Enhancing Mobile App Security through Sandboxing & Isolation

Security Testing is a crucial step in the application development process. So, how about we say you can have a dedicated environment to test your app for potential threats such that the attached malware cannot spread, access, or modify the rest of your system's files, resources, and settings?

Pretty lucrative, right? Application Sandbox and isolation technique is the holy grail of application security. No wonder the global sandboxing market size is expected to accelerate from USD 8.12 Billion in 2021 at a CAGR of 26.3% from 2022 to 2030 

The isolated sandbox environment has a separate network from the host device and often involves no physical connection to the system resources. The purpose is to initiate malicious code and analyze the application against any potential threat while keeping the rest of the system unaffected.

With an application sandbox, cybersecurity professionals and researchers analyze how malware works and devise measures to stop it. 

Did you know?

Sandboxing is a crucial step in curating antivirus software to prevent malware from spreading to other components. It also helps to take the malware out of the already-infected systems.

This blog will explore different sandboxing techniques and their advantages for improving mobile app security. You'll also discover effective ways to apply these techniques and strengthen your app's security measures. Let's dive in.

How Sandboxing & Isolation Works

Sandboxing and Isolation techniques work by creating secure environments for application testing. These environments are isolated from other applications and system resources. By ensuring that applications run in these isolated spaces, Sandboxing and Isolation techniques prevent unauthorized access or data sharing between applications, unauthorized modification of sensitive data, and vulnerabilities in shared libraries. 

Here is a quick walkthrough of sandboxing techniques and their working model- 

Emulation of the Device

The Sandbox emulates the host's physical hardware, including the CPU, storage, and memory.  

Emulation of the Operating System 

When the Sandbox is created using a virtual machine, it is isolated from the system's physical hardware, but the applications have access to the installed operating system.

Virtualized Environment

Since a Sandbox on a virtual machine doesn't have any access to physical resources, it emulates virtualized hardware.  

Different Methods of Implementing a Sandbox

Virtual Machines (VMs) 

Virtual machines (VMs) are software implementations that simulate an entire computer system within a host machine. They operate independently with their own virtual hardware, providing secure isolation from the host device. This allows multiple operating versions and network setups to run on the same physical system.

VMs provide a safe and isolated environment for testing software and applications and ensure that any potential malware or vulnerabilities within it do not affect the host system.


Containers provide agile sandboxing capabilities as they can be quickly installed, started, and stopped. Unlike VMs that provide full OS virtualization, containers share the host machine's Operating System. Hence, various containers can run simultaneously on a single host machine without requiring a separate OS for each instance. 

They allow applications to run in an isolated environment and ensure that data access or modification within a container does not affect other containers or system resources, thus ensuring security.

Sandboxing Programs

Sandbox Programs provide a ready-made sandbox environment for developers and testers to test an application in isolation from other host resources. When the Sandbox stores some data, it automatically routes it via a command to the natural system. Developers can run different types of sandboxes simultaneously.

Built-In OS Sandboxes

Built-in operating system sandboxes create an isolated environment for testing and running unsecured applications. These include App Sandbox (macOS), Apple Sandbox, Windows Sandbox, Linux Sandbox, Android App Sandbox, and iOS App Sandbox.

What Role Does Sandboxing Play in Ensuring Application Security?

Implementation of sandboxing and isolation techniques plays a significant role in bolstering the security of mobile applications by safeguarding sensitive user data and protecting against potential threats.

Here are a few merits offered by Application Isolation and Sandboxing- 

Prevents Zero-Day Attacks

Zero-day attacks are extremely detrimental because they exploit unknown security weaknesses, and even the manufacturers cannot patch them unless they understand the exploited vulnerability. 

Sandboxing technique isolates the testing environment and prevents the potential threat from affecting the rest of the network. Additionally, it allows testers to identify malware detection patterns and hence assists in predicting the likelihood of future threats and mitigating them.

Prevents Unauthorized Access

Since applications run within their Sandbox, sensitive data is isolated and inaccessible to other apps. It prevents the threat of unauthorized access, further preventing data theft and leakages. 

Additionally, since these applications have restricted permissions to the host resources, only privileges necessary for the apps to function are granted. Limited privileges, in turn, prevent malware and malicious apps from gaining unauthorized access to the host device.

Checks For Advanced Threats 

Application Isolation and Sandboxing techniques are perfect when dealing with new application vendors or sources. These techniques let the developer and tester examine the application in detail. It also helps them detect potential threats like network intrusions (APTs) designed to bypass other security software.

