Emulator detection refers to the techniques used to determine whether a mobile app is running within an emulator rather than on a real mobile device.
An emulator is different from a simulator, although they are often used interchangeably in casual conversations.
An emulator replicates the complete hardware and software environment of a mobile device. Emulators aim to provide an accurate representation of the mobile device's behavior by mimicking the device's architecture, operating system, and software stack. They enable running and testing mobile apps on different platforms, such as running Android apps on a Windows computer.
Emulators offer a comprehensive testing environment compared to simulators, as they replicate the complete mobile device ecosystem. They allow developers to test app compatibility, performance, and behavior under different conditions. Emulators often include additional features like simulated hardware inputs, network configurations, and sensor readings.
One popular emulator is Android Emulator, which operates the Android operating system within a virtual machine referred to as an Android Virtual Device (AVD). Android Emulator allows for the emulation of Android devices (the guest systems) on various host systems such as Windows, macOS, or Linux. Android Emulator is included with Android Studio. Since Android is an open-source operating system, third-party vendors can also create Android emulators. BlueStacks, Genymotion and Bliss OS are examples of other popular Android emulators.
Unlike with Android, there are no official iOS emulators available for general use. That is because iOS is a closed ecosystem developed and controlled by Apple, which has not provided the necessary licensing and support for developers to create iOS emulators. While there are some tools and software that claim to be iOS emulators, they are often limited in functionality and can't fully replicate the complete iOS environment. This is because they lack the necessary access to Apple's closed-source code and hardware architecture.
A simulator, on the other hand, typically provides a software-based representation of a mobile device's user interface and behavior. It aims to simulate the appearance and behavior of a mobile device's interface without replicating the underlying hardware or software architecture. Simulators focus on providing a visual representation of the mobile device's user interface, allowing developers to test and interact with the app in a simulated environment.
Simulators often come bundled with development tools or frameworks and provide features like debugging, code inspection, and simulated input events. They offer a convenient way to rapidly test and iterate on mobile app designs and functionality. However, since simulators do not emulate the full hardware and software stack, they may not provide the same level of accuracy and performance as a physical device.
There are no official Android simulators. That’s because Android emulators serve a similar purpose to simulators.
Apple does provide an official iOS simulator as part of its Xcode development environment. It provides a simulated environment for app testing but does not offer the same level of functionality or performance as a physical iOS device or an emulator.
Using an emulator to compromise a mobile app typically involves attempting to exploit vulnerabilities or weaknesses in the mobile app's code, security mechanisms, or interactions with the mobile device's hardware or operating system. Here are some ways an emulator can be used to compromise a mobile app:
Implementing emulator detection in mobile apps will typically involve a combination of techniques in order to reliably identify if the app is running on an emulator. Here are a few commonly used methods:
For example, the easiest way for the app to get available hardware information is to check on the build values under BuildConfig. Build.MANUFACTURER, Build.MODEL, Build.HARDWARE, Build.FINGERPRINT, Build.BOARD and Build.PRODUCT can all be accessed programmatically and most of the time they contain proof of the presence of an emulator.
It's important to note that emulator detection is not foolproof and can sometimes lead to false positives or negatives. Determined attackers can find ways to bypass detection mechanisms or modify emulators to mimic real devices. Therefore, emulator detection should be used as one layer of defense among other security measures, such as jailbreak and root detection, debug detection, tamper detection, MitM detection, and data protection.
Blue Cedar Enforce, a component of Blue Cedar Mobile App Security, provides emulator detection. Being able to detect if a mobile app is running in an emulator and then preventing the mobile app from executing is one of many mobile app security features provided by Blue Cedar Mobile App Security.
Blue Cedar Mobile App Security and Blue Cedar Enhance are delivered by the Blue Cedar Platform, a CI/CD friendly SaaS solution.
You can try all of what Blue Cedar offers for NO CHARGE with as many mobile apps as you want. Blue Cedar Mobile App Security. Blue Cedar Enhance. The Blue Cedar Platform. All of it is free to use until integrated or secured mobile apps are pushed to production.