“Hackers.” Even without the details, it’s a term that already has a sense of ominousness to it. But for mobile application developers, hackers pose a very significant threat, one that has the potential to completely decimate your business and delegitimize everything your team has worked so hard to build.
For as invaluable as the internet is, its ascension to becoming one of the pillars of modern life isn’t without its perilous side. In fact, now that most people carry around at least one mobile device -- typically either a smartphone or a tablet -- with them at all times, the danger of hacking has only skyrocketed.
However, just because some individuals out there may be looking to prey on your mobile app, don’t remain paralyzed by the fear of what may happen. Instead, stay proactive and take the necessary steps to secure your app long before any hackers have the opportunity to meddle in your work.
In order to do so, you’ll need to have a better idea of what you’re dealing with and how to safeguard your app against it. Let’s take a closer look at how you can secure your app from the omnipresent danger of hackers.
What You’re Up Against
Unfortunately, as mobile app security has evolved, hackers have developed a wide variety of common tactics they use to overcome any existing defenses that a given app may have in place. Some of these include:
- Accessing your app by guessing or acquiring passwords
- Abusing the access provided by an open network to break in
- Employing email phishing scams to trick users into divulging data
- Implanting malware within your code to infiltrate your infrastructure
- Running server scans to identify existing vulnerabilities
A Question of Motive
Regardless of which method a hacker chooses to launch an attack, the potential fallout is the same. As you prepare to secure your app from these criminals, you might be wondering what precisely hackers have to benefit from attempting to victimize your app. In almost all cases, hackers are motivated by one of two drives.
- Once access is secured, hackers may aim to abscond with the sensitive data housed within the app. This can include the coding used to establish the app in the first place but may also extend to user data, which can then be used to further their own nefarious means.
- In other cases, hackers may simply be looking to exploit your users by taking over the devices using your app and connecting them to a malicious network of private computers known as a botnet. This scenario allows hackers to control computers without the owners’ knowledge and send spam messages on their behalf.
What to Watch Out For
The omnipresent nature of mobile technology in our lives makes protecting against hackers trickier than ever, but even so, there are some red flags you can be on the lookout for to minimize the risk of your app being the subject of an attack. Here are a few of the biggest vulnerabilities circling the industry:
- Lack of encryption: This is your first line of defense against hackers, and yet, many apps don’t incorporate adequate encryption into their coding from the start. Masking your data behind sophisticated coding is one of the fundamental strategies to prevent unauthorized access. Don’t miss this easy chance to keep hackers away from your code.
- Too accessible: Since the entire point of encryption is to prevent malicious users from cracking your code (so to speak), leaving too many access points open completely undermines that approach. You shouldn’t leave your app open to interact with the back-end, and consider establishing additional restrictions for incoming users.
- Malware is present: Whether it appears in the form of a pop-up ad advertising a game or a faux security warning, malware is everywhere. It’s up to you to educate your users about this danger, how to identify it and why to avoid ever clicking or downloading it. Hopefully, the security measures you already have in place can do the rest.
- Threat of reverse engineering: Sometimes, a hacker will alter central elements of your app’s code and trace your code back so that they can assume control of it and the connected devices. They may even impersonate you, the developer, and attempt to pretend that their altered version of your app is the real one. Avoid at all costs.
- Storage issues: When you don’t have enough storage space for your app, a number of potentially catastrophic problems can arise. One of which is that users may save their data directly on their devices, leaving it far more vulnerable to hackers. Ensure that your app has sufficient storage space to limit issues like this from arising down the line.
The Strategies You Need
To be sure, safeguarding your app against such a seemingly insurmountable threat can prove to be an intimidating task. But don’t worry just yet because we haven’t even detailed some of the many strategies you can use to fight back against hackers. Here are some of the best ways that you can strengthen your mobile application security now.
- Encryption and obfuscation: We’ve already discussed the former as an essential ingredient in a winning security framework. Transferring your data into an encrypted form is a easy way to offer at least a modicum of protection, but to maximize its effectiveness, obfuscation is a must-have as well. This technique scrambles the encrypted code, offering another layer of security for both your app and its users. Programmers frequently use this move to hide the details of their code, preventing the likelihood of a cyber-attack.
