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Mobile App Security Insights

10 Most Common Mobile Application Vulnerabilities

Mar 24, 2017 11:26:08 AM / by Sung Cho

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Ignoring problems won’t make them disappear. Yet that’s precisely the tack many mobile app developers take when looking at the vulnerabilities their apps face. It doesn’t matter if your app is small or large, whether or not you’re a security expert, or whether you’ve been hacked before. Sooner or later, someone will take advantage of mobile application vulnerabilities to attack your app. If it’s not properly secured, then both you and your customers are in for a bumpy ride that may include bad publicity, lost time and money, and perhaps even lawsuits.

AppSolid offers industry leading mobile app security, whether you’re a security expert or novice, and whether your app is small or an industry leader. Our binary protection—something 97% of mobile apps lack--can secure your mobile app, not to mention your business’s investment in that app. Seventy-five percent of mobile apps will fail basic security tests. Don’t be one of them.

Here are 10 of the most common mobile app vulnerabilities.

User Errors

No matter how many protections you install, user error will play a significant role in various security breaches. Poor password construction, sharing passwords, refusing to timely install updates, accidentally installing malware, and deficient technological knowledge can all conspire to make an otherwise secure app insecure. Good developers adopt strategies to address this, such as requiring users to periodically change their passwords, or requiring updates to get the full functionality of an app.

Inadequate or Nonexistent Encryption

Encryption protects data security even when there’s an attempted breach. Yet some app data is stored in plain text. More typically, app data is weakly encrypted, or encrypted according to outdated standards. Using inadequate encryption—or worse, no encryption at all—is like leaving your front door open and posting a sign that reads, “Burglars welcome here!”

Malware

Particularly on Android apps, which are weakened by the open format of Google Play, malware is an increasing concern. Some mobile applications are mere vectors for malware, and may break the malware up into smaller pieces so that it’s easily installed and rarely detected. Occasionally, a malicious developer will even find a way to get malware onto an otherwise safe app in the form of malicious code.

Malicious Code

Writing code is tedious, skilled work. And while almost all app coders write long lines of code, few begin from scratch. They may appropriate code from old projects, from open source lines of code, or hire contractors to develop portions of the code. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does open your app to data breaches. Malicious actors may insert malicious code into seemingly innocuous lines of code. The only way to detect this is to check the code by hand, or to work with a security company that can do it for you. You’ll also want to be careful when hiring contractors, particularly if you don’t form lasting relationships with them or get references.

Syncing-Related Data Leaks

Backing up data to the cloud is a safe and smart way to store data. It’s also an unfortunately common source of data leaks. When users backup their data to sources like Dropbox, data leaks are common. The cloud storage source may have security holes you don’t know about, and data may even be intercepted as it is uploaded to cloud storage. Plan accordingly.

Data Storage Issues

How data is stored matters. If users store their data on the device, it needs to be stored safely. Data is also vulnerable to breaches from server side issues, so don’t forget to manage server security, since this offers bad actors ready access to a veritable cornucopia of sensitive information.

Beyond securing data, it’s important to consider which data you ask your users to share, and which device-stored data you request access to. The more data you request or require, the more vulnerable your app is to a breach—and the more enticing of a target it becomes. Balance your need for important information with the practical realities of data leaks.

Weak Coding

Well-written code is the foundation of a secure app. That means it’s worth time and money to hire coders who know what they’re doing, and who remain up to date on industry changes that expose customers to data breaches. Invest in good coders, excellent code, and regular continuing education seminars. Be judicious with your use of contractors and inexpensive newbies. They may seem like a fair investment at the time, but you typically get what you pay for.

Lack of Binary Protection

Binary protection protects apps against reverse code engineering, but the overwhelming majority of apps don’t utilize this invaluable tool. Hackers can use automated tools for this goal, and it’s difficult to even tell that it has happened. Depending upon the data your users share with the app, reverse engineering can be catastrophic. AppSolid offers industry leading binary protection, relieving you of any hassle by assuring your users that your app is secure.

Weak Transport Layer Protection

Transport layer protection protects against man in the middle attacks, which are a primary avenue through which criminals access user data. Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer (SSL/TL) make an app significantly more secure.

Unauthorized Access

Unauthorized access requires no special coding knowledge, no particular craftiness, and surprisingly little effort. People store more data than ever before on a device that is easily confiscated or stolen. A criminal, prying neighbor, or even an abusive spouse can access years worth of sensitive user data by simply gaining access to their phone. You can’t prevent thefts, and you certainly can’t prevent users from storing personal data on their phone. But you can develop and implement strategies that reduce the potential for disaster with unauthorized access:

  • Consider setting up separate user accounts for your app, so that when mom loans her phone to her child, he can’t go wild with the credit card, or inadvertently leak data.
  • Allow users to remotely wipe data by storing it in the cloud and password-protecting it.
  • Limit the data you require users to store, particularly on the device itself.
  • Warn users of the risks of sharing passwords and other identifying information with third parties.
  • Establish specific protocols for contacting customers so that they know when it’s really you, and when it’s a potential hacker.
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Topics: Mobile App Security, Hacking Threats

Sung Cho

Written by Sung Cho

Head of Marketing at SEWORKS Co., Ltd.