Explaining Mobile App Security in Simple Terms

For most of the businesses these days, mobile apps are the heart and soul when it comes to connecting with their customers all around the world. As these apps have access to huge volumes of sensitive business and user data, it becomes essential to protect them from threat actors.

And during the testing times of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a substantial rise of around 600% in the number of cybercrimes across the world. That is why businesses need to stress more towards strengthening their mobile application security infrastructure. So, let’s try to understand the basics of mobile app security, the underlying threats, and what best practices must be followed so as to protect your customers as well as your business.

What is Mobile App Security?

Mobile app security can be summarized as the set of tools and security practices employed to safeguard mobile applications from security risks like cyber-attacks and data theft. Mobile app security mainly focuses on the security requirements of the apps present on various mobile platforms like iOS, Android, and so on.

Basically, the techniques of mobile app security assess mobile applications for security vulnerabilities based on the platforms they are made for, their development and design framework, and who their end users are (like other businesses or end customers).

Why is Mobile App Security Important?

Mobile apps are at the center of most of our activities these days. Be it bank transactions, online shopping, planning travel, or getting in touch with everyone else, we depend on mobile apps for almost everything.

And in order to make all the functionalities possible, businesses track user information like their location, contact details, files on their devices, and several other metrics to boost their services. So, it becomes essential to protect such sensitive information from going into the hands of the bad guys and have security measures in place.

There are several other self-explanatory reasons which justify the importance of mobile app security:

  • You can’t trust the third-party libraries and APIs your app relies on. So you need to have security measures in place.
  • Compliance standards require your business to set up security measures for your app.
  • If you have proper security measures in place, you can remotely delete data on stolen devices and be safe from data leakage.

5 Security Threats in Mobile Apps

Since we are discussing mobile application security, it becomes important to know where the real risk lies and what are some of the most commonly faced threats when it comes to mobile app security.

Data Theft

Data is the biggest asset when it comes to any online business or in fact any other business too. Leakage or theft of data is one of the biggest problems faced by mobile apps. Sometimes it’s unintentional and other times it’s due to their own fault as they ask for too many permissions and store voluminous data without having the security measures in place. There is a certain set of apps called “riskware” which transmit user data to remote servers where it is mined by cybercriminals.

Broken Cryptography

Broken cryptography often happens when weak encryption algorithms are used by developers during app development. Most of the time, they rely on familiar encryption algorithms with known security vulnerabilities in order to accelerate the app development process. As a result of this, hackers get the opportunity to exploit those vulnerabilities and gain access to user information.

Session Handling Issues

Session tokens are used by mobile apps to let users perform several functions without logging out of the session or re-authenticating. However, when these session tokens are not handled properly or somehow shared with threat actors, improper session handling occurs and hackers get a chance to impersonate users and steal information and whatnot.  

Reverse Engineering

This is one of the most common attack vectors when it comes to mobile apps. Using this technique, hackers get detailed knowledge about the source code of the app, its algorithms, libraries, and other assets. This can be used to exploit the inherent vulnerabilities in the app and also gain access to back-end servers and other proprietary and user information.

Client-Side Injection

Upon exploitation, this vulnerability allows hackers to execute malicious code on the mobile device via the target application itself. This also allows the threat actors to have access to various functionalities of the user’s device and change its settings in the background.

Examples of Mobile App Security Flaws

Now that we understand the most potent threats when it comes to mobile app security, it becomes important to go through the security flaws that mobile apps still have despite having an idea about the threatening outcomes they can have. Here are a few examples of some of the most common security flaws found in mobile apps:

Insufficient Network Traffic Encryption:

Mobile apps generally don’t have the required level of protection when it comes to encrypting the network traffic. As a result, threat actors can sniff over sensitive communications and have access to sensitive information.

Session Expiration Flaws:

After the expiry of the user’s session, mobile apps generally fail to invalidate their session tokens. As a result, threat actors get an opportunity to use those session identifiers and impersonate users.

Insufficient Authentication/Authorization

Mobile apps generally fail to have adequate authorization/authentication checks to make sure that only the authorized parties have access to sensitive resources. Most of the time, this flaw results in hackers gaining access to important data without much of a hassle. 

Mobile Application Security Best Practices

The best practices in mobile app security make sure that your app is free from all the security risks and is safe for public consumption. Keeping in mind the basic requirements of mobile app security, the following methods can be considered:

Focus on Data Security

You must establish the required guidelines regarding data security to safeguard your users from falling into the traps of the hackers. This may include deploying data encryption methods during data transfer and setting up firewalls and security checkpoints wherever necessary to protect user data.

Don't Save Passwords

Don't be an app that asks users to save their passwords for easy login later. In case of any security incident, these saved passwords can be exploited to gain access to personal information of users. The chances of password theft increase even further if they are not encrypted properly. So, it's better not to save user passwords or use proper hashing techniques if you are already doing so.

Focus on Session Management

It is important to end the session of users after a prolonged period of inactivity or after every time they log out of the session for increased protection. We have discussed above in detail how session handling issues can prove dangerous if not addressed to properly. No matter what, it is essential to enforce session log out and invalidate session tokens.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication

Given the risks of hackers impersonating the users, it's best to have an added layer of security on your mobile application by implementing multi-factor authentication. This method also makes up for the weak passwords which could compromise the security of the app.

Rely on Penetration Testing

The best way to avoid any security issues on your business's mobile app is to adopt the methodology of penetration testing. It is done to check for the vulnerabilities present in your app. It involves assessing your app's encryption, password policies, permissions, and other features where security vulnerabilities might be present.

Final Thoughts

Mobile application security is a vast domain. Because of the rapid advancements in the functionalities of the apps, the ground for security vulnerabilities also gets bigger and bigger. However, with an improved understanding of the intricacies of mobile app security and also because of the rising number of attacks, businesses have now started to focus more on cybersecurity, especially on mobile app security.

 

Appknox Mobile App Security

Published on Mar 12, 2019
Written by Prateek Panda

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