Mobile applications have conquered the market, and today, there is a mobile application for every possible need. As of 1st week of 2024, the Google Play store has 3.6 million, and the Apple App Store has 1.8 million applications

With the rising number of applications, it becomes imperative for decision-makers to understand that mobile application security is an investment that should be added to the cost of application development. The importance of mobile app security has grown across many industries due to the increased use of mobile banking services and shopping through mobile devices.

While the developers understand the importance of adding security to mobile, businesses also need to be aware of the vulnerabilities, loopholes, practices and tools. Since apps are always tracking personal information, organizations also need a well-compiled strategy to protect their systems from security breaches.

Let’s dive in to learn the best practices of mobile app security to boost and bolster your security game in app development. 

What is Mobile Application Security?

Mobile app security protects mobile apps from external dangers such as malware, phishing attacks, and many other serious threats. It focuses on mobile applications running on different operating systems and platforms. The main focus of mobile application security is to protect and strengthen the system and existing security measures.

How Does Mobile Application Security Work?

The process of increasing mobile application security works by strengthening the app’s code. When a programmer develops the code, adding multiple security layers is paramount. The protection layers ensure that the application responds to unusual activities that might exploit the vulnerabilities.

The layers facilitate robust encryption, authentication mechanisms, and communication protocols. Security technologies start working to stop fraudulent activities even before malware hits. Hence, malicious software that might potentially steal consumer data gets blocked and reported on its path with unique identifiers. 

Together, they combine a systematic approach to designing and implementing mobile app security testing measures to mitigate potential vulnerabilities against attacks.

Why Should You Care About Mobile Application Security?

Take a look at the graph of the security revenue market. 

app security revenue market

It shows the revenue of the global mobile device security market, which is forecasted to grow through the coming years to reach a staggering 17.57 billion dollars by 2026. Money is the motivation, not always.

Sometimes, information is more precious than gold. This is the reason attackers either eye for money or for information. For any business, reputation holds the utmost importance, and any information leak due to a lack of security in mobile applications can lead to the downfall of big empires. 

This is just a glimpse of the malware attack. Let alone the financial and reputational losses incurred by the ransomware. That has become a whole new domain nowadays. Companies must understand it is wise to invest in mobile application security before the attack rather than spending on recovering information post-attack.

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Some Common Vulnerabilities in Mobile Application Security

OWASP top ten is the global standard that issues a list of vulnerabilities for mobile application security.

Vulnerabilities in Mobile Application Security

Source: OWASP

These OWASP concerns apply to iOS and Android devices, albeit the specific mobile attack may differ based on the mobile device and operating system. So, it becomes imperative to implement the best standards of mobile application security.

1. Improper Platform Usage: Inappropriate platform use, such as misusing mobile platform features or disregarding security restrictions. Can exploit the Cross-site scripting(XSS) vulnerability using mobile devices. It can be prevented by secure coding and configuration methods on the server side in the process of mobile app development. 

2. Insecure Data Storage: When confidential information is not encrypted, it is accessible to hackers who use malware or equipment that has been lost or stolen. The filesystem of mobile is easily accessible and has valuable information, like PII and other sensitive information.

It can incur identity theft, reputation theft for a business, fraud, etc. To prevent it, threat modeling must be done, and countermeasures must be taken to secure the mobile app, platforms, OS, and frameworks.

3. Insecure Communication: When sensitive data is exchanged over public networks, there is a chance that malicious parties will intercept it. While communicating, SSL/TLS may be utilized, and not a secure connection.

A poor SSL/TLS connection can be a reason for phishing attacks or MITM attacks. Preventing it includes taking mobile application protection measures like encrypting the connection, using trust certificates, and verifying the connection before information exchange.

4. Insecure Authentication: Identity management system weaknesses allow malicious actors to fake or bypass authentication in order to access private information or features. Once an attacker gets an idea of how and where the vulnerability lies, they will exploit it to bypass the authentication.

Preventive measures can ensure all authentication requests are solved on the server side. Multi-factor authentication is another countermeasure.

5. Insufficient Cryptography: Inadequate encryption to protect login information, application code, and other sensitive data is known as inadequate cryptography. It generally leads to the collection of sensitive data by the attacker. The best way to prevent this is to avoid storing sensitive data on mobile devices and implementing cryptographic standards. 

6. Insecure Authorization: Authorization is checking whether the authenticated user has the authority to enter the space. Attackers can easily disguise themselves as authenticated users to get authorization. Independent backend code verification should be there to prevent such vulnerabilities.

