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App Security Insights

How To Create The Safest and Most Comprehensive Environment For Your App Users

Sep 7, 2017 9:00:00 AM / by Sung Cho

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Mobile app security is becoming a highly popular topic on the internet as hackers continue to infect developer’s products. Hackers keep on changing their tactics left and right and it seems nearly impossible to keep up with their game.

Because the need for an effective app security solution is in such high demand, there are quite a lot of safety practices that developers are adopting and sharing across the internet. You can equip your app with top notch security measures during it’s creation and after the app has already been built.

To gain a sturdy understanding of how to fully protect your app, you will need to make yourself fully aware of the risks you can take and the threats that are out there. Once you know what is threatening the safety of the app, you can understand why certain measures must be taken.

In this article we will address the most common security issues that occur during mobile app development, how to secure the app from the ground up, and the best practices you should use to help prevent hackers and viruses from getting hold of your user’s sensitive data.

Breaking Down The App

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A mobile app has a handful of elements that allow it to function. When you break it down, you have the:

  • code
  • business logic
  • databases
  • operating system within the device
  • the user

Each of these elements plays an important role when it comes to how secure the app is and remains. The threats that exist on the internet today are malicious and can creep in from any angle.

Malicious Threats

The threats to your mobile app’s security come in all shapes and sizes. These include:

Application Based Threats

  • Malware - software that can perform malicious actions once it is installed onto the phone
  • Spyware - collects or uses private data without the user’s knowledge or approval
  • Privacy threats - could be caused by applications that are not necessarily malicious but still have found access to sensitive information
  • Vulnerable applications - apps that have flaws that can be used and exploited for malicious intentions

Web Based Threats

  • Phishing scams - emails or tests that are designed to trick the user into giving out personal information such as passwords or account numbers
  • Drive-by downloads - downloads that happen automatically when a user clicks on a link that opens up their browser that takes them to website
  • Browser exploits - takes advantages of the vulnerabilities existing in the user’s web browser or a software that uses the web browser

Network Threats

  • Network exploits - takes advantage of weaknesses in the mobile operating system and installs malware directly onto the mobile device
  • Wifi sniffing - intercepts data traveling on a pathway between the mobile device and the wifi access point

If your app has security issues, these threats can easily find their way in and compromise any confidential data within.

Common Security Issues

Security issues generally begin in the design of the app. Users expect the the company who created their mobile app have taken all of the necessary precautions to secure it properly, but unfortunately this is not always the case.

Common security issues that occur in mobile app development are:

Insecure Data Storage

Insecure data storage vulnerabilities tend to happen when the developer does not expect that hackers or malware will be able to access the device’s file system. This is where all of the user’s sensitive data is stored. These file systems are extremely easy for hackers to access if not properly secured.

SSL

SSL is one of the most common mobile app security issues. The SSL, secure sockets layer, is the security technology that establishes an encrypted link between a server and a browser. This layer ensures that all the data that is traveling between the two areas remains private. If there is an issue with the SSL, this data is made vulnerable. Very often developers don't spend enough time on the SSL and the implementation does not work properly. This in turn provides easy access to any hacker snooping around to see if any part of the app is insecure.

Data Leakages

Hackers love to seek out that personal data. So many apps require users to input their personal information, and this make them vulnerable to identity theft or fraud if the app is not properly secured.

Untrusted Inputs

If an app is not sufficiently encrypted it can accept data from a dangerous source because a proper authentication process has not been put in place.

Weak Server-side Controls

If the server that the mobile app is accessing does not have it’s own security system in place, hackers may find a backend way into the apps data. All APIs must be set up securely so that only authorized individuals are able to gain access.

security-issues.pngHacker’s Abilities

Once hackers gain access into a system, they will be able to:

  • inject malware into the app so it can access all of the user’s sensitive data
  • tamper with the app’s code
  • intercept sensitive data traveling in a pathway
  • steal customer’s data for fraud purposes
  • get a hold of property or business assets
  • access IP or a company’s backend network

Best Safety Practices For Developers

Developers are falling into a trap where they are more worried about one-upping their competition rather than making sure that they have taken all the best security measures for their product.

Some good practices that will help to protect an app from harm and secure the user’s data are:

Building the app’s security into the initial strategy for it’s creation

Security precautions should be considered right from the get go. If the security measures are implemented in the development process, it can be carried out in a more thorough, smoother, well-organized fashion.

Being aware of the application analytics

Focus on how the users are handling the app and you will know what is working and what is not. Using crash logs and tracking the way that everything is functioning will allow you to pinpoint errors and vulnerabilities.

Using the implementation of user authentication

Every user that attempts to login to the app should need to authenticate their identity. Using two-factor authentication will help to be even more thorough and ensure the user is not a stranger. This will make it more difficult for hackers to break in and hopefully discourage them from attempting to do so.

De-authentication

You can also de-identify user data when it is stored in the app. Removing all identity details will make it difficult for the data to be traced back to the users.

Keeping security testing consistent

Once the app is up and running, even if you have taken all of the proper initial security measures, you need to continue to consistently test for vulnerabilities. You should be constantly monitoring the app’s performance and checking for any needed updates or changes to be made. Hackers are always changing their tactics, so you will need to keep up with them and be changing things on your end as well.

Restricting data access

No matter how secure things are, it is still possible for data leaks to occur. Just to be safe, set your app to request permission to access any of the data that it needs to use in order to function. Overtime the app needs to use data, the data is at risk.

Focusing strongly on encryption

Encryption is one of the most effective strategies to ensure that a mobile app is secure. It is widely known as the most efficient way to guard data against hackers. Encrypt all data transmissions, especially the ones that are on the transport layer.

Staying aware of mobile gateways

All mobile traffic has to pass through a gateway. The developer can direct the traffic to take the most secure pathway. This can be done with firewall, content filtering, and other security controls.

Requiring regular updates

Apps should be required to be updated with the most current security protections. Older versions of the app will not be protected sufficiently, and the users should be made aware of this.

Implementing A Good Encryption Policy

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The more data that is stored on a device, the more vulnerable it is. If an app requires a lot of the user’s data, it can easily become a “leaky app”, leaking the data without the user even realizing it. Ensure that all data is well encrypted by:

  • using file-level encryption to protect data on a file-by-file basis
  • offer a way to encrypt the mobile database so that the data stored locally is safe
  • make sure that all passwords, credit cards, personal information, etc. are encrypted if they must be stored in the app

Use Security Software

Whether or not security measures have already been implemented when the app was being built, an anti-hacking software will provide the protection necessary as the app continues to be used.

An effective software will:

  • carry out usual scans to assess whether or not there are any threats or vulnerabilities in the system
  • provide a layer of protection to keep out unwelcome users
  • track any suspicious activity and detect if a hacker has gotten through

When it comes to securing a mobile app, you can never take too many safety precautions. If you are in the market for a good mobile app security software, you will need to assess exactly what your specific needs are. Consider what your goals are and what the nature of your business is.

The one that you decide on should give you the utmost confidence that all steps are being taken to protect your customer’s valuable information. Securing your app is an absolute necessity as you want to be sure that your users view your company as one that they can depend on. For more information on how to create the safest and most comprehensive environment for your mobile app users check out this eBook: The Developers Guide To Mobile App Security.

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Topics: Application Security, Security Threats

Sung Cho

Written by Sung Cho

Head of Marketing at SEWORKS Co., Ltd.