Ethical Hacking - Mobile Devices and Platforms - notes

Notes from a video course


Good sources of knowledge:

  • OWASP Testing guide - book
  • OWASP Pinning cheat sheet

Android Application

  • Executes as:
    • application
    • service
  • Helpers
    • Broadcast receiver (allows app to register for specifi events which will be then passed to it for action)
    • content provider (it interfaces between app and file storage and provide sql-like interface to read/write/modify/delete data). SQLite is a common DB service access via content provider.

Android Intents

  • these are objects used to manage requests. They include action and relevant data for the request being made. It can be used to:
    • start an activity
    • access broadcast receiver
    • start a service
  • App can register to listen for an intent activity request by including it in app’s manifest file
  • An Intent can explicitely define it’s target application or let the system identify application or applications able to respond. If ther’s more than one, the Android will display an application picker.
  • Applications can export activities as application-application intents
  • Apps can also access broadcast receivers & content providers exported by other applications.
  • Intents are also used for inter-process communication
  • Intent usage:
    • startActivity - may include & return data. Usuall one per app screen
    • startService
    • sendBroadcast - a msg sent using one of three send broadcast intents
  • Intents can be explicit (sent to an app or component) or implicit (OS find appropriate recipient of the msg)

Android Security Model

  • The trust boundary is the application not the user (just like on Linux)
  • Apps run it their own sandbox
  • Interactions are explicit
  • Apps are signed
  • Application must have a valid certificate
    • self-signed
    • authority-signed
  • Unfortunatelly Android does not do cert chain validation
  • In Android 6 busybox was replaced with toybox

Sandboxing applications

  • each app has it’s own unique ID
  • it runs in its own Sandbox
    • which cannot interfere with other apps
    • and other apps cannot interfere with it
  • its data (files) are stored in the sandbox
  • shared files are shared via content providers
    • you can use content providers for app only data but you’ll have to mark it as not-exported
  • keystores can be used to protect data by prompting user for the password to access it.

Android permissions

  • apps has to explicitly request permissions to access camera, clipboard etc
  • the good practice is to minimise permissions requested
  • apps can use standard permissions or define they’re own
  • permissions are groupped in two protection levels: normal or dangerous (which requires explicit user consent)
  • app declares required permissions in its manifest file.

apk tools


drozer - it needs an agent app to be pushed to the test device.

adb install agent.apk   # install drozer agent
adb forward tcp:31415 tcp:31415  #we have to forward ports for it to work
drozer console devices  # then start the drozer agent on the app
drozer console connect  # connect server to the agent

Once you’re in the drozer’s shell:

dz> list   # list all available drozer modules (plugins)
dz> run app.package.list  # list all packages (applications) on the devices
dz> run -a  # app details: perms, uid, gid, ver.
                                         # data & apk location etc
dz> run app.package.attacksurface
# shows potential attack surfaces, like:
# number of exported actitivies, broadcast receivers or content providers
# it can also show whether debugging mode is available

dz> run -a
# will list all exported app activities and required permissions. If `null`
then you don't need any permission to access it.

dz> run app.activity.start --component
# create an intent to access the activity

dz> run -a  # list exported services

dz> run app.service.send baaadText 2 3
# if error is produced, then we can analyse the decompiled source code (if 
available) and try other values until we succeed.

common Android files

  • wal is a temporary write-ahead logging file
  • shm is an index file for wal

iOS applications

  • iOS apps can interact only with directories stored within its sandbox
  • during installation iOS generates UUID and creates content directories for the app inside the sandbox dirs.
    • bundle container - app container named This folder is signed, and any changes to it will prevent app from running
    • data container - holds runtime data for both the app & the user
      • this directory is further divided into other subfolders, which app can use store its data:
        • Documents user generated content
        • Library internal app data
        • tmp used to write temp data during the current app invocation
      • there can be other folders in data container which will be app specific ones.
    • depending on the iOS version, bundle & data dirs can be store in the same or different location (since iOS 8)
  • in bundle container there’s Info.plist - it’s a plain xml file which contains basic info about app required to run it:
    • name
    • ID
    • main executable
    • etc.

