How to Protect Plists (property lists) in iOS apps to Stop Mobile Ad Fraud

Last updated August 9, 2022 by Appdome

Learn to Prevent Plist modification in iOS apps, in mobile CI/CD with a Data-Driven DevSecOps™ build system.

What is Plist modification?

In iOS apps, a plist (property list) is a structured text file that contains metadata about the app that is essential for the app to run. Plists are collections of key-value pairs (such as a dictionary list) that specify how the system should interpret the associated bundle. Some key-value pairs characterize the bundle itself, while others configure the app, framework, or other entity that the bundle represents. Some keys are required, while others are specific to particular features of the executable.

iOS apps can have multiple plists for specific functions, and the details of what to include in the property list vary by executable type and by platform. However, all iOS apps must have at least one plist file (info.plist is the default property list supplied by Xcode when you create a project).

Why Prevent Plist modification in iOS Apps ?

The data stored inside Plists often contains information that enables malicious users to harvest private data, understand app configuration or functionality, or modify values of strings, app permissions, and other sensitive app resources.

Following is a sample list of ways in which Plists can be abused or modified by cyber-criminals:

  • Mobile game cheating – by changing the values of game properties such as coins, gems, lives, powers, game scores or any other values stored in plists.
  • Disabling mobile ads.
  • Requesting access to private user data.
  • Request permissions to OS resources: AccessibiltyServices, Location, Camera, Contacts, Microphone, Bluetooth and so on.

Mobile developers can Protect Plists in any iOS apps with no code or coding. Appdome’s Protect Plist feature encrypts all plist files (properties files), with the exception of info.plist and plists related to app signing (for example: entitlements and provisioning profiles).

Preventing Plist modification on iOS apps by Using Appdome

On Appdome, follow these 3 simple steps to create self-defending iOS Apps that Prevent Plist modification 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 Protection: Protect plist.

    1. Building Protect plist by using Appdome’s DEV-API:

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

        Figure 1: Fusion Set that will contain the Protect plist 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 Protect plist feature via Appdome Console, to add the Protect plist 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 Protect plist feature via Appdome Console

      To build the Protect plist protection by using Appdome Console, follow the instructions below.

      1. Where: Inside the Appdome Console, go to Build > Anti Fraud Tab > Mobile Fraud Prevention section
      2. How: Toggle (turn ON) Protect plist, as shown below. Protect plist option

        Figure 3: Prevent Plist modification option

      3. When you select the Protect plist you'll notice that your Fusion Set you created in step 2.1.1 now bears the icon of the protection category that contains Protect plist

        Fusion Set applied Protect plist

        Figure 4: Fusion Set that displays the newly added Protect plist protection

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

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

Prerequisites to Using Protect plist:

To use Appdome’s mobile app security build system to Prevent Plist modification , you’ll need:

Using Appdome, there are no development or coding prerequisites to build secured Apps by using Protect plist. 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 Protect plist

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 Protect plist

Here are a few related resources:

How to Prevent App Signing by Unauthorized Developers

How to Prevent non-approved Android, iOS app store publishing

How to Block Frida Toolkits 

Block Magisk Manager and Magisk Hide

Check out Appdome’s Mobile Fraud Prevention or request a demo at any time.

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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