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Mobile App Security Insights

Mobile App Development: 5 Concerning Security Issues

May 17, 2017 1:50:30 PM / by Sung Cho

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The prevalence of mobile applications is on the rise, with more consumers than ever before surfing the internet on smartphones and tablets. Yet, despite this, many developers are still trying to catch up with the latest security issues plaguing the world of mobile app development. Naturally, the more popular a trend is, the more enticing a target it is for hackers and other malicious users, and at this stage, awareness is key in combating mobile security risks.

Thankfully, there is an ongoing movement at play that aims to keep developers and consumers alike vigilant to the vulnerabilities that might affect mobile apps. While staying abreast of the latest threats is essential, the best thing developers can do is to take immediate action in safeguarding their apps against attack. Here are some of the most dangerous security issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

  • Encryption and Obfuscation: Chief among the assets you have at your disposal to protect your app against attack is encryption. Because hackers are looking to tap into your app’s code as well as user data, you need to do everything you can to keep this sensitive information out of the wrong hands. That means keeping a strong encryption framework in place throughout. Another thing developers will do to prevent hackers from tampering with their code is obfuscation. This creates a challenge, much like a puzzle, for hackers to have to solve before they can read your source code. This can be done manually or by using an automated tool. Naturally, some hackers may be able to circumvent this, but without encrypted data on your app or obfuscated code, getting hacked is simply a matter of time. Don’t let your app become an easy target for those wishing to exploit your hard work.
  • Beware of malware: Few security risks have caused as much trouble in recent years as malware. Consumers are frequently tricked into downloading dangerous malware masquerading as a game, security alert or other useful tool. Hackers may even be looking to break into your app with the intention or transforming it into malware, albeit one with even more legitimacy than those consumers normally come across. When data is not encrypted, it can be intercepted during transmission, allowing the possibility of malware to take hold. Take the persistence of malware into account when shaping your security strategy, and educate your users about signifying marks that distinguish your app from imitators.
  • Tighten access restrictions: This might seem like a no-brainer, but you need to keep access to your app as restricted as possible. Although most mobile apps are designed to interact with back-end services, this scenario may leave them open to attack. In addition to only allowing access to authorized personnel, establish additional restrictions based on location, time or action to keep your app safe from anyone who may be looking to cause harm. These measures are, of course, won’t provide absolute protection against attack but may be enough to curb an impending attack or at least minimize damage.
  • Stock up on storage: While users may relish the convenience of not logging into an app upon each use, this can spell trouble down the line. In many cases, this situation relies on storing usernames, passwords and even payment information on a given device, oftentimes without the necessary protection. Hackers can easily exploit this vulnerability and use it to fuel a strategic attack on your app and your users alike. Consider increasing your app’s storage so that you can keep sensitive user data encrypted within the app itself, and be sure not to allow backup, as this will undermine the decision not to include the data locally.
  • Guard against reverse engineering: Hackers can dismantle an app’s code in many ways, but reverse engineering may be one of the most devastating. This occurs when an attack involves slight but critical changes to the central components of an app’s code. Essentially, hackers will use this approach to gain access and control of your app and associated devices, and this behavior may even extend to impersonating the developer itself. In any case, sensitive data -- both yours and your users’ -- winds up out in the open. To prevent this activity, keep a close eye on authorized individuals who access your code, ensuring that such activities only occur in circumstances with security measures in place.

The Road Ahead

Mobile app developers still have a long way to go to ensure a win in the battle against hackers, but the above steps will no doubt provide a distinctive boost in the protections built into each app. Naturally, the ever-changing nature of technology means that the creative ways in which hackers launch attacks on a given app will evolve over time. So the techniques listed above only represent a starting point for developers to assess their security risks.

Since a cyber-attack could wreak irreversible havoc on an app -- including changes to the source code and data leakages of users’ sensitive information -- we always advocate that more attention be paid to app security. Yet, the steps we’ve outlined above will at least help developers get started. Fortifying your app should always be a primary concern, and if it isn’t already, consider this a friendly reminder to fix that as soon as possible.

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Topics: Mobile App Security, Mobile App Development

Sung Cho

Written by Sung Cho

Head of Marketing at SEWORKS Co., Ltd.