A Guide to OWASP Top 10 Mobile Security Risks (2024)  

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Mobile applications have changed the way businesses and organizations work. This has provided unparalleled convenience in delivering services and running operations, but this has also opened new doors for attackers as the attack surface has vastly expanded. 

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) releases a regularly revised Top 10 list to help developers and security professionals combat such emerging mobile app vulnerabilities.Staying abreast of authoritative guidance like the OWASP Top 10 is crucial for delivering secure, reliable mobile experiences that consumers can confidently embrace.   

Each entry in the list represents a unique security challenge. Addressing these vulnerabilities head-on demonstrates an organization’s commitment to robust security and cultivating user trust. 

This blog delves deeper into various risks mentioned in the OWASP list, how to identify and prevent these risks, and how SecureLayer7 can help deal with these risks.  

What is OWASP Top 10 Mobile Security Risks 

The OWASP Top 10 Mobile Risks for 2024 provides an overview of the evolving mobile security threat landscape. Each risk category highlighted in the list points to an area we need to focus for security professionals.   

However, we also need to understand that in the real world, breaches rarely happen merely because a company had one specific vulnerability from OWASP’s list. Mostly it happens when attackers exploit multiple vulnerabilities. Therefore, we need a multilayered defense mechanism covering the full range of OWASP top 10 mobile risks. 

Top 10 OWASP Mobile Risks

Here is a list of top 10 mobile risks: 

Top 10 OWASP Mobile Risks

1. Improper Credential Usage 

Improper credential usage is a new mobile vulnerability which has a new entry in 2024 and it  immediately shot up to the #1 sopt in the OWASP list. It’s a critical issue that too many developers still struggle with. 2017 Uber breach is one of the most prominent examples of this risk. Hackers managed to discover an Amazon S3 datastore key that was essentially hardcoded into some private GitHub repositories used by Uber’s dev teams. This allowed malicious actors to extract personal data of large number of drivers.    .

The danger is compromised credentials like banking PINs, app tokens, and email passwords can enable automated attacks, data breaches, fraud, and privacy violations. 

How to identify improper credential usage: 

  • Conduct comprehensive audit of mobile app source code and configuration files to look for  any hardcoded credentials.
  • Analyze compiled mobile app packages (APK, IPA) to identify embedded credentials. 
  • Monitor backend server logs for certificate pinning failures that may indicate mishandling of credentials.  

How to prevent improper credential usage:

  • Implement a policy of never storing credentials within mobile app source code or resources.
  • Ensure data protection mechanisms for credentials at rest and in transit during app runtime.
  • Utilize a credential rotation strategy replacing API keys and access tokens instead of persistent storage on devices.
  • Enforce strong authentication protocols with principles like multi-factor authentication.

2. Insufficient Supply Chain Security 

This is another new addition in the top mobile risk list by OWASP. This includes unsecured third-party libraries, SDKs, vendors, coding practices, testing, and distribution processes. Ignoring any part of the supply chain means you are leaving the doors opened for malicious code insertion and third-party library exploits. 

A good example of inadequate supply chain security is EventBot Android malware exploit in 2020. Such attacks enable data breaches, malware spread, device control, financial and service disruptions for businesses.  

How to detect inadequate supply chain security:  

  • Thoroughly audit encryption and decryption implementations against established cryptography libraries and frameworks for any deviations.
  • Identify any custom or non-standard encryption methods implemented.

How to identify insufficient supply chain security:  

  • Adhere to thoroughly vetted encryption implementation guidelines.  
  • Store cryptographic keys in a secure manner. 
  • Avoid hard-coding or other insecure practices.
  • Enforce secure transport layer protocols like TLS for data in transit.
  • Implement robust hashing functions, salting, and key derivation functions (KDFs) for secure credential storage.
  • Follow secure key management best practices throughout the key lifecycle.
  • Implement strong input validation and authentication mechanisms. 

3.  Insecure Authentication/authorization  

Threat agents exploit authentication and authorization vulnerabilities through automated attacks. Once vulnerabilities are understood, they can bypass authentication by directly accessing backend servers or force-browse privileged functionality after logging in legitimately. Poor authorization allows executing functionality beyond user privileges, heightened by offline usability requirements. 

Understanding authentication (identifying individuals) and authorization (verifying permissions) is crucial for evaluating mobile app security. Insecure authorization occurs when failing to authenticate before executing API endpoints.   

How to identify insecure authentication

  • Presence of Insecure Direct Object Reference (IDOR) vulnerabilities.
  • If any hidden endpoints are detected, it’s a sign of insecure authorization. 
  • If a mobile app transmits the user’s roles or permissions to a backend system, it confirms insecure authentication. 
  • If an app execute a backend API service request without providing an access token.  
  • If the app stores any passwords on a local machine. 

