Application Security

iOS Application Security - Securing Swift Apps for Developers

Everything you need to know about iOS application security, including best practices and tools you can use to protect iOS apps from cyber threats.

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What is iOS application security?

iOS application security uses security tools and techniques to mitigate the risks of cyberattacks on iOS applications.

Why is iOS app security important?

One size does not fit all when it comes to mobile cybersecurity. iOS is a fundamentally different architecture than Android, meaning iOS needs its own cybersecurity approach. They have different setups from the ground up, and both are constantly evolving. There are also requirements unique to iOS (e.g., App Store validation, code signing, secure boot chain). 

Additionally, iOS is a more closed platform than Android, as just a single vendor (Apple) creates the software and hardware. So although developers don’t have to optimize security across a wide range of devices, they still need to be secured.

iOS platform security features

Like its Android counterpart, Apple integrates security into all its platforms with hardware, software, and services that work together to keep personal information safe. This includes Apple-designed silicon and security hardware, software protections for the operating system and third-party apps, and secure services for updates, app ecosystem, communications, and payments. 

iOS platform security features include the following: 

  • Secure Boot Chain: iOS devices use a secure boot chain to ensure that only trusted code is loaded during the boot process. This prevents unauthorized or malicious software from being loaded onto the device.

  • System Integrity Protection (SIP): This feature helps protect critical system files and processes from modification by malware. SIP restricts the root user's ability to modify system files, even with administrative privileges.

  • Secure Enclave: The Secure Enclave is a separate processor on the iOS device that handles cryptographic operations and stores sensitive data such as Touch ID and Face ID biometric data. It is isolated from the main processor and the rest of the system, so sensitive data cannot be accessed even if the device is compromised.

  • Data Protection: iOS devices use hardware-based encryption to protect user data. Data is encrypted at the hardware level and can only be decrypted with the correct passcode or biometric authentication.

  • App Sandbox: iOS apps run in a sandboxed environment, restricting their access to system resources and other apps. This prevents malicious apps from accessing sensitive data or interfering with other apps on the device.

  • Code Signing: All apps in the App Store must be signed by Apple to ensure their authenticity and integrity. Doing so prevents users from installing malicious apps containing malware or spyware.

  • Two-Factor Authentication: iOS devices support two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security to the login process. 

  • Gatekeeper: iOS includes a feature called Gatekeeper that helps protect the system from malicious software by verifying the digital signature of apps so only trusted apps are installed on a device.

  • Network Security: iOS devices leverage various network security features to protect against network attacks, including encrypted communication protocols, certificate-based authentication, and VPN support.

  • Privacy Controls: iOS provides privacy controls including options to limit ad tracking, control location sharing, and manage app permissions.

  • Face ID and Touch ID: iOS devices include biometric authentication features such as Face ID and Touch ID, which are securely stored in the Secure Enclave and cannot be accessed by other apps or processes.

  • Automatic Updates: iOS devices automatically download and install security updates to help keep devices protected against new threats and vulnerabilities.

Best practices for iOS security

It’s important to have a comprehensive security strategy that includes regular security assessments, employee training on security best practices, and a plan for responding to security incidents. By taking a proactive approach to security, developers can help ensure that iOS apps and devices are secure and protected against potential threats. Some best practices for iOS security include the following:

  • Enforce secure communication: Ensure that data is secure both in transit and at rest by using secure communication protocols such as HTTPS and SSL/TLS to protect data as it travels over the network. Additionally, data should be encrypted when stored on the device to prevent unauthorized access if the device is lost or stolen.

  • Rights management: Developers should be aware of any differences between test versions of their app and the live versions, as test versions may have higher levels of access for debugging purposes. Before pushing the app to the App Store, developers should remove any unnecessary permissions to ensure it only accesses what it needs.

  • Store data safely: iOS provides a secure environment for storing data, but it's still important to protect data from potential attack surfaces. Limit access to files and directories and ensure that temporary files or caches are cleared regularly.

