With the advent of Mobile Technology, the usage of Mobile phones has been increased immensely. At the same time, we have seen a massive paradigm shift in the Applications development process, especially the Mobile Application Development has struck the chord and we can see Mobile application for every possible function or task.dc
The usage of mobile applications has been increased massively and with that increased the concern associated with it, and if we talk from the Developers perspective, then the biggest concern is Application Security.
Security has become an essential and extremely critical part of any IT system. Its importance and significance can be understood from a fact that any security breach could cost your organization huge money as well as diminishing trust amongst the users and shareholders, on the other hand, if Security concerns are well addressed and any risk is mitigated, then the user experience and trust could help any organization to generate moolah. That is the primary reason, why security needs to be taken very seriously, the moment you conceive the idea of mobile application development.
According to a study carried out by a Swiss security firm, High-Tech Bridge (now known as ImmuniWeb) almost 92 percent of the web applications are exposed to security flaws or weaknesses, which could be exploited by Hackers. rm access to websites that are access part of 70 percent of companies on the Financial Time Global 500 firms is available on the dark web. It also reports that most of the applications can be easily accessed externally and are not protected by 2FA [two-factor authentication]. These vulnerabilities are due to weak authentication and a lack of proper access-control measures.
These statistics are indeed an eye-opener for everyone, and it proves the necessity of putting more focus on mobile application security. It is a general tendency to ignore the Application security aspect while working on the end-user interface and other functionalities. Nowadays, most of the user’s data remain on their smartphones and their applications. This information could be in jeopardy if adequate security controls are not implemented while developing the applications, any lapse of security control can make the Application and User data vulnerable to hacking or security breach.
On the other hand, Hackers are using several means to target mobile applications to get access over End User’s confidential information and use them maliciously to commit fraud.
Hence, developers must implement a structured approach to integrate the security features into the Mobile Applications, right from the very beginning, as security is something that you should worry right from the planning stage of the mobile application development.
In this article, we will try to explain the most common Mobile Application Security measures to be taken while developing a Mobile application. If we comply with all these measures, then we can certainly make a secured Mobile application which will enhance the experience of our end users.
Encryption is a method, which converts the data or information transmitted to and from the mobile application to such a form, that it can’t be read without using a decryption key. Encryption is an efficient method to protect the data from any breach or misuse. Even if someone accesses the data, they can’t decrypt it and hence the data will have no use for them.
It is important to ensure we encrypt the data which is stored locally in the Application and End User’s device. However, it is crucial to keep the level of encryption minimal to avoid any issues with the end-user devices. The current versions of Android and iOS provide on-device encryption facility.
Developers can also use several plugins like Ciphered Local Storage or SQLite to encrypt the local storage database. File-level encryption can also be used to protect the data stored in files. Developers should pay more attention to the design of the mobile application; it should be such that sensitive and confidential data and information of the end-users shouldn’t be stored on the device. Here, the sensitive and confidential data means banking information, passwords, personal information, healthcare information of the end-user. Even If it is required to store this information on the device, adequate measures should be taken to ensure this data is stored in an encrypted fashion, so that it can’t be misused if the device is hacked or stolen.
Apart from the above, Key management also plays an important role, if we really want our Encryption policies to work. Developers should refrain from hard-coding the encryption keys as it may expose them to the hackers. Keys should always be stored in secure containers and should never be stored locally on end-user devices.
We must use the renowned Encryption conventions like SHA256 or AES to enhance security. It’s a continuous process actually, we must keep looking for the latest technology inventions and updates and should choose the best available encryption method to fortify our Mobile Application’s security.
Enhance Code Security
Obviously, the Application code is the most important part of any application as it controls all the features and instructions for the application. If hackers get access to the application code, then they can misuse it and make changes that will hamper the native functionality of the application.
There are few practices, like removing unnecessary metadata and debugging information from the code which can make code less vulnerable for a security breach. By doing this, we can ensure that less information is exposed to be misused. It also helps to improve the performance of the code execution.
Developers also use Encryption to make the code more secured, the level of encryption depends on requirement basis, we may encrypt the entire code or maybe a specific part of code to make it secure. To divert the Hacker, we can add unconventional labels to use variable and class names, which may divert or confuse the hacker. Inserting a Dummy code in the software programs is another tactic, which doesn’t affect the basic logic of the program.
Another wonderful approach is to add an anti-tamper protection code to the application program. This code offers unique functionality, it shuts down the application or forces random crashes if it detects any attempt of tampering or any malicious access to the code. It also sends a notification to the developers or Infrastructure Security officials, so that an adequate action could be initiated against any such attempt. Anti-Temper code also ensures that no hacker can reverse engineer the mobile application program.
Use well known and secure Third-Party libraries
As we all know, there is a growing usage of open-source third-party Libraries for Mobile application development. It is important to validate the credentials of any Third-party library before integrating them into our project. It’s a known fact that most of the open-source freely available Libraries are not safe, this Library may inject malicious code if integrated in mobile application code, could make the code vulnerable, and open the avenues to orchestrate backdoor attacks by the Hackers. It’s a good practice to test the code of any third-party library before injecting it in a Mobile application program.
It is highly recommended to use the well-known libraries and use their latest versions if possible, as the latest version contains all the recent improvements and security updates that can avoid potential security breaches. This tactic is applicable to both proprietary code and open-source code.
Use Authorized APIs
An API is an interface that provides a common platform to carry out interactions between several software development intermediaries. It defines the methods, through which a program can make calls or requests to access other resources and execute their functions. The mobile applications also have an API based mechanism to interact with each other. These application programming interfaces are extremely vulnerable to attacks by people with malicious intent, and that is why making them secure is a big challenge. It is extremely important to use only approved and secured API in your program.
