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iOS Application Security: Top 50 Free iPad Apps - The View From The Top Isn’t Much Better [Part 1 of 2]

Hello. I'm Tom Neaves. I recently joined SpiderLabs as a Senior Security Consultant based out of the bustling Trustwave London, UK office. I must also confess that I'm a bit of an Apple fanboy. I thought it would make sense to mix my two passions together (security and apples) to bring you a couple of blog posts.

As I'm involved in the OWASP Mobile Security Project (where we try and get our heads around mobile security issues), it's probably not surprising I carried out some research into the security of the most popular iOS applications. So, without further ado. Sit back, relax and crack open the popcorn. Here is part 1.


As of March 2012 over 25 billion applications had been downloaded from Apple's App Store. Gartner forecasts that by 2014 there will be more than 70 billion mobile application downloads from app stores (including Android) each year. With such rapid growth security has to be a concern. Mobile applications are out there which allow users to send and receive money. Such a platform is therefore ripe for criminals to target to make financial gains.

The 2012 Global Security Report showed an increasing trend of attacks against individuals. We also saw smartphone malware targeting users. Combine this with the hot topic of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) within corporate environments and it's enough to keep any CISO awake at night. BYOD reduces an organisation's control over endpoint assets that store corporate data, and further blurs the line between personal and corporate information security. Suddenly an employee innocently playing the latest version of "Incensed Piglets" (a hypothetical game) has potential security ramifications for the employer.

The Great Divide

A divide does exist between information security professionals and developers. I wrote about this in my MSc thesis many moons ago. This divide is apparent based on the number of reported vulnerabilities we are seeing in software security on a daily basis. Developers often unknowingly introduce vulnerabilities into applications because the functional aspects are most important, and non-functional security requirements are often not fully appreciated or understood. This pattern is unfortunately often repeated throughout software security and is not unique to mobile application development.

A small survey was given to around 200 developers to discover where security is prioritised. It came last, in at number 6. Not even in the top 3. Given, the small number of participants doesn't allow us to draw too many conclusions however the results from such a small sample are still interesting.

  1. Functions and features as specified or envisioned.
  2. Performance.
  3. Usability.
  4. Uptime.
  5. Maintainability.
  6. Security.

The problems of insecure applications are exacerbated due to the increased mobility of smartphones and tablets, and the consolidation of our entire work and social lives onto these single devices. These devices often go missing, are targets for being stolen, or we've also seen how their communications are targeted in franchise locations such as coffee shops and hotels, etc. The data that is stored and transmitted/received on these devices is of great value to criminals. If a developer releases a mobile application without considering security then it puts the end user's security at risk.

How widespread is the lack of security in mobile applications, particularly in the iOS stratosphere? It is difficult to tell by carrying out ad-hoc engagements. One way to answer this question would be to passively assess the security of the Top 50 Free iPad applications. So we did just that. Tune in for part 2 where we will reveal all.