Best Practices For Mobile Application Security You Must Know

Hand holding smartphone with colorful app icons conceptMobile Application Security - Best Practices You Must Know

Developing an app for your business is an excellent way to improve your customer experience. However, there's a lot to consider when planning and developing an app. One of the most important things that you will need to address is the security of your app. Many apps require potentially sensitive information from their users. Mobile apps also regularly upload and download data in wireless online environments that may not be secure. If your app lacks the necessary security, it could lead to the theft of user data. Stolen data can be used by hackers to commit identity theft or credit card fraud. If this were to happen, your app's reputation would nosedive, and your company's reputation would take a hit.

What Is Mobile Application Security?

Mobile application security refers to all of the measures you take to ensure your mobile app's security and encompasses all of the following: 

  • The security features that you implement before the launch of your app
  • All the steps you take to ensure that your app is compliant with all security regulations
  • The continuous testing and monitoring of your app for security issues
  • How you address security issues that pop up

Why Is It Important?

If you're launching an app for your customers, then mobile application security is an essential component of the development and maintenance process. According to The Cyber Security Breaches Survey, roughly a third of all companies reported cyber attacks on their businesses. This number reflects a 60 percent increase in cyber attacks on medium-sized companies and a 61 percent rise in cyber attacks on large-sized companies. Mobile application security is crucial to protecting your business as well as your users. The following are the two main reasons you should focus a significant amount of your attention on mobile application security:

To Address Mobile Application Issues

The moment that a hacker exploits a security vulnerability that you weren't aware of, it’s important to address it immediately. Hacks and attacks can still occur despite your best efforts to mitigate against security risks. Be prepared for the worst right from the start so that you can limit potential damage. Bugs that are hindering the performance of your app could also cause security risks. You will need to fix such bugs the moment you find them. 

To Reduce Mobile Application Threats 

Identifying potential security issues before any cybercriminals can exploit them is essential. According to a Positive Technologies report, there were high-risk vulnerabilities discovered in 38 percent of iOS apps and 43 percent of Android apps. The most common security threat tends to be insecure data storage, which can be exploited by cybercriminals (or even foreign governments) using malware.

Common Mobile Application Threats 

To implement proper mobile application security protocols, you will need to know what kind of potential security threats your app may face once it's launched. By understanding the threats your app will face, you will have a better idea of how to mitigate security risks and plan for the possibility of the exploitation of those risks. Here are some of the more common mobile application threats that you should be aware of:

Unsecure Wi-Fi

It's not uncommon for people to use their phones to go online when they are outside of their homes. When they do this, they will typically sign on to an open network through free Wi-Fi so that they don't have to use their data plan. For example, coffee shops almost always offer free Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, these networks are usually unsecured. Hackers can easily exploit unsecured networks and access sensitive data directly from phones or apps connected to those networks.

Malicious Code

Most people download their apps from the Apple Store or the Google Play Store. These two stores have strict regulations that app developers must meet to have their apps listed. However, many users will download apps from other sources as well. If an app is being offered for download on a third party website but is not on the Apple Store or the Google Play Store, it's a big red flag. The app is likely unsecured, which means hackers can easily exploit them. There are many cases in which hackers will copy popular apps and offer them on third-party websites. These apps may contain malicious code that allows the hacker to access a user's data once they download the app.

Vulnerable Operating System 

Operating systems, such as Android and iOS, are continually being updated to address potential security risks that could be exploited by hackers. These updates will contain security patches or upgrades to address those threats. It's why mobile users should always update their OS as soon as an update becomes available. A user that doesn't update their OS will be more vulnerable to security issues. 

Data Leaks

Many apps require user data to personalize the user experience. This data is stored on remote servers. A hacker will have access to all of the user data collected through the app if they gain access to those remote servers. In addition to insecure storage, data leaks can also result from caching and browser cookies.

Cryptography Issues

Cryptography helps to protect user data. For example, before iOS software decrypts an app and executes it, it will verify that the app is digitally signed from a trusted source. While Android software doesn't verify the trustworthiness of the signer, it does confirm that the app is digitally signed before decrypting it. The design of this digital trust verification is why users should only download apps from official sources. A developer that doesn't use encryption exposes users to potential data theft. The use of encryption algorithms with known vulnerabilities can also increase the security vulnerability of an app.

