August 2, 2021

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Obfuscation of code: a “Silver Bullet” in app security?

3 min read
Obfuscation of code: a "Silver Bullet" in app security?

A brief overview of code obfuscation

You’ve definitely heard of code obfuscation and how you should use it to safeguard your apps, but what exactly is it, and is it sufficient on its own? The ever-evolving mobile threat landscape offers plenty of freely available tools for attackers to hook into their targets’ proprietary software and reverse-engineer apps in order to identify weaknesses, secrets, and gather highly sensitive information, and we’ve seen exponential growth in mobile and app-based cybercrime over the last decade.

Code obfuscation, which was born out of a need to safeguard apps against intellectual property theft at all costs, has become a standard strategy used by developers to prevent hackers from decompiling and reverse-engineering source code.

How does code obfuscation function and what is it used for?

Obfuscation is the act of hiding or making something more difficult to understand. As a result, code obfuscation is a means of altering an app’s code to make it harder to read or grasp for attackers. While the code’s functionality stays same, obfuscation aids in the concealment of an app’s logic and purpose.

The procedure consists of a few basic but effective strategies that, when combined, can provide a powerful layer of defense against attackers of an app’s source code. The classification of obfuscation techniques is based on the information that they are attempting to conceal. Some modifications focus on the software’s lexical structure, while others focus on the control flow.?

Simply renaming functions, methods, and classes to have less descriptive names is one approach. Debug information, such as argument type, source file, and line number, as well as java annotations, can be removed using other techniques.

Promon SHIELDTM, Promon’s In-App Protection software, obfuscates parts or all of an app’s code, making it far more difficult for an attacker to decipher.

Why should both native and non-native apps be obfuscated?

JavaScript
Developing a single hybrid software is faster and potentially cheaper than developing native Android and iOS apps separately. Hybrid apps, on the other hand, are more vulnerable to assaults than native apps since JavaScript is easier to reverse engineer and change because it isn’t compiled into a more abstract form in the published app. Learn more about obfuscating JavaScript.

iOS
The most popular programming languages for iOS apps are Objective-C and Swift. Both are compiled to machine code, making it more difficult to convert the code back to its original form. As a result, many people believe that iOS apps are difficult to reverse engineer. The desire to analyze and comprehend machine code, on the other hand, is not new, and there is a mature technology for reverse engineering machine code in place, based on years of research and skill in the field. Learn more about obfuscation in iOS.

Android
The Android operating system is extremely popular, and app developers are continually creating new apps for it. All mobile programming is vulnerable to reverse engineering in general, but code written in languages that allow dynamic introspection at runtime, such as Java, is especially vulnerable. More information about Android obfuscation can be found here.

Is obfuscation sufficient?
Is code obfuscation the “silver bullet” for mobile app security? While code obfuscation is incredibly effective, it acts as a “speed bump,” causing an attacker to spend a lot more time and effort reverse-engineering an app in order to see and grasp its logic. However, it does not protect against viruses or the presence of debuggers and emulators.

This is especially significant because attackers typically utilize debuggers and emulators when attempting to reverse engineer a program. Such tools can be used to examine an app in order to figure out how it operates and collect sensitive data.

Attackers may also try to reverse engineer an app while it is running by injecting code into it to gain control from within. There are many well-documented utilities that automate these procedures, such as Frida and Xposed.

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