing built-in code encryption algorithms

Failure to manage cryptography can lead to personal data being stolen from a mobile device. To prevent this from happening, you should take the following measures:

  • Use strong cryptographic standards that conform to NIST technology
  • Do not store sensitive data on the mobile device

6. Insecure Authorization

Not every authorization is at risk. A secure login session not only checks who the user is, but also whether they are allowed to access the requested source or function. In other words, you need to check the user's access level.

Without this kind of identification, it becomes easier for hackers to carry out a variety of attacks. Insecure authorization can lead to insecure authentication. Both, in turn, can cause data theft, and hence reputational damage. Be sure to:

  • Ensure that every incoming authentication request is properly checked by the server
  • Check the user's access level using information from the server, not from the mobile device

7. Quality of the Client Code

This is a universal vulnerability when code is implemented with errors. Third-party libraries are often used when developing software, which means that you may encounter a low-quality product, but it may be difficult to detect initially. If problems arise when working with the code, then it becomes difficult for the developer to do anything about it, since they do not own the code.

The best solution is usually to rewrite part of the code. Using low quality code can also lead to other problems and vulnerabilities.

But there are a number of measures that can help in such situations:

  • Use automated tools to monitor buffer and memory overflows
  • Create code that is easy to understand and document
  • Build a single coding pattern throughout the system

8. Code Falsification

There are fake versions of mobile apps within app services. In such cases, the attacker modifies the application file, introduces a virus or other malicious content, and places the modified version on the app store.

Downloading and using such a version of the app can of course lead to losses of income and personal data for the owner or client of the mobile app, as well as damage the reputation of the developer.

For security reasons, the following should be accounted and provided for:

  • When creating software, ensure that the security technology can detect any code violation, whether it be a change in the main code or additional code. Detect and respond appropriately to unauthorized changes and notify the owner or users.
  • Employ a variety of protective measures to prevent the implementation of fake apps: digital signatures, various sum verification methods, code protection checks, and more.

9. Rereleasing an App

Attackers can hack an application, deconstruct it, and analyze the code. Upon determining how the system works, the hackers can then change the code to include the malicious function they need. Apps are usually altered using tools such as IDA Pro and Hopper. Once an attacker gets the result they’re looking for, they can rebuild the mobile app and use it for their own purposes.

To protect your product from reverse engineering, you should create software that cannot be deobfuscated using IDA Pro, Hopper, or other similar tools.

10. Additional Functionality

Sometimes developers inadvertently create loopholes for hackers by providing advanced features. These features are sometimes not even added to the interface in the final version of the app and users aren’t even aware of them. Attackers, of course, take advantage of these weaknesses.

To protect you and your clients, the most effective tool in this case is manual self-checks of code security.

Closing Thoughts

Generally speaking, these are the most frequently encountered vulnerabilities. Of course, there are others out there.

One great way to increase the security of a mobile application is a penetration test. It methodically tests the entire system, identifies security flaws, and recommends appropriate fixes. The main upside of this kind of test is that it allows you to identify vulnerabilities both on the server side and on the app side.

Overall, when it comes to security, the best way to handle a vulnerability is to prevent it.

You should always keep an eye on security issues. Developers should study secure coding methods, Manufacturers should integrate automatic security testing into the development process, read relevant publications about the latest vulnerabilities, and apply what they learn to their projects.

More from the blog

Create Your App With Flipabit

With nothing but a visual interface, you can create an app in the shortest possible amount of time, leading to faster profits, and potentially, a faster sale of the app itself.

Start Now