DIY: Mobile Application Penetration Testing

    Almost 81% of the world’s population now own a smartphone and with that, mobile applications have become extremely popular. Many companies heavily rely on mobile applications for their functioning. However, with all their benefits and convenience, mobile applications also come with some major security risks. In fact, as of 2018, 71% of fraud transactions originated from either mobile applications or a mobile browser. It is essential that you perform penetration testing on any new app before its release. This article will walk you through all of the steps required for performing a successful mobile application penetration test.

    What is mobile application penetration testing?

    Performing penetration tests on mobile applications for identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities by simulating cyber attacks is known as mobile application penetration testing. The main aim of this process is to find and fix the security issues that could potentially be exploited by malicious actors.

    Why should you perform pen tests on your mobile application?

    Just like with any other software, it is important to test your mobile applications for security vulnerabilities. Mobile applications are extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks due to their open-source nature. According to a report by Arxan, 97% of the top 100 paid android apps were exposed to hacking attacks. Moreover, attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in mobile apps to steal sensitive user data, such as login credentials and credit card information. In addition to this, insecure mobile applications can also be used to spread malware and ransomware.

    Security issues with mobile applications:

    There are several different security risks that come with using mobile applications. Some of the most common ones include:

    • Unauthorized access to sensitive data – A majority of mobile applications rely on backend servers for data storage. If any vulnerability is found in the server, an attacker can exploit it to gain unauthorized access to the data. This might include critical user data such as passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information.
    • Malware and ransomware attacks – Mobile applications are a popular target for malware and ransomware attacks. Malicious actors can use vulnerabilities in mobile apps to inject malware and ransomware into the device. This can lead to data theft, financial loss, and even identity theft.
    • Man-in-the-middle attacks – Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in mobile applications to launch man-in-the-middle attacks. This is done by intercepting the communication between the user and the mobile application. This allows them to steal sensitive information such as login credentials and session tokens, which can then be used to gain access to the user’s account.
    • Tampering with data – An attacker can exploit vulnerabilities in a mobile app to tamper with the data being sent from the user’s device. For example, an attacker could send a tampered URL to a user’s device from their server. This would direct the mobile application to an attacker-controlled website without notifying the user.
    • Unauthorized use of the app – Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in mobile applications to gain unauthorized access to the app. This could allow them to perform actions such as adding new users, deleting data, and modifying existing data.
    • Data leakage – If a mobile application is not properly configured, then it can lead to insecure data storage. An attacker could gain access and view the sensitive data stored on the mobile device.

    What to test for while pen testing your mobile application?

    When performing a penetration test on a mobile app, there are a number of areas that you should focus on. Including but not limited to:

    • Authentication and session management
    • Data storage and access
    • Input and output handling
    • Network communications
    • User interface and user experience

    Key stages of mobile application penetration testing

    There are four key stages in mobile application penetration testing:

    1. Reconnaissance
    2. Scanning
    3. Exploitation
    4. Reporting

    How to perform penetration tests on mobile applications?

    The following steps should serve as a general guideline for performing pen testing of any kind: 

    1. Identify the target – To perform a successful online penetration test, you first need to identify your target. This could be an app that you already have access to or a target app that you will need to first gain access to.
    2. Gather information about the target – In this step, you will gather as much information about the target app and its developers as possible. This can include:
      • The name of the application
      • Its version number
      • Developer contact details
      • source code of the application
    3. Scan the target for vulnerabilities – Once you have all the relevant information for your target mobile app, it’s time to start analyzing it for potential security risks. This process should include identifying all external entry points into the app, as well as running different tests on the source code. Automated scanning tools may be used for finding any potential vulnerabilities. Also, look out for any insecure coding practices that might be exploited.
    4. Choose your tools – The first thing you will need is access to specialized software and devices that can help you execute various attacks on the app.
    5. Exploit vulnerabilities – Now that you have identified all the security risks in your target mobile app, it’s time to exploit them and try to gain access to sensitive data or take control of the app. During this phase, you’ll need to employ a number of tools and various VAPT techniques.
    6. Report findings – In the final step, you will report all the identified security risks to the app’s developers. This should include details on the severity of each vulnerability, how they can be exploited, as well as suggestions for fixing them.


    Mobile application penetration testing is an essential step towards securing your mobile application and data. By performing such tests regularly, you can significantly reduce the risk of cyber-attacks targeting your business. The four key stages that your penetration testing process should include are- reconnaissance, scanning, exploitation, and reporting. You will need to choose your own set of tools and techniques depending on the nature of the application you are targeting. Finally, always remember to communicate your findings with the app’s developers so they can fix any security issues.

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