Mobile Application Testing, Mobile Labs Blog

Mobile Application Testing for Tablets: To Jailbreak or Not To Jailbreak?

jailbreakingIn the world of tablet computing, the iPad® reigns supreme. In November 2012, ABI Research reported that iPads comprised up to 55 percent of all tablet shipments in the third quarter of 2012. As iPads continue to be the tablet of choice for consumers and the enterprise alike, the need to complete comprehensive mobile application testing will grow. The pace at which that testing has to be completed – especially from an enterprise perspective – is wicked fast. That means finding the right mobile apps testing tools is critical in order to keep up with the frenzy of app development and testing those apps across all mobile devices – tablets in particular.

So, when it comes to testing tablet apps, what are your options? If you want to automate mobile app testing, the requirement has long been jailbroken or rooted devices. Mobile Labs advocates building a mobile app testing strategy that does NOT rely on jailbroken or rooted tablets – or any mobile device, for that matter.

Jailbreaking is Risky Business

For those who are unfamiliar, jailbreaking a mobile device consists of overriding its security and obtaining super-user privileges over the phone or tablet and all of its installed software. While this is not a new practice, it does pose risks. In fact, at research firm Gartner’s 2012 Security & Risk Management Summit last June, analysts John Girard and Lawrence Pingree warned enterprises that jailbroken devices pose a significant risk and should be banned from the enterprise network.

Then, in October 2012, the Library of Congress released its latest exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The result was a three-year exemption for mobile phones, temporarily allowing jailbreaking or rooting of smartphones without creating what would otherwise be considered a copyright violation. However, the exemption was NOT extended to tablets. Therefore, jailbreaking an iPad® or any other tablet is not an exempted copyright violation. To do so, for any reason, including mobile application testing, poses multiple risks, which you can learn about in depth in this blog post: “Jailbreaking Tablets Deemed Illegal; What Does that Mean For your Mobile App Testing Strategy”.

If the threat of copyright violation doesn’t scare you away, the thought of introducing unknown code from an anonymous source – hackers – into your corporate environment should give you pause, at the very least. For example, there is a greater likelihood that a jailbroken or rooted mobile device will get a malware infection. In addition, It’s easier for a jailbroken device’s operating system to be compromised. Its also important to note that an iOS device that has been jailbroken can also install a secure shell server that remote attackers can exploit. For enterprise organizations that put a premium on IT security, jailbreaking or rooting just doesn’t seem worth the risk.

It’s Not Just Risky, It’s a Waiting Game

In addition to the risks presented by the practice, there is a timing issue if your company relies on jailbreaking. As previously mentioned, jailbreaking means getting code form a hacker. Each time a new operating system is introduced, the hacker community has to come up with the jailbreak. In some cases that happens quickly, but in other cases, like with iOS 6, for example, it takes much longer. In fact, at the time this is being written, a publicly released untethered jailbreak for iOS 6 isn’t available.

Waiting for someone else to make un-secured code available can have a serious impact on business practices that require a jailbroken device in order to be completed. For example, many of the automated mobile application testing tools on the market today cannot test on an iPad without jailbreaking the device. So, if you want to run automated functional tests of your application on an iPad running iOS 6, for example, you’re in a bit of a holding pattern. For enterprises with aggressive mobile app deployment cycles, waiting to test until a jailbreak comes out seriously impacts delivery schedules. Coupled with the risks we have already discussed – this seems like a lose-lose scenario.

The New Normal

Fortunately, automated mobile application testing tools that require jailbroken or rooted devices aren’t your only option. There is a new breed of mobile app testing solutions– we like to refer to them as “Second Generation Mobile-App Testing Tools” – and they do NOT require tablets or smartphones to be compromised in any way.  

These second generation tools go into the object class hierarchy of the mobile app on the device, find the object in its internal representation, and retrieve its attributes to perform the test. In addition to providing an option for companies that do not want to jailbreak in order to test, this method has another big benefit: it yields fewer errors than many of the first generation testing approaches, results in greater accuracy and much faster performance. To learn more about how second generation testing tools work, check out this post entitled, “The Mobile App Testing Tools Family Tree”.

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Michael Ryan

Michael Ryan serves as Mobile Labs’ chief technology officer. In this role, Ryan provides the technological vision and drives Mobile Labs Trust’s product road map. Ryan has more than 35 years of experience in leading software development teams that design and build robust and market-leading solutions for large-scale enterprise customers among Fortune 1000 companies. Most recently, Ryan was with Fundamental Software where he worked on large-scale systems CPU emulation architecture, design, and implementation. Prior to Fundamental Software, Ryan was director of development, Sr. VP of R&D, and finally, Chief Technical Officer for CASE tool vendor KnowledgeWare, Inc. Ryan served as senior staff systems engineer, field manager, and regional technical support manager for mainframe manufacturer Amdahl Corporation.

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