Mobile security is a constant issue among many enterprises. As companies continue to go digital and offer online and mobile platforms to their consumers, the rate of mobile security threats multiplies by the day.
Having a mobile application is another means of ensuring that the product and services your company offers are readily available for your customers to consume. Connectivity, accessibility, and convenience are among the many factors entrepreneurs must prioritize to deliver in order to establish a good relationship with their market.
However, if you fail to properly secure your mobile application and open your consumers – along with your company – the risk of having sensitive and vital information compromised, it will definitely damage your reputation and trust in your brand among consumers significantly.
To help you avoid this, we have provided a comprehensive and in-depth checklist of ways to ensure the utmost security for your mobile application and reduce the probability of encountering external cyber threats penetrating your application.
What is Mobile Application Security?
Before diving into the checklist, allow us to establish the definition of mobile application security to get a wider understanding of the matter.
Mobile Application Security is a comprehensive mobile security solution for applications on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and the like.
It is a practice where you ensure that your product is safe from various cyber attacks, such as malware, reverse engineering, keyloggers and other forms of manipulation or interference, by implementing the best mobile application security practices available in the market.
Moreover, it involves examining the structures of mobile applications and how they work. It also involves checking the major areas of the application and analyzing what hackers or any external threats want to accomplish by penetrating your application.
As the world gradually becomes more digital and technology-centric, prioritizing mobile security should be mandatory among businesses.
The Investment Landscape of Mobile Application Security
The growing need for companies to establish a secure mobile platform for their users enabled the mobile application security industry to flourish. Along with this, the rapid shift to digitization across the world – especially since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic – expedited the industry's growth.
According to the Global Application Security Market, the industry is expected to garner over US$22.54 billion by 2028. In 2021, the industry stood at a revenue of US$6.95 billion and was predicted to have a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 18.30%.
From a regional outlook, countries in the Asia-Pacific region contributed most to the industry's growth in 2021. The rise of cloud-based networking in the region contributed to the forecast of its continued growth over the following years.
Why is Mobile Application Security Important?
At present, there are over 6.64 billion people who own smartphones today. This means that approximately 83% of the population is connected to the internet and is likely to utilize two or more mobile applications and have incorporated them into their daily functions.
These substantial numbers showcase the potential and importance of implementing application security on active mobile applications worldwide. The lack thereof can compromise your company’s sensitive data, along with the important data and digital properties owned by your consumers.
Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its plethora of social distancing and quarantine regulations, the world has shifted into digitization and adopted its methods into their lifestyles such as work, education, communication, and the like.
The primary reason for its importance concerns the safety and security of digital properties, such as identities, finances, and sensitive data, to name a few. Ensuring that your business’ mobile application is fully equipped with the right security protocols can help you prevent security breaches that can place you and your consumers at risk.
Global Trends on Cyberattacks and Cyber Threats
Cyberattacks and threats are mostly connected to data breaches among mobile devices connected to the internet. Hackers, data breaches, and viruses target domains linked to mobile applications due to their low resilience against cyber threats or attacks.
In December 2021, the number of global mobile cyberattacks was approximately 2.2 million. This is significantly lower in comparison to 6.4 million in October 2020. The two main drivers of cyber threats connect to phishing and ransomware.
Other cyber threats toward mobile applications involve data leaks, open or unsecured WiFi, spyware, malicious apps, low-security apps, and outdated applications.
According to IBM’s 2021 Data Breach Report, businesses lose approximately US$1.59 million in breach costs. Among these, the main drivers for data breaches involve remote working and transitioning to digitization.
Ensuring your mobile application is fully secured can help your enterprise avoid incurring unwanted costs and issues that can damage your business in the long run.
The Common Mobile App Security Threats
Mobile apps are one of the easiest entry points for cyber-attacks and threats. As businesses worldwide transition their business operations through online and mobile means, it is imperative to have comprehensive mobile app security to prevent you from security threats.
To help you better understand security threats towards mobile applications, we listed the most common security threats and how you can avoid or prevent them from happening to your organization.
Malware is one of the most common cyber threats that mobile applications face daily. This intrusive software is designed to damage and destroy the internal systems of your device or computer. Moreover, it can explore, steal, and conduct various behavior controlled by an attacker.
