critical steps that a developer cannot afford to overlook when it comes to securing the integrity of mobile apps


How To Secure The Integrity Of Your Mobile App

Mobile apps dominate the digital world, with over $935 billion expected sales by 2023. Just this year, there are 1.96 million iOS apps available for download on the Apple App Store, while around 2.87 million apps are available for download on Google’s Play Store.

Consumer’s dependency on mobile apps is staggering as well. Almost half of the mobile phone users open an app more than 11x in a day. In fact, one mobile phone user alone uses ten mobile apps in a day and around 30 mobile apps in total for a month.

Mobile phone users are now at 5.22 billion out of a 7.83 billion world population. Imagine how much money apps, especially the most famous ones, are making for every single download by all those consumers. Based on these figures alone, we can see that the mobile app and software development industry is thriving.

The Mobile App Industry Keeps Rising

There are apps for every skill set and interest level, preference, and purpose. You can play music at the click of a button or open an app for the latest recipe. You can ask an app to order groceries quicker or become a household DIY expert through DIY design apps.

As a result, the mobile app industry is burgeoning, and the possibilities are vast. In fact, the industry’s market size is close to $80 billion, with a forecast increase to $100 billion by 2022.

Mobile apps even became more in-demand during the rise of the pandemic. With so much growth in this industry and an explosion in customer demand, there could be a movement to bring an app from idea to retail marketplace in a matter of days, dodging the levels of safety and testing that can put an app and its potential users in a compromised security situation.

As a matter of fact, hackers and cyber thieves often attack mobile apps because it is easier to breach due to major bugs that make it vulnerable to an attack and user compromise.

To that end, even the fastest product development phase must include critical steps to ensure that the app is as reliable and as user-friendly as possible while being safe and data-protected.

How to Build Secure Mobile Apps

Below are some of the critical steps that a developer cannot afford to overlook when it comes to securing the integrity of mobile apps:

1. Use a Secure Code

Often attackers exploit code flaws and vulnerabilities to obtain access to an application. They will want to reverse engineer and tamper with your code, and all they need to do so is a public copy of your app. Malicious malware attacks more than 11.6 million mobile devices at any one time, which is concerning.

Consider the code’s security from the outset, and harden it to make it more difficult to hack. Code can be obfuscated and minified to prevent reverse engineering.

Testing should be repeated regularly, and vulnerabilities should be fixed when they are discovered. Create the code in such a manner that it can be easily upgraded and patched. Maintain your code’s agility to be modified at the user interface if there is a leak, and use code hardening and signing to your advantage.

2. Leveraging HTTPS Protocol

HTTPS is an abbreviation for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Safe. Web users can be used to having HTTP in front of their browser URL. However, the inclusion of the basic “S” is crucial.

Sites and applications built using this protocol are more stable than their competitors and, therefore, less resistant to a hacker attack. Any website that allows consumers to enter personal details, such as their name and address or credit card number, can do so over HTTPS.

HTTPS operates by encrypting the contact protocol with Transport Layer Encryption to protect all internet transfers and computer networks (TLS). It is a method that experienced developers might be more familiar with from its predecessor, Stable Socket Layer (SSL).

When activated, TLS encrypts data as it is transmitted between a single program and a larger server. It means that the credit card number, for example, is not sent verbatim. Instead, it is conveyed as a jumbled up and thus illegible code.

But why bother with this extra encryption step? Why not just leave the contact protocol alone? The solution is found in how conventional HTTP protocols distribute results.

Simply put, this unencrypted mechanism is invalid. As a result, there is little to prevent anyone of malicious intent from spying on data as it flows through the web or between networks.

When this arises, the hacker can intercept the information and adjust it for his or her benefit. At times, the hacker can entirely halt contact, prohibiting a user from accessing an application and vice versa.

TLS, on the other hand, employs X.509 public key certification, key encryption, and a two-way symmetric key protocol to keep data as secret and confidential as possible. The encryption key is needed for the decryption process, which converts the encrypted code back into legible details.

This protocol validates the server’s identity before sending data. Then, before submitting the files, it encrypts and preserves them. This process guarantees that messages are consistent and that data confidentiality is maintained in the production process.

Regardless of if the data is being used, it is still encrypted using HTTPS. As a result, developers also use it to help secure and preserve data in fields ranging from databases and emails, hard drives, and individual devices.

3. Utilize Data Encryption

Developers must encrypt all data exchanged through the app. Encryption is the process of scrambling plain text until it is nothing more than a jumbled incoherence to everyone except those who have the key. It ensures that even if data is compromised, hackers would be unable to read and use it.

As government organizations are revealed seeking permission to hack iPhones and decode WhatsApp texts, you can understand the importance of encryption. Hackers can’t get in unless they force their way in.

4. Cleaning and Clearing the Cache

Data storage, especially in the software creation realm, should be data secure. As a result, a cache can be a dangerous place for information to stay for an extended amount of time.

In a nutshell, this is a part of either hardware or software that acts as a data-keeping ground. When this data is cached, it is accessible locally, making it easier and faster to retrieve.

Anyone who has ever had trouble navigating a web page and then chooses to open the archived version will testify to the speed at which this content is available. It is essentially a replica of the existing data or a snapshot of a previously stored version.

In the case of smartphone applications, caches hold information that must be available in the future. For example, an app can save your login details or username, so you don’t have to type it each time you use the resource.

