How To Block Debugging Tools in Android & iOS Apps

Last updated August 11, 2022 by Appdome

Learn to Block Debugging Tools in Mobile Apps, in mobile CI/CD with a Data-Driven DevSecOps™ build system.

What are Debugging Tools?

All the time and effort invested in designing, developing, and testing a mobile app can be endangered if your secret information – namely, algorithms, business logic, and unique data – is stolen by extracting your design.

The discipline for extracting design from a product is called Reverse-Engineering, and has two main categories:

  • Static: Extracting the design of the application without running it, just inspecting its contents.
  • Dynamic: Extracting information about the inner workings of the application by running it in its target or controlled (emulator) environment, and using various tools to inspect the data processing of an application while it runs. This is also known as debugging.

This Knowledge Base article explains Appdome’s Anti-Debugging capabilities, a key component of ONEShield™ by Appdome, which Appdome automatically adds to every app built using Appdome.

Why Block Debugging Tools in Mobile Apps ?

Appdome’s Anti-Debugging counters and stunts malicious dynamic reverse-engineering attempts on your application.

With Block Debugging Tools, developers can achieve the following in Android:

  • Attempting to attach to the process with a debugger, tracing tool or code injectors will result in the application misbehaving, and eventually terminating.
  • Attempting to debug the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) by using JDB (or anything that utilizes the JDWP protocol) will disconnect the debugger.

in iOS, connecting with a debugger will cause the debugging client (lldb) to:

  • Halt.
  • After a sufficient wait time, the debug session will terminate and the debugger will crash.

These are the basic measures Appdome takes to make sure an attacker has to resort to other techniques such as tampering and static reversing. Both of which are protected by Appdome’s Anti-Tampering and Anti-Reversing. This three-pronged defense gives an all-around effective hardening for your mobile app.

Blocking Debugging Tools on Mobile apps by Using Appdome

On Appdome, follow these 3 simple steps to create self-defending Mobile Apps that Block Debugging Tools without an SDK or gateway:

  1. Upload the Mobile App to Appdome.

    1. Upload an app to Appdome’s Mobile App Security Build System

    2. Upload Method: Appdome Console or DEV-API
    3. Mobile App Formats: .ipa For iOS device or .apk or .aab
  2. Build the Protection: Anti Debugging.

    1. Building Anti Debugging by using Appdome’s DEV-API:

      1. Create and name the Fusion Set (security template) that will contain the Anti Debugging feature as shown below:
      2. fusion set that contains Anti Debugging

        Figure 1: Fusion Set that will contain the Anti Debugging feature
        Note: Naming the Fusion Set to correspond to the protection(s) selected is for illustration purposes only (not required).

      3. Follow the steps in Sections 2.2.1-2.2.2 of this article, Building the Anti Debugging feature via Appdome Console , to add the Anti Debugging feature to this Fusion Set.

      4. open the Fusion Set Detail Summary by clicking the “...” symbol on the far-right corner of the Fusion Set, as shown in Figure 1 above, and get the Fusion Set ID from the Fusion Set Detail Summary (as shown below): fusion Set Detail Summary image

        Figure 2: Fusion Set Detail Summary
        Note: Annotating the Fusion Set to identify the protection(s) selected is optional only (not mandatory).

      5. Follow the instructions below to use the Fusion Set ID inside any standard mobile DevOps or CI/CD toolkit like Bitrise, App Center, Jenkins, Travis, Team City, Cirlce CI or other system:
        1. Build an API for the app – for instructions, see the tasks under Appdome API Reference Guide
        2. Look for sample APIs in Appdome’s GitHub Repository
    2. Building the Anti Debugging feature via Appdome Console

      To build the Anti Debugging protection by using Appdome Console, follow the instructions below.

      1. Where: Inside the Appdome Console, go to Build > Security Tab > ONEShield™ section . Like all other options in ONEShield™, Debugging Tools is turned on by default, as shown below: Anti Debugging option

        Figure 2: Block Debugging Tools option
        Note: The App Compromise Notification contains an easy to follow default remediation path for the mobile app end user. You can customize this message as required to achieve brand specific support, workflow or other messaging.

      2. When you select the Anti Debugging you'll notice that your Fusion Set you created in step 2.1.1 now bears the icon of the protection category that contains Anti Debugging

        Fusion Set applied Anti Debugging

        Figure 4: Fusion Set that displays the newly added Anti Debugging protection

      3. Select the Threat-Event™ in-app mobile Threat Defense and Intelligence policy for Anti Debugging:
        1. Threat-Events™ OFF > Appdome Enforce

          If the Threat-Events™ setting is cleared (not selected). Appdome will detect and defend the user and app by enforcing Block Debugging Tools.

        2. Threat-Events™ ON > In-App Detection

          When this setting is used, Appdome detects Debugging Tools and passes Appdome’s Threat-Event™ attack intelligence to the app’s business logic for processing, enforcement, and user notification. For more information on consuming and using Appdome Threat-Events™ in the app, see section Using Threat-Events™ for Anti Debugging Intelligence and Control in Mobile Apps.