7. Client Code Quality: Poor coding practices that allow outside users to send the app untrusted (and potentially harmful) code as inputs, which the app subsequently executes. Poor code quality can be exploited by attackers using malware or scams.

Buffer overflow within the older version of Safari is one such example. It can be resolved by prioritizing buffer overflow issues and validating the length of incoming buffers. A simple solution is writing clean, well-documented code.

8. Code tampering is when hostile actors modify the code, resources, or API calls without being detected, changing how the application functions. Generally, the attacker exploits code modifications via a third-party app, bringing about fraud. Phishing scams are a typical example. 

A feasible environment for code tampering is a Jailbroken device in iOS and a rooted device in Android setup. Look for the detection of such devices. Another preventive measure is the app’s proper reaction to code integrity violations. The improper reaction is a clear indication of tampering. 

9. Reverse Engineering:

The reverse is going back to how it started. Knowing this process makes one understand how things work. Imagine a hacker getting his hand on the source code and decoding it back to how it all works. They do this with tools and a feasible environment while breaking the code strings to inject malicious code. Prone to IP theft, backend system attacks, and other attacks.

Using a good obfuscation tool to obfuscate the code is one solution to save the code from reverse engineering. And remember to check the effectiveness with deobfuscation tools like IDAPro and Hopper.

It’ll help you gain an understanding of the loopholes your code has. By adding layers of complexity or anti-tampering features, approaches like code packing or binary-level protections can make reverse engineering more difficult.

10. Extraneous Functionality: It’s the existence of unwanted or concealed functionality in an application package that adversaries could uncover and use. They can easily download the log files of your system and read them, exposing how the backend system works. To avoid this, get a secure manual code review done by security experts.

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Some Side Effects of “Not so Strong” Mobile Application Security

Some of the side issues that arise when ignoring mobile app security are listed here to make you understand the seriousness of the issue. These are sensitive Personal identifiable information(PII), financial information, IP theft, Revenue loss, and many others.

Let’s understand how weak mobile application security affects the “not-so-relevant” parts of our lives and business. 

1. When Your PII Remains Not so Personal

Yes, the latest hack can affect your life if information is not secured.  The revelations provided by the Israeli NSO’s Pegasus malware rocked the globe. The Pegasus monitoring program gained access to 1,400 WhatsApp users using smartphones as covert spying tools. Having all their accounts in surveillance and accessing all the chats that were claimed by the giant as encrypted. 

Imagine a giant like Whatsapp was untouched by such an attack where they spend hundreds and thousands of dollars securing and encrypting the data and making encrypted chat features. This example explains how vulnerability can become a threat to customer information and customer privacy.  

2. When You Lose Money

Cryptocurrency worth over $3.8 billion globally was hacked in 2022. $586 million has been stolen from a chain supply company in 2021. Businesses need to enhance mobile application security to stand against this clear threat. Businesses want built-in app security features that can identify and stop threats before they occur. By proactively improving mobile app security, organizations can lower security threats.

3. When Connection is Not so Good

Flaws while managing and terminating sessions can invite security risks, making an app unsafe. Mobile application security risks like session hijacking, account takeover, Privilege escalation, and data exposure result from poorly implemented session expiration. To prevent such risks, regular security audits by security advisors can be done to understand and mitigate the problems.

4. When Revenue is Lost

Applications’ premium features can be accessed, especially in utility and entertainment apps, which provide the developer with an income. In a 2016 analysis by a mobile security company, it was seen that hackers who exploited the vulnerabilities had access to the premium features of some popular applications like Hulu and Tinder, costing the owners a lot of money. 

5. And Finally, When The Client Loses Confidence

In addition to losing crucial user data, the loss could also lead to data misuse or legal action from those who were damaged. The disadvantage of security drills is the potential long-term loss of client trust, even while they help to keep customers loyal and confident in the business.

Businesses must realize that the foundation of their operations is consumer confidence in their brand, which also impacts their mobile app monetization strategies. Therefore, the app development rationale should consider this business facet as well.

The world is a small place, and everything happening here affects us. A war in Russia can affect the U.S. economy. Likewise, weaker mobile application security can endanger your personal sensitive information. Let’s look into the nitty-gritty and understand how it affects various platforms.

Loopholes in Mobile Application Security

We saw how weaker security was a reason behind the non-technical information involved. But technically, how intruders change the system to gain information is the key and the place where it all starts. If you aim to strengthen your application’s security, keeping these points in mind can boost your mobile application security. 

