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iOS Code Quality and Build Settings


App Signing

Code signing your app assures users that the app has a known source and hasn't been modified since it was last signed. Before your app can integrate app services, be installed on a non-jailbroken device, or be submitted to the App Store, it must be signed with a certificate issued by Apple. For more information on how to request certificates and code sign your apps, review the App Distribution Guide.

Third-Party Libraries

iOS applications often make use of third party libraries which accelerate development as the developer has to write less code in order to solve a problem. However, third party libraries may contain vulnerabilities, incompatible licensing, or malicious content. Additionally, it is difficult for organizations and developers to manage application dependencies, including monitoring library releases and applying available security patches.

There are three widely used package management tools Swift Package Manager, Carthage, and CocoaPods:

  • The Swift Package Manager is open source, included with the Swift language, integrated into Xcode (since Xcode 11) and supports Swift, Objective-C, Objective-C++, C, and C++ packages. It is written in Swift, decentralized and uses the Package.swift file to document and manage project dependencies.
  • Carthage is open source and can be used for Swift and Objective-C packages. It is written in Swift, decentralized and uses the Cartfile file to document and manage project dependencies.
  • CocoaPods is open source and can be used for Swift and Objective-C packages. It is written in Ruby, utilizes a centralized package registry for public and private packages and uses the Podfile file to document and manage project dependencies.

There are two categories of libraries:

  • Libraries that are not (or should not) be packed within the actual production application, such as OHHTTPStubs used for testing.
  • Libraries that are packed within the actual production application, such as Alamofire.

These libraries can lead to unwanted side-effects:

  • A library can contain a vulnerability, which will make the application vulnerable. A good example is AFNetworking version 2.5.1, which contained a bug that disabled certificate validation. This vulnerability would allow attackers to execute man-in-the-middle attacks against apps that are using the library to connect to their APIs.
  • A library can no longer be maintained or hardly be used, which is why no vulnerabilities are reported and/or fixed. This can lead to having bad and/or vulnerable code in your application through the library.
  • A library can use a license, such as LGPL2.1, which requires the application author to provide access to the source code for those who use the application and request insight in its sources. In fact the application should then be allowed to be redistributed with modifications to its source code. This can endanger the intellectual property (IP) of the application.

Please note that this issue can hold on multiple levels: When you use webviews with JavaScript running in the webview, the JavaScript libraries can have these issues as well. The same holds for plugins/libraries for Cordova, React-native and Xamarin apps.

Memory Corruption Bugs

iOS applications have various ways to run into memory corruption bugs: first there are the native code issues which have been mentioned in the general Memory Corruption Bugs section. Next, there are various unsafe operations with both Objective-C and Swift to actually wrap around native code which can create issues. Last, both Swift and Objective-C implementations can result in memory leaks due to retaining objects which are no longer in use.

Learn more:

Binary Protection Mechanisms

Detecting the presence of binary protection mechanisms heavily depend on the language used for developing the application.

Although Xcode enables all binary security features by default, it may be relevant to verify this for old applications or to check for compiler flag misconfigurations. The following features are applicable:

Learn more:

Tests to detect the presence of these protection mechanisms heavily depend on the language used for developing the application. For example, existing techniques for detecting the presence of stack canaries do not work for pure Swift apps.

Xcode Project Settings

Stack Canary protection

Steps for enabling stack canary protection in an iOS application:

  1. In Xcode, select your target in the "Targets" section, then click the "Build Settings" tab to view the target's settings.
  2. Make sure that the "-fstack-protector-all" option is selected in the "Other C Flags" section.
  3. Make sure that Position Independent Executables (PIE) support is enabled.
PIE protection

Steps for building an iOS application as PIE:

  1. In Xcode, select your target in the "Targets" section, then click the "Build Settings" tab to view the target's settings.
  2. Set the iOS Deployment Target to iOS 4.3 or later.
  3. Make sure that "Generate Position-Dependent Code" (section "Apple Clang - Code Generation") is set to its default value ("NO").
  4. Make sure that "Generate Position-Dependent Executable" (section "Linking") is set to its default value ("NO").
ARC protection

ARC is automatically enabled for Swift apps by the swiftc compiler. However, for Objective-C apps you'll have ensure that it's enabled by following these steps:

  1. In Xcode, select your target in the "Targets" section, then click the "Build Settings" tab to view the target's settings.
  2. Make sure that "Objective-C Automatic Reference Counting" is set to its default value ("YES").