Areas to test

Application data storage

There are three main storage options:

  • SQLite
  • property list files
  • keychain

All of those can be used with default security settings, but can be also configured.

Stored Data Protection

  • All app data is encrypted at rest (using a file system key)
  • When devices is turned on, then data is unlocked (decrypted)
  • File access permissions:
    • No protection
    • Complete protection - the file in inaccessible when device is locked
    • Complete unless open - the file in accessible if application has it open when the device is locked
    • Complete until first user authentication - the file is always accessible after the first unlock. (This is the default setting)
  • Key Chain - has multiple security options, like:
    • Write only if passcode is set
    • Read on this device only

Cached and temp data

iOS stores an unencrypted screen shot of the app when it goes to the background which can be used to recover any sensitive information that is visible on that screen.

Request & Response data is stored in SQLite DB called cached.db.

URL handlers

Some apps might use URL handlers to pass sensitive information between processes (they will be listed in Info.plist under URLTypes section)

Binary protection

Many apps uses extra flags to secure the app binary, like: Data Execution Prevention (DEP), Postion Independent Executable & ASLR.
It’s good to check for those flags.


iOS Security

   --------        ---------------       ---------       ----------
   | Boot |        | Low level   |       | iBoot |       | Kernel |
   | rom  |  -->   | Boot loader |  -->  | load  |  -->  | Load   |
   --------        ---------------       ---------       ----------
  • Boot rom hardware contains RO code to bootstrap the system and Apple’s public key.
  • Public key is used to verify the integrity of the Low level boot loader code
  • Low level boot loader takes the 2nd stage boot called iBoot load code from flash memory and verifies its signature before loading.
  • iBoot load verifies the Kernel code in similar fashion before loading it.

This process provides a secure way of loading the System.

Application Sandboxing

  • all apps run in sandboxes, but not all apps use all security features provided by the iOS
  • Interactions outside the sandbox have to be explicit. For example accessing microphone, camera, media etc.

Exploitation protection

  • Memory pages can be marked as “Write but not execute” (using ARM chip W^X feature, similar to DEP for Windows users)
  • ASLR - makes sure that code & data are not stored together, so it makes exploitaion of fixed memory addresses more difficult
  • Position-independent execution (PIE) - allows application to work from any location in memory
  • Stack canaries - can be used to check for malicious or accidental stack overwrites. A function can always check whether “canary” is stil alive.

Interesting folders on iOS devices

  • /var/stash
  • /var/mobile
    • /var/mobile/Applications -> contain a bunch of UUIDs sandbox folders for each application
    • /var/mobile/Containers -> similar as above.
    • /var/mobile/Library/Accounts
      • contains files like Accounts3.sqlite
    • /var/mobile/Library/SMS
      • contains files like sms.db - with all SMS msgs in clear text
    • /var/mobile/Library/Media - contains books, photos etc

iOS testing tools

  • Once iOS device is jailbroken and you install openssh via Cydia you can change root password with passwd
  • Erica - allows to view plist files in human readable mode
    • example usage: plutil Info.plist
  • Clutch - identify all encrypted applications and reverse engineer them to allos src code analysis. It decrypts an app and dumps it into an ipa file.
    • chmod +x /usr/bin/Clutch - this has to be done before running
    • Clutch -i → list all encrypted applications
  • Class-Dump-Z -
  • IPA Installer
  • WinSCP - handy when exchanging files between phone and laptop
  • IDA Pro
  • Snoop It - used for dynamic analysis of application operation.
  • hopperapp - handy disassembler

Extracting properties and class headers

# list all encrypted apps
root# Clutch -i

# decrypt selected app into an ipa file (which essentially is a zip file)
root# Clutch -d 8

# replace installed encrypted app with its decrypted ipa counterpart, this is
# useful cos we can extract properties list and class headers
root# ipainstaller -c yourapp.ipa

# go to the dir below to find all app files
cd /private/var/mobile/Applications/{your_app_UUID}/

# NOTE: remember to not to modify, remove or add files to the app dir folder as
# it will stop working due to folder signature mechanism

# extract properties (manifest file) from Info.plist file
root# plutil > properties_list

# Extract resource rules
root# plutil >> properties_list

# extract class headers with class-dump-z
root# class-dump-z >> properties_list