        3. Threat-Events™ ON > In-App Defense

          When this setting is used, Appdome detects and defends against Debugging Tools (same as Appdome Enforce) and passes Appdome’s Threat-Event™ attack intelligence the app’s business logic for processing. For more information on consuming and using Appdome Threat-Events™ in the app, see section Using Threat-Events™ for Anti Debugging Intelligence and Control in Mobile Apps.

      4. Click Build My App at the bottom of the Build Workflow (shown in Figure 2).
    Congratulations!  The Anti Debugging protection is now added to the mobile app
  3. Certify the Anti Debugging feature in Mobile Apps.

    After building Anti Debugging, Appdome generates a Certified Secure™ certificate to guarantee that the Anti Debugging protection has been added and is protecting the app. To verify that the Anti Debugging protection has been added to the mobile app, locate the protection in the Certified Secure™ certificate as shown below: Anti Debugging shown in Certificate secure

    Figure 5: Certified Secure™ certificate

    Each Certified Secure™ certificate provides DevOps and DevSecOps organizations the entire workflow summary, audit trail of each build, and proof of protection that Anti Debugging has been added to each Mobile app. Certified Secure provides instant and in-line DevSecOps compliance certification that Anti Debugging and other mobile app security features are in each build of the mobile app

Using Threat-Events™ for Debugging Tools Intelligence and Control in Mobile Apps

Appdome Threat-Events™ provides consumable in-app mobile app attack intelligence and defense control when Debugging Tools are detected. To consume and use Threat-Events™ for Debugging Tools in Mobile Apps, use AddObserverForName in Notification Center, and the code samples for Threat-Events™ for Debugging Tools shown below.

The specifications and options for Threat-Events™ for Debugging Tools are:

Threat-Event™ Elements Block Debugging Tools Method Detail
Appdome Feature Name Anti Debugging
Threat-Event Mode
OFF, APPDOME ENFORCE Appdome detects, defends and notifies user (standard OS dialog) using customizable messaging.
ON, IN-APP DETECTON Appdome detects the attack or threat and passes the event in a standard format to the app for processing (app chooses how and when to enforce).
ON, IN-APP DEFENSE Uses Appdome Enforce mode for any attack or threat and passes the event in a standard format to the app for processing (gather intel on attacks and threats without losing any protection).
Certified Secure™ Threat Event Check
Visible in ThreatScope™
Developer Parameters for Blocking Debugging Tools Threat-Event™
Threat-Event NAME DebuggerThreatDetected
Threat-Event DATA reasonData
Threat-Event CODE reasonCode
Threat-Event REF 0000
Threat-Event SCORE
currentThreatEventScore Current Threat-Event score
threatEventsScore Total Threat-events score
Threat-Event Context Keys
messageMessage displayed for the user on event
externalIDThe external ID of the event which can be listened via Threat Events
osVersionOS version of the current device
deviceModelCurrent device model
deviceManufacturerThe manufacturer of the current device
fusedAppTokenThe task ID of the Appdome fusion of the currently running app
kernelInfoInfo about the kernel: system name, node name, release, version and machine.
carrierPlmnPLMN of the device
deviceIDCurrent device ID
reasonCodeReason code of the occured event
buildDateAppdome fusion date of the current application
devicePlatformOS name of the current device
carrierNameCarrier name of the current device
updatedOSVersionIs the OS version up to date
deviceBrandBrand of the device
deviceBoardBoard of the device
buildUserBuild user
buildHostBuild host
sdkVersionSdk version
timeZoneTime zone
deviceFaceDownIs the device face down
locationLongLocation long
locationLatLocation lat
locationStateLocation state
wifiSsidWifi SSID
wifiSsidPermissionStatusWifi SSID permission status
reasonReason for detection

With Threat-Events™ enabled (turned ON), Mobile developers can get detailed attack intelligence and granular defense control in Mobile applications and create amazing user experiences for all mobile end users when Debugging Tools are detected.

The following is a code sample for native Mobile apps, which uses all values in the specification above for Anti Debugging:

Prerequisites to Using Anti Debugging:

To use Appdome’s mobile app security build system to Block Debugging Tools , you’ll need:

Using Appdome, there are no development or coding prerequisites to build secured Apps by using Anti Debugging. There is no SDK and no library to code or implement in the app and no gateway to deploy in your network. All protections are built into each app and the resulting app is self-defending and self-protecting.

Releasing and Publishing Mobile Apps with Anti Debugging

After successfully securing your app by using Appdome, there are several available options to complete your project, depending on your app lifecycle or workflow. These include:

All apps protected by Appdome are fully compatible with any public app store, including Apple App Store, Google Play, Huawei App Gallery and more.

Protections Similar to Anti Debugging

If you have any questions, please send them our way at support.appdome.com or via the chat window on the Appdome platform.

Thank you!

Thanks for visiting Appdome! Our mission is to secure every app on the planet by making mobile app security easy. We hope we’re living up to the mission with your project.

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