The current pandemic forced us to stay home due to social distancing measures and such shifts in behaviour increased the demand for mobile apps, both Android and iOS.
Such wide usage comes with security risks although not all users understand the importance — such lack of knowledge can be exploited by cyber attackers.
Mobile apps without security protocols put forth extreme risks to both users and developers as unprotected vulnerabilities may become targets to hackers for malware attacks or data breach.
There are over 4.8 billion mobile phone users and if any virus goes viral, it can be harmful to the global digital community.
Mobile app security must be the top concern as any unsecured mobile app is at high risk level.
What is Mobile App Security?
Mobile app security is the measures of defending a mobile app from fraudulent attacks like malware, hacking or other criminal manipulations.
Different technologies used in mobile app protection target different sorts of cyber threats that a mobile device can pose due to the apps installed in them.
Mobile app security represents the amount of protection an app has from malware, phishing and other harmful hacker crimes.
Android is a good example — being an open framework, it is more vulnerable to MITM attacks (man-in-the-middle), data breaches, or malware assaults as opposed to iOS platform which is exclusive to Apple users.
How can developers protect the apps and their users from privacy risks and cyber assaults?
Reasons to Secure Your Mobile App
Most of the world’s workforce is working remotely nowadays while some companies hire freelance workers that use their own laptop or computer to do the company’s work — such an approach carries risks of attacks.
A single breach is enough to invade the privacy of the company’s system and customers. Hackers’ usual targets are high ranked officers in the company as they hold more valuable data thus it is crucial for developers to inspect the app security — developers have to provide the latest security features to protect user privacy and data.
Mobile app security, if done properly, enables users to protect confidential and private data, protect themselves from data loss, malware and virus attacks as well as from lawsuits of unprotected systems.
Important Steps in Mobile App Security
Important steps in securing a mobile app include:
In order to secure a database, your storage must be fully encrypted and backed up with well defined data access to prevent any data breach.
Developers have to store user databases, credentials and other critical data in a secured place, no matter if it is a device or a cloud-based server.
Secure Source Code
Developers must provide a high level of security so that hackers cannot access your app’s code or decipher it with diverse methods like obfuscation or conceal code.
For example, Android has a Pro-Guard, a built-in feature making codes into confusing characters. Since Android is an open-source platform, it is more prone to cyber attacks and due to that reason, developers must ensure safe source code to prevent any possibility of alterations by cyber threats.
Secure Data Transmission
Developers must encrypt data in order to secure data transmission as it is extremely important for apps that transfer data like users’ private information or banking details. You should use secure channels via VPN tunnels, SSL, TLS or HTTPS communication.
If you do not encrypt data, the data transmission will be unsafe. If encryption-decryption algorithms are weak, they can be easily decoded by hackers leaving the app data in the open.
- Input validation tests — they prevent malformed data from entering the app database. Such validations are already available in most mobile frameworks where you can customize it for an additional security layer to your app.
- Data portability is the data that can be accessed across different platforms or services like the most popular one being ‘Social Login’ being a process of login to apps or sites with your Google, Facebook, Instagram or other login info.
These actions help developers to complete a thorough data protection and to add user-privacy and authentication from square one.
Sign-up procedures also become more user-friendly while improving user experience and satisfaction.
Perform Penetration Testing
Penetration testing is a process where a malware is imitated on your device to be able to search for any defects that can be exploited. Such testing is commonly used to improve web application firewalls (WAF).
Make sure to test your code for any sensitivity to injection attacks. Adapt and modify your WAF security policies and patch the bugs before launching your mobile app. Pen testing is independent from standard software testing but both of those are crucial to boost your app’s security.
Make it a custom to review and test the previously written code to test flaws and implement improvements.
Use Tokens for High-level Authentication
A token is a unit that securely transmits information about a user identity between the applications and websites. A security token authenticates a person’s identity electronically by storing some sort of personal information.
Mobile apps developers use tokens to monitor their user sessions efficiently and the same tokens can be either approved or withdrawn.
Usage of complex passwords should be applied — apps should be designed to accept only medium to strong passwords with alphanumeric characters and it must be renewed regularly, e.g. on each six months or so.
OTP (one-time PIN/password) is valid only for one login session on a computer or other devices. You can add it to make sign-ups more secure while adding a two-factor verifications also adds an additional layer or encryption making your app even more secure.
Other authentication methods can include fingerprint or retina scan — in the future, biometric access systems will probably get introduced to level up the security measures. Biometric testing can also be used for other purposes, like in workplace wellness system to set a standard of reference for employee health.
Tips for a Better Mobile App Security
Here are some of the common ways to build a safe and secure mobile app:
Write a Secure Code
The code is the most susceptible element of any mobile application and it can be exploited by hackers. Developers should write highly secured code for the apps and also perform code hardening and signing as a practice for developing the best quality code.
Encrypt the Data
Encryption is a process of taking plain text (message or email) and translating it into an unreadable format called ‘cipher text’. Encryption helps to protect confidentiality of digital data which is either stored on the computer or transmitted through the Internet. Once the intended recipient accesses the message, the information is translated back to its original format.
Encryption is said to be one of the most effective ways to save your data from being exploited in a malicious way. Even if your data gets stolen, the hackers will not be able to decipher it and will be useless to them, too.
Be Careful with Libraries
Usually, mobile apps need third-party libraries for code building. You should not trust the library your app is using as most of those are not so safe.
If you use diverse libraries, you should ALWAYS test the code as the flaws existing in the library can affect your code and allow hackers to use malicious code and crash the system.
Use Authorized API
You should ALWAYS use authorized API in your app code as it is recommended to have central authorization for the entire API to obtain maximum security in a mobile app development system.
API calls are usually protected by a simple API key and user credentials (often as an access token). Mobile apps are often less secure and since installed on a device, hackers can also install an app on a device they control in order to manipulate the app and find weaknesses.
That is why each API should require app-level authentication.
Use High-Level Authentication
Authentication mechanism is the most important part of mobile app security. Weak authentication processes are the top vulnerability in mobile apps.
User authentication must be considered as highly important from a security point of view. The common way of authentication is via passwords (medium to strong) which cannot be broken by hackers easily.
Having a mobile phone is a large part of our everyday lives and many underestimate the value a phone holds when it comes to the information it stores. Your phone contains much data from social media data to banking information.
When developing a mobile app, ensure that the app does not leave users susceptible to malicious attacks or privacy breaches.
Mobile app security protects the app and the data within — although users may install antivirus or anti malware software and use VPNs, if the app gets invaded by hackers or infected, users will still be open to cyber threats.
As a mobile app developer, always prioritize a robust level of protection and data privacy in the app for your users.
Originally published on Medium on 11 June 2021