See the Technical Q&A QA1788 Building a Position Independent Executable.

Debuggable Apps

Apps can be made debuggable by adding the get-task-allow key to the app entitlements file and setting it to true.

While debugging is a useful feature when developing an app, it has to be turned off before releasing apps to the App Store or within an enterprise program. To do that you need to determine the mode in which your app is to be generated to check the flags in the environment:

  • Select the build settings of the project
  • Under 'Apple LVM - Preprocessing' and 'Preprocessor Macros', make sure 'DEBUG' or 'DEBUG_MODE' is not selected (Objective-C)
  • Make sure that the "Debug executable" option is not selected.
  • Or in the 'Swift Compiler - Custom Flags' section / 'Other Swift Flags', make sure the '-D DEBUG' entry does not exist.

Debugging Symbols

As a good practice, as little explanatory information as possible should be provided with a compiled binary. The presence of additional metadata such as debug symbols might provide valuable information about the code, e.g. function names leaking information about what a function does. This metadata is not required to execute the binary and thus it is safe to discard it for the release build, which can be done by using proper compiler configurations. As a tester you should inspect all binaries delivered with the app and ensure that no debugging symbols are present (at least those revealing any valuable information about the code).

When an iOS application is compiled, the compiler generates a list of debug symbols for each binary file in an app (the main app executable, frameworks, and app extensions). These symbols include class names, global variables, and method and function names which are mapped to specific files and line numbers where they're defined. Debug builds of an app place the debug symbols in a compiled binary by default, while release builds of an app place them in a companion Debug Symbol file (dSYM) to reduce the size of the distributed app.

Debugging Code and Error Logging

To speed up verification and get a better understanding of errors, developers often include debugging code, such as verbose logging statements (using NSLog, println, print, dump, and debugPrint) about responses from their APIs and about their application's progress and/or state. Furthermore, there may be debugging code for "management-functionality", which is used by developers to set the application's state or mock responses from an API. Reverse engineers can easily use this information to track what's happening with the application. Therefore, debugging code should be removed from the application's release version.

Exception Handling

Exceptions often occur after an application enters an abnormal or erroneous state. Testing exception handling is about making sure that the application will handle the exception and get into a safe state without exposing any sensitive information via its logging mechanisms or the UI.

Bear in mind that exception handling in Objective-C is quite different from exception handling in Swift. Bridging the two approaches in an application that is written in both legacy Objective-C code and Swift code can be problematic.

Exception Handling in Objective-C

Objective-C has two types of errors:


NSException is used to handle programming and low-level errors (e.g., division by 0 and out-of-bounds array access). An NSException can either be raised by raise or thrown with @throw. Unless caught, this exception will invoke the unhandled exception handler, with which you can log the statement (logging will halt the program). @catch allows you to recover from the exception if you're using a @try-@catch-block:

 @try {
    //do work here

@catch (NSException *e) {
    //recover from exception

@finally {

Bear in mind that using NSException comes with memory management pitfalls: you need to clean up allocations from the try block that are in the finally block. Note that you can promote NSException objects to NSError by instantiating an NSError in the @catch block.


NSError is used for all other types of errors. Some Cocoa framework APIs provide errors as objects in their failure callback in case something goes wrong; those that don't provide them pass a pointer to an NSError object by reference. It is a good practice to provide a BOOL return type to the method that takes a pointer to an NSError object to indicate success or failure. If there's a return type, make sure to return nil for errors. If NO or nil is returned, it allows you to inspect the error/reason for failure.

