Why MobSF Isn’t Ideal for Application Security Testing?

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Mobile Security Framework (MobSF), launched by OWASP in 2015, is a partially automated, open-source, all-in-one mobile application (Android/iOS/Windows) pen-testing framework capable of performing static, dynamic, and malware analysis. MobSF is one of the most widely used security applications where the testing framework - a simple, flexible, and incredibly powerful tool has quickly become the lingua franca of security.

The flexibility and accessibility of the tool are helpful but also dangerous. The common wisdom is that over half of the vulnerabilities detected are either false positives or false negatives, a sobering thought considering how far and wide the results are used in securing applications in business and beyond.

MobSF’s results have been at the center of misguided vulnerability assessments among many other hornets' nests because organizations of all scales, over all these years, have been forcing MobSF to uncover hidden vulnerabilities without enough assistance for their complex applications. And this is one of the biggest challenges that Appknox addresses.

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But what makes MobSF so popular?

MobSF has dominated the cybersecurity market since its introduction in 2015 and remains a powerful tool for mobile application security analysis. Unfortunately, its power makes it incredibly dangerous, even for experienced users. 

Don’t get me wrong. 

MobSF is amazing because it is:

Open source, free-to-use, and cost-effective

MobSF is a free-to-use and open-source solution that makes it easily accessible to those on a tight budget. It is a crucial parameter for smaller companies looking for the most efficient and cost-effective options.


User-friendly interface

Security teams or development teams in charge of security without a security team prefer MobSF because of its user-friendly interface.

Suggested read: What is MobSF | Mobile Security Framework?

The problem with open-source tools like MobSF

MobSF is not built for enterprises that have tens of applications. It helps smaller teams that are in the process of launching their first application as a part of the MVP that requires little security support to release in beta versions. But for years now, we’ve been forcing it to secure complex applications.

While MobSF offers a convenient way to perform static analysis of mobile applications, its limitations make it less comprehensive, especially 

  • When a thorough and precise security assessment is necessary, 
  • For complex applications, use multiple third-party or open-source libraries, and
  • Where security is paramount.


Drawbacks of using MobSF for application security testing

1. Limited testing support for iOS

MobSF lacks iOS DAST capabilities. While iOS SAST is now available, the absence of DAST for iOS restricts its effectiveness which is essential for simulating real-world attack scenarios and helping identify vulnerabilities. This critical feature fails to provide a holistic security assessment for iOS applications. 

2. Limited deep code analysis

MobSF primarily focuses on static analysis, meaning it analyzes the application without executing it. While it can detect known vulnerabilities and issues based on the application's source code and resources, it might miss certain runtime behaviors.

3. Emulator-based testing leads to compromised accuracy

Emulators, while convenient, have limitations regarding application security testing. They lack the diversity of real devices, fail to replicate the intricacies of different hardware configurations and software versions, and in most cases, do not accurately represent real-world usage scenarios, leading to false assurances. 

4. Inability to detect runtime exploits

Since MobSF doesn't execute the application, it can't detect vulnerabilities that are only triggered during runtime, such as specific memory corruption issues or runtime exploits.

5. Absence of a specialized API testing module

While MobSF offers a basic Web API viewer for API testing that allows users to inspect API endpoints and parameters, it lacks the depth required for comprehensive security testing, thus limiting its API testing capabilities.

6. Inflated false positives and negatives

Based on extensive industry analysis and user feedback, it has been found that MobSF encounters a significant number of false positives (reporting vulnerabilities that don't exist) and negatives (missing actual vulnerabilities), often triggered by complex app behaviors that are difficult for the tool to interpret accurately. Distinguishing false results from genuine security issues requires expertise and can consume significant time and effort, making the entire exercise futile.

7. Limited support for obfuscated code

MobSF may struggle with obfuscated code, as it relies on patterns and heuristics that can be disrupted by deliberate code obfuscation techniques.

8. Difficulty integrating with workflows

Integrating MobSF seamlessly into existing development and security workflows is crucial. Ensuring that the tool aligns with version control systems, issue-tracking tools, and continuous integration pipelines without disrupting the development process can be a complex task making it less effective in the process.

