Mobile Application Security – What to Be Aware Of

Robby Gupta

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word convenience? For most of us here at TechJini, when someone says convenience we only think of mobile apps! We feel they are the 21st-century epitome of convenience.

The plethora of apps ranges from food & beverage, banking, travel, fashion and so many industries beyond these. This level of convenience that we as a race enjoy is unparalleled. However, as Stan Lee once wrote in his graphic novel [bctt tweet=”with great power comes great responsibility” username=”techjini”],the responsibility lays in the hands of app developers and organizations like ours to provide robust mobile application security.

Through mobile apps, we as their users risk our credit card details, passwords to sensitive data, and many such elements that we cherish. The incumbent that mobile app development organizations have is high. Below you will find a list of mobile application security risks that users are exposed to. Understanding these risks could prepare you and prove helpful for when you develop a mobile app.

The two key questions that will be answered here would be:

  1. Are mobile apps secure?
  2. Are mobile apps protected from malicious hackers?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of mobile application security, let’s look at the statistics of mobile security. Most mobile app developing organizations test less than half of the apps they build. Nearly 35% of the apps are never tested in terms of security before they hit the market. This discrepancy exposes users and gives hackers a treasure trove of information to misuse.

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Key Aspects You Need to Know About Mobile Application Security

We have segmented the issue of mobile security into four key aspects, which are further broken down into smaller segments to help you understand better.

1. Develop Secure Apps

-Coding vulnerabilities are usually exploited through mobile malware. The tried and tested method to follow here is to use source code scanning tools that can help in making mobile apps resilient to attacks. One of the best practices in the industry is to make use of third parties to analyze your code.

-App Repackaging: Another aspect that needs to be considered strongly is the possibility of being fake. Hackers can easily gather the code of your original app, reverse engineer it and put it back on the market. Often, unsuspecting users download the app, leaving their personal information and credentials exposed.

-Apps can be repackaged with malware to extract sensitive data. Users may get functionality similar to the original app but will be unaware of the malicious activity running in the background.

-Smartphones can also be used as relays or nodes in a botnet. They can be used to spam or launch DDoS attacks.

-Another aspect that mobile app developers need to focus on is insufficient transport layer protection. For any mobile app to function smoothly, it needs to interact with the carrier network and then the internet by and large. If the application code is not secure, hackers can use various techniques to extract sensitive data during its travel across the wire.

-Mobile apps are vulnerable to security breaches. This is due to a void in secure application development. Unstable apps and insecure coding can act as channels through which hackers can gain control of your devices. The industry best practice is to test the app repeatedly before it is published in the market.

-Untrusted inputs making security decisions. Cookies and environmental variables through apps are prime targets for hackers to manipulate inputs and force devices to make security decisions which would be disruptive. Integrity checking and sufficient encryption are key elements to curb manipulation.

2. Intelligent Devices

-For any app, its security is heavily dependent on the device security. Often users modify their device security by installing apps from other sources. Such devices are known as jailbroken or rooted devices. These devices run the highest risk of being infected with malware. Hackers don’t entirely rely on mobile malware to extract data. If a user grants excessive permissions to a mobile app, these can be skewed to provide a pathway for malware to infect the device.

-A recent development in the mobile security space is drive-by downloads. Malicious apps are installed on the device without user knowledge when browsed to a website. These websites are usually harmless for conventional browsers but are toxic for smartphone browsers.

-Spyware is something that is driving device manufacturers insane. Several apps allow for cameras, GPS and microphones to be activated remotely with user knowledge.

-By having apps that are aware of the risk associated with a device, the organization can remove sensitive data, limit certain functionalities and prevent access to enterprise resources. Enterprises have the onus of gauging the security of the device through their apps to reduce the risk of the user’s data being compromised.

-Additionally, the servers that your app would be accessing should have pertinent security measures to prevent hackers from extracting data.

-To address the aforementioned issues, organizations should be willing to adopt technology that allows for device risk to be incorporated into the mobile application structure.

3. Avoiding Data Leakage

-Data leakage is synonymous with devices across all platforms. Mobile pick-pocketing is a phenomenon that we as users are subjected to without our knowledge. Apps and malware usually indulge in rather small financial fraud such as generating premium phone calls and SMSs without our approval or intervention.

-Theft can be in the form of stealing contacts, media, and SMSs. You would be surprised to know that such a market exists. This type of theft occurs especially on open platforms.

-The biggest theft that can be done by hackers is identity theft. This involves tricking the parameters of a phone. As smartphones are used extensively for authentication, the repercussion associated with such trickery is serious. There have been many such cases reported in Brazil and India.

-Attention should be given to how applications store and use data. Securing sensitive information is essential to privacy.

-The best possible way to avoid data leakage is to have a comprehensive cryptography module. The module needs to be stable and one that has not been “solved” yet. Detection of app weakness can be done using various techniques and tools that may require manual analysis.

4. Restrict Access and Transactions

-With the advent of BYOD, personal devices carry sensitive information. The possibilities of leakage are high, which would be a massive threat to enterprises.

-How many times have you seen “Session Timed Out – Please Login Again” on your computer? This is one of the best practices of a session being handled. Threat seizes to exist if the session is smaller and manageable. It is high time that apps also have similar protocols.

-As mentioned above, apps should be protected properly with the industry best practices for authentication and authorization. This will ensure that users and their devices are authorized to transfer data according to the workflow of the app. This way un-authorized devices are users are blocked.

This has been a comprehensive list of mobile application security threats and measures to avoid them. The purpose of a mobile application is to make our lives easier, but not at the cost of exposing sensitive information. The only way forward for any mobile app development organization is to practice secure development techniques. The aim here is to develop secure apps with strong access and transaction restrictions that avoid data leakage, all these while providing customers with intelligent devices that are robust and comprehensive in their security protocols.

Thoughts? Comments? Talk to us in comments below.

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about the author

Robby Gupta

Robby Gupta is the head of US operations for TechJini, Inc. He has had varied experiences working in New York, Cupertino, and Bangalore with packaged & amp; custom web and mobile app development for an assortment of industries. His current focus is Immersive Technologies, IoT, AI bots and their applications in the digital enterprise.