Exception Handling in Swift

Exception handing in Swift (2 - 5) is quite different. The try-catch block is not there to handle NSException. The block is used to handle errors that conform to the Error (Swift 3) or ErrorType (Swift 2) protocol. This can be challenging when Objective-C and Swift code are combined in an application. Therefore, NSError is preferable to NSException for programs written in both languages. Furthermore, error-handling is opt-in in Objective-C, but throws must be explicitly handled in Swift. To convert error-throwing, look at the Apple documentation. Methods that can throw errors use the throws keyword. The Result type represents a success or failure, see Result, How to use Result in Swift 5 and The power of Result types in Swift. There are four ways to handle errors in Swift:

  • Propagate the error from a function to the code that calls that function. In this situation, there's no do-catch; there's only a throw throwing the actual error or a try to execute the method that throws. The method containing the try also requires the throws keyword:
func dosomething(argumentx:TypeX) throws {
    try functionThatThrows(argumentx: argumentx)
  • Handle the error with a do-catch statement. You can use the following pattern:
func doTryExample() {
    do {
        try functionThatThrows(number: 203)
    } catch NumberError.lessThanZero {
        // Handle number is less than zero
    } catch let NumberError.tooLarge(delta) {
        // Handle number is too large (with delta value)
    } catch {
        // Handle any other errors

enum NumberError: Error {
    case lessThanZero
    case tooLarge(Int)
    case tooSmall(Int)

func functionThatThrows(number: Int) throws -> Bool {
    if number < 0 {
        throw NumberError.lessThanZero
    } else if number < 10 {
        throw NumberError.tooSmall(10 - number)
    } else if number > 100 {
        throw NumberError.tooLarge(100 - number)
    } else {
        return true
  • Handle the error as an optional value:
    let x = try? functionThatThrows()
    // In this case the value of x is nil in case of an error.
  • Use the try! expression to assert that the error won't occur.
  • Handle the generic error as a Result return:
enum ErrorType: Error {
    case typeOne
    case typeTwo

func functionWithResult(param: String?) -> Result<String, ErrorType> {
    guard let value = param else {
        return .failure(.typeOne)
    return .success(value)

func callResultFunction() {
    let result = functionWithResult(param: "OWASP")

    switch result {
    case let .success(value):
        // Handle success
    case let .failure(error):
        // Handle failure (with error)
  • Handle network and JSON decoding errors with a Result type:
struct MSTG: Codable {
    var root: String
    var plugins: [String]
    var structure: MSTGStructure
    var title: String
    var language: String
    var description: String

struct MSTGStructure: Codable {
    var readme: String

enum RequestError: Error {
    case requestError(Error)
    case noData
    case jsonError

func getMSTGInfo() {
    guard let url = URL(string: "") else {

    request(url: url) { result in
        switch result {
        case let .success(data):
            // Handle success with MSTG data
            let mstgTitle = data.title
            let mstgDescription = data.description
        case let .failure(error):
            // Handle failure
            switch error {
            case let .requestError(error):
                // Handle request error (with error)
            case .noData:
                // Handle no data received in response
            case .jsonError:
                // Handle error parsing JSON

func request(url: URL, completion: @escaping (Result<MSTG, RequestError>) -> Void) {
    let task = URLSession.shared.dataTask(with: url) { data, _, error in
        if let error = error {
            return completion(.failure(.requestError(error)))
        } else {
            if let data = data {
                let decoder = JSONDecoder()
                guard let response = try? decoder.decode(MSTG.self, from: data) else {
                    return completion(.failure(.jsonError))
                return completion(.success(response))

Making Sure that the App Is Properly Signed (MSTG-CODE-1)

Static Analysis

You have to ensure that the app is using the latest code signature format. You can retrieve the signing certificate information from the application's .app file with codesign. Codesign is used to create, check, and display code signatures, as well as inquire into the dynamic status of signed code in the system.

After you get the application's IPA file, re-save it as a ZIP file and decompress the ZIP file. Navigate to the Payload directory, where the application's .app file will be.