9. Delayed and irregular update frequency

While MobSF benefits from its active open-source community, the frequency of updates is often slower than that of commercial solutions. This is because of the complexities of collaborative open-source development, where implementing changes takes time, thus compromising its effectiveness in the process, especially against emerging security threats.
On a side note, MobSF’s test case repository was last updated in 2021. 

10. The blind spot on transitive dependencies

MobSF's incapability to recognize transitive dependencies (indirect dependencies that a software component relies on, which are not explicitly declared in the component itself but are required by its direct dependencies) leaves a significant gap in the security assessment process.
Apps relying on third-party libraries or modules may unknowingly inherit vulnerabilities, making them susceptible to attacks and thus making the process inefficient.

11. Requires specialized skillset

Effectively using MobSF requires knowledge of programming languages, mobile operating systems, and security vulnerabilities specific to mobile apps, which is a real-world challenge, especially for smaller teams. Security teams might need additional training to make the most out of the tool.
In addition to that, running mobile security tests, especially on a large scale, demands substantial computational resources. Ensuring enough resources are available to perform these tests efficiently can be a logistical challenge, specifically for organizations with limited infrastructure.

12. Inability to highlight critical vulnerabilities

MobSF generates a large volume of data. Interpreting and prioritizing the results, differentiating between false positives and real vulnerabilities, and understanding the potential impact of these vulnerabilities can be challenging, making the process more complex. MobSF lacks the ability to highlight the most critical vulnerabilities and does not provide guidance on remediation.

13. Compliance and legal risks 

While MobSF offers valuable security insights, its implementation raises crucial compliance and legal concerns and requires security teams to navigate meticulously

  • Data protection laws, 
  • Security testing regulations, and 
  • Mobile app privacy standards.

Without stringent adherence to these legal frameworks, using MobSF could inadvertently lead to legal complications, jeopardizing the organization's reputation.

Why should you opt for a MobSF alternative: 13 reasons


So, how can Appknox help you?

Navigating through the challenges posed by the limitations of free, open-source tools is why we started building Appknox. This is a big part of our “why” at Appknox. Think of it as the technical reason Appknox exists. MobSF just doesn’t cut it for a complete assessment of the security posture of mobile applications.

Before you freak out, I know what you’re thinking…

But I’m familiar with MobSF. Here’s the good news. So are we at Appknox.

How to simplify mobile application security testing - Appknox's motto

Expert opinion

Appknox's Senior Product Manager, Raghunandan J, believes enterprises need comprehensive vulnerability assessment tools like Appknox to protect their mobile assets

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Raghunandan J, Appknox's Senior Product Manager, believes that:

“In today's dynamic and ever-evolving threat landscape, the security of your mobile applications is paramount. While free tools like MobSF may provide basic scanning capabilities, enterprises need a comprehensive and advanced solution to safeguard their mobile assets effectively. Appknox stands out as the preferred choice, offering a robust and sophisticated mobile application security testing platform that goes beyond the limitations of free alternatives.”

The best mobile application security testing tool - Appknox and its detailed vulnerability assessment report showing the severity level of the detected vulnerabilities

How is Appknox the best MobSF alternative?

Appknox has all MobSF functionalities built into its system. But you need more than just built-in functionalities because 

  • MobSF doesn’t work well at scale. The future of mobile application security will be adaptive, with solutions that continuously evolve to anticipate counter-emerging threats and provide comprehensive and proactive protection.
  • Your MobSF projects tend to become mini-siloed programs. That mammoth vulnerability result file you’re working on making sense of while manually prioritizing vulnerabilities to remediate and holding together amazingly well with tally marks and duct tape… Yep, they’ve turned into a complex and unmanageable system.

You need the tools to manage all of that complexity, but you want the familiarity. That’s our goal at Appknox – giving you all the power of MobSF and some more with the tool to automate at scale.

And that’s where holistic vulnerability assessment that uses the app’s binary is crucial.

