March 29, 2022

    Prevent Code Theft with a JavaScript Obfuscator

    App publishers are always looking for ways to reduce the costs associated with building and maintaining mobile apps. That’s why one-third of development teams have turned to hybrid app development to eliminate the need for separate code bases and development teams for each mobile platform.

    However, despite the increasing popularity of hybrid app development, inadequate app protection when using these cross-platform frameworks could expose app publishers to code theft. This can result in stolen code that can lead to loss of revenue and reputational damages.

    In this post, we’ll discuss hybrid app development and the risks of code theft when using JavaScript-based frameworks. We’ll also cover how you can use a JavaScript obfuscator to protect your cross-platform mobile apps from reverse engineering and code theft.

    What Is Hybrid App Development?

    Hybrid app development is an approach development teams use to build apps for multiple platforms at the same time by leveraging cross-platform frameworks. Though some app development teams use Flutter, a cross-platform mobile app software development kit for Android, iOS, and other platforms, there are still many companies that prefer to use JavaScript frameworks to target multiple platforms. JavaScript frameworks like Cordova, Ionic, and React Native enable mobile developers to deploy their apps to iOS and Android using a single codebase.

    The Risks of Code Theft

    Hybrid app development certainly enables development teams to streamline their efforts, but this approach is not without risks. In fact, code theft is one of the most common challenges associated with hybrid app development.

    Code theft is a situation where malicious actors obtain the underlying code logic of an application – either by accessing the source code directly if it’s not compiled or through reverse engineering – and use it for their own purposes. By stealing a mobile app’s code logic, malicious actors can:

    • Reuse the code or proprietary algorithms within their own apps
    • Modify the app to bypass premium or paid feature checks
    • Distribute app clones on third-party app stores
    • Repackage the app with malware or trojans

    As you can see, code theft puts an app publisher’s competitive edge, reputation, and revenue at risk. The code, algorithms, and other internal workings of an application is often the most important asset for app publishers, so it’s crucial to protect hybrid apps against mobile IP theft.

    Since JavaScript code isn’t compiled into native code, apps built with this language are even more susceptible to code theft than traditional mobile apps. If app development teams don’t implement code hardening measures, malicious actors can access the JavaScript source code directly without the need for reverse engineering techniques.

    Why Use a JavaScript Obfuscator

    Cross-platform frameworks make app development easier and cheaper, but there are two sides of the same coin. When malicious actors steal JavaScript code, the impact is much larger because they can modify the apps across multiple platforms at once. That’s why implementing adequate code hardening measures is crucial for cross-platform mobile apps.

    Code hardening involves using obfuscation to make the application code more difficult for humans and reverse engineering tools to analyze. More specifically, code obfuscators change names, arithmetic, control flow, and other aspects of the code without impacting its functionality. This hides the inner workings of the app, preventing malicious actors from easily understanding and modifying the source code.

    Many JavaScript frameworks also enable longer release cycles than traditional mobile app development. The release cycles are typically longer because, for example, the React Native Code Push module allows developers to send updates to users without requiring them to reinstall the app. With dynamic updates occurring more frequently, it’s even more crucial to apply app hardening measures during development to immediately protect against reverse engineering and code theft for each new release and dynamic update of the app.

    Comprehensive Hybrid Mobile App Protection with Guardsquare

    While there are many dedicated JavaScript obfuscators available, they aren’t always ideal for mobile app developers. That’s because every mobile application built with a JavaScript framework will also contain native code for the apps to run on Android or iOS devices. This native code needs to be protected as well.

    Guardsquare’s DexGuard and iXGuard mobile security solutions protect the entire codebase of hybrid apps, from obfuscating the JavaScript code to the native code written in Java, Kotlin, Objective-C, and Swift. These solutions also implement runtime application self-protection (RASP) checks to block malicious actors from using debuggers to analyze the code.

    By using a multi-layered approach and hardening the JavaScript and native code of a mobile app, it’s much more difficult for malicious actors to steal your code. In turn, this reduces the risk of intellectual property theft, reputational damages, and loss of revenue.


    Want to see how code obfuscation can better secure your mobile apps?

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