Execute the following codesign command to display the signing information:

$ codesign -dvvv
Format=app bundle with Mach-O universal (armv7 arm64)
CodeDirectory v=20200 size=154808 flags=0x0(none) hashes=4830+5 location=embedded
Hash type=sha256 size=32
CandidateCDHash sha1=455758418a5f6a878bb8fdb709ccfca52c0b5b9e
CandidateCDHash sha256=fd44efd7d03fb03563b90037f92b6ffff3270c46
Hash choices=sha1,sha256
Signature size=4678
Authority=iPhone Distribution: Example Ltd
Authority=Apple Worldwide Developer Relations Certification Authority
Authority=Apple Root CA
Signed Time=4 Aug 2017, 12:42:52
Info.plist entries=66
Sealed Resources version=2 rules=12 files=1410
Internal requirements count=1 size=176

There are various ways to distribute your app as described at the Apple documentation, which include using the App Store or via Apple Business Manager for custom or in-house distribution. In case of an in-house distribution scheme, make sure that no ad hoc certificates are used when the app is signed for distribution.

Testing whether the App is Debuggable (MSTG-CODE-2)

Static Analysis

Inspect the app entitlements and check the value of get-task-allow key. If it is set to true, the app is debuggable.

Using codesign:

$ codesign -d --entitlements -

    [Key] application-identifier
        [String] TNAJ496RHB.OWASP.iGoat-Swift
        [String] TNAJ496RHB
    [Key] get-task-allow
        [Bool] true
    [Key] keychain-access-groups
            [String] TNAJ496RHB.OWASP.iGoat-Swift

Using ldid:

$ ldid -e

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">

Dynamic Analysis

Check whether you can attach a debugger directly, using Xcode. Next, check if you can debug the app on a jailbroken device after Clutching it. This is done using the debug-server which comes from the BigBoss repository at Cydia.

Note: if the application is equipped with anti-reverse engineering controls, then the debugger can be detected and stopped.

Testing for Debugging Symbols (MSTG-CODE-3)

Static Analysis

To verify the existence of debug symbols you can use objdump from binutils or llvm-objdump to inspect all of the app binaries.

In the following snippet we run objdump over TargetApp (the iOS main app executable) to show the typical output of a binary containing debug symbols which are marked with the d (debug) flag. Check the objdump man page for information about various other symbol flag characters.

$ objdump --syms TargetApp

0000000100007dc8 l    d  *UND* -[ViewController handleSubmitButton:]
000000010000809c l    d  *UND* -[ViewController touchesBegan:withEvent:]
0000000100008158 l    d  *UND* -[ViewController viewDidLoad]
000000010000916c l    d  *UND* _disable_gdb
00000001000091d8 l    d  *UND* _detect_injected_dylds
00000001000092a4 l    d  *UND* _isDebugged

To prevent the inclusion of debug symbols, set Strip Debug Symbols During Copy to YES via the XCode project's build settings. Stripping debugging symbols will not only reduce the size of the binary but also increase the difficulty of reverse engineering.

Dynamic Analysis

Dynamic analysis is not applicable for finding debugging symbols.

Testing for Debugging Code and Verbose Error Logging (MSTG-CODE-4)

Static Analysis

You can take the following static analysis approach for the logging statements:

  1. Import the application's code into Xcode.
  2. Search the code for the following printing functions: NSLog, println, print, dump, debugPrint.
  3. When you find one of them, determine whether the developers used a wrapping function around the logging function for better mark up of the statements to be logged; if so, add that function to your search.
  4. For every result of steps 2 and 3, determine whether macros or debug-state related guards have been set to turn the logging off in the release build. Please note the change in how Objective-C can use preprocessor macros:
#ifdef DEBUG
    // Debug-only code

The procedure for enabling this behavior in Swift has changed: you need to either set environment variables in your scheme or set them as custom flags in the target's build settings. Please note that the following functions (which allow you to determine whether the app was built in the Swift 2.1. release-configuration) aren't recommended, as Xcode 8 and Swift 3 don't support these functions:

  • _isDebugAssertConfiguration
  • _isReleaseAssertConfiguration
  • _isFastAssertConfiguration.

