Mobile Penetration Tests: The 3 Major Mobile Security Controls

Learn more about the differences, benefits, and challenges for mobile penetration testing while exploring the 3 major security controls.

Omkar Hiremath
5 min read

Mobile applications have become an integral part of the population today. The widespread use of mobile applications and the sensitive data they handle make them a prime target for attackers, and thus mobile application developers must take a proactive approach to secure their applications. Mobile penetration testing is a great way of identifying security weaknesses and helping fix them.

In this post, we’ll compare mobile and web application penetration tests and see how they’re different. Then we’ll look into the benefits and challenges of mobile penetration tests. Finally, we’ll look into 3 important mobile security security controls - root, tamper, and runtime manipulation detection.

How are mobile penetration tests different from web application penetration tests?

Mobile penetration testing and web application penetration testing are both important for security. However, the process and strategy of mobile and web application penetration tests vary due to differences in environment, attack surface, and context. Let’s look into some major differences between mobile penetration tests and web application penetrations tests.


Web applications mostly follow a client-server model where the client in a majority of cases is a general-purpose web browser such as Google Chrome. Therefore web application penetration testing involves testing the web server, the effect of some exploitations on the web client, and the communication between the web server and the application.

But things get more complicated in mobile penetration testing. Mobile applications can be categorized into 3 main types:

  1. Offline mobile applications: These apps run on the operating system of the device and the logic and data are stored within the device so you can use these apps without an internet connection. Ex: Text editors
  2. Webview applications: Although these applications run on a mobile device, they need to communicate with the web server to operate therefore following a client-server model. The mobile application utilizes WebView, which is an embeddable browser that a native application can use to display web content. and therefore you need an internet connection for these apps to work. Ex: Instagram.
  3. Hybrid mobile applications: These applications are a mix of both of the above. They need an internet connection for some operations but you can also use the application offline. Ex: Google maps.

Depending on the type of mobile application and what platform it is running on, mobile penetration testing becomes more complex.

Attack surface

Mobile applications are built for devices that come in different models and operating systems, which means that a mobile penetration test needs to consider the security implications of a wider range of hardware and software configurations. Mobile applications also have access to more sensitive data and device features than web applications, such as GPS location, contacts, and camera. This means that a mobile penetration test needs to consider a wider range of attack surfaces than a web application penetration test.

Additionally, users use mobile applications in different contexts than a web applications. Users may be on the move, in public spaces, and connecting to unsecured networks, which presents unique security challenges.

Developers might be well-versed with OWASP Top 10 or general web vulnerabilities but they need to understand specific security concepts for mobile pentesting. Mobile penetration testing involves techniques such as reverse engineering the application binary or analyzing network traffic between the mobile device and backend servers.

Benefits of penetration testing your mobile application

Mobile applications often contain sensitive data such as personal information, financial details, and login credentials. Therefore, it is essential to ensure the security of these applications with different formats.

Penetration testing your mobile application has several benefits, such as:

  • A mobile application penetration test can identify vulnerabilities that an attacker can exploit to gain unauthorized access, steal data, or compromise the application. It helps prevent future cyberattacks.
  • By identifying vulnerabilities in your mobile application, you can take steps to mitigate risks and protect your users' data and your organization's reputation.
  • Many industries, such as finance, healthcare, and government, have strict security regulations that require regular security testing, including mobile application penetration testing. Mobile penetration testing helps you stay compliant with regulatory standards and avoid hefty fines.
  • By demonstrating that you have taken steps to secure your mobile application, you can improve user trust which in return will impact your business.
  • Identifying and fixing vulnerabilities during the development cycle is less expensive than discovering and fixing them after the application is released. Also, recovering from a cyberattack is very expensive. Hence, you’re saving costs.
  • By penetration testing your mobile application and having your teams work on mitigating security weaknesses, you can gauge the responsiveness of your enterprise IT team. This will help you understand how quickly they can respond to an actual cyberattack. Using this information, you can train, plan and strategize your security activities.

Looking at the benefits of mobile penetration testing, you might want to dive right into it. But this path is not an easy one. So why is mobile penetration testing difficult?

Difficulties with Mobile Penetration Testing

Mobile penetration tests, like any security testing, present several challenges that can make them difficult to execute effectively. Here are some of the difficulties associated with mobile penetration tests:

  • There are many different types of mobile devices, operating systems, and app versions in use. This makes it difficult to test and ensure the security of all possible configurations. If you’re testing your application on Android and IOS, you might end up testing the same application twice.
  • If a mobile app is using SSL pinning, that just adds another hurdle to the pentester to intercept traffic between the mobile client and the server it talks to.
  • Mobile applications have unique vulnerabilities that are specific to the mobile platform, such as insecure data storage, device pairing, and mobile-specific APIs, making it essential to have specialized skills and knowledge in mobile application security.
  • Reverse engineering a mobile application can be a complex and time-consuming process, making it difficult to identify vulnerabilities that can only be found through this process.
  • Mobile penetration testing requires specific tools. Choosing the right tool for penetration testing might be difficult. And if the application needs several tools, you might need to find different pentesters with expertise in different tools.
  • Testing IOS applications would require specific hardware to test certain attacks. For instance, you would need Xcode (which is only available on macOS) to tamper with an IOS application so it could run on IOS device.

Now that we’ve understood the benefits and difficulties of mobile penetration testing, let’s understand 3 major security aspects of mobile applications.

Security benefits of root, tamper, and runtime manipulation detection in your mobile application

Root, tamper, and runtime detection are important security features in mobile apps to enhance their security. As part of mobile penetration testing, it’s crucial to evaluate how robust these implementations are.

Root detection

Root detection helps to identify if a user has rooted their device or not. If a user has rooted their device, it means they have gained privileged access to the device's operating system. This can potentially compromise the security of the device and the data stored on it. An attacker can go after a mobile application on a rooted device. Enabling root detection would be another layer of defense to protect the application. For example, it can prevent certain sensitive operations from being executed on rooted devices, or it can alert the user that their device is rooted and may not be secure for certain activities. Several banking and money transfer applications use root detection and do not allow the application to some activities if the device is rooted.

Tamper detection

Tamper detection helps to identify if an application has been modified or tampered with. Attackers can tamper with applications to bypass security measures or inject malicious code and trick unsuspecting users into installing this malicious application. By detecting tampering, an application can take appropriate measures to protect itself and the data it processes. For example, it can prevent the tampered application from running, or it can alert the user that the app may have been tampered with and may not be secure.

Runtime manipulation detection

Unlike the previous aspects, runtime manipulation detection helps you identify if an attacker has manipulated anything while the application is running. This is important because attackers may use runtime manipulation to bypass client-side security measures and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or functionality within the application.


Mobile application security and penetration testing are critical components of securing mobile applications against various threats and protecting user data. By adopting a proactive approach towards security, developers can ensure that their applications are secure and that users can confidently use them without the fear of data breaches or cyber-attacks. We went through different aspects of mobile application penetration testing and understood the benefits of some security implementations.

Overall, root, tamper, and runtime manipulation detection can help to enhance the security of mobile applications by hardening the application from reverse engineering and mitigating potential security risks. These features can also help to increase user trust and confidence in the application, which can lead to increased user adoption and engagement.

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Omkar Hiremath

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