Mobile App Security: Risks & Tips

Nov 3 19:41 2020 Vinit Kariatukaran Print This Article

More than 5 billion world population use mobile phones. Mobile applications are the prime revenue generators for many small and enterprise businesses. However, these applications’ threat to data loss and getting hacked has also raised the need for mobile app security.

Any business’s most essential criteria are to protect their user’s critical information. But because of the rise in digital fraud cases from notorious hackers – mobile app developers task has become more challenging than ever. This article is about how hackers or malware – attack the app’s security and effective tips to secure the mobile application.

Have you ever calculated the speed at which mobile apps getting downloaded worldwide? Whether you are looking to develop a mobile application for healthcare,Guest Posting travel, or any other business of yours, you should always be concerned about keeping app security as prime criteria.

Having an out-of-the-box mobile app idea is great. Most of the app development focus stays on perfect designs, innovative features, and great functionality. When ignored, a Mobile app security breach can lead you to loss of trust forever. Developing a secure app requires multiple security layers in the backend, the mobile device, and the communication channel.

The mobile industry has progressed rapidly to become interminable. The mobile apps stores are loaded with a myriad of mobile applications, striving to attract users. However, the sheer volume of mobile apps has created fierce competition. Despite the growing usage numbers and increased adoption, the greatest threat to an app's success is security.

Why Mobile App Security Issue is a Big Deal?

Users are very much concerned about the privacy of their data and safety. Data breach cases discussed widely, app security is a factor determining success. It is a measure that secures applications from specific external threats such as malware and digital fraud, risking critical financial and personal information from notorious hackers.

Even a small breach in the security system can give hackers free access to personal life in real-time to disclose data such as banking information, current location, personal information, and other vital data. 


What Happens When Mobile App Security Is Weak?

Globally 5.19 billion people use a mobile phone and spend 90% of their time on apps. Mobile apps are significant revenue generators for many businesses; however, intellectual property or sensitive data of the app attracts hackers.

Users trust businesses and organizations to test their apps due to security reasons before making it available online. Nevertheless, 2020 Mobile App security Index revealed some shocking facts.

  • 43% of companies have no budget for securing mobile applications.

  • 39% of companies do not take the necessary steps to secure their mobile application.

  • 33% of companies never test their apps to make sure they are secure for users.

The above facts and numbers are real. These are enough fuel for hackers to breach the security loopholes in apps and leverage all of the most vulnerable data.

Cybercriminals are creative. They can access a mobile phone’s camera, microphone, and location to build convincing apps' clones. Hackers employ several strategies to gain access to personal information and exploit users.

Some of the standard mobile application security risks include:

#1: No Multifactor Authentication

Users are usually guilty of using one insecure password for multiple accounts. Consider the number of users your app has. Even if the password is secure, hackers test passwords across other apps that could lead to an attack on the business.

 Multifactor authentication uses 2 out of 3 possible authentication factors. However, it does not depend on the password before certifying the identity of the user. With additional authentication, it becomes difficult for hackers to breach. Some examples are – answer to a personal question, SMS confirmation code, biometric authentication, etc.

#2: Poor Encryption

Encryption is very important for security. Encryption transposes data into a code that is hard to decipher. It is viewable only after it is translated back with a secret key. Simply put, encryption can change the sequence of any combination lock. Unfortunately, hackers have the gifted ability to pick locks.

Symantec data shows that 13.4% of all consumer devices and 10.5% of all enterprise devices lack encryption. Hackers can easily have personal data in plain text format if they can manage to gain access to any of those devices.

However, companies using encryption are equally vulnerable towards mobile application security risks. Developers make human errors, and hackers exploit that. When encrypting an app, it is important to assess how easily hackers can crack the app’s code.

This security threat can have serious consequences, including intellectual property theft, privacy violations, code theft, reputation damages, etc.

#3: Reverse Engineering – Anti-Tampering

Reverse engineering is an innate threat. Apps are exposed to this threat always due to the nature of coding and programming.

The amount of metadata available in the mobile app development code for debugging also assists attackers to understand how apps function.

Reverse engineering is a tool that reveals how apps function on their backend, reveal encryption algorithms, rectify the source mode, etc. Your code may work against you to make way for professional hackers.

#4: Malicious Code

Forms, comments, and other user-generated content are often overlooked for a potential threat to app security. For example, the login form – when users enter their username and password, the app communicated with the data on the server for authentication. Apps that do not restrict the use of characters used to run the risk of code injection to the server for access.   

