Mobile apps are dominating the current business strategies which are focusing more on digitization and mobility. In today's digital world where time to market is everything, enterprises usually approach third party mobile app vendors for app development which will be used for in-house purposes only. A third party mobile app serves a variety of business operations like emails, calendar, invoice generation, payment processing, etc.
On the other hand, employees are becoming more tech savvy and using 3rd party applications at workplaces. This puts both the enterprise and users at risk with mobile security and privacy threats becoming a major challenge for the IT departments.
What are Third-Party Apps?
By definition, a third-party app is developed by an organization or developer that is not the creator of the device it runs on or the website that offers it. Depending on their source, third-party apps are either allowed or forbidden by the specific device manufacturers.
Let’s understand this by an example. Google Chrome works as a native browser app on Android devices. However, all the other browser apps that are present on the Google Play Store are third-party apps. Despite not being developed by Google, these apps are approved for use on Android devices. Similarly, social media giant Facebook permits some gaming apps on its site which it did not develop. These are also third-party apps.
Official Apps vs Third-Party Apps?
While third-party apps are created by developers who do not belong to the device manufacturing company, native or official apps are created and distributed by the company who manufactures the device. A few examples of native apps for Apple devices are iTunes, iBooks etc.
Official apps are developed using the software making company’s proprietary source code. Whenever a proprietary software maker like Google or Apple develops an app for an Android or Apple device respectively, it can be called as a native app.
Official apps can be available as third-party apps for other types of devices as well. So, just because an app is native to one device type doesn't mean that it can't function on another device. For example, Safari browser is native to iOS devices, but it has a version which can work on Android devices as well. So, it becomes a third-party app on Android.
Here are the top hidden dangers of using a third party mobile app at workplaces:
1. Mobile Malware is on the rise
Kaspersky Lab released its latest quarterly threat evolution report for the third quarter of this year which showed that over 300,000 new mobile malware programs were detected, a 10.8 percent increase over Q2. This shows that the global threat landscape is evolving at a fast pace as malicious programs are on the rise.
Even though Apple iOS is less vulnerable to malware as compared to Android, but two significant malware - XcodeGhost and YiSpecter were reported in September and October. These were found in mobile apps distributed through the iTunes App Store.
2. Network Threats
When employees use a third party mobile app, they are vulnerable to threats on the network level as well. Even though most enterprise networks are secure, it might not be necessary that the networks employees get connected to, outside of the office are secure enough. App users are prone to man-in-the-middle attacks and Wi-Fi sniffing if connected to unsecure Wi-Fi networks.
3. Emerging Attack Techniques
With the increase in the adoption of devices and third party apps in the corporate networks, cyber criminals have changed their attention and focus towards these companies. The main intention of these cyber attacks is to gain entry into enterprise data. Third party apps are easily exploitable and they become a weak link in the cyber security chain. These apps developed by third-party developers and partners are being targeted, with access to trusted services that deal with sensitive data, including employee information, strategic business plans, and enterprise data.
The vulnerability detection tools used by criminals are becoming more advanced and automated. These new attack techniques include:
- Exploitation of mobile and app vulnerabilities with insecure API access.
- Stealing of sensitive data cached by apps that don’t follow security best practices.
- Gaining unauthorized access of developer keys and credentials through social engineering of developers.
How To Keep Yourself Safe While Using Third Party Apps
Although all these incidents make mobile security a critical affair, one can overcome these challenges by:
- Using mobile security testing tools like Appknox for whitelisting the mobile apps used in enterprises.
- Public Wi-Fi networks should be avoided, as they are insecure and vulnerable to malicious sniffing. Companies must develop acceptable user policies, provide VPN technology, and ensure that users connect through these secure channels.
- Encourage users to install anti-malware by Avast, AVG, BitDefender, Kaspersky, Sophos, Symantec (Norton), or TrendMicro, on their devices that can offer an extra layer of protection.
- Explore more about the app’s developer and find out whether they are trusted or not. It’s better to trust only the well-known developers and platforms and most preferably download only from the designated app stores
- Always observe the permissions the app asks from you before downloading it. Consider only those third-party apps which ask for permissions they actually need