M1: Improper Credential Usage – OWASP Mobile Top 10


In this article, we will discuss the M1: Improper Credential Usage risk which was added to the OWASP Mobile Top 10 list this year.

In an era dominated by smartphones and mobile applications, safeguarding the security of personal information has emerged as a paramount concern. With an increasing reliance on these devices for storing sensitive data, the onus falls on app developers to fortify their security measures. This imperative becomes especially pronounced when addressing the Achilles’ heel of mobile app security – the improper usage of credentials.

As users entrust their devices with a growing volume of personal information, the spotlight is on developers to ensure robust security practices. This article explores the landscape of mobile app security, with a particular focus on the vulnerabilities arising from improper credential usage. From insecure storage practices to weak password policies, we delve into the common pitfalls that can compromise the entire security infrastructure of an app.

Potential Impact

In the mobile app landscape dominated by smartphones and applications, the security of personal information is of utmost concern. Improper credential usage within mobile apps can have severe consequences, leading to:

  • Identity Theft: Unauthorized access to personal information can result in identity theft, causing financial and reputational damage to users.
  • Financial Fraud: Banking and finance apps, in particular, are attractive targets. Improper credential usage may lead to unauthorized transactions and access to sensitive financial data.
  • Privacy Breaches: Users store a myriad of personal information within apps. Credential vulnerabilities can lead to privacy breaches, compromising user data.
  • Reputation Damage: The fallout from a security breach can tarnish the reputation of both the app and its developers. Users are less likely to trust an app with a history of security issues.

What Does Improper Credential Usage Look Like?

Credential vulnerabilities within mobile apps manifest in various ways, including:

  • Hardcoded Credentials: If the mobile app contains hardcoded credentials within the app’s source code or any configuration files, this is a clear indicator of vulnerability.
  • Insecure Storage of Credentials: Storing user credentials locally on the device, often in an easily accessible format, exposes sensitive information to potential attackers.
  • Weak Password Policies: Apps that don’t enforce strong password policies are susceptible to brute force attacks, as simple passwords and lack of complexity requirements make it easier for malicious actors to guess or crack passwords.
  • Inadequate Encryption: Transmitting credentials without proper encryption leaves personal information vulnerable, akin to sending a postcard for anyone to read.
  • Unsecured Authentication Processes: Some apps overlook secure authentication processes, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), making it easier for attackers to gain unauthorized access with compromised passwords.
  • Failure to Implement Session Management: Poor session management practices, like not expiring sessions after inactivity, expose users to session hijacking and related attacks.

Real World Example:

Consider a widely used mobile banking application that, due to improper credential usage, fell victim to a sophisticated cyberattack. In this scenario, the app stored user credentials locally on devices without employing robust encryption measures. A skilled attacker exploited this vulnerability by gaining access to a user’s smartphone through a seemingly harmless app downloaded from an unofficial source.

Once inside the device, the attacker easily located and extracted the stored credentials from the banking app. These credentials, now in the hands of the cybercriminal, were used to initiate unauthorized transactions, transferring funds from the user’s account to offshore destinations.

The lack of proper encryption not only facilitated the extraction of sensitive information but also enabled the attacker to manipulate the app’s functionalities. The breach went undetected for an extended period, during which the cybercriminal continued to exploit the compromised credentials, causing substantial financial losses to multiple users.

As news of the security breach surfaced, the affected app faced severe backlash from users, financial institutions, and regulatory bodies. The fallout extended beyond monetary losses, impacting the app’s reputation and user trust. Users, now wary of the app’s security, questioned the developer’s commitment to protecting their financial information, leading to a significant decline in user adoption and increased churn rates.

Why Existing Tools Fail to Protect Against Improper Credential Usage?

Traditional security tools may fall short in preventing improper credential usage due to:

Lack of Focus on Mobile App-Specific Threats: Many existing tools are designed for general web applications and may not adequately address the unique security challenges posed by mobile apps.

Limited Credential Management Capabilities: Tools may not provide comprehensive solutions for secure credential storage, password policy enforcement, and encryption in the mobile app environment.

Incompatibility with Mobile Authentication Standards: Some tools may not seamlessly integrate with or support modern mobile authentication standards, leaving vulnerabilities unaddressed.

How to Protect Your Mobile App Against Improper Credential Usage Attacks?

Developers can fortify their apps by:

  • Implementing Robust Encryption: Ensure that sensitive data, including credentials, is transmitted and stored using strong encryption methods.
  • Enforcing Strong Password Policies: Require users to create complex passwords and regularly update them to mitigate the risk of brute force attacks.
  • Embracing Secure Authentication Methods: Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security beyond passwords.
  • Improving Session Management: Implement secure session management practices, including session expiration after a period of inactivity, to prevent session hijacking.
  • Regular Security Audits: Conduct regular security audits to identify and address vulnerabilities proactively.

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion, the evolving landscape of mobile applications demands heightened attention to the security of user credentials. As smartphones become an integral part of our daily lives, the responsibility falls squarely on app developers to fortify their defences against potential threats. Recognizing that improper credential usage represents a significant vulnerability, developers must not only acknowledge the risks but also take proactive steps to mitigate them.


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