NOV.3.2022

HOW TO Avoid Mobile App Security RISKs:
A Handy Guide

Mobile Team Lead at Freshcode
Illia Kaliuzhnyi
The necessary сondition of comfort is safety. In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, safety is laid almost at the foundation. In mobile development, it takes the same crucial position.

Since smartphones turn into our wallets, photo albums, and medical cards, mobile app security is becoming more and more important.

Let's figure out what to look for while developing a mobile app on the eve of 2023.

WHAT IS MOBILE APPLICATION SECURITY?

A new episode on Netflix, a fitness app to keep up a workout plan, a map to find a nearby good pub, or Google Pay for shopping — smartphones are totally integrating into our everyday life and make it easy.

Mobile app development is gaining momentum, at the same time as the mobile threat defense market expands its horizons.

The connection is obvious — handy applications open up a lot of great options, but also make our personal data more vulnerable.

But there's no reason to worry about it — for every vulnerability, there is a cybersecurity solution.
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Scuring mobile applications is about safeguarding the app and the user's digital identity. It includes the best practices for protecting data from hacking, malware, and other criminal manipulations.

The concept also implies detecting potential vulnerabilities within the mobile app. The key purpose of all this effort is to avoid cyber security threats and prevent cases when personal data falls into the wrong hands.

Sure, not only mobile app users take damage from the data breaks. First and foremost it's both a reputational and financial loss for the provider. Users are keen to stop using an app if their privacy expectations are not met (next, we'll talk about it in more detail).

Therefore, data security most likely tops your to-do list if you are looking to develop a mobile product from scratch or scale up your mobile application.

No one is safe from cyber-attacks and unexpected risks. But our task is to know about them, prevent them and meet them fully armed.

MOBILE APP SECURITY THREATS

Here you can find a list of the most common mobile applications security risks. We rely on OWASP Mobile Top 10, created by the Open Web Application Security Project. Threat agent types described vary from an adversary using your stolen smartphone to malware, viruses, and botnets.

Mobile Top Ten Risks has been re-categorized and updated. Today it is more focused on mobile applications rather than servers, thereby becoming more relevant for business owners and mobile developers.

Let's take a closer look at the ten of mobile security pitfalls, picked and systematized by OWASP.
1. IMPROPER PLATFORM USAGE
This risk is associated with misusing platform features or ignoring security controls, including Android intents, misuse of TouchID or FaceID, Keychain, platform permissions, and other mobile security features.
2. INSECURE DATA STORAGE
Storing data on the client-side is not a pledge to keep it 100% safe. The most famous mobile app security breaches have been caused by insecure client-side data storage.

The golden rule for mobile apps safety is not to store data unless absolutely necessary. The second golden rule is to implement the best Android and iOS practices and adhere to OWASP recommendations listed here.
    3. INSECURE COMMUNICATION
    Communication in the context of mobile apps is firstly about technologies that can transmit and/or receive data. This includes the device's internet connection (WiFi or other), connection to the mobile network, Bluetooth, NFC, and more. This unfortunately gives a pretty wide field of possibilities for attackers.
        Fresh Fact
        Infiltration of the organization's IT network through the employees' mobile devices is one of the most common threats to enterprises according to Gartner.
        4. INSECURE AUTHENTICATION
        Threat agents frequently conduct automated cyberattacks using sophisticated tools to exploit authentication weaknesses. Once the attacker understands the weakness in the authentication process, he or she can bypass or fake it by submitting service requests to the mobile app's backend server. It's typically done via mobile malware within the device or attacker's botnets.
        5. INSUFFICIENT CRYPTOGRAPHY
        In order to exploit such vulnerability, the hacker's key tasks are 1) to understand weak encryption algorithms or encryption process flaws 2) to successfully return encrypted code or sensitive data to its original unencrypted form. This attack will result in the unauthorized retrieval of sensitive data from the mobile device.

        To protect sensitive data OWASP recommends applying strong and trusted cryptographic standards and following the NIST guidelines. One more timeless piece of advice is to avoid the storage of sensitive information on a smartphone where possible.
        6. INSECURE AUTHORIZATION
        To exploit authorization flaws attacker logs in as a valid user, confirm the authenticity, and then force-browses to a vulnerable endpoint. This submission process is usually done via malware within the mobile device or hacker's botnets.
        7. CLIENT CODE QUALITY
        Poor quality mobile code often leads to security vulnerabilities. These issues are typically exploited via malware or phishing scams.

