How to Protect User Privacy Through Application Hardening
Written by Amir Amitai
The cybersecurity triad consists of three parts: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. Confidentiality, often likened to privacy, perhaps looms largest in the minds of both the CISOs and consumers, as it protects sensitive information from theft. Here at Digital.ai, we prioritize preserving the confidentiality of data in applications through a method that we affectionately call “Application Hardening,” our friends at OWASP call “Resiliency”, and our many customers call “an integral part of application security.”
What is App Hardening?
App Hardening is a comprehensive protection mechanism that incorporates environment checks and tamper protection. Traditionally, its primary role is to secure applications from local attackers, those who physically possess the endpoint or device on which the attack is taking place. However, its effectiveness extends to deterring remote attackers, or attackers who use malware to perpetrate their intrusion, as well. This is partially because even a local attacker is essentially using malware to perpetrate their attack. It is also because malware capabilities need to be preemptively developed before the actual attack occurs. From the attacker’s perspective, this is the bottom line: If manipulating protected apps proves challenging in a local attack, attempting the same remotely is much more difficult.
Malware: The Silent Privacy Threat
Arguably, the most sophisticated malware acts as an extension of the attacker, replicating the same level of intrusion as if the attacker were physically holding the device in their hand. Any strategy that safeguards against local attackers inherently provides protection against remote hackers leveraging malware. Although numerous vendors have recognized the potency of app shielding for purposes such as DRM, anti-cheating, or adhering to MASVS guidelines (typically in sectors like finance and healthcare), its importance in safeguarding user privacy is often overlooked. Organizations must realize that if App Hardening can guard data from a local attacker, it significantly elevates the protections against malware.
Physical Attacks vs. Remote Attacks
A manual, physical attack could encompass techniques like debugging, instrumentation, hooks, and other tampering methods. Alarmingly, malware can replicate these very techniques. Thus, if data is securely implemented, then malware attempts to breach privacy through direct tampering are effectively thwarted.
Malware often resorts to stealing files to extract sensitive information. However, this strategy is futile against a shielded application since the data is encrypted. Furthermore, there exists an inherent vulnerability in apps – memory dumping. This activity can potentially reveal the secrets stored in memory. Fortunately, app shielding incorporates memory scanning detection, mitigating the risks associated with memory dumping. Moreover, the integration of white-box cryptography solutions ensures that even in the unlikely event of a dump, secrets and keys have a brief memory lifespan, providing an additional layer of protection.
Furthermore, app shielding is adept at identifying and thwarting code injections, a common tactic wherein attackers infuse debuggers or instrumentation tool stubs within the process. Notably, strategy is common among both physical attackers and malware.
Vendors heavily reliant on endpoint protection solutions or personal detection mechanisms often find themselves ill-equipped to combat new malware variants. This is where app shielding’s prevention-centric approach, grounded in the fundamental rules of tampering and injection protection, proves invaluable. These principles remain unchanged, irrespective of malware’s evolution.
For every strategy used by local attackers, malware has a digital counterpart. This parallel underscores the critical need for organizations to adopt and prioritize application security resiliency or app shielding. In doing so, they not only protect their applications and their Intellectual property but, equally important, safeguard their users’ privacy in a topsy-turvy digital world.
Discover how to integrate user privacy through resiliency as a part of your DevSecOps strategy in our webinar.