Best Practices To Implement

Now that you have a better understanding of the potential security threats that your app will face, focus on building a robust mobile application security plan. Nine of the best practices to implement before and after you launch your mobile app follow.

1. Conduct Digital Security Trainings

Train your team about the security risks that mobile apps have. The better they understand what some of the common mobile security threats are, the better they will be able to mitigate against such risks. 

2. Always Download From A Trusted Source

The last thing you want is for a customer to download an illegal copy of your app that contains malicious code from an untrusted source. If someone hacks their app, they will, unfortunately, hold you responsible in their mind, even though your company had nothing to do with it. Such situations can cause you to lose customers and will hurt your brand's image. To prevent such cases, warn your customers only to download your app from a trusted source. You should also make clear what those trusted sources are on your website.

3. Secure Your Application's Code

Cyber attackers will look for bugs and vulnerabilities in the code of an app by reverse engineering it. All they have to do is download your app to do this. If they find any bugs or vulnerabilities, they'll be able to break into the app. To prevent such attempts to break into your code, you need to secure it. You can make your code difficult to reverse engineer by obfuscating and minifying it. You should also design your code to be agile and easy to update and patch. 

4. Secure Your Back End

The back end is the code that runs on your server and contains the database for the app. Security controls need to be implemented in your back end to ensure that your data isn't exposed. Without proper security controls, such as firewalls and authentication requirements, the user data you're storing will be vulnerable to unauthorized access. Besides baking security directly into your code, continuously check your security controls to verify that your data remains protected.

5. Set A Secure Identification, Authentication, and Authorization Procedure

Inadequate authentication mechanisms are known to be one of the most significant mobile app vulnerabilities. An identification, authentication, and authorization procedure is necessary to limit access to your app to your developers and users only. Some apps have a weak password policy that makes it easy for hackers to figure out the user's password and hack into their app. Consider implementing multi-factor authentication using an authentication code sent through email or an OTP login (a six-number authentication code sent through text).

6. Secure Data Storage

To protect user data, you will need to secure your data storage by encrypting your data. All of the data collected through your app should be encrypted. By encrypting data, you make it impossible for cybercriminals to read the data even if they find a way to access it. For example, if a user submits their credit card information to your app, the last thing you want is for hackers to use that information. The data will be scrambled if it's encrypted, which means the hackers won't be able to use it even if they manage to get access to it.

7. Set Mobile Encryption Policies

An encryption policy ensures that data is encrypted whenever you believe it's required. For example, an SSL will help encrypt data that travels across a network; however, it won't protect data stored in a database. On the other hand, encrypting the fields in your database will not protect any data accessed across the network. Create an extensive encryption policy that addresses all of these data security issues and encryption management processes. Document your mobile encryption policy and ensure that your team is adhering to it when developing your app.

8. Set A Solid API Security Strategy

Be very careful about the application programming interfaces (APIs) you use to develop your app. If you use an API that isn't authorized, it could unintentionally give hackers easier access to your app. For instance, your programmers might decide to cache authorization information locally to make it easier for them to reuse information when making API calls and allow coders to use them as well. Unfortunately, cybercriminals will now be able to hijack those privileges. To ensure that such a situation doesn't occur, establish a solid API security strategy that only allows APIs to be authorized centrally.

9. Test & Retest Your Application

Before officially launching your app, test it for security vulnerabilities thoroughly. You should be testing your app at every stage of development. Once you do finally launch your app, continue performing tests. Most professional app developers will run penetration tests, such as white box testing or black box testing, once or twice a year. These tests imitate cyber attacks to identify potential security vulnerabilities, such as unencrypted passwords, poor security settings, or other unknown issues.

Better Safe Than Sorry

According to Statista, mobile apps were downloaded by users more than 205 billion times in 2018 alone. So it’s no surprise that mobile apps are being targeted more and more by cybercriminals. Although releasing an app can be hugely beneficial to your customers, you must take the necessary security precautions. After all, your app won't be so beneficial if it results in the theft of user data. Keep mobile application security as a top priority throughout the development of your app to mitigate any potential security risks. Then monitor your app after its launch so that you can identify and address any potential vulnerabilities or issues. 

While this effort can require a lot of time and energy, it's better to be safe than sorry. After all, a significant security issue can cause you to lose customers and will reflect poorly on your brand's reputation. 

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