November 9, 2022

    Mobile Cyber Risks: Mitigating the Knowns and Unknowns of Mobile App Security

    This blog explores:

    • App security is one of the highest expectations from customers. Most will stop using an app if they feel it has security issues, directly impacting a company’s brand and possibly revenue.
    • When a business releases an app for public use, they must be ready to protect the app from known and unknown security gaps threat actors discover and take advantage of through reverse engineering and code tampering. This can result in IP theft, the financial loss of bypassed in-app purchases, and damaged customer trust from data breaches and fraudulent clones.
    • To confidently protect your mobile apps, implement a proactive security strategy that leverages a three-pronged approach: protect, test, and monitor.

    Researchers predict that mobile apps are expected to generate over $935 billion in revenue by 2023. It might seem like a farfetched number, but consider this:

    • 70% of all U.S. digital media time comes from mobile apps
    • 49% of smartphone users open an app over 11 times a day
    • In 2021, players downloaded 82.98 billion mobile games

    The migration to mobile is significant and accelerating, increasing the demand for mobile applications. End users have definite expectations. They expect a quality app with a seamless user experience, regardless of the app’s intended use. But, in the end, customer experience quality and, ultimately, the success of an app hinges on one crucial area: trust.

    With mobile app data breaches resulting in reputation damage and financial loss seem to pop up in the news regularly, there is an ever increasing concern about app security and, by extension, customer trust.

    In this blog, we will explore the cyber security risks an organization accepts when creating a mobile app and how to mitigate these risks with the right mobile app security tools.

    What are the cyber security risks of a mobile app?

    When explaining the risk of creating a mobile app, we like to use an iceberg analogy to illustrate the true depth of potential mobile app security incidents.

    When you look at an iceberg, you only see the part floating above the water. But under the surface, there’s a whole lot more ice than you would think. Similar to mobile app security, developers often think they know what kind of attacks they will encounter. But the reality is they don’t know where threat actors are planning to focus their attack (e.g. the rest of the iceberg under the water).

    When a business releases an app, there are a variety of threats (the rest of the iceberg) they open themself up to. Threat actors are extremely experienced in the art of reverse engineering, code tampering and using this information in attacks against an app or APIs. These methods of attack can heavily impact the business, resulting in IP theft, financial loss, damaged customer trust, data breaches, fraudulent clones, and having features pre-announced.

    A recent example of an unreleased mobile app feature being preannounced involves the popular social media app Instagram . Through reverse engineering, a security researcher discovered that Instagram is internally experimenting with notifying users to share a photo with their friends within two minutes, a practice remarkably similar to the mobile app BeReal.

    After the security researcher leaked the potential feature to online publications, Instagram faced backlash from users and publications for copying BeReal’s capabilities. Additionally, if consumers now expect this feature and Instagram can’t deliver it, the brand could face a damaged reputation and a decrease in customer trust.

    As we’ve discussed above, developers can easily mitigate threats they are aware of (top of the iceberg). But they can’t mitigate vulnerabilities they are unaware of, which could be easily exposed with reverse engineering and code tampering techniques.

    Mitigating the cyber security risks of mobile

    The best way to mitigate the mobile app threats that reside below the surface is to be proactive, not reactive. Developers and security professionals need to develop security strategies and architectures that are capable of protecting the app from both known and unknown vulnerabilities threat actors can exploit.

    The best way to improve the security of your mobile app is with a full-spectrum, multi-platform suite of mobile app security solutions that include protection, testing, and monitoring capabilities.


    Mobile application protection solutions (like Guardsquare’s DexGuard and iXGuard) enable app developers to leverage a host of code hardening techniques such as obfuscation, encryption, and runtime application self-protection (RASP) to thwart threat actors from understanding enough of the app to reverse engineer critical functional areas of the code.

    Two key capabilities to look for in monitoring solutions are multi-layer protection and polymorphism, as your solution should have no single point of failure. The different code protection instances should be independent of each other so that understanding one snippet of code does not compromise the entire code hardening strategy. Polymorphism implies that the specific details of code hardening are changed with every build of the app, thus canceling out any knowledge that a threat actor may have gathered and forcing them to start from scratch.


    Taking a proactive security posture includes early security implementation in the software development lifecycle. A recommended best practice is to adopt a testing solution (a tool similar to AppSweep) that is integrated into the CI/CD process. This enables development teams to detect vulnerabilities as soon as they are introduced in the development process. In doing so, they can be mitigated easily and quickly.


    Protecting an app against threats is made much easier with the ability to monitor the app as it’s being used by customers. By implementing a mobile app security threat monitoring solution (like ThreatCast), you can obtain real-time information on tampering of your app. This enables you to identify suspicious users that may be trigger code, app or environment integrity threats, and decide whether to take further action that improves the resilience of your app.

    Are you ready to protect your mobile apps?

    With a full suite of mobile app security solutions, you can confidently launch a mobile app for your business. These solutions will proactively protect your app from potential attacks like reverse engineering, code tampering, and API abuse.

    To prevent issues like IP theft, cloning attempts, data breaches, and more, connect with one of our experts and learn how we can help.


    Discover how Guardsquare provides industry-leading protection for mobile apps.

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