Depending on the application's setup, there may be more logging functions. For example, when CocoaLumberjack is used, static analysis is a bit different.

For the "debug-management" code (which is built-in): inspect the storyboards to see whether there are any flows and/or view-controllers that provide functionality different from the functionality the application should support. This functionality can be anything from debug views to printed error messages, from custom stub-response configurations to logs written to files on the application's file system or a remote server.

As a developer, incorporating debug statements into your application's debug version should not be a problem as long as you make sure that the debug statements are never present in the application's release version.

In Objective-C, developers can use preprocessor macros to filter out debug code:

#ifdef DEBUG
    // Debug-only code

In Swift 2 (with Xcode 7), you have to set custom compiler flags for every target, and compiler flags have to start with "-D". So you can use the following annotations when the debug flag DMSTG-DEBUG is set:

    // Debug-only code

In Swift 3 (with Xcode 8), you can set Active Compilation Conditions in Build settings/Swift compiler - Custom flags. Instead of a preprocessor, Swift 3 uses conditional compilation blocks based on the defined conditions:

    // Debug-only code

Dynamic Analysis

Dynamic analysis should be executed on both a simulator and a device because developers sometimes use target-based functions (instead of functions based on a release/debug-mode) to execute the debugging code.

  1. Run the application on a simulator and check for output in the console during the app's execution.
  2. Attach a device to your Mac, run the application on the device via Xcode, and check for output in the console during the app's execution.

For the other "manager-based" debug code: click through the application on both a simulator and a device to see if you can find any functionality that allows an app's profiles to be pre-set, allows the actual server to be selected or allows responses from the API to be selected.

Checking for Weaknesses in Third Party Libraries (MSTG-CODE-5)

Static Analysis

Detecting vulnerabilities of third party libraries

In order to ensure that the libraries used by the apps are not carrying vulnerabilities, one can best check the dependencies installed by CocoaPods or Carthage.

Swift Package Manager

In case Swift Package Manager is used for managing third party dependencies, the following steps can be taken to analyze the third party libraries for vulnerabilities:

First, at the root of the project, where the Package.swift file is located, type

swift build

Next, check the file Package.resolved for the actual versions used and inspect the given libraries for known vulnerabilities.

You can utilize the OWASP Dependency-Check's experimental Swift Package Manager Analyzer to identify the Common Platform Enumeration (CPE) naming scheme of all dependencies and any corresponding Common Vulnerability and Exposure (CVE) entries. Scan the application's Package.swift file and generate a report of known vulnerable libraries with the following command:

dependency-check  --enableExperimental --out . --scan Package.swift

In case CocoaPods is used for managing third party dependencies, the following steps can be taken to analyze the third party libraries for vulnerabilities.

First, at the root of the project, where the Podfile is located, execute the following commands:

sudo gem install cocoapods
pod install

Next, now that the dependency tree has been built, you can create an overview of the dependencies and their versions by running the following commands:

sudo gem install cocoapods-dependencies
pod dependencies

The result of the steps above can now be used as input for searching different vulnerability feeds for known vulnerabilities.


  1. If the developer packs all dependencies in terms of its own support library using a .podspec file, then this .podspec file can be checked with the experimental CocoaPods podspec checker.
  2. If the project uses CocoaPods in combination with Objective-C, SourceClear can be used.
  3. Using CocoaPods with HTTP-based links instead of HTTPS might allow for man-in-the-middle attacks during the download of the dependency, allowing an attacker to replace (parts of) the library with other content. Therefore, always use HTTPS.

