Imagine your application as a secret vault—a treasure trove of valuable code and sensitive data. Now, what if I told you there are sneaky threat actors out there, just itching to break into your vault, steal your goodies, and wreak havoc? Scary, right? That’s where application hardening steps in to save the day!

Application hardening, also known as “Application Shielding” or “In-app Protection,” is like giving your application a suit of armor, complete with fancy shields and secret ninja moves. It’s all about making your app as resilient as Bruce Lee so that it can resist the relentless attacks of cunning threat actors.

So, how does this magical hardening process work? Well, it’s a two-step dance that happens after your app is built but before it hits the stage – a.k.a. production (Yes, that is a slightly annoying way of saying it is part of your DevSecOps practice). First, obfuscation comes into play. It’s like dressing up your code in a cryptic language that even Sherlock Holmes would struggle to decipher. This way, those pesky threat actors can’t peek behind the curtains and see the inner workings of your application. If you are wondering, “What are some of the types of obfuscations you can help me make to my code?” – or worse, “Hey, enough with the cute analogies and breezy language, how about some FACTS,” think control-flow flattening, function merging, calling convention transforms, and method signature unification.

But wait, there’s more! Next, we add anti-tamper techniques, which are like ninja traps strategically placed throughout your app. They sniff out any suspicious activity and raise the alarm if someone tries to tamper with your masterpiece. It’s like having a built-in security guard who knows all the tricks and won’t let anyone mess with your app. So, what’s a typical trap (aka “unsafe environment”) that we detect? Anything from a rooted/jailbroken phone to a debugger to an emulator or, worst of all, the dynamic instrumentation toolkit (FRIDA is the most famous example).

Here’s a quick rundown of what application hardening brings to the table:

  1. Binary-level code obfuscation: It’s like transforming your code into a secret language, keeping it hidden from prying eyes.
  2. Application integrity checks: These checks ensure that your app hasn’t been meddled or tampered with, thus preserving its authenticity. Think “Checksum.”
  3. Anti-tampering mechanisms: Envision these as motion sensors for your app, detecting if it’s running in a rooted or jailbroken device or worse (see above). No sneaky business allowed!
  4. Stealthy variation: By changing up the way protections are applied with each successive build, we keep the threat actors on their toes. They won’t have a clue what hit them!
  5. Runtime Application Self Protection (RASP): It’s like having a superhero sidekick who jumps into action when your app is under attack or detects a compromised device. It fights back and keeps your app safe.
  6. White-box cryptographic protection: This adds an extra layer of security by encrypting critical keys and data. It’s like hiding your secret recipe (or your private keys, as the case may be) in an unbreakable safe.

So, with application hardening, your app becomes a fortress—a formidable stronghold that repels attackers, protects your code and data, and lets you sleep soundly at night, knowing your digital baby is safe and sound. That’s the fun way to put it. The bottom line is this: Application Hardening is the process of building protections into your apps during your DevSecOps practice such that threat actors who interact with your app in the wild are frustrated by your protections to the point where they simply move on to lower-hanging fruit.

For more information, see our Interview with Information Security Media Group: Use Code Obfuscation and App Monitoring to Protect Your Apps

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