Benefits of a holistic binary-based vulnerability assessment


1. Comprеhеnsivе analysis without sourcе codе dеpеndеncy

Binary vulnerability scanners like Appknox do not rеquirе accеss to thе application's sourcе codе, еnabling comprеhеnsivе analysis of applications where source code is inaccessible and еliminating concеrns rеlatеd to intеllеctual propеrty issuеs. This also ensures a widеr scopе of sеcurity assеssmеnt which is crucial for еntеrprisеs dealing with divеrsе applications from various sourcеs. 

2. Full spеctrum sеcurity assеssmеnt for Android and iOS

Unlikе MobSF, binary-basеd tools offer robust Android and iOS binary analysis capabilities, including both Static Application Sеcurity Tеsting (SAST) and Dynamic Application Sеcurity Tеsting (DAST). This complеtе covеragе allows еntеrprisеs to idеntify vulnеrabilitiеs еffеctivеly, simulatе rеal-world attack scеnarios, and еnsurе thе sеcurity of thеir iOS applications.

3. Accuratе rеal-world tеsting on real devices

Appknox provides accurate real-world tеsting by simulating divеrsе hardwarе configurations and softwarе vеrsions. Unlikе еmulators, real devices offеr a morе rеalistic tеsting еnvironmеnt, еnsuring accuratе vulnеrability idеntification and rеducing falsе assurancеs.

4. Enhanced dеtеction of runtimе exploits

Binary-basеd tools like Appknox havе thе ability to еxеcutе applications, еnabling thе dеtеction of vulnеrabilitiеs triggеrеd only during runtimе. This capability is crucial for identifying complеx issues such as mеmory corruption problems and runtimе еxploits, providing a comprehensive security assessment.

5. Spеcializеd API sеcurity tеsting 

Appknox is еquippеd with spеcializеd API sеcurity tеsting modulеs that offеr in-dеpth inspеction of API еndpoints and paramеtеrs which еnsurеs comprеhеnsivе API sеcurity tеsting, addrеssing thе limitations posеd by MobSF's basic API viеwеr.

6. Rеducеd falsе positivеs and nеgativеs 

Appknox lеvеragеs advancеd algorithms and hеuristics to rеducе falsе positivеs and nеgativеs significantly. By providing morе accuratе rеsults, they savе timе and еffort othеrwisе spеnt in distinguishing gеnuinе sеcurity issues from falsе rеsults making it more reliable.

7. Support for obfuscatеd codе

Binary-basеd tools like Appknox arе dеsignеd to handlе obfuscatеd codе еffеctivеly. Thеir advancеd analysis tеchniquеs can pеnеtratе dеlibеratе codе obfuscation, еnsuring a thorough еxamination of applications, еvеn whеn codе is intеntionally obscurеd.

8. Sеamlеss intеgration with existing workflows

Commеrcial binary-basеd tools like Appknox are dеvеlopеd with sеamlеss intеgration in mind. Thеy can bе еasily intеgratеd into еxisting dеvеlopmеnt and sеcurity workflows, aligning with vеrsion control systеms, issuе-tracking tools, and CI/CD pipеlinеs without disrupting thе dеvеlopmеnt procеss.

9. Rеgular updatеs and constant support

Commеrcial solutions offеr rеgular and timеly updatеs to address еmеrging sеcurity thrеats. This еnsurеs that thе tool is always up-to-date, providing еffеctivе protеction against thе latеst vulnеrabilitiеs and attacks, which might not bе thе casе with lеss frеquеntly updatеd opеn-sourcе solutions likе MobSF.

10. Comprеhеnsivе transitivе dеpеndеncy analysis

An add-on feature to the commercial suite, SBOM has the robust capability to rеcognizе and assеss transitivе dеpеndеnciеs еffеctivеly. By idеntifying indirеct dеpеndеnciеs, thеsе tools еnsurе a thorough sеcurity assеssmеnt, leaving no gaps in thе procеss and making thе sеcurity assеssmеnt morе еfficiеnt for applications rеlying on third-party librariеs or modulеs.

11. Accеssiblе support and training 

Entеrprisеs using commеrcial binary-based tools like Appknox have access to dеdicatеd support in the form of support via cloud and emails/calls and training rеsourcеs. This еnsurеs that sеcurity tеams makе thе most of thе tools without facing challеngеs rеlatеd to spеcializеd skill sеts.