You can utilize the OWASP Dependency-Check's experimental CocoaPods Analyzer to identify the Common Platform Enumeration (CPE) naming scheme of all dependencies and any corresponding Common Vulnerability and Exposure (CVE) entries. Scan the application's *.podspec and/or Podfile.lock files and generate a report of known vulnerable libraries with the following command:

dependency-check  --enableExperimental --out . --scan Podfile.lock

In case Carthage is used for third party dependencies, then the following steps can be taken to analyze the third party libraries for vulnerabilities.

First, at the root of the project, where the Cartfile is located, type

brew install carthage
carthage update --platform iOS

Next, check the Cartfile.resolved for actual versions used and inspect the given libraries for known vulnerabilities.

Note, at the time of writing this chapter, there is no automated support for Carthage based dependency analysis known to the authors. At least, this feature was already requested for the OWASP DependencyCheck tool but not yet implemented (see the GitHub issue).

Discovered library vulnerabilities

When a library is found to contain vulnerabilities, then the following reasoning applies:

  • Is the library packaged with the application? Then check whether the library has a version in which the vulnerability is patched. If not, check whether the vulnerability actually affects the application. If that is the case or might be the case in the future, then look for an alternative which provides similar functionality, but without the vulnerabilities.
  • Is the library not packaged with the application? See if there is a patched version in which the vulnerability is fixed. If this is not the case, check if the implications of the vulnerability for the build process. Could the vulnerability impede a build or weaken the security of the build-pipeline? Then try looking for an alternative in which the vulnerability is fixed.

In case frameworks are added manually as linked libraries:

  1. Open the xcodeproj file and check the project properties.
  2. Go to the tab Build Phases and check the entries in Link Binary With Libraries for any of the libraries. See earlier sections on how to obtain similar information using MobSF.

In the case of copy-pasted sources: search the header files (in case of using Objective-C) and otherwise the Swift files for known method names for known libraries.

Next, note that for hybrid applications, you will have to check the JavaScript dependencies with RetireJS. Similarly for Xamarin, you will have to check the C# dependencies.

Last, if the application is a high-risk application, you will end up vetting the library manually. In that case there are specific requirements for native code, which are similar to the requirements established by the MASVS for the application as a whole. Next to that, it is good to vet whether all best practices for software engineering are applied.

Dynamic Analysis

The dynamic analysis of this section comprises of two parts: the actual license verification and checking which libraries are involved in case of missing sources.

It need to be validated whether the copyrights of the licenses have been adhered to. This often means that the application should have an about or EULA section in which the copy-right statements are noted as required by the license of the third party library.

Listing Application Libraries

When performing app analysis, it is important to also analyze the app dependencies (usually in form of libraries or so-called iOS Frameworks) and ensure that they don't contain any vulnerabilities. Even when you don't have the source code, you can still identify some of the app dependencies using tools like objection, MobSF or the otool -L command. Objection is the recommended tool, since it provides the most accurate results and it is easy to use. It contains a module to work with iOS Bundles, which offers two commands: list_bundles and list_frameworks.

The list_bundles command lists all of the application’s bundles that are not related to Frameworks. The output contains executable name, bundle id, version of the library and path to the library.

...itudehacks.DVIAswiftv2.develop on (iPhone: 13.2.3) [usb] # ios bundles list_bundles
Executable    Bundle                                       Version  Path
------------  -----------------------------------------  ---------  -------------------------------------------
DVIA-v2       com.highaltitudehacks.DVIAswiftv2.develop          2  ...-1F0C-4DB1-8C39-04ACBFFEE7C8/
CoreGlyphs                               1  ...m/Library/CoreServices/CoreGlyphs.bundle

The list_frameworks command lists all of the application’s bundles that represent Frameworks.

...itudehacks.DVIAswiftv2.develop on (iPhone: 13.2.3) [usb] # ios bundles list_frameworks
Executable      Bundle                                     Version    Path
--------------  -----------------------------------------  ---------  -------------------------------------------
Bolts           org.cocoapods.Bolts                        1.9.0      ...8/
RealmSwift      org.cocoapods.RealmSwift                   4.1.1

Testing Exception Handling (MSTG-CODE-6)

Static Analysis

Review the source code to understand how the application handles various types of errors (IPC communications, remote services invocation, etc.). The following sections list examples of what you should check for each language at this stage.

