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Definition

Software Development Kits (SDKs) are comprehensive toolsets developers use to create apps on specific platforms, like iOS or Android. SDKs provide essential building blocks, like code libraries, development tools, and API interfaces to integrate native device functionalities and third-party services.

Before you integrate an SDK into your project and distribute your final application, the main points you should scrutinize are:

  1. Origin of the SDK and if it’s a trustworthy source
  2. Maintenance status and if the SDK is regularly updated
  3. Checking for security issues within the SDK, like vulnerability scanning and code audits
  4. Licensing terms of the SDK and if it’s compatible with the intended use
  5. Its open-source components and if their licenses are agreeable with each other to ensure compliance

Summary

SDKs are crucial in mobile app development. They offer developers a suite of tools to enhance app functionality and integrate third-party services efficiently.

While SDKs accelerate app development and feature integration, they can enable unauthorized access to private data and system functionalities, leading to security risks in mobile apps.

Ensuring the integrity of SDKs involves rigorous vetting, regular updates, and adherence to compliance standards. The balance between development convenience and security risk management is essential, as is the choice between using third-party SDKs and developing in-house solutions to minimize dependencies and potential vulnerabilities.

For some companies that develop SDKs, it’s critical to deploy a cybersecurity solution that protects against:

  • Reverse engineering: This attack exposes the underlying code and logic, leading to unauthorized replication and potential vulnerabilities.
  • Tampering and redistribution: This occurs when malicious actors modify the SDK to introduce vulnerabilities or insert malicious code before redistributing it to unsuspecting developers.
  • Intellectual property theft: IP includes your algorithms, methodologies, and unique implementations. Protecting it maintains the integrity of your SDK.

Deep dive

  1. SDK components: SDKs typically consist of libraries, debugging tools, documentation, sample code, testing frameworks, one or more APIs, and tools to improve the use of the SDK in an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). These components help developers integrate functionalities like location services, payment gateways, content protection, performance monitoring, user behavior analytics, social media sharing, and more.
  2. Supply chain attacks: SDKs can become vectors in supply chain attacks if they are compromised at the source. Malicious code inserted into an SDK can affect all apps built using it, demonstrating the extensive impact possible across the application ecosystem.
  3. How to secure an SDK: SDK security solutions, including code obfuscation, encryption, and runtime protections, can strengthen SDKs from reverse engineering, tampering, and unauthorized access.
  4. Balancing development speed and security: While SDKs accelerate development by providing ready-to-use components, this convenience can lead to overlooked security vulnerabilities. It is vital to thoroughly vet and regularly update SDKs to safeguard against threats.
  5. Compliance requirements: App publishers are required to comply with specific compliance standards depending on the data handled by their apps and the SDKs integrated into them. SDK security solutions can facilitate this compliance with standards such as GDPR for apps operating within the EU or CCPA in California to ensure user data protection.
  6. SDKs vs. APIs: APIs allow different components of an app to communicate using predetermined protocols. They also provide the necessary functions and protocols for developers to integrate the SDK's features into their apps. These APIs simplify development, encapsulate code, enhance functionality, and more. An SDK is a toolkit for building applications and adding features, and it typically includes APIs to bridge apps and the tools, libraries, and services provided by SDKs.

Examples

  1. Ad SDKs injecting malware: Some ad network SDKs have been repurposed to inject malware into popular apps.
  2. Payment SDK fraud: SDKs handling payments may be targeted to redirect transaction details. Implementing and maintaining updated security protocols and regular code reviews can defend you against such vulnerabilities.
  3. Social media SDK Spoofing: If compromised, social media login SDKs can be used to phish user credentials.
  4. Third-party SDKs as a backdoor: If third-party SDKs are not carefully controlled and isolated, they could be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access to the app or its data. Developers can mitigate these risks, ensuring that even if an SDK is compromised, it has limited ability to cause harm.
  5. Injection attacks: An attacker can trigger a memory injection into an SDK where it directly injects the deep fake image or video into an API, making its systems believe that the image or video came from the device camera.

History

The concept of SDKs emerged as software development grew in complexity and scale, requiring standardized toolsets that could assist developers in building apps more efficiently. Originating in desktop software development, SDKs evolved into mobile platforms with the growth of app stores in the late 2000s. They have since become integral to mobile app functionality and reuse of components, enabling faster deployment of feature-rich apps. But they’ve also significant security concerns as the attack surface broadened.

Future

Recent advancements in technology and increased regulatory scrutiny have influenced SDK development and usage. The rise of machine learning and AI can lead to new threats to SDKs and their hosting apps, like identity verification attacks, which introduce complex security considerations. The ongoing developments suggest a continual evolution of SDK security practices, driven by the need for a balance between innovation, protecting user data and complying with regulatory requirements.

Sources

  1. https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/definition/software-developers-kit-SDK
  2. https://developer.android.com/guide/practices/sdk-best-practices
  3. https://www.techtarget.com/searchapparchitecture/tip/The-benefits-and-tradeoffs-of-a-mobile-SDK
  4. https://143720318.fs1.hubspotusercontent-eu1.net/hubfs/143720318/Product%20brochures/Promon%20SDK%20Protection%20brochure.pdf
  5. https://promon.co/security-news/promon-sdk-security/
  6. https://www.adjust.com/glossary/sdk/
  7. https://www.gartner.com/document/4623399?ref=solrAll&refval=387998026&
  8. https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2023/05/ovulation-tracking-app-premom-will-be-barred-sharing-health-data-advertising-under-proposed-ftc