        Typical types of such attacks exploit memory leaks and buffer overflows. For example, buffer overflows within older versions of Safari led to jailbreaking risks.
        8. CODE TAMPERING
        Code tampering is when an attacker alters a mobile app's code to create a fake version of it. Hackers often use malicious versions of programs hosted in third-party app stores to modify code. They can also use phishing tactics to trick users to install the modified app.
        9. REVERSE ENGINEERING
        This data threat is about "dismantling an object to see how it works" but in the digital space. Typically, hackers download the targeted app from the online store and analyze it within their own local environment.

        Attackers use a specific toolset needed to analyze the final core binary and find the original source code, libraries, and other crucial assets.
        10. EXTRANEOUS FUNCTIONALITY
        n this case, cybercriminals seek to find hidden functionality inside the app that is not directly exposed via the user interface or retrieve hidden controls (API keys, account credentials, etc.) to exploit backend systems directly without end-user involvement.
        For example, a developer may accidentally include a password as a comment in a hybrid app or disable 2FA during testing.

        To prevent this vulnerability you have to perform a manual secure code review, including an examination of all API endpoints and log statements.
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        WHY DOES MOBILE APPS SAFETY MATTER? BUSINESS IMPACT

        According to a recent survey of global mobile consumers, 45% of iOS and Android users would stop using a mobile app, as well as recommend their friends to do the same, if the app didn't protect their data and their use.

        Good mobile developers pay painstaking attention to software design in order to provide a seamless and secure user experience.

        In its turn, users and app owners are faced with the same task — to take care of the digital products they use/provide and stay aware of mobile security risks and ways to prevent them.
        Fresh Fact
        According to Statista, as of May 2022, users in the US had the lowest app threat rate with approximately 1.4 percent of threats possibility while using their mobile apps.
        A deep analysis of threats, risks, and suitable solutions is essential. It's a holistic process, not a one-time action. Don't save your time on making security part of your mobile app design, to not have to spend it dealing with the consequences.

        Because they are extremely unpleasant.
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        Now for the good news. Strong mobile app security ensures:

        1) avoidance of all unpleasant outcomes mentioned above

        2) smooth business processes

        3) lack of upsets and facepalms

        4) client trust and loyalty ❤️

        HOW TO ENSURE THE DEVELOPMENT OF A SECURE MOBILE APP?

        A good mobile app ensures fast and safe communication. Sounds simple, but a lot of businesses stumble in the implementation.

        Making the mobile app security part is a pretty complicated process, not just a two-factor authentication setup. The mobile app development plan includes a set of security solutions and industry best practices.
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        If you think you sacrifice user-friendliness while adding one more security layer — keep calm and don't worry about it. It's better for users to take a few extra steps than put their own data at risk.

        You can even design a cute "sorry" pop-up window or gamify a multi-authentication process.

        I am happy that our clients understand the importance of mobile app security and the critical layers of protection to ensure it.

        It's great that today we have strong intelligent solutions using access and refresh tokens and other concepts to develop secure mobile apps. We don't need to reinvent the wheel, but choose suitable and trusted tech solutions, like Google Pay and Apple Pay payment systems, Stripe API, and others.

        Starting the discovery stage of your mobile development project you have to identify the security level for your app. There are no silver bullets in security. Businesses are facing new and emerging cyber risks and constantly keep moving forward with up-to-date security shields.

        Listen to experts' opinions. If you develop a complex product, contact cyber security experts with domain expertise. Try always to keep abreast with security regulations and relevant technologies.
        Freshcode Tip
        Never skip the analysis of regulatory compliance frameworks differing between industries and geography: HIPPA, EU GDPR, PCI DSS, and more.

        Through the mobile development project, our goal is to classify mobile security risks and provide relevant developmental controls to prevent them.

        Here are some key questions that help you and your development team to discover features needed to provide security for mobile applications.
        What kind of data does app collect and store?
        What are the risks if a user/app data breach happens?
        Does the app keep payment credentials, health records or other personal data?
        What security laws and regulations may impact your mobile app?
        Is it multi-user application?

        FINAL THOUGHTS

        Make sure your team develops a mobile application that meets all security requirements. In order to comply with high customer expectations, businesses have to rethink the importance of mobile data protection and privacy.

        That's why our team pays special attention to the perfect balance of the app's security and user-friendliness, without sacrificing any of them.

        I am always in touch to consult colleagues or have a little talk about mobile startups and suitable solutions for businesses. You can book a free consultation to discuss your mobile development idea. For more information about the company, please contact our COO on Linkedin.

        Enrich your business with a cool mobile application. But make it not "secure enough", but a "super safe" one.

        Thanks for your attention and stay tuned.
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