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Guide to Threat & Vulnerability Management for Mobile Apps

Cyber attacks on all businesses, especially small and medium-sized firms, are becoming more common, targeted, and challenging to prevent. The Cost of Cybercrime Study from Accenture shows that 43% of cyber attacks are aimed at small businesses, but only 14% are ready to defend themselves.

Any cyber-attack disrupts normal operations and can damage important business assets and infrastructure in ways that can't be fixed if there isn't enough money or time to do so. The threat is even more elevated for mobile applications, given their widespread popularity and usage.

In order to be prepared for such emergent security threats, organizations must rely on the best threat and vulnerability management solutions to have the most robust security posture possible. The essentials are covered at the outset of this vulnerability management guide. It introduces you to the step-by-step procedure, roles and responsibilities, and the best practices that must be followed to make the most of vulnerability management inside your company.

What is Vulnerability Management? 

Simply put, vulnerability management is the process of identifying critical vulnerabilities in IT infrastructures, evaluating the risks involved, and taking appropriate action to mitigate those vulnerabilities. 

We might think of it as a proactive strategy that minimizes the probability that any flaw in coding or design would compromise the security posture of your software or mobile application by discovering security vulnerabilities early. 

Operating systems, browsers, mobile applications, and end-user software are a few examples of these resources.

What is Vulnerability Assessment?

Vulnerability assessment is the process of defining, identifying, categorizing, and ranking the vulnerabilities in computer systems, mobile applications, and network infrastructures. Vulnerability assessment also gives an organization the knowledge, awareness, and risk background it needs to understand the threats to its environment and act on them.

When it comes to the security of mobile apps, having an adequate vulnerability assessment service provider is a must. And that's where leading cybersecurity firms like Appknox come into the picture. 

Appknox's SAST, DAST, and APIT tools are the best security solutions to ensure that your code and overall mobile application are secure. Appknox VA tools identify and eliminate security vulnerabilities and software defects early in development. That helps to ensure that your software is secure, reliable, and compliant. 

Appknox VA helps you: 

  • Identify and analyze security risks and prioritize severity based on the CVSS reporting 
  • Perform real-time fast and API to further down on the vulnerabilities 
  • Fulfill standard compliance requirements 
  • Verify and validate through testing 
  • Achieve compliance and get certified faster

What is the Difference Between Vulnerability Management and Vulnerability Assessment?

Vulnerability Assessment is typically a component of the entire vulnerability management system. Organizations will probably conduct several vulnerability assessments to gather more data for their vulnerability management action plan.

Why Do you Need a Vulnerability Management Process?

Vulnerabilities offer attackers easy access points to your mobile apps. Once inside, they can misuse the available resources, steal critical user and business information, or prevent access to your app's services. You are essentially leaving the windows and doors open for attackers to enter your whole app infrastructure if you do not find and fix vulnerabilities.

You can assess and secure your mobile app using the organized instructions offered by vulnerability management programs. This procedure helps you do a thorough search rather than disregarding vulnerabilities or taking the chance that vulnerabilities will be overlooked.

Using vulnerability management solutions, you may make sure that vulnerabilities in your system have the shortest possible life cycle. In the event that your application is compromised despite your best efforts, it can also serve as evidence of your diligence.

Vulnerability Management Steps

Although a vulnerability management process might differ depending on the context, most should adhere to these four steps, which are normally carried out by a combination of human and technological resources:

  • Identifying Vulnerabilities
  • Evaluating Vulnerabilities
  • Treating Vulnerabilities
  • Reporting Vulnerabilities 

Step 1: Identifying Vulnerabilities

In the first step of the vulnerability management process, you must figure out where your systems might be the most vulnerable. Once you know which vulnerabilities or types of vulnerabilities you want to find, you can start looking for them.

At this stage, you use information about threats and databases of vulnerabilities to guide your search. It also uses vulnerability scanners to find vulnerable components and make an inventory that can be used for patch management.

As part of this phase, you should make a complete system map showing where assets are, how they might be accessed, and what protection systems are already in place. Then, this map can be used to guide the analysis of security holes and make fixing them easier.

Step 2: Evaluating Vulnerabilities

The next step is to assess the level of risk posed by the vulnerabilities you've discovered in your system. This analysis can speed up minimizing risks and implementing better security measures.

If you start by fixing the most critical vulnerabilities, you can reduce the likelihood of an attack while you secure the rest of your system. There are a number of frameworks that may be used to determine how likely it is that a particular vulnerability would be exploited.

The Common Vulnerability Scoring System is one such tool (CVSS). Many databases and researchers on security flaws employ this standardization. CVSS ranks vulnerabilities based on their severity, taking into account their fundamental qualities, temporal traits, and unique impact on your systems. Since CVSS's risk ratings are set in stone, additional information, such as threat intelligence and your business's risk profile, should be considered alongside CVSS when establishing priorities.

