Did you know that the global mobile app economy is expected to generate $189 billion in 2020? The conspicuous worth of the mobile app industry draws hackers and cybercriminals. Plus, given the fact that there are 3.5 billion smartphone users, the chances of successful and lucrative hacks are much higher.
Almost every business has a mobile app of their own, and almost every smartphone user has 60-90 apps installed. The rapid growth of the mobile channel extends over a range of industries including travel and tourism, finance, retail, hospitality, and eCommerce.
So it’s no doubt that hackers are increasingly turning their attention to mobile apps. Any vulnerability in your company’s mobile app can lead to compromised personal and business data, user data theft, injection of malware, and mobile account takeovers.
The consequences can be devastating with considerable damage to brand reputation coupled with regulatory fines and recovery costs. But there’s good news above all this. Security breaches and mobile app hacks can be avoided by implementing fundamental security measures and following best practices.
We’ve created a checklist of mobile app security measures that you can follow when developing and deploying a mobile application.
Mobile App Security Checklist
Here are essential points to focus on during mobile app development. This list is not exhaustive but touches upon the critical elements of security.
1. Set up a shield for your source code
It’s important to follow every best practice mentioned in this list, but it would be futile if the source code of your mobile app isn’t protected from the get-go. So the first thing you need to take care of is securing your source code. You can do this in a number of ways.
Obfuscating your code is a one way of muddling your base code and making it difficult for any hacker to understand it even if they manage to get their hands on it. It will obscure the method, attributes and class used in your coding. There are a number of tools to obfuscate your code including Pro-guard, DashO, and Semantic Designs.
2. Encrypt your Database and Database Backup
Whilst it is integral that your customer’s or user’s data is protected, it is just as important to protect company data as well. So, next up, you need to secure the data of your mobile app. All sorts of data are stored within apps such as personal shopping preferences. But it can also include critical information like user credentials and payment information. One of the best ways to secure your database is to encrypt the data.
Lastly, any data being stored in the database needs to be backed up regularly. This serves as your safety net in the event you lose your data. For example, if a hacker manages to break in, they can still damage or even wipe out your database to ruin your business. But remember, a hacker could steal the backup copy of the database and get the same information. So ensure you encrypt your backup copy as well and store it safely.
3. Ensure data security during transit and storage
Data is generated at different stages of mobile app development and deployment. It’s not enough to secure data upon generation. When your mobile app is live, data is not only generated but transmitted as well between servers, devices, and networks.
Cybercriminals can intercept this data using methods like packet-sniffing and man-in-the-middle attacks. When you’re sending and receiving data, ensure you use secure connections like SSL, TLS, and HTTPs.
4. Use cryptography
While encryption is necessary, it isn’t the ultimate solution that dictates your application’s security. Cryptography takes your security a notch higher to provide constant data confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity. It uses a combination of concepts such as hashing, message authentication codes (MACs), symmetric-key encryption, and public-key encryption algorithms.
5. Protection against reverse engineering
Using reverse engineering, a person can take apart your mobile application and duplicate it. They can analyze your code to steal your design, algorithms, ideas, formats, licensing, specifications, functions, you get the idea.
It may not be possible to completely eliminate this risk, but you can take steps to mitigate it. A few techniques that can protect your app against reverse engineering include app integrity controls, obfuscation, encryption, and jailbreak detection.
6. Deploy tamper detection techniques
Attackers can also tamper with your app, create a malicious version of it and upload it to pirated app websites or third-party app marketplaces.
You can prevent this from happening by using validation mechanisms like digital signatures and checksums to detect tampering activity.This will make it more challenging for attackers to tamper with your app. Plus, it can notify your administrators that tampering has been detected.
7. Validate User Input
Almost every app allows user inputs such as sign up forms, login fields or search bars, comments, or contact details. All this information gets stored in your database.
If these fields aren’t secured to validate inputs, hackers can exploit it to inject malware into your database. Ensure that you set up verification checks to vet data inputs in order to ensure no malware enters the database.
8. Perform Mobile app security testing
This is one of the most crucial steps in your app development process and should not be overlooked under any circumstances. Plan your budget and time allocation ahead to ensure security testing gets ample attention.
You can opt for regular software tests, but it’s also strongly recommended to conduct penetration tests. It will simulate the different things a hacker can do in different environments and modes of operation. This will catch vulnerabilities that can otherwise be missed in regular testing.
9. App backup
A backup isn’t a security measure per se, but it plays an extremely critical parallel role to app security and the success of your app. In the event of security issues, your backup can be a saving grace to get your app up and running. It ensures you don’t lose any data, and minimizes the loss of any users or revenue.
Apart from that, troubleshooting and resolving such issues can take time. A backup allows you to get back to business while you identify and fix your security issues. Backup and security go hand in hand. It’s advisable to take care of both elements simultaneously.
10. Understand the platform and its framework
The platform you build your app plays a vital role in your app’s security. The majority of apps are developed using Apple iOS or Google Android. Other platforms include Windows and Blackberry.
Every platform has something different to offer and also bears various risks depending on the kind of security measures employed on each platform. It’s wise to learn about the platform you’re using, learn about common hacks against the platform, and stay updated with the developments.
11. Enforce strong authentication
Admin and user login pages are one of the most attacked areas of a mobile app. Hackers brute force their way into the app, find ways to override permission settings, or hijack user sessions.
Ensure your authorization areas and systems are strongly protected with two-factor authentication, biometrics, and captcha protection.
Most app users trust that the app developer has taken care of security and have no qualms about giving permissions to applications. While this seems like a plus point, it bears the great risk. In the event of a data leak or security breach, the responsibility lies with the developer and not the user. There are heavy implications that follow such as recovery costs, regulatory fines, not to mention losses in reputation damage.
The main pain points of security and why it gets compromised boils down to budget and time constraints. To overcome these obstacles, consider using modern productivity software, DevOps, and continuous integration to seamlessly integrate and streamline processes. It may take a little time to adapt, but it can greatly aid your security efforts and make sure your mobile app is airtight.
About the Author: Harshit Agarwal is a serial entrepreneur, passionate about end-to-end mobile app security. As a Microsoft Venture Accelerator alumni and CEO of Appknox, he works with enterprises globally ranging from some of the top Fintech companies to Fortune 100 businesses in setting up continuous mobile application security processes.