Static Analysis in Objective-C

Make sure that

  • the application uses a well-designed and unified scheme to handle exceptions and errors,
  • the Cocoa framework exceptions are handled correctly,
  • the allocated memory in the @try blocks is released in the @finally blocks,
  • for every @throw, the calling method has a proper @catch at the level of either the calling method or the NSApplication/UIApplication objects to clean up sensitive information and possibly recover,
  • the application doesn't expose sensitive information while handling errors in its UI or in its log statements, and the statements are verbose enough to explain the issue to the user,
  • high-risk applications' confidential information, such as keying material and authentication information, is always wiped during the execution of @finally blocks,
  • raise is rarely used (it's used when the program must be terminated without further warning),
  • NSError objects don't contain data that might leak sensitive information.

Static Analysis in Swift

Make sure that

  • the application uses a well-designed and unified scheme to handle errors,
  • the application doesn't expose sensitive information while handling errors in its UI or in its log statements, and the statements are verbose enough to explain the issue to the user,
  • high-risk applications' confidential information, such as keying material and authentication information, is always wiped during the execution of defer blocks,
  • try! is used only with proper guarding up front (to programmatically verify that the method that's called with try! can't throw an error).

Proper Error Handling

Developers can implement proper error handling in several ways:

  • Make sure that the application uses a well-designed and unified scheme to handle errors.
  • Make sure that all logging is removed or guarded as described in the test case "Testing for Debugging Code and Verbose Error Logging".
  • For a high-risk application written in Objective-C: create an exception handler that removes secrets that shouldn't be easily retrievable. The handler can be set via NSSetUncaughtExceptionHandler.
  • Refrain from using try! in Swift unless you're certain that there's no error in the throwing method that's being called.
  • Make sure that the Swift error doesn't propagate into too many intermediate methods.

Dynamic Testing

There are several dynamic analysis methods:

  • Enter unexpected values in the iOS application's UI fields.
  • Test the custom URL schemes, pasteboard, and other inter-app communication controls by providing unexpected or exception-raising values.
  • Tamper with the network communication and/or the files stored by the application.
  • For Objective-C, you can use Cycript to hook into methods and provide them arguments that may cause the callee to throw an exception.

In most cases, the application should not crash. Instead, it should

  • recover from the error or enter a state from which it can inform the user that it can't continue,
  • provide a message (which shouldn't leak sensitive information) to get the user to take appropriate action,
  • withhold information from the application's logging mechanisms.

Memory Corruption Bugs (MSTG-CODE-8)

Static Analysis

Are there native code parts? If so: check for the given issues in the general memory corruption section. Native code is a little harder to spot when compiled. If you have the sources then you can see that C files use .c source files and .h header files and C++ uses .cpp files and .h files. This is a little different from the .swift and the .m source files for Swift and Objective-C. These files can be part of the sources, or part of third party libraries, registered as frameworks and imported through various tools, such as Carthage, the Swift Package Manager or Cocoapods.

For any managed code (Objective-C / Swift) in the project, check the following items:

  • The doubleFree issue: when free is called twice for a given region instead of once.
  • Retaining cycles: look for cyclic dependencies by means of strong references of components to one another which keep materials in memory.
  • Using instances of UnsafePointer can be managed wrongly, which will allow for various memory corruption issues.
  • Trying to manage the reference count to an object by Unmanaged manually, leading to wrong counter numbers and a too late/too soon release.

A great talk is given on this subject at Realm academy and a nice tutorial to see what is actually happening is provided by Ray Wenderlich on this subject.

Please note that with Swift 5 you can only deallocate full blocks, which means the playground has changed a bit.

Dynamic Analysis

There are various tools provided which help to identify memory bugs within Xcode, such as the Debug Memory graph introduced in Xcode 8 and the Allocations and Leaks instrument in Xcode.