We can use an API key mechanism to achieve security up to a certain extent. An API key is a unique identifier, which is used to authenticate a specific user, program, or mobile app developer. If we assign an API key to every application, then it will make the overall security strong.
Developers can monitor the usage of API keys and can make the periodic assessment of API metrics to get an insight of its usage. However, there is a catch, we must pay more attention to API keys and ensure either we don’t lose these keys, or these don’t get stolen.
Apart from that, we can integrate an Application Programming Interface Gateway to tighten the security. It is an API management tool that resides between the client and the backend services. It acts as a reverse proxy, that accepts all API calls, in a process, it improves the security of a mobile application.
Another good practice is to conduct periodic reviews of the mobile application code, it will help us observe any vulnerability in the code, which could be fixed by taking proactive action. We can also add a dedicated firewall for mobile applications to prevent any potential attacks by hackers.
We may use better authentication methods like using tokens or 2-factor authentication to ensure only authorized persons can collect the data and make any changes in the code.
Use High-Level Authentication
Authentication systems are used to provide access to users for a specific resource, and it is the most critical part of mobile application security. If authentication is not effective, then it may create havoc for end-user and personal data. As a developer, one must pay more attention to adding adequate checks and control and a strong authentication method to keep the application and user’s data safe.
Earlier Mobile applications were using simple authentication methods like ‘alphanumeric passwords’ coupled with security policies which include a periodic renewal of passwords. However, in current times these methods are quite old and not that effective, we must use Multifaceted authentication methods, which may include strong static passwords, 2-Factor authentication, Retina Scan, Biometrics, dynamic OTP or a combination of all these methods to enhance the user authentication.
Use of Tamper Detection method
As everything is online these days, hence it is comparatively easy for the hackers to access the confidential data or to reverse engineer the application code. To prevent any such attempts, we must use a strategy to implement a strong and effective tamper detection method, which can detect any change in the Application code and can alert the App Developers or the Application owners, so that appropriate actions can be taken.
We can use checksum, logging and auditing, digital signatures, and several other validation methods to detect any sort of tampering with the code or the program files. In the event of any malicious attack, the checksum would be disturbed, which can alert the developers about a potential security threat.
For Banking or Financial applications, we must use methods or tools to cipher either a few components or the entire application by using either a self-deciphering process or by using a secure loader for deciphering. Apart from that, all the components of a Mobile application should be signed via a code signing process or tool to maintain file integrity. We can also link the application with the device, to prevent them to run an instance of the application on any other device simultaneously. We must use and adequate process or tool to cipher all the communications between the software components and the application.
A privilege is a token of access, that can be assigned to a designated resource, who is authorized to access a specific application component. We must implement a policy of ‘Least privilege’, which ensures that access should be given only to the intended person. The same principle applies to the Mobile application as well, the application shouldn’t demand unnecessary privileges.
It is again an important aspect of mobile application security. Every mobile application creates a session for the user, which is maintained on most apps via a cookie, which is highly vulnerable to any security threat.
Mobile and Web applications use the Hypertext Transfer Protocol to communicate. A session is a series of HTTP requests invoked by the end-user. Once a user authenticates with his credentials the session initiates. The session management process involves the sharing of confidential information with the authenticated users, and hence such communication or transactions should be secured by using cryptographic network communications methods. Such methods or tools will help us maintain the session management security.
Developers must ensure that the size of the session cookie should be adequate. It has been observed that predictable or short sized session cookies can offer an opportunity for hackers to predict and perform an attack on the ongoing session. We must enforce a high-security session configuration setting to ensure our Mobile application sessions are duly secured.
The mobile application should also offer an ability to log off and wipe off the User data to prevent misuse of User’s data in the event of stolen or lost devices.
Define and implement strong Access Policies
Developers must ensure that Mobile application development must remain in-sync with the Organization’s corporate and security policies. Any Mobile application should comply with the Application Stores (Apple App Store or Google Play Store), where the application will be listed once it is ready. We should use secure frameworks that are based on global best practices, to reduce the attack surface of Mobile application.
Testing an application is certainly the most important aspect of the Mobile Application Development process. It is well-known facts that there is no limit to testing a mobile application, the more you test the more vulnerabilities or bugs you may discover, and based on the testing feedback, we must incorporate necessary checks and controls in place. The testing process includes examining of Application security, session management, encryption challenges, authorization, and authentication.
To fortify the security of Mobile application, developers must create multiple test cases, based on known security threats and challenges in the market. These test cases should have a scope to cover all kinds of platforms, Operating systems, or Mobile phone models. We may use several security-testing tools available, to analyze the current status of our application’s security. We can use iPad File Explorer, QARK, Dumb Apps, Android Debug Bridge, Clang Static Analyzer and Smart Phone.
Though Application security is a never-ending concern and with the ever-increasing new methods of malicious attacks and reverse engineering, the Application developer must always remain on their toes to create a counter-strategy. However, we are in the opinion that if we apply the above mentioned strategies, then it will be extremely difficult for a hacker to penetrate our application system and distort or misuse the end user’s data. and would be virtually impossible for a hacker to penetrate your app.
It is also important to always remain updated with the current Technology, Tools, and Process updates in the market. We must put more focus on cybersecurity and must keep knowledge about the innovative data and security breach practices.
The good part it, the above methods could be implemented without incurring huge costs on the mobile application development process. All we need is a holistic approach towards integrating Cybersecurity with Mobile Application development, only then we can achieve the best results for our Mobile application.
Rahul Mathur is the founder and managing director of ARKA Softwares, a company renowned for its outstanding mobile app development and web development solutions as well as specialized in Android and iOS app development. Delivering high-end modern solutions to all over the globe, Rahul takes pleasure in sharing his experiences and views on latest technological trends.