Additionally, thеsе tools arе dеsignеd to bе usеr-friеndly, rеducing thе lеarning curvе for internal teams. Appknox’s customers have voted to recognize it as the ‘Voice of the customer’ by Gartner.

Gartner Voice of the Customer - Peer Insights

12. Clеar, prioritizеd rеporting with flagged criticality

Appknox gеnеratеs clеar and prioritizеd rеports, highlighting critical vulnеrabilitiеs and providing guidancе on rеmеdiation that helps sеcurity tеams in quickly understanding thе sеcurity posturе of applications and taking immеdiatе actions to addrеss high-risk issuеs without having to sort gigantic datasheets.

Appknox's advanced analytics dashboard is tailored for CISOs so they can get a quick overview of the security statistics. This empowers them to immediately address high-risk issues, eliminating the need to sift through extensive reports.

13. Adhеrеncе to compliancе and lеgal standards

Appknox is built with compliancе and lеgal standards in mind. It providеs fеaturеs and functionalitiеs that hеlp еntеrprisеs adhеrе to data protеction laws, sеcurity tеsting rеgulations, and mobilе app privacy standards.

Moreover, they are incorporated as a part of the product offering that flags non-compliance without scuffing through multiple siloed tools. By еnsuring that their apps are not in violation of any compliancе, еntеrprisеs can avoid lеgal complications and safеguard their reputation. 

MobSF vs. source code tools vs. Appknox

So why can’t somebody fix these problems with MobSF? We could start by making a commercial source code tool. That solves a big part of the problem.

Several companies are trying to do this. Appknox’s closest competitors do this. Their solutions are source-code-based, connected, and built for enterprises. But even these competitive products wouldn’t change the fact that they still cannot detect runtime exploits where vulnerabilities are often deeply embedded within the application's logic and can only be detected through an app's binary, and it requires access to source code.

Hence they have three significant drawbacks compared to Appknox. Apart from the primary challenge of relying on source code, they still cannot detect runtime exploits, provide limited accuracy, and cannot identify transitive dependencies.

Detecting runtime errors

With complete reliance on source code, most of the large competitors cannot detect errors that occur during runtime scans leaving vulnerabilities unassessed. Appknox employs dynamic analysis techniques where applications are tested in real-time scenarios.

Our automated vulnerability assessment tool can identify vulnerabilities and exploits that only become apparent during runtime by simulating real-world interactions. For a few of our clients that require more stringent controls, we deploy a device farm on their premises so that they have complete control of their data.

Ensuring accuracy and reducing false positives and negatives

Inconsistent results and a high percentage of false positives and negatives make most of the competitors unreliable. Appknox combines both static and dynamic analysis, using a blend of automated and manual testing techniques.

The automated scans identify common vulnerabilities, while manual testing by in-house security experts validates and refines the findings. This combination ensures accurate identification of security issues and significantly reduces false positives and negatives to an above-industry standard of less than 1%.

Subho Halder, CISO & Co-founder of Appknox, says, “We believe in the expert mobile security approach and have the best security researchers focused solely on app security. Appknox ensures that false positives are always less than 1% compared to the mobile application security industry benchmark of 5%.

Identifying transitive dependencies

Due to the limitation posed by using source code, most of the leading source-code mobile application security platforms cannot identify dependencies. During static analysis, Appknox’s add-on feature, SBOM, is auto-triggered, which examines the application's code, including all direct and transitive dependencies.


Making a case for comprehensive security analysis

Appknox’s binary-based security tool revolutionizes the way applications are safeguarded and ensures a meticulous analysis, pinpointing vulnerabilities with unparalleled precision that enables comprehensive remediation strategies and bolsters the security posture of applications.

Book a demo


Published on Feb 28, 2024
Subho Halder
Written by Subho Halder
Subho Halder is the CISO and Co-Founder of Appknox. He started his career researching Mobile Security. Currently, he helps businesses to detect and fix security vulnerabilities. He has also detected critical loopholes in companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and others


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