  • Keep services and dependencies up to date: Developers should regularly update their apps to address any security vulnerabilities or bugs that may be discovered. This includes updating third-party libraries and dependencies, which may contain vulnerabilities ripe for exploitation.

iOS application security checklist:

Cross-reference this checklist to ensure your iOS application is ready to fend off cybersecurity threats. 

  1. Establish security and rights management early in the application development process to ensure the application is secure and compliant with any security standards Apple sets.

  2. Use SSL/TLS for network communications to encrypt data in transit and protect against eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks.

  3. Be cautious about storing sensitive data on mobile devices and reduce the amount of sensitive data stored to minimize the risk of data breach or theft.

  4. Leverage all the available security features provided by iOS to ensure the highest level of security for the application.

  5. Ensure applications comply with Apple's strict App Store standards to make it marketplace-ready

  6. Use automated tooling to help keep services and dependencies up to date, reducing the risk of vulnerabilities. Continuous monitoring and testing of the application can help identify potential security vulnerabilities before they are exploited.

  7. Test, test, test. Conduct penetration testing and other white-hat hacking methods to test the application's security regularly. Mobile apps should be included in all security testing and measuring processes.

iOS application security tools

Using the following security tools can help ensure the security of your iOS applications by identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.

  • Static application security testing (SAST): SAST tools analyze the source code of an iOS application without executing it and help detect and identify potential security vulnerabilities such as buffer overflows, SQL injections, and cross-site scripting (XSS). These tools are designed to find code-level issues and offer a quick and automated way of identifying vulnerabilities before the application is released.

  • Software composition analysis (SCA): SCA tools identify open-source libraries and components used within an iOS application to determine if these components have any known vulnerabilities and, if so, provide a list of recommended steps to remediate the vulnerabilities. SCA can also detect license compliance issues, which are important to avoid legal problems.

  • Fuzzing: Fuzzing is a technique where a tool generates random inputs, also known as test cases, to try and crash an iOS application or find vulnerabilities. Fuzzing tools can generate different types of inputs, such as malformed input data or unexpected inputs to identify security vulnerabilities that might be missed by other security testing methods.

  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST): DAST tools test an iOS application by sending it inputs and analyzing its responses. DAST identifies security vulnerabilities such as injection attacks, XSS, and broken authentication and session management. It can also test the security of APIs used by the application.

  • Interactive application security testing (IAST): IAST combines the best of SAST and DAST. It analyzes the source code of the iOS application while it's being executed to provide detailed information about the specific lines of code that are causing security vulnerabilities. IAST also identifies real-time security vulnerabilities by testing the application as it's running.

  • Monitoring and detection: Monitoring and detection tools scan an iOS application for potential security threats. They identify attacks such as SQL injections, malware, and data exfiltration. They also monitor network traffic to identify suspicious activity. Users can set up alerts and notifications for any suspicious activity detected within an iOS application.

iOS application security with Snyk

iOS application security is paramount to protect users' sensitive data and keep devices running as intended. Snyk provides a comprehensive suite of tools and services to secure iOS applications and reduce the risk of security breaches. 

Snyk Code SAST (Static Application Security Testing) identifies and remediates security vulnerabilities in Swift source code. It detects a wide range of application vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, Cross-site scripting (XSS), and buffer overflow so developers can quickly detect problems before they can develop into potential security breaches.

Snyk Open Source SCA (Software Composition Analysis) scans an application's code and its dependencies for known vulnerabilities to identify any security issues present in third-party open-source libraries used in the application. By addressing these vulnerabilities, developers can significantly reduce the risk of security breaches in the application.

Snyk also provides language coverage for Swift, which is currently in closed beta. Developers can use Snyk Code SAST to scan and identify security vulnerabilities in Swift code—an important feature for iOS developers who use Swift as their primary programming language.

Since mobile apps are not standalone and often rely on external services and APIs to function correctly, we offer tools like Snyk Container and Snyk IaC to ensure services connected to the mobile application are fully secured.

Learn more about Snyk security features by booking a live demo.

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