Prevents Malicious Code Execution 

Since sandboxing limits an application's execution controls to its designated area isolated from the host system, it restricts access to system-level functioning. It also prevents oppressive code execution within the Sandbox and hence, prevents code injection attacks where malicious codes exploit vulnerabilities in the application or achieve complete host takeover in some cases.

Facilitates Rigorous Testing before an Application is Released

The importance of testing an application before being released to the masses cannot be understated. Application Sandbox helps to test an application, new codes, and updates thoroughly for potential threats. Identifying and mitigating these threats prevent security vulnerabilities at every stage, from development to deployment.    

Ensures a Secure and Consistent Environment for Applications

App virtualization and sandbox isolation help ensure that your BYOD users or remote workers can run the application in a secure environment. It also helps them to use the app without requiring them to install or update anything on their devices. 

Key Points to Look For in Sandbox Software

Incorporating Sandboxing in your application testing environment is a substantial step. You want it to go right. A detailed comparison of various competing participants could come in handy. Here are a few key points to consider when selecting an application Sandbox.

Variable Durations

Usually, sandboxes analyze files for several seconds. It is insufficient to identify malicious activities. Most malware remains inert for long periods before they get active. A Sandbox with variable duration and sleep configuration will facilitate lengthy assessments and increase the chances of detecting the malware.

The Ability to Analyze Suspicious Activity

The Sandbox you choose should be able to analyze executables, MS Office documents, PDFs, Java, and Flash programs. Additionally, it should be able to examine JavaScript and HTML components to identify web vulnerabilities and suspicious websites.

Minimal False Positives

Your Sandbox should be able to detect all malicious activities and programs in the application. It should not classify safe documents as infected. So, choose the software with minimal false positive occurrence.


There are advanced malware strains that bypass sandboxing security testing. Studies suggest that malware is downloaded every 81 seconds in an organization, and sandboxing alone is insufficient in detecting these.

Hence, choose a sandbox software that can connect with other spyware software to identify additional routes of operations and detect these malicious strains. The sandboxing software should be able to highlight hidden URLs and files.

Threat Intelligence 

Your Sandbox should combine application testing with other threat intelligence and detection techniques. It should establish whether the malware is an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT), part of a targeted attack, or a mass-distributed attack.

Quality of Customer Service

The sandbox selection process is a lucrative opportunity to scale up vendor offerings. Inquire about their merchandise and ask for proof to validate their statements. This way, you can evaluate the quality of their customer support services. Smooth application sandbox implementation, maintenance, and operation depend upon the synergies established. Hence, choose the platform you and your team wish to collaborate with for the long term.

Key Takeaway

Application Sandbox is a 100% must for conducting security research or malware analysis. By ensuring applications run and execute in an isolated environment, the technique helps to analyze codes without causing any harm to the production environment. 

The virtual environment will allow you to test every application update for potential risks. It will prevent an infected application from going live and protect system resources from the embedded malware, thus ensuring mobile application security.

Since many market participants offer sandboxing solutions, you must choose the solution that aligns with your organization's security posture. So, use this guide to gather a comprehensive understanding of various sandboxing techniques. Learn about implementation tips, and decide how to select the right partner for your application sandbox. 




What is Application Sandboxing

Application Sandboxing is a process of running the applications in the Sandbox, i.e., a safe and controlled environment isolated from the surrounding infrastructure and critical system resources. It executes untested code and untrusted programs and checks for malware. The objective of the isolated environment is to protect the rest of the system resources against all kinds of security vulnerabilities and cyberattacks.

How to Install Application Using Sandbox?

1. Download the application you want to install. 
2. Copy the executable file and all other files required to run the application from the host operating system and paste it into File Manager in the Sandbox. 
3. Run the executable file inside the Sandbox. Launch the application.


How to Make Own Sandbox for Application Testing?

The first step is to decide whether you need a physical or virtual sandbox infrastructure.  

We recommend selecting virtual environments as they offer scalability and flexibility. To build a sandbox environment, you can use virtualization software to create virtual machines (VMs) on your existing hardware. Lastly, install the necessary files to run the operating system on the virtual machine.

Alternatively, if you want to go with a physical sandbox, you will have to get a separate server machine that matches the prerequisites of your application. Install an operating system (OS) on it, and make sure the configuration is accurate.


Published on Jun 12, 2023
Siddharth Saxena
Written by Siddharth Saxena
Sr. Security Researcher at Appknox


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