In the age of smartphones, mobile apps have become integral to our daily lives. The average smartphone user spends over 3 hours and 10 minutes each day using their device. About 2 hours and 51 minutes of this time is spent on apps (around 90% of phone usage).
Whether it’s for communication, entertainment, productivity, or finance, we entrust these apps with sensitive and personal information. This reliance on mobile apps highlights the paramount importance of mobile app security.
What is Mobile App Security, and Why is it Important?
Mobile apps have access to large amounts of user data, from login credentials to banking information and more. That’s why it is crucial that developers build in top-notch security features in their mobile app. Mobile app security encompasses the measures and protocols put in place to safeguard the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of user data within an application.
Not only does mobile app security protect a user’s sensitive data, but it also helps maintain user trust and saves companies money by avoiding potential lawsuits. There are also numerous data protection laws that can lead to legal consequences if not followed.
Top Security Threats Mobile Apps Face
Mobile apps face a plethora of security threats, including:
- Malware attacks, such as ransomware, Trojans, spyware, and viruses.
- Cyber scams, like phishing.
- Data leaks due to poor encryption or weak security measures.
- Injection attacks into an app’s runtime environment, potentially leading to data breaches.
- Unauthorized account access due to insecure authentication.
- Unsafe third-party APIs.
- Rooting or jailbreaking mobile devices, which can override built-in security measures.
- Insecure network communication, resulting in data breaches and other security risks.
Security Issues Across Android and iOS
Mobile platforms like iOS and Android provide security controls developers can use to build a secure app. However, with so many different security controls available, this can lead to improper vetting and implementation of security features that can be bypassed by attackers.
While both Android and iOS face security concerns, they can differ in their vulnerabilities:
- Fragmentation: Android’s open ecosystem means a wide array of device manufacturers and versions, and not all devices have the most up-to-date security measures. This fragmentation can make it challenging to patch vulnerabilities consistently.
- Malware: The Android platform is more susceptible to malware due to its open nature. Users can inadvertently download malicious apps from unofficial sources.
- App permissions: Android apps request various permissions, and users might not always scrutinize them. This can lead to apps accessing more data than necessary.
- Downloading outside Google Play Store: Users can download mobile apps from unofficial sites outside of the Google Play Store. This can result in downloading a fake or unsafe app.
- Google Play Store limitations: Google has security measures in place to prevent malicious apps from being published in the Google Play Store. However, due to the sheer number of apps being published daily, combined with the quick app review process, it’s possible unsafe or malicious apps can slip through the cracks.
- App Store control: Although iOS has strict app review and sandboxing policies, malicious apps can sometimes slip through.
- Jailbreaking: Jailbreaking is a process that removes Apple’s restrictions on iOS devices. While this offers users more control, it also opens the door for malicious apps to be installed, bypassing Apple’s security checks. Jailbroken devices are more susceptible to malware.
- Phishing attacks: Phishing attacks targeting iOS users can trick them into revealing sensitive information.
- URL scheme vulnerabilities: iOS apps often use custom URL schemes for inter-app communication. If not implemented securely, these schemes can be exploited for phishing or to launch other malicious activities.
Security Measures Best Practices for Developers
Depending on what your app provides, you’ll want to focus on implementing different security measures that make the most sense for your users. Whether you’re developing an app for iOS or Android devices, or both, developers are also expected to follow platform-specific security guidelines.
There are some security features that are important to implement, no matter your app’s functionality.
Secure coding is the principle of designing code that adheres to code security practices and protects published app code from security vulnerabilities. Using secure coding standards such as OWASP Mobile Application Security Verification Standard helps developers secure their mobile apps, focusing on security measures including input validation and output encoding.
Data encryption transforms data into an undecipherable code called ciphertext. Only people with access to a secret key can access and decrypt encrypted data. Data encryption helps protect private info, sensitive data, and can improve the security of communication between client apps and servers.
There are two types of encryption algorithms: symmetric and asymmetric. Symmetric encryption uses a single key to encrypt and decrypt data. Asymmetric encryption uses two different keys on the sender and recipient side.
Data encryption is an essential security measure in all mobile apps as it’s one of the most effective tools to protect important and sensitive data.
User authentication is used to prove that that the person accessing an account is the legitimate account holder. Developers can implement authentication security measures such as multi-factor authentication, single sign-on (SSO), and biometrics scanning like fingerprint or face ID scanning.
Regardless of the user authentication methods implemented, it’s important to review your authentication process and make changes as needed to keep your app safe.
As new threats emerge, new devices are released, and new platform versions are deployed with improved security measures, it’s important to keep your app’s security up to date to patch known vulnerabilities. Mobile app testing tools can help automate security testing within the CI/CD process.
Keep your app and dependencies up to date to patch known vulnerabilities.
It’s always a good idea to test your app against randomly generated security scenarios before app deployment. Penetration testing is typically performed at the end of the app development process and can be used to identify and test all security measures implemented in the app.
Penetration testing includes defining the scope security testing, mapping all security measures, and exploiting discovered vulnerabilities in the app. Finally, security tester reports the security vulnerabilities found in the penetration testing and classifies their results by severity and priority.
Apple App Store and Google Play Store Requirements
Before you can publish an app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, you must ensure your app follows platform-specific security guidelines. If your app doesn’t follow these guidelines, you risk delaying app publication.
Mobile app security is not an option but a necessity in today’s digital landscape. It’s imperative to protect user data, maintain trust, adhere to legal requirements, and safeguard your reputation. Developers must be vigilant in implementing robust security measures, and both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store enforce strict security guidelines to ensure user safety. Fortify your castle against security threats, and your app will stand strong in the realm of mobile technology.