Step 3: Treating Vulnerabilities

Prioritizing how to address a vulnerability with the original stakeholders of the business is the next step once a vulnerability has been verified and recognized as a risk. Treatment for vulnerabilities can take many different forms, including

  • Remediation: Completely addressing or correcting a vulnerability to prevent exploitation. Organizations want to achieve this treatment option as the best one.
  • Mitigation: Reduce the risk of exploiting a vulnerability and minimizing its effects. When a suitable repair or patch isn't yet available for a vulnerability that has been identified, this is occasionally required. This method should be used to eventually gain time for an organization to fix a vulnerability.
  • Acceptance: Failing to make any effort to address a vulnerability or otherwise diminish the potential for abuse. When a vulnerability is judged low-risk and the expense of addressing it is significantly higher than the cost spent by an organization or if the vulnerability were to be exploited, this is often justifiable.

You can start your remediation efforts once you have a prioritized vulnerability management plan in place. You could also consider intensifying monitoring or restricting access to areas designated as at-risk during this period. This can help stop the successful exploitation of vulnerabilities until fixes can be applied or the safeguards are implemented permanently.

After vulnerabilities are fixed, be sure to check that the remediation was effective. Penetration testing is helpful in this case since it allows you to determine how well your solution is working. It can also assist you in ensuring that your remedial efforts didn't lead to the emergence of any new vulnerabilities.

Step 4: Reporting vulnerabilities

It might not seem essential to report vulnerabilities after they have been fixed, but doing so can help you improve your security and responses. Keeping track of security flaws and when they were fixed shows that someone is responsible for the security and is required by many compliance standards. It can also help you figure out what will happen in the future. For example, if you find evidence that an attack has been going on, you can look at your patch histories to narrow down possible entry points and times.

Also, reporting on your process for managing vulnerabilities gives you a starting point for future work. This can help you make your future work more effective and keep you from adding new vulnerabilities by taking into account what you've learned.

Roles and Responsibilities in Vulnerability Management 

The following roles must be identified within an organization while establishing a vulnerability management process. 

a) Security Officer: The security officer is in charge of the whole process of managing security flaws. They are in charge of putting together the entire plan and ensuring it works correctly. 

b) Vulnerability Engineer: After hiring a security officer, it's crucial to figure out what a vulnerability engineer does. This person is responsible for setting up vulnerability scans and maintaining the scanners in good shape. 

c) Asset Owner: The system assets that are scanned as part of the overall vulnerability management process are primarily the responsibility of the asset owner. They also determine whether the vulnerabilities are mitigated, or additional enhancements are needed. 

d) IT System Engineer: The IT system engineers, one of the most crucial pillars in the vulnerability management process, are in charge of putting into practice the corrective actions discovered after identifying security vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability Management Best Practices

Creating a successful vulnerability management program can take some effort, and you probably won't get it perfect the first time. The following best practices for vulnerability management might assist you in developing a solid program right away and minimizing the number of adjustments you need to make.

Plan Ahead and Establish Your KPIs

You must begin with planning and strategizing, just like any other business initiative, and then define the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). In addition to enabling you to evaluate your vulnerability management software's ROI, KPIs help your security team strive toward realistic targets. 

With multiple moving parts, third-party and open-source components, and complicated integrations, today's mobile applications are becoming more borderless, interconnected, complex, and dynamic. Therefore, scanning and evaluating the conventional app infrastructure is useless. 

You need to comprehend the various elements of the existing attack surface in detail. In addition to the conventional entry points, the other areas primarily consist of web apps, cloud instances, containers, mobile devices, IoT devices, etc. You can easily acquire comprehensive visibility into your elastic attack surface and its various layers by utilizing cutting-edge, intelligent technologies like Appknox VA and PT solutions.

Establish Your Vulnerability Management Database

The discovery stage of VM typically involves mapping and identifying all digital assets, systems, affiliated and third-party systems and processes, IT infrastructure, devices, servers, databases, content management systems, development frameworks, ports, etc. As much information as possible is gathered about the app infrastructure to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the business's vital assets and the importance of each one.

It's not enough to build the database just once and leave it alone. Your VM database and security are only as good as when you updated the data. So, you have to keep updating the VM database.

Conduct Penetration Testing on a Regular Basis

Regular penetration tests are one of the best ways to ensure that new vulnerabilities aren't being added to your system. As long as you use the most up-to-date techniques and tools, these tests can help you quickly find and fix new security flaws.

Penetration testing can also help security teams learn more about how attackers work and give an unbiased look at how well your defenses work. This provides security teams with a realistic way to decide where to put their resources and can help them respond better to attacks.

