Mobile App Development Privacy and Security Checklist

With over 5.5 million apps available in leading app stores, it is clear that the mobile app market is flooded. On the other hand, consumers aren’t willing to use any old app. They want only the best ones.

These apps have to be beautifully designed, offer friction-less navigation, should be easy to use, and provide value.

Various parameters, like compatibility, performance, and functionality, must be thoroughly tested. So yeah, designing and developing a mobile app is no simple task. But above everything else, people are increasingly concerned about privacy and security issues.

After the Facebook fiasco, people are anxious about sharing data and personal information. They prefer to use only those apps which are secure. Now, these concerns are more valid than ever.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is being forced online. And there has been a significant rise in on-demand apps.

People have every right to be more vigilant about what apps are safe to use. However, with the right privacy and security guidelines, you can take your app to the next level.

Here are some of the best practices that you should follow to create more secure apps

1. Evaluate all open source codes

Open source and third-party libraries are changing the app world, helping to speed up development and deployment. Enterprises apps can contain as much as 90% open source codes.

Unfortunately, third-party codes have often been the reason behind vulnerabilities, allowing attackers to remotely exploit a system. Open-source apps can be reverse-engineered. So leaving the source code open could put your app at risk.

By using new and protected codes, app developers can build an app from the ground up and reduce the possibilities of reverse engineering.

Moreover, exhaustive security testing can ensure that the code won’t make the app vulnerable. Furthermore, developers need to stay up to date with CVE’s (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) list of publicly known cybersecurity vulnerabilities in open source tools.

2. Secure the source code

In mobile app development, most of the source usually resides with the client. Consider obfuscating the code to keep it safe from hackers. This entails making the code base unclear and confusing so that attackers cannot use tactics such as reverse engineering.

Utilizing software such as Pro-guard can facilitate obfuscating the codebase. Often these software work by changing the class, method, and attribute names into meaningless letters or characters, rendering the code incomprehensible.

3. Utilize strong data encryption

No matter how much you work on securing the code, you need to be equally vigilant of the data. All app data needs to be encrypted. Eliminate any plain-text resources so that it’s impossible to gather insights about the application.

But for optimal protection, you should employ multiple security measures and encrypt data at all levels. And that includes aspects related to the device, network, data, database access, etc.

4. Secure the database

Payment information, user credentials, and other sensitive information about the client must remain safe in order for people to continue using the app. But this means that security in both the app and the mobile device needs to be up to date.

More importantly, the database on the user’s end must be encrypted to prevent data breaches. App developers understand the importance of protecting sensitive data. That’s why many ensure that their apps aren’t allowed to store information in local storage.

5. Isolate app data

Apps access information from mobile devices regularly. However, they must remain independent of the user’s data at all times.

App developers need to focus on creating a layer of protection around the app so that private information is not undermined. This feature is essential for building trust in the app, especially when it comes to enterprise-deployed apps.

Good Read: Secrets to Mend Your Mobile Security Early in the Development Life Cycle

 

6. Ensure safe communications

You need to go beyond the security of data at its generation and storage points. In fact, it shouldn't be compromised at any level of transmission. The network connection between the mobile application and server may be prone to attack as well. So the obvious place to start is to ensure that communication is secure.

The app’s code should be able to acknowledge valid security certifications and block those requests which are invalid. By validating the authenticity of security certificates, developers can help to eliminate illegal access by attackers.

But sending and receiving data inside your app via secure mediums is equally as important. This typically involves using VPN tunnels, SSL, TLS, and HTTPS communication. Usually, these protocols are incorporated from the very beginning.

7. Allow access only to secure connections

While HTTPS protocol in connections is crucial, it’s also essential to limit inbound ports. Therefore, in order to prevent attacks, mobile apps should only grant access to specific servers and services.

In fact, the app should be prevented from talking to other domains. By maintaining a white list of IP addresses and domain names, interactions with insecure sites can be circumvented.

8. Enable remote data wipe and device locking features

App developers should confirm that user-level application policies are defined and enforced. This includes aspects such as remotely wiping the app data after a failed number of incorrect passwords, not allowing sequential numbers to be utilized in passwords, and requiring the use of special characters in passwords. These are a few ways through which access to apps can be restricted, and, as a result, the user’s data is protected.

9. Secure data locally

The app should stop the transfer of data outside the app. For example, copying or sending sensitive information for unauthorized external use should not be allowed. Similarly, any data copied to the clipboard should be removed when the app operates in the background.

Additionally, when a user logs out of an app, all user-related data such as password, account information, etc. must be wiped clean. And if any tampering issues are detected, the app should be forced to shut down.

10. Optimize data caching

Often, mobile devices will cache data to improve app performance. However, this can make the app vulnerable to attack. Hackers can decrypt cache data and access confidential information about the user.

Though password access to an app can significantly reduce this from happening, the app’s cache manager should clear data whenever it is running in the background. So when the device reboots or other user logs in, the cache data should be wiped clean automatically every time. Moreover, sensitive data should not be displayed via error messages.

11. Implement authentication and authorization systems

Last but not least, a secure app must have a strong authentication and authorization mechanism. In fact, this is considered the core of a secure mobile app. Both aspects need to function properly in order for the system to be effective.

Data can be easily manipulated. App developers need to add ways to validate and authenticate that data without compromising the ease of use and compatibility of the app. Authentication ensures that the user enters the correct information before the app can be launched or any data is accessed.

Multi-factor authentication system or multistep authentication adds another layer of app security to ensure data safety. Multistep authentication services can require a user ID, password, six-digit PIN, a reliable SMS code, or even the user’s GPS location.

Authorization, on the other hand, permits access to functions that a user is entitled to. Once a user displays the proper information, the app will verify back-end services to determine whether the user has permission to access the app’s data.

Apps should have a built-in system to safeguard against unauthorized access. A person with incorrect login information should be locked out remotely from the app after a set number of attempts. That way, neither data stored in the app can be accessed, nor can it be downloaded from or uploaded onto the server.

Final words

Users are more conscious of mobile app privacy and security. They have high expectations and will only download apps from trusted sources such as Google Play, Apple’s App Store, and Amazon App Store.

Here, they know that they are less likely to encounter an app infected with malicious code. Moreover, they will check to see whether the developer actively updates the app and if there are enough positive reviews from other users.

Your job, as an app developer, is to get your app onto these platforms. Ensure that you follow respective app store guidelines so that your app gets the attention it deserves. Let your users know that you are doing your best to provide them with a secure app.

 

Published on Aug 25, 2020
Mehul Rajput
Written by Mehul Rajput
Mehul Rajput is a CEO and co-founder of Mindinventory, a mobile app development company that provides web and mobile app solutions from startup to enterprise-level company. His role involves heading the operations related to business and delivery with strategic planning and defining road-map for the future.

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