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App Security Insights

A Lesson In Testing Your Code Vulnerabilities and The Tools To Do So

Aug 24, 2017 11:00:00 AM / by Sung Cho

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It’s astonishing to stop and consider just how quickly mobile technology has risen to the forefront. In just a decade or so, smartphones and tablets have become the most popular way in which people browse the internet, and accordingly, mobile applications are bigger than ever before.

In fact, there not only seems to be an app for everything these days; usually, several different apps are available to meet your specific needs. While this tremendous success has led to an entirely new revenue stream for popular tech companies (and opened up many opportunities for independent developers), it does present an important question:

Is all of this mobile development moving too fast?

After all, the connectivity that mobile apps offer is a double-edged sword. While the convenience of having so many different tools literally in the palm of your hand cannot be overstated, the fact that apps often retain sensitive user data and access to other devices on the same network may leave consumers open to attack by hackers and other malicious users.

Moreover, developers themselves may be so focused on getting their apps on the increasingly crowded market that they are neglecting to build effective security measures into their system, leaving it open to extreme code vulnerability. Now that mobile technology is so ingrained in our everyday life, there’s no excuse for skimping on security.

More threats are arising all the time, leaving your code and your users in serious cyber-danger. The time is right to test your mobile app security. So let’s discuss why this is so important and how you can effectively go about doing just that.

Why You Need to Be Testing

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We know that you might think that testing your app’s security system seems like overkill. If you already have a security system in place, why should you have to check up on it so frequently.

Well, as you have probably noticed, technology moves incredibly fast, and it’s imperative to the long-term success of your app that you stay on top of any incoming threats and vulnerabilities that could dismantle your security now or in the future.

By staying up to date on popular security standards, you can take precautions to prevent a cyber-attack and be better equipped to react when and if an intrusion does occur. If you take no action, however, you’re simply leaving your code and your users open to a tremendous amount of exposure.

Let’s delve into a few of the most egregious risk factors that could increase your chances of being hacked (if you don’t perform regular security testing, that is):

  • Insufficient encryption: Without a doubt, encryption is your first line of defense against hackers, but with code and software being updated all the time (as well as new, emerging threats), there’s a very real chance that the encryption you once put in place is no longer effective at protecting your app from outside elements.
  • Weak security hosts: Even if you have a security system in place within your app, you still have to take into account the servers that house your data. Oftentimes, these can fall prey to hackers, but if you don’t test to ensure that your security is as strong as it needs to be, you can easily leave an opportunity for hackers to slip into your code through the hosting level.
  • Storage issues: Although many apps save at least some data mostly for the sake of user convenience, it’s important not to let this practice get out of hand. For instance, don’t save unnecessary data within the app, limiting users’ potential exposure, and keep all stored information firmly behind password protection. That way, you have more than one level of security protecting it.
  • Outsourcing vulnerabilities: In the mad dash to rush into the mobile app business, many developers have decided to outsource elements of their code. This might seem like a smart short-term business decision, but the big picture remains that you aren’t in full control of the decisions made across your app’s development. As a result, security testing might be your best bet to keep a close eye on potential harm.
  • Failure to properly manage data: One of the best ways to control exposure is to allow users the option to wipe data from a device remotely. If a theft occurs, security risks are limited and contained. It’s also a good idea for your app to automatically end sessions after inactivity, especially if you deal specifically with sensitive information.

Recent research shows that as much as 98 percent of mobile apps lack sufficient security. Because of this, you need to ensure that you use security testing as a safeguard against the many, many threats ready to exploit your app for their own ends.

Trick Out Your Testing Tool Kit

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We’ve discussed why you need to be testing, but these are the resources you can turn to when you’re ready to get serious about security testing for your app.