Leverage Sources of Threat Intelligence

It is important to know what vulnerabilities exist, how they are being exploited, and how to fix them. You can try to figure out all these things on your own if you want to. But this method is very ineffective, and most critical threats will be missed. Using the information that benchmark security communities like OWASP already have is a better way to go.

You can get a lot of information, and best practices from renowned threat intelligence feed, forums, and databases. These sources are beneficial because they can give small security teams specific skills they might not have otherwise. 

Integrate with Other Security Solutions

Keep in mind that vulnerability management is the first step in the application and network security. So, it needs to be part of a big plan to fix the problem.


Here are some key questions associated with threat and vulnerability management that we get asked by our customers frequently:

How Do You Do Vulnerability Assessment on a Mobile App?

In order to thoroughly test a mobile application's vulnerabilities, you should typically also examine the network communication and the server-side processes.

File permissions, cached files, configuration files, and backup files should all be examined for vulnerabilities. Check to see if the standard authentication methods used are encrypted. A vulnerability triggered by an incomplete transaction or a crash that leaves the user logged in could result in mobile app security threats; thus, be careful to prevent this from happening.

Additionally, review all the business logic once again and eliminate any bugs that can potentially result in a vulnerability. To see if anything changes, try decompiling, evaluating, and tweaking the installation package. Be sure to take care of client-side issues like running over other mobile apps. You need a compatible device, a device emulator, a code decompiler, and a code analyzer program to check all these factors.

Does OWASP Apply to Mobile Apps?

Yes, OWASP is also applicable to mobile apps. The OWASP Mobile Application Security (MAS) flagship project offers an all-inclusive testing guide (OWASP MASTG), a security standard for mobile apps (OWASP MASVS), and a checklist that connects them all. In order to produce reliable and comprehensive results, they jointly provide that coverage throughout a mobile app security assessment.

For mobile app security, the industry standard is the OWASP Mobile Application Security Verification Standard (MASVS). It can be used by mobile application developers, and testers to create secure mobile applications and to guarantee the consistency and thoroughness of test results.

The OWASP Mobile Application Security Testing Guide (MASTG) is a comprehensive manual for mobile application security testing. A primary learning tool for both amateurs and experts, covering a range of subjects from the internals of mobile operating systems to sophisticated reverse engineering methods.

What Are the Biggest Threats of Mobile Apps?

According to OWASP, below are the most critical mobile app security threats:

1: Platform Misuse 

The improper use of the Android and iOS platforms is one of the most significant risks, and many apps accidentally break the security protocols and practice guidelines. Misuse can happen with any part of the platform or when security controls aren't set up. 

2: Lack of Data Storage Security

Another major flaw is how data is stored because attackers can easily use stolen devices to get sensitive data. An application needs to store data sometimes, but this data needs to be kept in a safe place that other applications or people can't access. 

3: Unsafe Communications

The Internet or telecommunications provider is typically used to transmit data to or from mobile applications. Via infected networks, attackers can intercept data in transit.

4: Authentication Issues

Sometimes, mobile devices are unable to recognize users, allowing fraudulent users to log in using the default credentials. Due to improper implementation, authentication procedures are frequently bypassed by attackers that communicate directly with the server. 

5: Lack of Cryptography

Attackers can recover sensitive data from its original state and allow unauthorized access if there is insufficient cryptography. This flaw is typically simple to exploit.

6: Insufficient Authorization

Without adequate authorization controls, hackers can get access to critical information and elevate privileges to launch more extensive attacks. Attackers can access databases, accounts, and files through insecure direct object references (IDOR). The app is vulnerable if the authorization process does not validate users and provide permissions. 

7: Poor-Quality Client Code 

Insecure code might be the result of bad coding techniques. The danger is enhanced when team members don't communicate or don't provide enough documentation when using diverse coding techniques. It is challenging to discover this vulnerability since hackers must be aware of poor coding practices.

8: Manipulated Code 

Mobile apps that have been modified to have harmful code or backdoors, such as programs with modified binaries, are frequently found in app stores. Attackers can use phishing to transmit these fake applications straight to the victim or post them on app stores. 

9: Reverse Engineering Attacks

Attackers can examine the code and reverse engineer apps, which is particularly harmful because they can do so to add malicious functionality. Attackers can recompile an application by using reverse engineering to learn how it works. 

10: Redundant Functionality

Attackers can review log and configuration files in mobile applications to look for redundant functionality that can be used to reach the back end. An attacker might, for instance, use anonymity to carry out privileged actions. Before release, manual code reviews reduce this risk.

How Do You Manually Test Mobile App Security?

Despite the tremendous advancements in automation technologies, many aspects still require human intervention to evaluate or identify potential security risks in an application effectively. A person must verify potential vulnerabilities, such as business logic or cryptographic integrity flaws. You must therefore perform security testing manually.

