News Advisory: November 18, 2013

HP Research Reveals Nine out of 10 Mobile Applications Vulnerable to Attack

NEW YORK — HP today released results from a research study revealing that mobile applications represent a real security threat, with vulnerabilities affecting nine out of 10 mobile applications published by a representative sample of companies on the Forbes Global 2000.

According to the study, 97 percent of the mobile applications tested accessed at least one private information source within a device, and 86 percent of those applications did not have adequate security measures in place to protect them from the most common exploits.

As computing becomes borderless, adversaries are increasingly bypassing perimeter security with ease and taking advantage of vulnerabilities brought on by the growing number of applications and entry points. According to Gartner, Inc., mobile app stores will see annual downloads reach 102 billion in 2013, up from 64 billion in 2012.(1) This spike in demand is pushing business managers to dramatically increase the speed at which they deploy mobile applications, and driving more of the development to third parties. This results in less oversight of security, and emphasizes the need for a mobile security strategy that enables businesses to go from “fast to market” to “secure and fast to market.”

“While mobile devices are becoming more and more critical to conducting business, they are also becoming prime targets for attack, with vulnerable applications providing access to sensitive data,” said Mike Armistead, vice president and general manager, Enterprise Security Products, Fortify, HP. “Mobile applications now are the first line of defense against the adversary and organizations must be equipped to assess, assure and protect these applications to prevent damage from exploits.”

Sensitive corporate data and personal information are often housed side by side on insecure devices. This introduces unnecessary vulnerabilities that can be easily resolved if they are identified and addressed. The HP research study leveraged HP Fortify on Demand to scan more than 2,100 mobile applications from more than 600 companies, revealing alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack.

The most common and easily addressable vulnerability sources reported include:

  • Privacy issues: Of 2,107 mobile applications scanned, 97 percent accessed private data sources including personal address books, social media pages and connectivity options like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Of those applications, 86 percent did not have adequate security measures in place to protect them from the most common exploits, such as misuse of unencrypted data, cross-site scripting and insecure transmission of data.
  • Lack of binary protections: 86 percent of applications tested lacked binary hardening, leaving applications vulnerable to information disclosure, buffer overflows and poor performance. To ensure security throughout the life cycle of the application, it is essential to build in the best security practices from conception.
  • Insecure data storage: 75 percent of applications did not use proper encryption techniques when storing data on mobile devices, which leaves unencrypted data accessible to an attacker. This data includes passwords, personal information, session tokens, documents, chat logs and photos. Unencrypted data that is seen and used by a malicious attacker can violate numerous corporate governance policies as well as compromise the reputation of the enterprise if sensitive trade secrets are leaked to competitors, the media or any other variety of recipients with negative consequences.
  • Transport security: 18 percent of applications tested sent user names and passwords over HTTP. Of the remaining 82 percent, 18 percent incorrectly implemented SSL/HTTPS. These unprotected credentials are typically used not only for the mobile applications but also by their web application counterparts. This further compounds the issue, since malicious attackers on the same network could then sniff that data.

Laying the groundwork for a basic mobile application security strategy allows organizations to identify vulnerabilities before they are exploited. Nearly all vulnerabilities can be found and remediated by simply running a security assessment test before releasing or procuring a mobile application. This can identify the most common vulnerabilities and assess whether data is being passed maliciously or stored insecurely. HP Fortify on Demand for Mobile enables organizations to assess vulnerabilities across mobile applications, assure security flaws are resolved before deployment, and protect applications from attacks once in production.

“Software development is not a perfect science—but it was imperative that we had a robust security assurance process in place to protect our credit union members,” said Atul Varde, SVP and CIO, Affinity Credit Union. “With emerging technologies such as mobile applications, where things are changing at a very rapid pace, the sort of independent experience and oversight that HP Fortify on Demand provides makes the whole process more secure.”


Conducted by HP Security Research (HPSR), the mobile application security study tested the security posture of 2,107 applications published by 601 companies on the Forbes Global 2000. The companies represented 50 countries across 76 industries. Applications were selected from 22 categories such as productivity and social networking, and were tested using the HP Fortify on Demand automated binary and dynamic analysis engine. Application testing was conducted during October and November 2013.

Additional information about mobile application security and further details resulting from the study are available at

(1) Gartner  Press Release;  Gartner Says Mobile App Stores Will See Annual Downloads Reach 102 Billion in 2013, September 2013

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