A. Security Risks When it is Android

1. Going Reverse!

An APK is a compressed file. Uncompressing it gives a dex bytecode file or Smali resource files. This bytecode has to be again converted into a Java source code file to get a look at the source code. A Java-integrated development environment (IDE) like Eclipse is used for app creation on the Android platform. With numerous mobile app security solutions and online tools, these Java apps can be reverted.

The bytecode for Android can be changed and then repackaged as APK files. When Android programs are reversed, test login credentials, design flaws, and information about the frameworks and classes used are all readily available. Additionally, it can offer information on the kind of encryption the app employs. This can aid the hacker in hacking not just one device but others utilizing the same decryption technique. 

reversing an apk

2. Insecurities Can Really Take You Down

App creation platform is one of the critical aspects and plays a big part in security. iOS and Android both platforms have their list of vulnerabilities.

When a developer does not secure the exported services, it creates a data exposure threat. 

Hackers frequently snoop on Android devices to obtain BroadcastReceiver instances intended for authentic apps. 

3. Not Interested in Updating

In its monthly Android security bulletin in March 2023, Google published that the CVE 2023 – 20963 is under limited, targeted exploitation. This vulnerability exploits the malicious app and gives access to the user’s contacts, calendar details, and photo albums.

A lack of updation or security patch from the mobile app development, developer can easily affect the user system and cause exposure of sensitive user information. 

4. Careful “What” You Root For

With some provided warnings, the Android devices can be rooted via third-party apps. However, not every user knows that having a rooted smartphone leaves it open to hacker influence. Therefore, it becomes imperative for developers to either notify consumers frequently or prevent their mobile app from running in a rooted environment.

5. Breaking it Down

There are difficulties in providing uniform security across various hardware and operating system versions due to the broad range of Android devices and versions that are now available. Compatibility problems and a delay in security updates expose devices to security flaws.

B. Security Risks When it is Apple

Apple stands for safety and privacy. But hackers are hackers. They can find their way around the system. At a microscopic level, it really boils down to decisions like which development framework to work on. Which iOS developers can make a secure iOS application for my business? Which app development company can quote the correct cost of app development? Which mobile app development services are available?

1. Breaking From the Jail

The phrase “jailbreaking” is frequently used with iOS devices. It entails locating a kernel exploit that enables users to run unknown code on mobile devices. Every time a user restarts their mobile device, it must be linked to a laptop or run a jailbroken code as jailbreaking is tethered. 

2. Identifying the Correct User

Because Face ID and Touch ID employ a CPU distinct from the rest of the OS, iOS claims these features are safe and provide device-level security. It is known as the Secure Enclave and utilizes a unique microkernel. However, hackers have shown that Touch ID is vulnerable by using GrayKey, implementing easier brute force attacks. 

3. Data Storage

Most apps save user information in standard text files, cookies, binary data stores, and SQL databases. With security loopholes in the OS or framework, hackers can also intrude and access the storage locations. Hackers that obtain access to the database alter the software and gather the data on their computers. Even the most advanced encryption techniques are exposed on jailbroken smartphones.

According to security experts, insecure data storage is one of the most prevalent weaknesses in iOS devices that hackers frequently take advantage of to steal passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data.

4. Social Engineering Attacks

iOS users may be tricked into disclosing personal information by social engineering strategies like phishing or fake app downloads. To reduce these hazards, user education and awareness are essential. 

Mobile App Security Best Practices

In the current scenario, the security of mobile apps becomes even more critical because customers merge their interests into a single device. While leveraging the service for mobile application development, it is necessary to follow some best practices to make your app development journey very smooth.

1. Data Encryption

Native mobile apps have most of their code on the client side. It makes it easier for the malware to detect and track the bugs and vulnerabilities. Renowned apps can come under attack when the attackers develop a rogue app with reverse engineering. 

For example, iOS apps use NSUserDefaults as a popular method to store data and PLIST files to store various settings and configuration-related data.

A good practice developers should follow here is to ensure that they integrate proper tools for detecting and addressing data vulnerabilities. Data encryption makes an app’s data unreadable to prevent itself from any tampering. It keeps the apps secured by ensuring that applications are robust and powerful enough to defend themselves against attacks.

2. Authentication and Authorization

Mobile apps need to have high-level authentication to prevent themselves from security breaches. The apps should be designed in a way that only alphanumeric passwords are accepted. Moreover, developers should also add it as a mandatory practice to make users change their passwords frequently.

Sensitive apps need an extra layer of security with biometric authentication. Adding fingerprints, retina scans, and face recognition can help decrease the chances of apps getting breached.