In a report conducted by Verizon, approximately 86% of users were worried about malware, while 20% were unprepared to defend their devices against it. As technology and digital spaces continue to evolve, malware grows more sophisticated and complex.
Another common threat in the mobile app industry is ransomware. A more specific type of malware, ransomware, is a set of malicious programs that penetrates your device and disables access to your device until you pay a certain amount to the hacker.
In short, ransomware is similar to real-life ransoms, but instead of a person, it is your device that is held hostage by external captors. Such cyber threats are very complicated and can be difficult and expensive to remove.
Ransomware is the most preferred method of cyberattacks. In 2021, around 37% of global organizations have been victims of ransomware. In the US, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center reported 2,084 ransomware complaints on mobile apps from January to July 31, 2021, representing a 62% year-over-year increase.
Crypto mining and cryptocurrencies are gaining steady popularity worldwide. Businesses, financial institutions, and the like are slowly adopting crypto and its principles. Cryptojacking is another cyber threat that attacks your devices and uses their computing power to mine cryptocurrency.
Victims who are attacked by cryptojacking experience rapid battery drain, device downtime, and operational disruption. Around 73% of organizations report concerns about cryptojacking and have experiences with such issues.
#4: Insecure Coding
Failure to apply the best practices of mobile app development. Doing so can leave gaps within your code that can be easily infiltrated by hackers and other cyber threats that want to penetrate your app.
How Mobile Applications are Penetrated by Cyber Threats
Cyber threats can be mitigated if addressed correctly. That is why it is imperative to have a deep understanding of mobile app security and how hackers and other cyber attacks work to infiltrate your application. Here are some ways hackers can take advantage of when trying to hack into your mobile application.
#1: Weak Server-side Controls
A majority of mobile applications operate on client-server architecture. It is a computing model that allows multiple components to work in strictly defined roles to communicate. Here, the servers host, deliver, and manage various client resources and services. Application stores such as Google Play operate in a client-server architecture to deliver various mobile applications to users.
Mobile app developers are in charge of handling the servers. They interact with the mobile device through APIs, which are responsible for the correct execution of app functions. According to studies, around 40% of server components have below-average security, while 35% have extreme vulnerabilities in various aspects of app development such as:
- Configuration flaws
- Application code vulnerabilities
- Incorrect implementation of security mechanisms
#2: Insecure Data Storage
A factor of digitization includes the need to explore various storage spaces to expand the capabilities of products for their users. Today, both traditional storage and cloud-based storage are maximized.
A cloud-based storage system is more efficient, convenient, and accessible to people who need access to specific data anytime. That said, cloud-based storage systems can have inefficient and flawed security methods, placing vital company data and consumer data at risk.
Around 43% of organizations overlook mobile app security to achieve a quicker time-to-market for their products. Although bringing your product sooner to your market may be beneficial, it may be counterproductive if your application becomes untrustworthy to your target audience.
Insecure data storage also affects local databases. These are usually used by the application local databases (SQLite) that are usually stored on the device itself after an installation. Data storage with low-quality security measures can place the data stored in an application's local database at risk, allowing attackers to obtain access or control the device through malware or spyware. Attackers can also obtain all of the available information stored by the application in the device.
#3: Insufficient Transport Layer Protection (TLS)
Insufficient Transport Layer Protection (TLS) is a security weakness caused by applications that lack measures that safeguard network traffic. While mobile app data is exchanged through a client-server architecture, the data is transferred through an end user’s carrier network or the internet.
Mobile applications that lack security can be vulnerable to threat agents that exploit and misuse the data while it traverses across the network. Here, hackers and other cyber threats can expose confidential information that is stored over WiFi or local network.
This can expose a user’s confidential information, leading to account or identity theft, site exposure, phishing, or man-in-the-middle attacks. Your business could be subject to privacy violation, fraud, and reputational damage when this occurs.
How Mobile App Security Works
As the world dives further into its digital age, companies worldwide are rapidly adapting and shifting their services to mobile platforms. Doing so enables them to stay more connected with their clients while providing their services on the go.
