Mobile app security

Mobile development is a rapidly developing area, which attracts more attention and users nowadays. Many companies develop or order applications for internal use to improve working processes and help employees be more efficient. And this entails some risks, but first, let’s look at the evolvement of the mobile market over the past few years.

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Mobile phone users (2013-2019) by Statista

Thus, it is expected that by 2019 the number of mobile device users will reach a mark of over 5 billion people (globally). In more details, in 2014 the number of mobile users was about 59 percent of the world’s population. If the development will proceed in this way, then the growth of the mobile market could jump up to 67 percent by 2019. And this means that the number of users will increase (both Android and iOS).

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Mobile phone users percentage (2013-2019) by Statista

And if some platform has a large number of users, it will become a great interest for hackers who want to get certain data or use your device for their own benefit.

Speaking about the safety of personal information and mobile app security, we are talking not only about ordinary users but also about corporate ones, who are also under the risk. Especially now, when many companies allow using mobile devices for both personal and business purposes. And today we want to talk about how to protect mobile apps and, of course, we will consider a question about mobile application security tips.

How to make an app secure or securing mobile applications

If you have not thought about how to make an app secure, it’s definitely worth doing. If you look at the Trend Micro’s research, you can see that a staggering number of applications have fake versions. These studies have shown that almost 80% of all applications from the “top 50 free” in Google Play have clones and just a little over 20% have not. And this is relevant to applications from various categories e.g. widgets, finance, business, media & video.

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Similarly, they believe that such clones most often pose a threat, since they often turned out to be malicious programs or applications with an increased level of risk. But the most horrible is the ratio of malicious to non malicious applications, which is equals approximately 1:1 (51:49 respectively).

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“But how is this possible?”, you might ask. Most often this happens in such way: hackers select popular applications in the official store, download it, do reverse engineering (+ some modifications) and upload it to third-party resources that host untested applications or don’t have correct moderation.

When securing mobile applications try to adhere to the following rules to protect an app:

1. Protect your binaries and do not publish or download your applications on unofficial or unverified sources. Protecting binary code is a supreme and necessary measure in creating secure application that must provide protection from unauthorized access. This helps to solve such problems as:

• Malicious code injection;

• Reverse engineering;

• Substitution of applications;

• Unauthorized access to the device;

• In-app extortion;

• Access to confidential information;

• Piracy, intellectual property violation;

Although there are exceptions to this rule. The New York Times wrote an excellent article on how the fake applications appear in the official App Store. Therefore, you should always check which application you are downloading and also monitor which applications are copying yours.

2. Use the built-in sandbox. How it works – the system places each application (including its data) in an isolated environment. The sandbox is a set of controls that restrict the access of a specific application to files, hardware, settings, etc. The system installs each application in a separate cell, so one application can not access the other. Well, in practice, but more about this below.

3. Protect your devices. Applications are not the only risk to the user, the device itself might be dangerous, especially if it was hacked – for example,  jailbroken or rooted. Developers of mobile operating systems build a system for protecting and storing information in such a way that the user will not have access to many aspects. But things could change if you hack your smartphone. In this way, attackers can access the super user and give all the necessary permissions to:

• Remote device management;

• Access to the file system;

• Reading confidential information and contacts;

• Access to a microphone, camera and other hardware;

• Installing infected applications;

That’s why you need to monitor the permissions assigned to applications.

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4. Encrypt your device. Today, all popular mobile operating systems support encryption, then why not to use it? If you have not faced it before, the principle of operation is quite simple: the system encodes your data using a special key in such way that only those who know the key have access to the information.

When can this be useful? Well … Always! We, users, always store personal information on our devices – contacts, bank account information, photos or something else. If you use the phone for work purposes, then most likely you also store documents and corporate data which, in case of loss,  can incur losses to the company.

At this point, the use of encryption is strictly necessary to minimize the risks of data disclosure. If the device is lost, it can also be remotely blocked.

5. Protect your backend. If you want to use your own or third party servers (or services), make sure that they provide all security measures. Moreover, ensure that the services prevent unauthorized access, also it is worth checking the application’s API, maybe it passes the data to someone else. Ideally, this should be a client-server transfer.

Use secure methods and protocols for data transfer, for example, SSL, VPN, and others. Divide information to different servers, do not store all the data in one place, it’s a bad idea.

How to ensure mobile app security

The above precautions and methods of protection can help you and your company to keep the data safe, but still, it’s necessary not to forget about the human factor. In reality, no one is immune from theft or loss of the device, each of us, in this case, can do – is to minimize the risks of such situations, referring to mobile devices and stored data a little more seriously.

But this is only one of the preventive measures. Summarizing all the information, let’s resolve the issue about “how to ensure mobile app security” – To ensure full control and protection, it is necessary to fight not only the cause but also its occurrence.

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