January 4, 2022

    5 Things to Look for in Android Obfuscation Tools

    When malicious actors gain an understanding of the inner workings of a mobile app, they can distribute fake apps, extract sensitive data, steal intellectual property, and more. As threat actors continue to target mobile apps with inadequate code hardening, therefore, strong obfuscation can make all the difference in preventing static analysis attacks.

    That’s why choosing the right Android obfuscation tools is crucial for implementing effective mobile app security. Here are five things to look for in Android obfuscation tools.

    1. Ease of Use

    The Android obfuscation tools you consider should prioritize ease of use for developers. That means balancing a simple initial setup with advanced configuration options. An effective tool, for example, will enable developers to get started with very little configuration required for basic protection, while still allowing for more complex and comprehensive security down the road.

    A developer-friendly user experience should also include a strict separation between functional code and security code. When developers are building new app features, they don’t want to think about how to secure it, as well. An easy-to-use obfuscation tool should implement obfuscation without requiring developers to change their source code.

    2. Seamless Integration with Development Process

    When it comes to adopting any security tool, integration with existing development workflows is crucial. This is a key aspect of DevSecOps, or implementing security measures directly into the development process to improve application security at a lower cost.

    For Android obfuscation tools, in particular, this means integrating with the standard developer tooling for Android, such as the Gradle build system and Android Studio. The security tool should also be compatible with continuous integration systems, like Jenkins, to ensure developers can implement security anywhere throughout their app delivery pipeline.

    In addition, integrations with crash reporting tools, like Crashlytics, are important for development teams. Since obfuscation tools rename classes, methods, and other aspects of the code, the obfuscation tool should be able to automatically translate these mappings to the original source code for debugging purposes.

    3. Multiple Layers of Obfuscation

    Code obfuscation involves making applications difficult to decompile to protect against static attacks, like reverse engineering. Some popular code hardening techniques include name, control flow, and arithmetic obfuscation. An effective Android obfuscation tool should implement multiple layers of obfuscation to adequately deter malicious actors.

    For example, as apps continue to leverage APIs, the ability to hide secrets and keys with encryption is essential. Another important use case for obfuscation is protecting monetized features by hiding where the app checks for payment. These situations often require different code hardening techniques, which highlights the need for multiple layers of obfuscation.

    4. Resetting the Clock

    Another important capability for Android obfuscation tools is the ability to apply obfuscation differently for each build. At Guardsquare, we call this unique approach to implementing obfuscation polymorphism.

    Polymorphism essentially resets the clock on each build, thereby forcing malicious actors to start their reverse engineering efforts from scratch. Moreover, if the app ensures a separation of concerns between development and security code, polymorphism shouldn’t impact the app developer at all. This enables stronger mobile app security and rapid app development at the same time.

    5. Visibility & Support

    Making a wise decision about which Android obfuscation tool to choose doesn’t stop at ease of implementation and the security measures it provides. The mobile security tool should also provide in-depth reports, documentation, and support to ensure app developers can use the tool effectively.

    Since the threat landscape constantly changes, it’s vital to have visibility into the level of security that an obfuscation tool is providing. That means transparent feedback on the effectiveness of the protections applied, especially with tools that use polymorphism, is crucial for app developers. An in-depth risk assessment enables developers to validate the security protections an obfuscation tool implements and identify potential areas for improvement.

    Strong customer support is also a must-have when it comes to selecting your Android obfuscation tool. Consider who is providing the support; the best Android obfuscation tools offer support from engineers rather than a team of external customer service representatives. This provides app developers with a team of mobile app security experts to turn to when implementing and iterating on Android app security.

    Android App Security with Guardsquare

    DexGuard is Guardsquare’s comprehensive Android app security solution. Using multiple layers of obfuscation and polymorphism, DexGuard helps app developers protect against reverse engineering. Developers can get started with DexGuard using just six lines of code to easily integrate the solution into their automated workflows.

    Along with effective obfuscation, DexGuard also uses runtime application self-protection (RASP) to defend against dynamic attacks. These app hardening capabilities, along with in-depth protection reports, give development and security teams confidence that their Android apps are secure.


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