Although users are the primary suspect of cyber crimes, they are not the only ones who are greatly affected by such acts. Numerous companies and organizations suffered tremendous damage from cyber attacks that led to data leaks, infrastructure exposure, scams, and issues with regulations and guidelines.
In this section, we will discuss how mobile app security works, its methods, and what problems it prevents to keep your mobile application safe, along with sensitive user and company data.
- Prevent Leakage of Sensitive Information
Applications that lack firewalls and the necessary security measures to keep their applications safe tend to suffer from information and data breaches and leakage.
According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, approximately 5,000 security incidents were confirmed data breaches among the 23,000+ analyzed security incidents in the US. Moreover, the year-after-year ransomware attacks increased by 13%. This is a large jump in comparison to the past five years combined.
By implementing a robust security system in place, conducting regular penetration testing, and overall security checks across your mobile applications, you can avoid incurring the same issue to your business and save you from having unwanted charges over legal malpractice on data safety and security.
- Safeguard Company Software Infrastructure
Infrastructure exposure could become an immense threat to your company as hackers and other external threats can use this information to manipulate and threaten data storage and server-level security.
- Prevent Phishing or Scamming Crimes
Fraudulent acts such as scamming or phishing is evident among applications that deal with financial or monetary transactions. Implementing well-rounded mobile application security can prevent hackers from hijacking your application and placing your user’s digital and financial properties at risk.
- Compliance with Data Regulations and Guidelines
It is essential to ensure that your company is fully compliant with relevant data laws, guidelines, and regulations. With proper mobile security in place, you can ensure that data protection standards are met.
The Different Types of Mobile Security
There are four main types of mobile security models that you can take advantage of when ensuring a comprehensive and robust mobile application security system. Here we will explain the four types of mobile security models and how vendors can combine cloud-based threat defense with on-device security.
#1: Traditional Signature File Antivirus Approach
Traditional antivirus software is a program designed to prevent, detect, and mitigate malware threats and functions. In general, Android and IOS devices are void of the need to implement antivirus software given that their operating system has already one in place. That said, incorporating a traditional signature file antivirus is one of the ways vendors prevent malware and other cyber attacks from reaching their mobile apps.
The traditional signature file antivirus model creates a signature file on the device that all apps and documents are compared to. However, as mobile apps and devices evolve, the effectiveness of the approach has diminished over time.
To ensure that the Traditional Signature File Antivirus approach is fully maximized, it must be able to deliver the following features:
- High Performance and Intended Function
- Inherent Persistence
Due to the growing complexities of malware and mobile applications, signature-based scanning and traditional antivirus technology are slowly becoming less and less effective in comparison to other methods.
#2: Hybrid-AI Cloud Security
Hybrid-AI Cloud Security involves software-defined networking (SDN), virtualization, and application support across all layers of the product or service. This method protects data, applications, and infrastructure that is associated with IT architecture. It also incorporates a level of workload portability, orchestration, and management across multiple IT environments, with at least one private or public cloud.
Implementing hybrid-AI cloud security has the potential to significantly reduce the exposure of your data to cyber threats. This method allows you to keep sensitive and vital data away from the public space while still being able to take advantage of the cloud for data with little to no risks. Hybrid-AI Cloud Security is ideal for enterprises shifting to digitizing their workload and moving from traditional workplaces to mobile and digital.
Read also about the Importance of Security in Serverless Technologies.
#3: Intermediary Cloud Approach
Through this model, any files that users receive, download, and store within their devices are automatically uploaded to a cloud service where the said files will be tested and compared. This determines if the files contain – or the file itself – malware or security threats.
This approach is ideal for mobile devices that are consistently connected to the internet or to mobile data. On the other hand, devices with weak and slow networks can suffer or lag in performance. This method has the potential to run fast and extensive processes on high-powered cloud servers which can eliminate the restrictions of on-device resources.
#4: Mobile Behavioral Analysis
The Mobile Behavioral Analysis approach is an AI-based preloaded application that prevents malicious activity within a mobile device by flagging suspicious behavior. Although most of its functions happen locally within the device, a part of this approach uses a cloud-based component where the agent occasionally downloads new suspicious behaviors to flag on the device.
This process is one of the best ways to find zero-day exploits. It uses crowd-sourcing to obtain and test files. However, its process is closer to a behavior-based approach rather than a simple penetration testing associated with the traditional signature file antivirus approach.