  • OWASP Zed Attack Proxy Product: This open source project may be run by a team of international volunteers, but it’s actually among the strongest resources out there for your app security. Constantly updated and heavily monitored, the OWASP program is also free. So you’ll receive all the benefits of its team’s efforts to vet possible security threats at no charge. There’s a reason why this is such a popular option for developers looking to test and continually enhance their app’s security.
  • Neopwn: This tool may only run on Android devices, but it’s still worth including here because of the impressive features it offers. Another open source option, it uses a Linux operating system with custom software packets and offers a mobile phone security auditing distribution. Moreover, Neopwn provides remote access through VPN and SSH as well as seamless hardware integration. Not bad at all, especially for developers who are hoping for a tried-and-true approach to app security.
  • AppSolid: Of course, we may be biased with this entry. Still, our tool does present one of the more comprehensive approaches to mobile app security. Our three-step “scan, protect, track” process may seem simplistic, but make no mistake. This tool offers a full-app vulnerability analysis guaranteed to keep you updated and safeguarded against looming security threats. Considering how many hackers turn to decompiling or reverse engineering, our process very well may present you with the top-notch protection you need. The constant evolution of mobile technology means that you need this level of vigilance in your corner.
  • Smartphones Dumb Apps: Effective on both iOS and Android, this tool offers a variety of scripts you can use to test your source code. With this one in your corner, you’ll be ready to identify vulnerabilities within your code and prepare your app to keep most attacks at bay with ease. In addition, SPDA -- a Google product, by the way -- features a static code analyzer that scans all Java-based Android apps. If you’re looking for a simple yet effective solution, look no further.
  • HP Enterprise Software: Hailing from HP, this tool is one of the most versatile. It offers testing options for all kinds of apps, platforms and networks, including support for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows. So, regardless of which operating system your app uses, you have access to the same comprehensive security coverage. With dynamic scans designed to identify defects and other risk factors, HP Enterprise Software is a one-stop security testing destination that is tailor-made for multi-platform developers.

A Long Road to Security

long-road-to-security.pngSure, there is a wide variety of tools you can use to test your security, but these aren’t the only ways in which you can combat against a possible cyber-attack. As a matter of fact, the more elements of your app’s infrastructure you take into account, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

So, before you start firing up the app security testing service of your choice, let’s run down some of the larger ways in which you can beef up your app security.

  • Make authentication a key focus: We’ve already emphasized the necessity of encryption. However, let’s not forget about the importance of authentication. Controlling access to your app is a prime way to keep hackers out and sensitive data at a safe distance. To ensure that any security setup is performing at optimum effectiveness, you’ll need to verify that you have a process to authenticate users in place. Two-factor authentication -- that is, using a password and some other form of identification -- is fast becoming the standard. So bear that in mind as you nail down your own approach.
  • Acknowledge the limitations of your app: Depending on the type of app you’re developing, you’re bound to encounter a number of challenges along the way. But, even as you conquer each one along the way to going live, you need to consider both the platform your app will be published on -- most likely, either iOS or Android -- as well as whether you will be using a native app, a web app or a combination of the two. Each option will greatly inform the protections you use to secure your app, and the more you tailor your security to the type and platform, the safer your app will ultimately be.
  • Keep a close eye on certificates: Your security certificates go a long way toward maintaining your app’s protection against hackers. As such, ensure that yours are updated and active. This is the best way to ensure that your app is fully protected. After all, the standard Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) isn’t just there for decoration; it sends a clear signal to hackers that your app has taken at least the bare minimum effort to keep its data secure. Whether you build a successful security plan around it is up to you, but certificates are certainly a solid starting point.
  • Be sure to have enough storage: When you don’t have sufficient storage space within your app, it could lead to all kinds of issues, threatening the integrity of your app’s security. Although a testing system can identify any possible risks, the best way to prevent this is to ensure that your app is equipped with enough storage space to meet demand. Granted, this may change over time. So don’t be afraid to expand as necessary, and don’t save any data within your app that you truly don’t need in there. This move can help you make the most of the space that you do have.

To Guide Your Way...

Hopefully, we’ve shed some light on why testing your app’s security is such an important step to incorporate into your ongoing development and future plans. It’s alarming that the vast majority of developers are allowing their hard work to go live without taking necessary precautions, and with any luck, the details we’ve discussed above have given you the insight you need to prevent disaster from striking your app.

Having a strong defense is key to keeping hackers at bay, and you owe it to both your team and your users to protect your app’s code as well as the data within it from falling into the wrong hands. However, while testing your security should be an integral part of your strategy, it’s hardly the only fundamental aspect of mobile app security.

In fact, we’ve just introduced an entire eBook devoted solely to collecting everything you need to know about how to craft a winning app security plan. With this one-stop guide, we’ll tell you all about the danger that hackers pose, debunking some long-held security myths and give you tons of tips on how to protect your code from attack.

We’ll even offer up more details on how you can test your security system and truly make the most of it. It’s all just a few clicks away. So don’t wait another moment to get in the know about mobile app security. For more information on how you can get your hands on “The Developer’s Guide to Mobile App Security,click here. You’ll be glad you did.

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Topics: Security Threats, Source Code

Sung Cho

Written by Sung Cho

Head of Marketing at SEWORKS Co., Ltd.