Next, you can check whether memory is freed too fast or too slow by enabling NSAutoreleaseFreedObjectCheckEnabled, NSZombieEnabled, NSDebugEnabled in Xcode while testing the application.

There are various well written explanations which can help with taking care of memory management. These can be found in the reference list of this chapter.

Make Sure That Free Security Features Are Activated (MSTG-CODE-9)

Static Analysis

You can use otool to check the binary security features described above. All the features are enabled in these examples.

  • PIE:

    $ unzip DamnVulnerableiOSApp.ipa
    $ cd Payload/
    $ otool -hv DamnVulnerableIOSApp
    DamnVulnerableIOSApp (architecture armv7):
    Mach header
    magic cputype cpusubtype caps filetype ncmds sizeofcmds flags
    DamnVulnerableIOSApp (architecture arm64):
    Mach header
    magic cputype cpusubtype caps filetype ncmds sizeofcmds flags

    The output shows that the Mach-O flag for PIE is set. This check is applicable to all - Objective-C, Swift and hybrid apps but only to the main executable.

  • Stack canary:

    $ otool -Iv DamnVulnerableIOSApp | grep stack
    0x0046040c 83177 ___stack_chk_fail
    0x0046100c 83521 _sigaltstack
    0x004fc010 83178 ___stack_chk_guard
    0x004fe5c8 83177 ___stack_chk_fail
    0x004fe8c8 83521 _sigaltstack
    0x00000001004b3fd8 83077 ___stack_chk_fail
    0x00000001004b4890 83414 _sigaltstack
    0x0000000100590cf0 83078 ___stack_chk_guard
    0x00000001005937f8 83077 ___stack_chk_fail
    0x0000000100593dc8 83414 _sigaltstack

    In the above output, the presence of __stack_chk_fail indicates that stack canaries are being used. This check is applicable to pure Objective-C and hybrid apps, but not necessarily to pure Swift apps (i.e. it is OK if it's shown as disabled because Swift is memory safe by design).

  • ARC:

    $ otool -Iv DamnVulnerableIOSApp | grep release
    0x0045b7dc 83156 ___cxa_guard_release
    0x0045fd5c 83414 _objc_autorelease
    0x0045fd6c 83415 _objc_autoreleasePoolPop
    0x0045fd7c 83416 _objc_autoreleasePoolPush
    0x0045fd8c 83417 _objc_autoreleaseReturnValue
    0x0045ff0c 83441 _objc_release

    This check is applicable to all cases, including pure Swift apps where it's automatically enabled.

Dynamic Analysis

These checks can be performed dynamically using objection. Here's one example:

com.yourcompany.PPClient on (iPhone: 13.2.3) [usb] # ios info binary
Name                  Type     Encrypted    PIE    ARC    Canary    Stack Exec    RootSafe
--------------------  -------  -----------  -----  -----  --------  ------------  ----------
PayPal                execute  True         True   True   True      False         False
CardinalMobile        dylib    False        False  True   True      False         False
FraudForce            dylib    False        False  True   True      False         False



  • MSTG-CODE-1: "The app is signed and provisioned with a valid certificate, of which the private key is properly protected."
  • MSTG-CODE-2: "The app has been built in release mode, with settings appropriate for a release build (e.g. non-debuggable)."
  • MSTG-CODE-3: "Debugging symbols have been removed from native binaries."
  • MSTG-CODE-4: "Debugging code and developer assistance code (e.g. test code, backdoors, hidden settings) have been removed. The app does not log verbose errors or debugging messages."
  • MSTG-CODE-5: "All third party components used by the mobile app, such as libraries and frameworks, are identified, and checked for known vulnerabilities."
  • MSTG-CODE-6: "The app catches and handles possible exceptions."
  • MSTG-CODE-8: "In unmanaged code, memory is allocated, freed and used securely."
  • MSTG-CODE-9: "Free security features offered by the toolchain, such as byte-code minification, stack protection, PIE support and automatic reference counting, are activated."