Implementing secure authentication mechanisms like Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) helps ensure that only device owners are able to access it. Some other authentication measures include proper session management, role-based access control (RBAC), user input validation, and HTTPS with TLS encryption protocols.

3. Secure Code

A 2023 report by IT Pro suggests that a mobile app source code accounts for 82% of the identified vulnerabilities. Hence, it becomes essential to develop a bug-free and unbreachable source code. Some things to get checked are – obtaining an SSL\TLS certificate and then enabling the SSL\TLS support on the server.

Enabling HTTPS for all the API requests is mandatory for secure communication. Another technique is code obfuscation, which is the practice of developing a code that is difficult for hackers to understand. Obfuscators conceal code from attacks by converting programming code automatically into a format humans can’t understand. 

4. API Security

APIs play an integral role in enhancing mobile app security. Since they improve functionality, interactions, and data exchange, they need to be highly secured. To ensure no data is exposed, data access authorization is essential.

For authentication, a recommended practice is to use OAuth with JSON Web Tokens for secure data exchange. Similarly, HTTPS ensures the blocking of any eavesdropping attempts and encrypts data while in transit.

Some other measures include using OpenID Connect for a standardized identity layer and API gateways like Kong. Developers should also utilize security testing tools such as OWASP ZAP to aid in monitoring and securing API endpoints.

5. Patch Management

Patch management refers to the application of vendor-issued updates to ensure the security of an app is constantly under watch. As a practice for boosting mobile app security, applying the latest patch updates to IT infrastructure improves performance and productivity.

Patch management is essential for addressing specific security issues by providing a better remedy. Moreover, it also keeps hackers at bay, as they usually attack unpatched assets. Since 2020, there have been more than 130 distinct ransomware variants, which have resulted in massive destruction. Some of the most notable include CryptoLocker, Ryuk, WannaCry, Locky, Darkside, and REvil.

6. App Store Guidelines

Adhering to app store guidelines is a fundamental mobile app security practice. These guidelines often necessitate stringent security measures to protect users and their data. Implementing secure coding practices, such as data encryption and secure storage, is vital. 

Additionally, ensuring proper authentication mechanisms, using authorized APIs, and obtaining user consent for data collection are integral to compliance. Regular app updates to patch vulnerabilities and maintain compatibility with the latest security protocols also demonstrate a commitment to app security. Adhering to these guidelines is crucial for maintaining trust and credibility with users and app store platforms.

7. Secure Data Storage

App-specific data has specific application files stored by the application for their functionality, such as user settings, user profiles, etc. This is sensitive information like your name, number, mail ID, etc. Similarly, User Preferences are stored in the application. Credentials and tokens are generally authentication credentials, and the app saves session tokens.

These are just a few places to list where your data is saved and cached in the application and has all the information like username, passwords, email address, and house address. Protecting these data also comes under the security radar.

8. Penetration Testing

Identifying potential weaknesses that might compromise the security of an app is necessary. Sometimes, attackers use client-side injection to push malicious code in the shape of input, which the mobile application subsequently consumes.

For the same reason, penetration testing is an essential part of custom app security solutions and should be used frequently. The testing involves checking for password policy, unencrypted data, and third-party permissions. It’s a process of recreating a potential hacker’s activities to find vulnerabilities.

As a general rule, one should consider the following to lessen the likelihood of a client-side injection:

  • Prevent the information kept on the gadget from traveling from a network to protect devices from infections.
  • Restricted user interactions on devices for the functions not required
  • Enabling session expiration to wipe off data (stolen or lost)

9. User Education

User awareness and education are fundamental to maintaining security and stopping data leaks. Similarly, top mobile app security providers recommend that IT organizations keep business apps separate from personal apps while still allowing users to download personal apps on their mobile devices.

By establishing secure mobile workspaces, you can prevent users from copying, storing, or spreading essential data and malware from accessing business apps. Here are some ways:

  • Securing sensitive information.
  • Restrict access to the clipboard to restrict copy and paste actions.
  • Stop using screenshots.
  • Limit the use of sensitive files by preventing users from downloading them to their phones or keeping them on external drives, file-sharing services, or others.
  • Watermarking sensitive files with user information.

10. Monitoring and Incident Response

Any intruder with runtime access can change the default implementations of your applications to ones that encourage exploitation. For instance, an attacker may get access to the application’s backend workings and alter the coding to modify the application’s behavior.

The program may suffer a great deal as a result. Some use cases include the extraction of cryptographic keys, the disclosure of financial information, and the interruption of server connections.

