Mobile App Security

20
Apr

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.

AUTHOR BIO

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.

23
Jul

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.