As a result, a user’s mobile device inevitably becomes a sort of storage place for a myriad of cached information, keeping this data close at hand if specific websites or apps are reaccessed.

It is in a user’s best interest to clear his or her cache regularly. It will not only free up precious space on your mobile computer but will also ensure that your private information, including passwords, is no longer open to surveillance.

It is particularly critical for those who use Android apps regularly, as they need to store massive amounts of data in smartphone caches. This data will become compromised as it lies, risking not only customer protection but also frustratingly long loading times and other web and device malfunctions.

5. Use Libraries with Caution

When using third-party libraries, exercise extreme caution and thoroughly validate the code before incorporating it into the program. Any repository, no matter how useful it is, can be extremely dangerous for your app.

For example, the GNU C Library had a security flaw that enabled attackers to execute malicious code and crash a computer remotely. And this oversight went unchecked for more than seven years.

Developers may use controlled internal libraries and enforce policy constraints during acquisition to protect their applications from library bugs.

6. Making Code Obscure

Obfuscating the coding of a specific project is the best idea for software developers to pursue. Simply put, this involves making it vague or even incomprehensible, making it difficult or practically impossible for hackers to understand.

You may use this move to make the intent of your code more ambiguous. Alternatively, you might be defending unique principles within the code that you need to keep secret.

Whatever the justification for undertaking this move, the good news is that app creator tools are available to help automate this process and the whole creation path. However, it is possible to do it manually as well.

Developers may use an obfuscator, a technique known in the industry, to translate standard, simple source code into a version that functions the same but looks somewhat different to the outside eye.

Developers may use various approaches depending on the size of the project and the level of protection. They can decide to exploit and obfuscate the entire source code or only a portion of it.

They may also choose to keep all of the metadata or delete it in sections and rename their class and variable labels to names devoid of context and consistency.

Although data extraction is an integral part of this method, bear in mind that there are many situations where a code’s obfuscation is strengthened by inserting needless and illegible lines into an app’s binary.

7. Do Not Use Unauthorized APIs

APIs that are not permitted and are incorrectly coded can unwittingly grant hacker privileges that will be heavily violated. Caching authorization knowledge locally, for example, enables programmers to reuse it when making API calls quickly. It also makes it easier for coders to use APIs, which makes their lives easier.

It does, however, provide attackers with a loophole from which they can steal privileges. APIs, according to researchers, should be accepted centrally for optimum defense.

8. Fortify Authentication

Since some of the most severe security breaches are caused by insufficient authentication, high-level authentication is becoming increasingly important.

Simply put, authentication refers to passwords and other personal identifiers used as entry barriers. Indeed, a large part of this is based on the application’s end-users, so as a developer, you can encourage your users to be more open to authentication.

The apps will be programmed to accept only solid alphanumeric passwords that must be refreshed every three to six months. Multi-factor authentication, which combines a static password with a dynamic OTP, is becoming more common. In the case of susceptible devices, biometric authentication such as eye scans and fingerprints may also be used.

9. Apply the Theory of Least Privilege

According to the theory of least privilege, a program should be run with only the permissions it needs. Your software does not need any extra permissions to function.

If you don’t need access to the user’s contacts, don’t ask for it. Disable any unnecessary network connections. The list goes on and on, and it is heavily dependent on the app’s data, so perform continuous threat modeling while you update the code.

10. Conduct Tests Regularly

The process of securing the app is never-ending. New threats emerge, necessitating the development of novel techniques. Invest in intrusion detection, vulnerability simulation, and emulators to periodically test glitches in programs. For each update, they are fixed, and updates are released if required.

The plethora of immense data breaches in the last few years alone is causing individuals, businesses, and organizations to heighten their cybersecurity practices. With mobile app development, security will become a vital and unique selling point for mobile phone users, more than usability and visual appeal.

Conduct regular testing, so you know your app is secure and does not compromise you, your business, and your consumers.

Conclusion: Secure Your Mobile App Users at All Cost

Data protection, transparency, and security should be a top-of-mind concern for mobile app developers. It provides a sense of security to consumers that improve an app’s trust rating. If trust ratings increase, sales will eventually follow, even exponentially.

Making a sale is essential, but it should not be the primary driving force you want to make an app. Make an app because you want to add value to consumer’s lives. Be a strong gatekeeper between your consumers and cyber attackers that want to exploit them.

Never sacrifice safety for sales. When your app compromises your consumers, you will lose those sales entirely, not just for one app but also for all apps you develop. Incurring a bad reputation as a mobile app developer is not good, of course.

Securing your app starts from its conception on paper and down to every stage of development. Good developers are proactive developers. They aim to be a step ahead in ensuring the data they collect is kept private and secure, adding layer upon layer of security just to make sure their consumers are protected.

After all, your mobile app’s integrity starts from your integrity as a mobile app owner and your mobile app developers’ integrity.

As for individual mobile app users, do not just rely on app developers for security. You need to have cybersecurity practices to ensure your data’s integrity as you use your mobile apps. Choose only to download apps that are verified and reputable. Look at peer reviews and user comments first before you download anything, and use security apps like antimalware apps and VPN (Virtual Private Network) apps to harden your mobile phone security.

In the end, cybersecurity is everybody’s business.


Mayleen Meñez used to work in media before finding her true passion in NGO work, traveling the Philippines and Asia doing so. She homeschools 3 kids and loves reinventing Filipino dishes. She is a resident SEO writer for Softvire Australia and Softvire New Zealand.