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Exposed API Keys in Mobile Apps

Mar 27 2024
3 Mins Read
mobile application security testing

Security Insights:

Cyberheals Researchers Identify Critical Vulnerabilities in Leading Mobile Applications Using MobiHeals a SaaS Based application. In a recent breakthrough, researchers have discovered significant vulnerabilities within popular apps, leveraging their cutting-edge product to uncover API leaks, Exposed Firebase Databases as well as other critical issues.

Key Findings:

  • Cyberheals revealed that over half of the 50 examined mobile apps unintentionally exposed sensitive keys, such as Google Maps API and Firebase Database keys, within their source or configuration files.
  • This issue creates significant risks, including unauthorized access and potential financial impacts for the affected organizations.
  • Adopting secure coding practices and utilizing environment variables for storing API keys are effective strategies to prevent such.
  • The research also highlighted cases where Firebase database settings, including critical data like email addresses and phone numbers, were inadvertently accessible in JSON files.

The increasing incidence of API key leaks in mobile apps raises serious security concerns. This issue, affecting even prominent companies listed by Forbes, primarily leads to unauthorized data access and manipulation. The real danger lies in the potential misuse of these exposed keys, which can compromise sensitive data and disrupt the secure operations of financial services. Addressing these vulnerabilities is essential to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of user data and to ensure the reliable functioning of financial transactions within these applications.

The Hidden Danger: Unsecured Firebase in Mobile Apps

A growing concern in mobile application security is the exposure of Firebase databases without proper authentication. This oversight leads to the unintentional leakage of personally identifiable information (PII), configuration details, and log data. Such leaks can have significant privacy and security implications, making it essential for developers to implement stringent security measures in their apps to protect sensitive user data and maintain the integrity of their systems.


Unauthorized Access Exposure: Public or inadequately secured source code can reveal hardcoded API keys, leading to misuse or unauthorized activities.

Challenges in Key Management: Regular API key updates are crucial for security. Hardcoded keys complicate this process, requiring code changes and redeployment.

Expanded Vulnerability: Hardcoded keys in compromised applications provide an easy target for attackers, broadening the application's vulnerability.

Repository Risks: Storing API keys in code repositories increases the risk of exposure, especially in public or insecure repositories.

Compliance Concerns: Embedding API keys in source code might conflict with industry regulations, impacting compliance like GDPR & PCI DSS and audit processes.

Exposing a Firebase database can lead to several risks:

Data Breach: Unauthorized access to personal and sensitive user information.

Service Misuse: Potential misuse of the exposed database for malicious purposes.

Compliance Violations: Breaching data protection laws like GDPR & PCI DSS leading to legal issues.

Financial Loss: Through data theft or fraudulent activities using the exposed information.

Reputation Damage: Loss of user trust and brand reputation due to security lapses.

Operational Disruption: Compromised database integrity affecting app functionality.

Increased Attack Surface: Exposed databases can be targeted for further cyber-attacks.

Mitigation:

  • Environment Variables: Store API keys in environment variables instead of embedding them directly in the code.
  • Secure Key Management Services: Utilize services like AWS Secrets Manager or Azure Key Vault for secure key storage and
  • Regular Key Rotation: Implement a process for regularly changing API keys to limit exposure
  • Code Review and Auditing: Regularly audit the source code to ensure sensitive information is not hardcoded.
  • Authentication and Authorization: Implement robust authentication and set proper authorization rules in
  • Database Security Rules: Configure Firebase security rules to control access to the database.
  • Regular Security Audits: Conduct regular audits of Firebase configurations and access patterns.
  • Encryption: Encrypt sensitive data stored in the Firebase
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