Obfuscating iOS binding information

Last updated January 19, 2023 by Appdome

Learn to Add SelRef Obfuscation in iOS apps, in mobile CI/CD with a Data-Driven DevSecOps™ build system.

What is Object-C SelRef?

iOS applications run on Apple mobile devices within the Objective-C runtime. Because the Objective-C runtime library does not work with method names, when building iOS apps the class’s method name, is converted  to a selector that represents this method. The Selector, referred to as a “SelRef” (Selector Reference) in the compiled binary, functions as a link between the method name and the way the method is implemented in the app.

Why de developers need to obfuscate SelRefs in iOS apps?

Attackers can use SelRef during static analysis and reverse engineering to gain a deep understanding of the inner workings of an iOS app. For example, determining which method is being called within a function is only possible by resolving which method is associated with the selRef being used. Attackers can  also apply the opposite method: if the method name is known, scrutinize the SelRef associated with the method to find all references to the method within the SelRef. Obfuscating SelRef in the application binary prevents any option for attackers to apply either of the methods, thereby significantly reducing the possibility of reverse engineering. 

Adding SelRef Obfuscation on iOS apps by Using Appdome

On Appdome, follow these 3 simple steps to create self-defending iOS Apps that Add SelRef Obfuscation 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. iOS Formats: .ipa
  2. Build the feature: Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation.

    1. Building Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation by using Appdome’s DEV-API:

      1. Create and name the Fusion Set (security template) that will contain the Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation feature as shown below:
      2. fusion set that contains Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation

        Figure 1: Fusion Set that will contain the Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation 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 Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation feature via Appdome Console, to add the Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation 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 Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation feature via Appdome Console

      To build the Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation protection by using Appdome Console, follow the instructions below.

      1. Where: Inside the Appdome Console, go to Build > Security Tab > TOTALCode™ Obfuscation section
      2. How: Toggle (turn ON) Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation, as shown below.
        If needed, Customize the Threat Notification to be displayed to the mobile end-user in a standard OS dialog notification when Appdome Adds SelRef Obfuscation. Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation option

        Figure 3: Add SelRef Obfuscation 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.

      3. When you select the Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation you'll notice that your Fusion Set you created in step 2.1.1 now bears the icon of the protection category that contains Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation

        Fusion Set applied Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation

        Figure 4: Fusion Set that displays the newly added Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation protection

      4. Click Build My App at the bottom of the Build Workflow (shown in Figure 3).
    Congratulations!  The Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation protection is now added to the mobile app
  3. Certify the Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation feature in iOS Apps.

    After building Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation, Appdome generates a Certified Secure™ certificate to guarantee that the Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation protection has been added and is protecting the app. To verify that the Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation protection has been added to the mobile app, locate the protection in the Certified Secure™ certificate as shown below: Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation 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 Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation has been added to each iOS app. Certified Secure provides instant and in-line DevSecOps compliance certification that Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation and other mobile app security features are in each build of the mobile app

Prerequisites to Using Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation:

To use Appdome’s mobile app security build system to Add SelRef Obfuscation , you’ll need:

Using Appdome, there are no development or coding prerequisites to build secured Apps by using Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation. 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 Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation

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.

Features Similar to Obj-C SelRef Obfuscation

Here are a few related resources:

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

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