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Motivation

Diving straight into reverse-engineering iOS apps can be daunting and time-consuming. While wading into the binary can pay off greatly in the long run, it's also useful to start off with the easy wins, especially when you have limited time and resources. One such easy win is hunting login credentials and API keys in iOS applications.

Most iOS applications use third-party APIs and SDKs such as Twitter, Amazon Web Services, and so on. Interacting with these APIs require API keys which are used (and thus stored) in the app itself. A careless developer could easily leak keys with too many privileges or keys that were never meant to be stored on the client-side in the first place.

What makes finding them an easy win? As described by top iOS developer Mattt Thompson:

There’s no way to secure secrets stored on the client. Once someone can run your software on their own device, it’s game over.

And maintaining a secure, closed communications channel between client and server incurs an immense amount of operational complexity — assuming it’s possible in the first place.

He also tells us that:

Another paper published in 2018 found SDK credential misuse in 68 out of a sample of 100 popular iOS apps. (Wen, Li, Zhang, & Gu, 2018)

Until APIs and developers come round to the fact that client secrets are insecure by design, there will always be these low-hanging vulnerabilities in iOS apps.

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