Introduction to Mobile Application Penetration Testing

Introduction to mobile application penetration testing with Core Sentinel logo

Introduction to Mobile Application Penetration Testing

Apr 12 2017

Are you looking for ways to secure your mobile environment and devices against skilled and deliberate hacker attacks? Hackers can and will inject malicious code into your mobile application, overcome access controls and even bring your mobile environment to a halt – if you let them.

Don’t get hacked! There’s a way to defend yourself against malicious mobile attacks.
Let this guide show you how to leverage mobile application penetration testing to uncover Android and IOS vulnerabilities; and make your organisation’s mobile environment run tighter, more secure, and safer.

Person in a suit pressing a button on a penetration test screen with an orange padlock opened

What is Mobile Application Penetration Testing?

The mobile application penetration test is directed towards native mobile applications, on platforms such as Android and IOS, for the purpose of identifying security flaws in how the app communicates with backend systems, including the any back end web services or APIs. As well as how the application handles and stores user input on the file system.

Like other branches of penetration testing, mobile app penetration testing requires the use of various kinds of specialised software tools. It works by defeating a web application’s security protections by using all means, tools, knowledge and methods available.

A good penetration tester must have a hacker mindset. Rather than working within the confines of rules and restrictions, a penetration tester needs to think creatively for different ways to get around those controls and restrictions.

Mobile application penetration testers are not only interested in testing the security protections that are implemented by the app’s designers, but in finding flaws and vulnerabilities that the application developers or architects may have failed to realise existed.

Advantages of Mobile Application Penetration Testing

Android and IOS mobile application penetration testing provides a reliable a process for evaluating mobile application and infrastructure vulnerabilities, as well as enhancing mobile device security.

Green Android logo next to a black Apple logo

Below are some of the most important benefits you can get from a mobile app pentest:

  • A detailed assessment as to how your proposed or existing IOS or Android mobile infrastructure stands up against cyber attacks.
  • A comprehensive view of the strengths and weaknesses in your mobile environment.
  • Gain real insight as to the worst things that could happen should an attacker successfully infiltrate your mobile application infrastructure.
  • A comprehensive report outlining which vulnerabilities in your mobile application environment are at risk along with their main causes.
  • An action plan for solving discovered flaws with a risk ranked priority so you know exactly what things to fix, and in what order.
  • Enhanced protection of data and sensitive information against interception and modification by malware, viruses and active human attacks.

If you’ve invested money in mobile app security, then performing mobile app penetration testing will tell you whether your existing security controls are either working correctly, or have been misconfigured.

How is it Different from Web Application Penetration Testing?

While mobile application penetration testing is targeted towards a mobile phone’s native application, and server API, web application penetration testing on the other hand is performed on applications that reside and are accessed on a web server. To emphasise; typically mobile applications make a server based API call from the mobile application on the mobile handset device across the public internet.

This is just about where their main differences lie. But on a deeper level, both tests seek to identify the exploitable, vulnerable or misconfigured components in an app’s or a system’s chain of defences.

Both mobile and web applications, being gateways to sensitive data, are a prime target for malicious attacks. These attacks, among other things, be designed to intercept and ex-filtrate transactional data streams, or modify the integrity of data streams on the fly.

This is why it’s important to;

  • Conducting exploitative penetration testing on all in scope discoveries.
  • Incorporate data and information from different components of the system.
  • Synthesise all information into an effective exploit technique.

The Testing Process

The mobile application penetration testing process makes use of various sets of tools for testing Android and IOS applications, allowing a pentester to run rigorous tests within the app’s native environment. The process should follow the OWASP mobile application testing framework as a minimum baseline standard. When testing for mobile application security, a series of exploitative attacks is launched on both the mobile application, and web services associated with them. This also includes attacking any data at rest, and in transit.

In essence, what is being done here is no different from what would occur in a real-world attack to break into the application, infiltrate the system and exfiltrate sensitive information.

From a high level there are three main components which require testing in a mobile application penetration test, these tests involve the following;

  • How data is inputted and stored on the filesystem mobile device.
  • The security controls protecting the transmission of data between the mobile app and the API.
  • The web service or API which the mobile application communicates with.

The Android or IOS app is subjected to a barrage of deliberate, real-world attacks, including:

  • Intercepting network traffic by means of a proxy such as Burp Suite
  • Eavesdropping on inter process communications
  • Exploiting databases and configuration files
  • Checking the mobile application’s source code for loopholes
  • Decoding file permissions and access privileges
  • Tracing system calls

A hand with a fishing hook in it above a mobile phone being held up with a red padlock on it

The results of the test will be outlined in detail in the vulnerability report, which will include:

  • Ranking vulnerabilities according to the level of risk involved
  • How much damage a real-world exploit will cause to your business
  • Step by step explanations of recommended countermeasures
  • Recommendations for enhancing mobile app and network security


Today’s technology is evolving faster than ever. And mobile devices have, for the most part, taken over desktop and laptop computers when it comes to using the internet. With this popularity comes the concern for mobile application security.

And as mobile app penetration testing experts, Core Sentinel’s mission is to identify vulnerabilities in your mobile application and tell you exactly how to fix them in order to enhance the security of your mobile environment and protect your reputation.

Many organisations do not have the capability to conduct their own penetration testing. That’s where you can work with a team of highly experienced and qualified mobile app penetration testing experts at Core Sentinel to ensure your company continues to drive business results, unhampered by security threats.

Download our Ebook – Definitive Guide to Penetration Testing

Other articles you might like:

Guide to Web Application Penetration Testing

Definitive Guide to Penetration Testing

Black Box vs. White Box Testing: Key Differences Every Organisation Should Know