How to Improve Mobile App Security

More than 67 percent of people in the world are mobile phone users, due mainly because of mobile apps as the number of mobile app users will continue to increase just in this year alone. Even despite the pandemic, mobile apps continue to flourish in response to the global demand for mobile and online applications in the new normal we are all headed towards. That is why mobile app security is crucial than ever before.

The best mobile apps add value to their user’s life. It is an excellent tool for building a community, while the world is social distancing. But along with the increase in demand, the threats against mobile security also increased. Sadly, not all users are keen on their mobile device security. There are also a lot of mobile apps that are not secured, causing undue risk for their users.

Users usually rely on developers performing their responsibility in the backend to secure the mobile app. But some vulnerabilities pose risks to both mobile app developers and users, even if standard security measures are set in place by the former.

A mobile app that is not secure becomes a real threat to the entire system the user is on. On a mobile phone is the user’s sensitive data, banking details, and the like. A malicious app downloaded on a mobile device can be damaging, often only discovered until it is too late.

What is Mobile App Security?

Mobile app security is the level of protection that mobile apps have against malware and cybercrime. The various technologies and production practices used in mobile app security aim to minimize all kinds of risks that mobile devices are subject to because of the apps installed in it.

In open platforms such as Android, the threat increases further. It is twice as vulnerable to virus attacks, malware, and data breaches than its counterpart, iOS, which is closed or exclusive to Mac and iPhone users.

Since Android is an open system, it is more prone to Man-in-the-Middle or MITM attacks and other forms of cyber threats like an unintended data breach, poor authorization, and broken cryptography, among others.

How do mobile app developers secure mobile apps for the sake of its users? How do app developers protect their apps and their users from cybersecurity threats and data breaches?

10 Mobile App Security Checklist

These are security steps that mobile app developers must follow when creating apps that are secure and protected:

The source code must be secure 

Just as you do not build a house without a door, always make sure your source codes are secure and not open for others to tinker. It would help if you made sure that hackers and cyber attackers will not be able to access your source code or decipher it quickly. This process is called obfuscation.

Obfuscation is concealing your code, making it unclear, difficult to understand, and even confusing. It prevents cyber attackers from reverse-engineering your source code.  Android, for example, has a built-in Pro-guard that obscures codes into meaningless and confusing characters.

Protect and secure databases and files

You need to store your data like consumer database, credentials, payment information, and the like on a secured device. Your storage needs to be protected as well, fully backed up and encrypted, with data access privileges limited, so you prevent data leakage at all costs.

Secure data transmission and communication

Transmission or communication of data must be protected and encrypted as well. Hackers lurk for unprotected or unencrypted data transmission. Sending and receiving data within your mobile app needs to be done via secure mediums, through a VPN tunnel, TLS, SSL, or HTTPS communication. You avoid eavesdroppers on your network requests, make your data undecipherable, and prevent packet-sniffing and man-in-the-middle attacks.

Ensure that your data is portable

Data portability is being able to use consumer data across different platforms and services. One of the most common examples is being able to use your Google login details to log into other apps and platforms. Facebook utilizes data portability, as well.

It allows apps to leverage the robust app security of more prominent companies while being able to apply the users’ private data and authentication from scratch. The signup process becomes more user-friendly and convenient.

Prevent reverse engineering

Android is more prone to reverse-engineering attacks because it is an open-source platform. In an open-source platform, anyone can search for the source code and make OS modifications according to their needs. However, not all users can do this since you would need some aptitude in programming. It is why it is highly recommended secure source codes instead, to minimize the risk of tampering by the wrong people out to attack you and your users.

Always conduct data input validation

Input validation is checking user-supplied data. It prevents malformed data from entering your database. Sadly, input validation is not a priority for most mobile app developers. But since input validation is readily available in the majority of mobile app frameworks, optimize this feature for an added layer of app security.

Encrypt your data

Is data encryption ever just an option these days? In a day and age, where attacks and data leakage can happen to anyone at any time, data encryption is a must. It goes, particularly for mobile apps. Mobile apps have taken much of the brunt in cyberattacks because of a lack of mobile app security.

Broken cryptography is insecure usage of cryptography, mostly in mobile apps that leverage encryption. If the mobile app implements an encryption-decryption algorithm that is weak or broken in nature, it means hackers will be able to decrypt the codes right away and wreak havoc in and through your mobile app.

Prevent weak or broken algorithms and leverage cryptography well to protect your application and data.

Conduct Penetration Testing 

Penetration testing or pen testing is simulating a cyberattack against your computer system to test for any vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cyber attackers. Penetration testing is commonly used in mobile app security to strengthen the web application firewall (WAF).

Pen testing can attempt breaching mobile app systems like APIs (application protocol interfaces), frontend servers, or backend servers. It is better to find vulnerabilities yourself, like inputs susceptible to code injection attacks, before real hackers do.

Fine-tuning your WAF security policies and patching detected vulnerabilities is a must before launching your mobile app. It is one of the most critical stages of mobile app security. It is different from regular software testing, but both are integral to strengthen your mobile app security.

Use tokens to handle sessions and high-level authentication

A token is a tiny hardware device that users carry to authorize access to a network service. Mobile app developers use tokens to manage their user sessions more productively. As tokens can be approved, it can also be revoked.

Mobile app developers also need to use stronger authentication, referring to the use of complex passwords. Design your mobile apps so that it only accepts complicated alphanumeric passwords that must be renewed every six months.

Add two-factor authentication as well, add more security to your mobile app. Users will be required the OTP (one-time-password) sent via text or email, before logging in. Other authentication methods now include biometrics like fingerprint scanning and retina scanning (depending on the mobile device in use).

Impose Access Policies and Continual Testing

Make sure your mobile app always applies security guidelines and corporate policies of Google Play and iOS App Store. Rules may change as these mobile app platforms continue enhancing their service, so make sure your app is always updated, with vulnerabilities patched with every update.

Make it a habit to always test your code. It is irresponsible on the developers’ part to not go back to codes they have written and test them again and again for any vulnerability or apply updates and improvements. If you just hired a developer, make sure this is part of your contract with the developer. A consistent QA process is tantamount to secure mobile apps.

Conclusion: Secure Your Mobile App

Security should be every mobile app creator’s concern. It is not your user’s primary responsibility that your app is secure. Yes, they must be responsible for installing antivirus protection, use VPN, and other security measures. But as the mobile app creator, you should ensure that the level of protection you are giving your users is top-notch. There are massive implications for companies that are not compliant with GDPR.

Implementing mobile app security measures enables you to safeguard not just your app but the data stored within. A comprehensive approach to mobile app security is not difficult to apply, but it does require a commitment on your part as a responsible mobile app creator or developer.

Author Bio 

Mayleen Meñez worked for seven years in TV and Radio production, and also as a Graphic Artist/Editor. Finding her true passion, she devoted 15 years in NGO and community development work, where she experienced being a coordinator and teacher, traveling both in the Philippines and countries in Asia. She homeschools her three kids and reinvents Filipino dishes in her spare time. Writing has always been a hobby and pursuit, and she recently added content writing with Softvire Australia and Softvire New Zealand up her sleeve, while preparing for her next adventure in the nations.

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