Mobile App Reverse Engineering: Tools, Tactics, and Procedures Unveiled

Mobile App Reverse Engineering: Tools, Tactics, and Procedures Unveiled

This article was originally published in the United States Cybersecurity Magazine.

Mobile app reverse engineering is a process that involves dissecting and analyzing the internal workings of a mobile application to gain insights into its structure, functionality, and security vulnerabilities. While reverse engineering can serve legitimate purposes, such as security audits and app analysis, it is crucial to approach it ethically, respecting intellectual property rights and user privacy. 

This article sheds light on the tools, tactics, and procedures employed in mobile app reverse engineering, providing an overview of the process and emphasizing responsible practices.

Tools for Mobile App Reverse Engineering

1. APKTool

A popular open-source tool for reverse engineering Android apps. It allows users to decompile, modify and recompile Android applications.


A powerful Java decompiler for Android apps that converts bytecode into readable Java source code, enabling a better understanding of an app's behavior, logic, and potential vulnerabilities. 

3. Disassemblers

A tool used to convert the compiled binary code of an iOS application into human-readable assembly code. Disassemblers allow developers and security researchers to analyze and reverse-engineer iOS applications, explore their code structure, and potentially identify vulnerabilities or modify their behavior. Some popular iOS disassemblers include:

  • IDA Pro
  • Hopper
  • Ghidra
  • Radare2 

4. Frida

A dynamic instrumentation framework for both Android and iOS applications. Frida allows analysts to inject JavaScript code into running apps, enabling runtime manipulation, function interception, and dynamic analysis.

Tactics for Mobile App Reverse Engineering

1. Decompilation

Decompiling compiled code, such as bytecode or binary, to convert it into a high-level programming language that is easier to understand. This tactic helps understand the app's source code, logic, and structure, as well as identifies any potential vulnerabilities and/or security issues.

 2. Static Analysis

Examining the app's code without executing it. By inspecting the source code or disassembled code, analysts can identify hard-coded data, third-party libraries, and their versions, application encryption, and potential security flaws.

3. Hooking and Instrumentation

Intercepting function calls and modifying or augmenting their behavior. This technique allows analysts to gain deeper insights into the app's functionality, intercept sensitive data, or attempt to modify the app's behavior for testing purposes.

Procedures for Mobile App Reverse Engineering

1. Environment Setup

Set up a suitable environment for mobile app reverse engineering, including the installation of relevant tools, virtualized, or physical devices for testing purposes.

2. App Acquisition

Obtain a copy of the target app for analysis. This may involve downloading the app from official app stores, extracting the APK file from an Android device, or acquiring an iOS app from an Apple device.

3. Decompilation, Disassembly, and Code Review

Use tools like APKTool or JADX for Android and tools like Hopper, Ghidra, and IDA Pro for iOS to decompile or disassemble the app's code and review the extracted source code for vulnerabilities, hard-coded values, or weak security implementations.

4. Static Analysis

Analyze the app's source code to understand its architecture, identify potential security flaws, identify API endpoints, and examine data handling mechanisms. Look for issues such as improper data validation, insecure data storage, or weak cryptography implementations.

5. Dynamic Analysis

Run the app on a controlled device or virtualization platform while monitoring its behavior. Use tools like Frida or debugging frameworks to intercept function calls, inspect memory, and observe network traffic for potential vulnerabilities or suspicious activity.

6. Runtime Instrumentation

Utilize tools like Frida or Xposed to dynamically modify the app's behavior during runtime. This can involve injecting custom code for function interception, data manipulation, or behavior modification for analysis purposes.

7. Vulnerability Identification

Employ various techniques, such as fuzzing, input validation, and boundary testing, to identify common security vulnerabilities like SQL injection, insecure data storage, insecure communication, or improper access control.

8. Reporting and Remediation

Document the findings, including identified vulnerabilities, weaknesses, or potential areas of improvement. Share the report with relevant stakeholders, such as developers or project managers, and provide recommendations for remediation and enhancing the app's security.

Mobile app reverse engineering is a powerful technique that can aid in security audits, app analysis, and understanding an app's functionality. It is crucial, however, to approach reverse engineering ethically and responsibly, respecting intellectual property rights and user privacy. By utilizing a combination of appropriate tools, tactics, and procedures, analysts can uncover potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses, ultimately contributing to the improvement of mobile app security and the protection of user data.

To learn more about mobile reverse engineering, check out Corellium’s webinar: “Deep Dive into Reverse Engineering on Android.”