How to Prevent insecure authentication: 

  • Make sure that authentication requirements of mobile apps match the  web app component. 
  • Perform all authentication requests server-side, where possible. 
  • In case the client-side data storage is required, encrypt the data using an encryption key securely from user’s login credentials. 
  • Mobile applications should ideally use a device-specific authentication token 
  • Avoid using spoof-able values for user authentication. 
  • Developers should make sure that backend systems verify the roles and permissions of the authenticated user independently. 

4. Insufficient Input/Output Validation 

Insufficient input/output validation risk occurs when a mobile app fails to validate data from unverified sources, that may result in the injection of malicious input. This is a common risk in mobile apps, causing  data breaches, SQL and command injection attacks, and unauthorized modification of data.  

How to identify insufficient input/output validation 

  • Conduct security audit for input validation.
  • Run routine code reviews and pentesting.  

How to prevent insufficient input/output validation 

  • Validate and sanitize user input/output using strict validation techniques.
  • Implement input length restrictions and reject unexpected or malicious data.
  • Implement data integrity checks to detect and prevent data corruption. 
  • Use output encoding techniques when displaying or transmitting data. 

5.  Insecure Communication  

Most modern mobile applications exchange data with one or more remote servers. When the data transmission takes place, it typically goes through the mobile device’s carrier network and the Internet, a threat agent listening on the wire can intercept and modify the data if it is transmitted in plain text or using a deprecated encryption protocol. 

How to identify insecure communication

  • Observe network traffic on the phone to identify basic flaws like unencrypted data transmission.
  • Closely analyze the application’s design and configuration for more subtle vulnerabilities.
  • Check for inconsistencies in the implementation of transport security protocols like SSL/TLS. 

How to Prevent insecure communication:

  • Apply SSL/TLS to transport channels used by apps to transmit data to a backend API or web service.
  • Account for outside entities like third-party analytics companies, utilizing their SSL versions. 
  • Avoid mixed SSL sessions. 
  • Use robust cipher suites with appropriate key lengths.   

6.  Inadequate Privacy Control 

Inadequate and incomplete privacy controls have been newly added to OWASP’s list of mobile risks to monitor. These controls are essential for protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII)—including names, addresses, financial data, and other sensitive personal details from being accessed by unauthorized or illegal access.

Threat actors are always on the lookout for such information as it aids them carry out a variety of malicious activities ranging from fraud, theft, and blackmail, to destruction and impairment of critical data, all of which can erode user trust and potentially lead to regulatory fines, depending on the number of users affected. While the technical impact of this risk is not that high, nevertheless it remains significant and cannot be ignored or disregarded. 

How to identify inadequate privacy control: 

  • Test whether the app processes personally identifiable information (PII) like names, email, credit card data, or any other critical information. 
  • Check how the app stores and transmits PII. Does this happen using strong encryption and secure protocols?  
  • Conduct security audit to check for insecure logging practices, like logging of sensitive data or leakage to clipboard or URL.

How to prevent inadequate privacy control:  

 Businesses can mitigate this risk by implementing robust data access controls, conducting regular privacy assessments, and ensuring compliance with privacy laws and regulations.  

7. Inadequate Binary Protection 

Inadequate binary protection makes mobile applications susceptible to reverse engineering and tampering. Although these concepts are related, they differ in key ways. Reverse engineering is basically about analyzing how a previously made device, process, system or software works  without getting too deep into its documentation or design. 

Tampering in contrast refers to unauthorized modifications of a system or software to alter its behavior or outcomes. Both reverse engineering and tampering can lead to some undesirable outcomes such as intellectual property theft and interference with app integrity.

These exploits are particularly alarming and critical because attackers can modify app binaries to break in paid features or bypass security layers in particular areas of the application.Therefore, it is also very important to take note of the fact that all apps are susceptible to binary attacks.

.  How to identify inadequate binary protection:  

  • Use automated scanning tools, such as SAST and DAST. 
  • Conduct penetration testing or code review to identify weaknesses in the application’s binary protection mechanisms. 

How to prevent inadequate binary protection: 

  • The app binary should be made incomprehensible. 
  • Apply integrity checks to detect code tampering and render the app installation unusable. 

 8. Security Misconfiguration 

This entry has moved two notches up, from number ten to number eight on the risks list, which further attests to its risk potential. The fact that it is not that easy to exploit should not make an organizations oblivious to its dangers, more so given its higher ranking on the risk list.