- Source code protection: Since your source code is the basis for everything that follows, it stands to reason that its protection should be a priority when designing your app’s security. Nonetheless, some developers fail to properly safeguard this foundational element. No matter what tactic you use to do so (we heartily recommend thorough encryption and obfuscation, at least for starter’s). Falling victim to a cyber-attack could wreak havoc on not only the privacy of your users but it could dismantle everything you’ve worked so hard to build, including your reputation.
- Securing your application: While there are countless security features you can build into your app, the best way to approach your security strategy is to integrate a safe design early on. Precautionary measures, after all, are the best way to prevent anything from going awry. Email verification, usability and data protection are all vital tools that will go a long way towards securing your app, but remember to develop an ironclad content security policy and perform an application security audit after the fact to ensure that you didn’t miss anything critical. It happens much more than you might think.
- Single sign-on: This integrated authentication method uses both a password and PIN to allow users to seamlessly transition from one connected device to another. Because of this approach, access remains limited to authorized users only and remains within the limits of your app’s own security system. It may not be a guaranteed way to keep hackers away, but it goes a long way toward beefing up access restrictions, one of the most direct ways to manage your security.
- Application and device management: Sure, working on your own app’s security is essential. However, how your app interacts with other apps and devices can also play an important role in its level of risk. Pay close attention to the mobile application management system, and build in risk assessment functionality to ensure that sensitive user data and your own code aren’t unnecessarily open to vulnerability.
How to Stay on Top
So we’ve warned you about hackers and given you some key action items to secure your app. But there’s a whole lot more to it than that. You need to remain constantly vigilant, and your app must be in a constant state of evolution to keep hackers off your tail and away from your users. Let’s touch base and a few more essential tools you’ll need before you can rest assured that your app is in a safe space.
- Don’t stop testing: Once you have a sound security infrastructure in place, it’s time to test just how fortified your app truly is. That doesn’t just mean evaluating it once and then forgetting it. On the contrary, you’ll want to regularly update and test your system. There are many options to do so -- including AppSolid -- but especially keep an eye out for a tool that takes a broad view of your mobile security and can deliver the consistent results and reporting you need to act fast.
- Hit those standards: Because the mobile space moves so fast, you might worry that you’ll fall behind over time. That’s why we heartily recommend you stay on top of some of the industry’s leading security standards. Resources like the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), the Common Weakness Enumeration and the National Information Assurance Partnership can keep you updated on the latest vulnerabilities. It’s the best way to keep your app on guard against any incoming threats.
- Authentication is your friend: If you’re not already using two-factor authentication, you’re missing out on one of the most valuable tools available to your app. This is a much more secure way for users to interact with your app than a simple traditional password, as each visitor needs to be separately verified using two forms of identification. Concurrently, be sure to employ de-authentication as well. Separating identifying markers from data plays a vital role in keeping users safe.
- Don’t forget the application level: Of course, mobile application security is best considered an essential part of your app’s design from the beginning. However, for many of you, that may no longer be a possibility. At the very least, you should ensure security from the application layer. While data encryption from the transport layer is integral, the application layer provides your users with stronger protection, and they can adjust their settings as needed.
A Sea of Sharks
True, hackers are everywhere online, but now that you have a cursory knowledge of exactly how and what they may be up to, we’re confident you’ll beable to apply this newfound awareness to your business and take the necessary precautions to ensure that your app remains firmly out of reach to all those looking to cause harm.
With the right strategic approach, your business will present a unified front with little to no clear vulnerabilities, easily discouraging hackers from targeting your app now and in the future. In fact, we’re betting you’ll be surprised by just how much you’re able to accomplish so quickly.
And there’s no excuse to wait to arm yourself against the sea of sharks lurking in the darkest corners of the internet. With all the malicious users waiting out there to snag the secrets of your success, you have every reason to take immediate action before it’s too late.
Thankfully, we’ve developed a one-stop resource that can give you the crash course in mobile application security you need to confidently face any incoming threats and emerge victorious.
For more information on how you can take your app’s security to new heights, learn more about our ebook, The Developer’s Guide to Mobile App Security.