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Mobile Application Security Testing (MAST) and The Process

In simple terms, using the techniques to test the security of an application in the same manner as an attacker would is a straightforward explanation of Mobile application security testing. The type of data an application works on, and the business functions required for the application are some factors that are tested. 

The client-server setup and server-side APIs are generally tested in a more exhaustive assessment, including a mobile app security test. The testing process includes a combination of static analysis, dynamic analysis, and pen testing (both manual and automated).

The Security Testing Process

security testing process

1. Discovery

Information collecting is a part of the discovery process and will also be the foundation for the penetration testing phases. The information gathered provides the foundation for searching for vulnerabilities, which can make or break a pentest.

2. Analysis and Evaluation

The analysis and assessment procedure is fairly unusual since the application must be examined before and after installation.

  • Static Analysis: Only the application’s source code is used for static analysis.  
  • Dynamic analysis: This is a run-time analysis. While keeping track of the communication between the application and file systems, it also incorporates a forensic examination of the file systems.

3. Exploitation

The penetration tester’s exploitation phase is likely its most crucial phase. The pentester must identify covert cues that can successfully reveal various vulnerabilities, which can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful test.

4. Reporting

Reporting the results is the last step in mobile application penetration testing.

The ultimate client must be shown the finished documents. This stage should address any questions, changes, or suggested recommendations. After making the necessary changes, the documentation is finally provided to the client for evaluation. The pentester can validate the corrections and approve them after this phase.

Top Mobile Application Security Tools

1. Zed Attack Proxy

ZAP is an open-source penetration testing tool maintained by OWASP. It is an extensible and flexible pentest tool for web applications. It acts as a “Man-in-the-middle proxy” setup. 

2. Android Debug Bridge

The Android Debug Bridge (ADB) is a multi-purpose command line interface tool. It is included in the Android SDK platform’s tool package. It enables communication between devices. Hence the name’ bridge.’ This tool facilitates functions like debugging an application.

3. Snyk Code

Snyk code is a static application security scanning tool (SAST). It works for both iOS and Android vulnerabilities. Scans the code in Swift, Objective-C, and Java. 

4. Quick Android Review Kit

The Quick Android Review Kit tool is made to scan source code or packaged APKs for various security-related vulnerabilities in Android applications. The program may also generate deployable “Proof-of-Concept” APKs and/or ADB commands that can take advantage of many of the vulnerabilities it discovers. It can exploit vulnerabilities in a secure environment as well.

5. Mobile Security Framework

MobSF is one of the popular tools among the tester community. It is a multipurpose automated framework for penetration testing, security assessment, and many other features. It also does static and dynamic analysis. It analyzes binary codes and source codes.

6. Android Tamer

The platform is called Android Tamer, a Backtrack distribution used to analyze malware, conduct penetration tests, and do reverse engineering on Android applications. By attempting attacks, this tool enables security teams and developers to find potential vulnerability spots in an Android app.

Final Thoughts

Mobile devices are not going anywhere, and neither are the applications used. As they say, “Prevention is better than cure.” Securing your applications minimizes the potential risk of hacking or attacking. The mobile app security checklist discussed in the blog is the best practice to follow and secure the data. The road to a safer application goes through safe practices. 

The impact of mobile app development security affects the trustworthiness of a company. Updates and upgrades are the keys to staying ahead and winning the competition. Moon Technolabs offers varied mobile app development services and can help you in your quest to become the best in your game.

FAQs

01

Are mobile applications more secure than websites?

It is pretty difficult to answer this question clearly. Mobile applications have their own role and user category, while websites are a different category. Application security is a common feature in both categories.

02

How is mobile application security important for applications?

Mobile application security is of utmost importance when breaches are concerned. App security leads to safe and secure applications where the user data is protected. It safeguards sensitive information from unauthorized access. It is imparted while the application is developed by mobile application development services.

03

What are some desirable security features in any mobile application?

Starting with the most basic security is device login. Then comes authentication and authorization, encryption. And in any case, when the application is developed, then, mobile application security testing is done to find the loopholes. These are some features provided by mobile application development services.
About Author

Jayanti Katariya is the CEO of Moon Technolabs, a fast-growing IT solutions provider, with 18+ years of experience in the industry. Passionate about developing creative apps from a young age, he pursued an engineering degree to further this interest. Under his leadership, Moon Technolabs has helped numerous brands establish their online presence and he has also launched an invoicing software that assists businesses to streamline their financial operations.

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