Even if one line of JavaScript is entered into the login form without guarding against characters like the colon or equal sign, they can easily access personal information.

#5: Storage

When data storage is insecure, it can lead to a breach. It can happen in several places within the app: cookie stores, SQL databases, binary data stores, etc. The cause may be a vulnerability in the operating system, compiler, frameworks, or jailbroken devices.

Hackers could modify the legitimate app and funnel information as soon as they access the device or its database.

Even the most sophisticated encryption system fails when a device is rooted or jailbroken. As a result, hackers can bypass the OS restrictions and even circumvent encryption.

Tips To Safeguard Your Device With Mobile App Security Best Practices

 Mobile app security is a real-life challenge. We are facing it now and may continue to do so.

The tools app developers use to develop mobile apps are the same that hackers use to exploit them.

Despite this prolonged struggle to make apps hack-proof, some of the largest mobile apps companies deploy some of the following best practices to protect and use without any compromise.

#1: Server-side Authentication

In a given situation, the server-side grants multifactor authentication requests only when authorization is successful. If an app stores data on the client-side and is only made available on the mobile device, ensure the encrypted data is accessible only when the credentials are validated successfully.

If you have a persistent authentication, such as “remember me” functionality, do not store the device's password. Create multiple authentication tokens for different mobiles.

#2: Cryptographic Algorithms

The only way to fend off any breaches related to encryption is to avoid sensitive data stored on the device, including passwords and hard-coded keys. These could be readily available to hackers in plain text or even used by attackers to access the main server.

Theoretically, iOS has the right protection tools to halt reverse engineering through coded encryption. However, it is not a definite solution. You have to assume that attackers are professional, and they can decrypt information easily.

Even the most powerful encryption algorithms cannot prevent a breach if you do not adopt proper key management strategies. Your app should be protected against vulnerabilities like binary attacks.

Do not use deprecated algorithms unless you are a security expert. Do not create your encryption protocols.

#3: Input Validation

Input validation is necessary to ensure it meets the standards of sanity check. Hackers are always looking for an opportunity when test input validation. They scour the site for the potential of malformed data.

Input validation ensures that only data expected is passed through the input field. For instance, when you are uploading images in a mobile application, the file should have a matching extension according to the standard image file extensions and reasonably sized at the same time.

If image validation does not specify parameters forbid unreasonable file size or pixel count, hackers can upload malicious files that claim to be an image.

All fields of input, including audio, video, form fields, and command-line inputs, are vulnerable. This caused the first iPhone jailbreak.

#4: Threat Modeling

Threat modeling builds data defenders. The method is used to understand the problem. A good threat model ensures that the team should understand how to operate differently on OS, platforms, external API transfer, frameworks, and store data. But, building these frameworks and connecting the third-party APIs could expose apps to the inefficiencies too.

#5: Disguise To Prevent Reverse Engineering

Is it possible to prevent reverse engineering?

In most cases, developers have the tools and skills to build convincing clones of mobile apps' UI without gaining access to its source code. On the other hand, business logic requires more effort.

Some commercial-grade tools are available to make business logic indecipherable. Developers use different tools like indentation to make code that is easier for a human to read, though the computer may not bother about formatting. Hence, minification, or removing all spaces, allows maintaining functionality and making it difficult for hackers to read the code.

End Word

Penetration testing, like ethical hacking, is an important mobile app development tool, in which developers attempt to find one or more vulnerabilities to exploit as a hacker. Although it is best to be prepared for mobile application security risks right from the start, this concern shall likely remain throughout the business lifecycle. Compliance is another important consideration for mobile app security. It is incredibly critical to understand how the mobile app security would be handled under different conditions.

Developing a secure mobile application requires the collaboration of the entire team, between expert developers, marketers, security experts, and even C-level executives. Any security protocol for password strength and the use of analytics tracking pixels are some of the security strategies that need buy-in from an entire team.

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About Article Author

Vinit Kariatukaran
Vinit Kariatukaran

Vinit is passionate mobile developer working at Radixweb, a leading software development company. He is always keen to developing and designing innovative high-reach mobile applications that work well. As a writer, his eagerness to share the knowledge he has acquired of how to develop next-gen mobile applications drives Vinit to create digestible bytes of hyper-relevant information.

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