For example, in 2022, Microsoft came to know about a high-risk danger in the TikTok Android application that could have allowed hackers and malicious actors to hack and attack user accounts with nothing more than a single click of the mouse button. Security misconfiguration can make mobile apps truly vulnerable, making them susceptible to a variety of threats and attacks, which in turn could result in unauthorized access and data breaches.

 Moreover, such attack can also lead to application downtime, in the process tampering with smooth business operations and continuity. These all can lead to loss of productivity, decreased profitability and loss of brand value.  

How to identify security misconfiguration:  

  • Conduct thorough security audit, including configuration analysis, code review, and penetration testing.
  • Use dynamic analysis tools and techniques to monitor the application’s behavior and detect potential vulnerabilities. 

How to prevent security misconfiguration:  

  • Ensure default settings and configurations are properly secured.
  • Avoid hardcoded default credentials.
  • Don’t store application files with overly permissive permissions like world-readable and/or world-writable.
  • Request only the permissions necessary for the proper functioning of the application
  • Use certificate pinning when possible.

 9. Insecure Data Storage 

This entry shows some overall improvement in app development, moving from number two to number nine on the risk list. However, shaky data storage practices still pose considerable security risks. 

For instance, in 2018, UnderArmour’s MyFitnessPal app experienced a breach due to insecure data storage, affecting more 150 million users, with their usernames, email addresses, and hashed passwords exposed. Illegitimate access to a device’s file system and interference of data transmission can tamper with both user privacy and data integrity. 

How to identify Insecure Data Storage: 

  • Verify that sensitive data is not stored in easily accessible locations within the device’s file system, such as plain text files or unprotected databases.
  • Assess the effectiveness of access controls and user authentication mechanisms.

How to prevent insecure data storage: 

  • Implement strong  encryption algorithms and practices to protect sensitive data at rest and in transit. 
  • Use secure communication protocols like HTTPS, SSL/TLS to protect data during transmission between the mobile application and backend servers. 
  • Leverage platform-specific secure storage mechanisms provided by the mobile operating system, such as Keychain (iOS) or Keystore (Android).
  • Utilize strong access controls to restrict unauthorised access to sensitive data.  

10.  Insufficient cryptography 

Insufficient cryptography in mobile applications occurs because app developers fail to properly implement cryptography and hash functions. Third-party actors take advantage of weak encryption, lack of HTTPS, and other cryptographic vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.  

How to detect insufficient encryption data:

  • Test to check encryption and decryption processes. 
  • Avoid customized encryption.

How to prevent insufficient encryption: 

  • Deploy widely accepted and secure encryption algorithms, like Advanced Encryption Standard  and Rivest-Shamir-Adleman
  • Stay updated with the best cryptographic standards and avoid deprecated
  • Select robust encryption keys with an appropriate strength. 
  • Employ secure key management techniques like hardware security modules (HSMs). 
  • Carefully implement encryption and decryption processes in the mobile application. 
  • Avoid custom encryption implementations. 
  • Ensure encryption keys are securely stored on the mobile device. 

How Can SecureLayer7 Help

SecureLayer7 stands out as the premier choice for red team engagements due to several compelling factors:

Comprehensive Assessments: We offer full-scope testing, providing organizations an in-depth evaluation of their systems, applications, and infrastructure to detect vulnerabilities.

Authentic Attack Simulations: SecureLayer7’s seasoned experts meticulously craft realistic attack scenarios, leveraging advanced techniques to emulate real-world threats, delivering an accurate assessment of your IT environment’s resilience.

In-Depth Vulnerability Insights: Our detailed reports delve deep into the vulnerabilities that malicious actors could potentially exploit, equipping you with the knowledge to fortify your defenses.

Elite Offensive Security Specialists: Our team comprises certified professionals with distinguished credentials such as CEH, OSCP, and other esteemed IT security certifications, ensuring cutting-edge expertise.

Actionable Mitigation Strategies: We provide clear, actionable recommendations, both tactical and strategic, enabling you to prioritize and eliminate risks effectively, bolstering your overall security posture.

Conclusion 

The OWASP Top 10 mobile risk ranking is just one of many open-source insights that can improve digital security, but no tool or framework alone can be a cure-all without embracing a security mindset. Fostering a culture of security impacts every aspect of a business. 

At SecureLayer7, we build this culture by recognizing security as a continuous journey that requires ongoing vigilance, adaptation, and commitment to the best practices. The OWASP list and other tools guide us through the digital world’s complexities, aligning security and business objectives.If you have any question in mind, our certified experts can assist you in getting started. We are just one call or email away. Our team is ready to help. Get in touch with us now

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