The OWASP Mobile Security Testing Standards
Enterprises and developers who are venturing into securing their mobile applications with the highest security level must acknowledge a set of standards when conducting tests and security implementations to avoid compliance issues. As a mobile application security professional, it is best to follow Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) standards when conducting mobile penetration testing.
OWASP is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the security of software. It takes advantage of community-led open-source software projects to implement improved security across software and technology.
When implementing a security system for your mobile application, it is best to follow the OWASP Mobile Security Testing Guide, which is a comprehensive manual for mobile app security testing and reverse engineering. It describes technical processes for verifying the controls listed in the OWASP Mobile Application Verification Standard (MASVS)..
What is Mobile Application Security Testing?
As mentioned, the rise of mobile devices has increased in recent years. It has become a critical part or function that significantly contributes to our everyday lives. According to studies, mobile app revenue is predicted to reach over US$935 billion by 2023.
However, despite the growing need for mobile applications and their relevance in the current way we do business and work, many developers consider mobile app security testing at the end of the software development lifecycle.
To have robust and effective mobile app security testing, it is ideal to conduct the testing at an early stage to quickly identify the weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and threats that impact an app. There are several ways to test your mobile application’s security. Here are the most common ways to go about it:
- Penetration Testing
Penetration testing, also known as pentesting, is one of the most common ways to test the security and functions of a mobile application during its development. It is one of the quickest ways to get valuable initial outside assessments of your mobile application.
Here security professionals perform intentional attacks and threat simulations to test the security of the mobile application and seek out exploitable vulnerabilities in systems, networks, websites, and applications.
- Automated Mobile Application Testing
Automated mobile application security testing is another way to test your mobile security. This method detects an app's security, privacy, and code quality issues on Android and iOS applications. Numerous automated tools available today are capable of analyzing the source code of your application while performing dynamic analysis on the behavior of the application. This method is also known as white-box testing.
It also takes advantage of the support of automated tools, which can be integrated into the software development life cycle (SDLC) as part of its continuous integration and delivery process.
- Alternatives for Mobile Security Testing
There are many other ways to conduct mobile security testing. Other alternatives vary from Bug Bounties to crowd-sourced app security testing. When using third-party programs to find vulnerabilities must be supplemented with internal security practices like threat modeling, code reviews, and automated security testing.
The Techniques of Mobile Application Security Testing
When conducting a security test for your mobile application, it is best to keep in mind the two main techniques for mobile app security testing.
This testing approach focuses on the code-based representation of an application. This can be done through either direct inspection of the source code or by decompiling the application and its resources for a thorough inspection.
Usually, the static analysis approach makes use of a hybrid automatic/manual approach. Through this, testers can analyze and determine the “low-hanging fruit”, while the manual approach explores the code base with specific usage contexts.
The dynamic analysis security testing approach is the testing and evaluation of applications during their real-time executions. This approach aims to spot vulnerabilities as the program runs or executes its functions.
This method is ideal for identifying behavioral differences for different target platforms or runtime. Moreover, it is generally used to test security mechanisms that provide protection against different types of attacks such as disclosure of data in transit, injections, authentication and authorization issues, and server configuration errors.
The Legal Aspects of Mobile Security
A part to keep in mind when developing your mobile application is the data privacy and security regulations on various industries that may apply to your mobile application. This can be an exhaustive process as it takes a large amount of effort to ensure that your application is fully compliant with industry regulations.
As mentioned, various industries require a different set of standards to ensure full compliance of companies with data privacy and security. Here, allow us to list the four main industries that host various compliance regulations on mobile applications, along with the regulations that companies must comply with.
Marketing technology is the software and tools that allow businesses to achieve marketing goals. This includes conducting campaigns, collecting information about prospects, and tracking results. According to Chief Marketing Technologist, the marketing technology landscape hosts around 7,000 products in the industry.
Mobile applications created with MarTech in mind should ensure that their mobile application is in compliance with the following regulations:
- GDPR Regulation. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulation was implemented in May 2018. It places limitations on the types of data that companies can collect, process, and store. In addition, companies must receive explicit consent from a consumer in order to process data for reasons beyond which it was originally collected.