The following are some of the most successful and efficient methods for conducting security testing manually:

1. Evaluate Access Control Management

Access control is a crucial component that helps safeguard your application security or system from being exploited by attackers or insider threats, be it a web or mobile application.

Access control management can be categorized into two parts:

  • Authentication - Who the user is?
  • Authorization - What can the user do, and what information do they have access to?\

2. Dynamic Analysis (Penetration Testing)

Penetration testing, sometimes known as a pen test, is a software testing approach that targets an active system with controlled cyberattacks to identify vulnerabilities that attackers may use.

3. Static Analysis (Static Code Analysis)

Static code analysis is another preferred technique for conducting manual security tests. Identifying flaws in the "static" (non-running) source code is typically carried out as part of white-box testing, commonly referred to as a Code Review.

To identify system vulnerabilities, static code analysis uses methods including data flow analysis and taint analysis.

4. Monitor Server Access Controls

Although mobile apps have numerous user access points that provide them sufficient access to handle user requests, they must maintain security to prevent data breaches or other attacks.

How are server access controls evaluated by testers?

All intra-network and inter-network access points to the application should only be used by the expected machines (IPs), applications, and users, and access should be tightly regulated.

5. Password Management

Password management is one of the most effective security testing methods you can utilize while conducting manual testing. This describes the techniques used to obtain passwords and gain access to user accounts or systems.

How can password management be tested?

It may be simple to brute force passwords and get access to an account if the mobile application or system does not enforce strict password regulations (for instance, with numerics, special characters, or passphrases).

6. Brute-Force Attacks

Using brute-force attacks is another manual security testing technique. Brute-force attacks work by trying numerous password combinations until the right one is identified.

In order to commit identity theft, redirect domains to websites with malicious material, or engage in other illegal actions, attackers utilize brute-force attacks to obtain access to sensitive information such as personal identification numbers, passphrases, passwords, or usernames.

7. SQL Injection (SQLi)

SQL injection entry points are checked by manual testing to see if a SQL injection attack can exploit them. Testers find and test the database code that lets users do direct MySQL queries on the database by entering specific inputs.

8. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

In manual security testing, in addition to examining the application for SQL Injection attacks, testers also look for Cross-Site Scripting (or XSS). The attacker uses a client-side injection attack to try to get malicious scripts to run in the victim's browser.

These malicious scripts can carry out various tasks, such as transmitting the victim's session token or login information to the attacker, logging their keystrokes, or taking arbitrary actions on the victim's behalf.

How Do Apps Secure Data?

All of the data that mobile applications store is encrypted, which means it has been converted into a different format or code and cannot be accessed without a password or a special "key" that must be used each time the app needs to access the data. Devices running iOS and Android are often encrypted by default.

The security layer that separates each app from the operating system also "sandboxes" data. The permissions system displays pop-up windows stating that the "so-and-so app would like to access your location, contacts, and camera" because the app cannot grant itself permission to access anything. Because of this, unless you have granted the app access, it cannot read data from other apps or the phone's operating system. Developers are responsible for ensuring that their apps only seek the permissions they require.

When developing apps, developers employ Transport Layer Security, a technique that encrypts data and necessitates mutual authentication between the server and client applications. No data is shared if there is an issue with the server-to-app "handshake" because prevention is always better than cure.

How Do I Test API Security?

API security tests can be done in different ways. Static analysis and software composition analysis look for patterns and libraries in your code base that could be security flaws. Dynamic API security tests send active requests to the application. Based on the response from the API, potential vulnerabilities are found.

For example, a dynamic testing tool might send a request with SQL Injection to the REST API endpoint. If the API responds that the database could be attacked, the testing tool will show this. Some people call this kind of security testing "negative security testing" because they send a request, and if they get a response, it could be a sign of a security bug.

Generally, app developers rely on mature API security testing tools like Appknox to ensure no stone is left unturned when it comes to API testing.

Final Thoughts

Threats and attackers are constantly evolving, just like organizations are always adding new mobile devices, cloud services, networks, and applications to their environments. With every change, there's a chance that you've introduced a new security loophole in your app that attackers can use to get in and steal your most important data.

Industry leaders in vulnerability assessment, like Appknox, proactively use threat intelligence and are the only source of truth when it comes to dealing with business-critical security vulnerabilities. Appknox not only shows what exploitable vulnerabilities are already there, but it also shows how those loopholes could become business risks and which ones should be fixed first.


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Process in Vulnerability Management

Implementing a vulnerability management process in place is all about managing and mitigating risk. This guide on vulnerability management starts with the basics and introduces you to the step by step approach, roles and responsibilities and the best practices that must be followed