- CCPA Regulation. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was implemented and came into effect in January 2020. Its key difference from the GDPR regulation is that consumers have the explicit right to opt-out of the selling of their personal information.
The financial industry is another powerhouse industry that is increasingly taking advantage of mobile applications, along with online and digital spaces. The fintech industry is new tech that includes applications, websites, and other technological solutions that modernize traditional financial services.
There are various regulations for mobile applications that dive into the Fintech landscape. Such regulations are as follows:
- The GDPR Regulation. Same as mentioned above.
- The New Payment Services Directive (PSD2). This is responsible for the regulation of third-party access to customer payment accounts and is aimed to encourage the development of payment systems and the security of payments.
- Cybersecurity Regulations. Given that such applications handle digitized properties of finances, fintech companies with mobile applications must ensure to comply with applicable cybersecurity laws that apply to their organization
The health and medicine industry has been improving its services by jumping into digital platforms. Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, health professionals and entrepreneurs have provided new ways to deliver health and wellness services online. Telemedicine is one of the biggest examples of the health industry jumping into the bandwagon of digitization.
Read also: Secure Payment Processing Solutions for Telehealth Businesses.
In Europe, before mobile applications qualify and be required to comply with regulations, one must ensure that their product identifies as a Medical Device Software (MDSW).
Once you meet such requirements, it is best to keep these regulations in mind:
- EU Regulation 2017/745 (MDR)
- EU Regulation 2017/746 (IVDR)
- HIPPA Regulation
Moreover, they provide different standards and criteria for medical software products:
- Medical Devices
- ISO 13485
- IEC 62366
- Health Informatics
- ISO TS 25238
- ISO 14971
- Medical Device Software
- IEC 62304
Numerous health tech companies have been innovating and revamping their services to bring them to mobile platforms.
Digitization in the human resource and recruitment industry has become more rampant over the years. Tech companies have been innovating HR technology and strategies and carried them over into the digital scene. This enables recruiters, HR managers, and entrepreneurs to streamline and take advantage of current recruitment strategies and maximize their talent pool.
Read also: 10 Most Successful Human Resource (HR) Tech Startups of 2021 in Europe.
There are several regulations to keep in mind when creating a mobile application for HR and recruitment purposes. Generally, these are the regulations you should look out for when making an HR-driven mobile application:
- Fair Labor Standards Act
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
Depending on the HR activity you are performing, mobile app regulations toward HR activity may vary.
A Full Mobile Application Security Checklist
Now that we have fully established what mobile application security is, it's time to guide you through your mobile application security process by providing you with a comprehensive checklist on how to conduct a successful mobile app security testing.
#1: Enforcing a Robust Authentication Process
Most organizations suffer from data compromise due to unauthorized access and passcode guessing attacks. The most ideal way to counter this is to provide a robust authentication system, such as multi-factor authentication, to reduce the risk of data compromise within your organization.
Multi-factor authentications combine your usual pin or password authentication process with another set of authentication that is usually more complex such as fingerprint or biometrics authentication or one-time passcodes. Implementing time-of-day and location-based restrictions to prevent fraud.
#2: Encrypt Mobile Communications
At present, numerous threats have become more complex at penetrating and analyzing the content of sensitive data of your company and your consumers. Threats such as snooping and man-in-the-middle attacks over WiFi and cellular networks make it difficult for enterprises to fully secure their apps without proper mobile app security systems in place.
To avoid this, it is ideal to encrypt your mobile communication channels to avoid cyber threats. Strong encryption that leverages 4096-bit SSL keys and session-based key exchanges can prevent even the most determined hackers and complex malicious software from decrypting communications.
You can also take advantage of SSL Certificate Pinning to encrypt communications. It is a technique designed to prevent dangerous and complex security attacks on applications. This method pins the identity of trustworthy certificates on mobile apps and blocks unknown documents from the suspicious servers.
Moreover, developers and IT teams must ensure that data at rest (those stored in phones or other devices) should be encrypted to prevent being analyzed and compromised by cyber attacks.
#3: Implement Comprehensive Logging and Monitoring
Insider abuse is inevitable in the digital age. There may be times when you encounter legitimate users who will try to infiltrate and abuse your system to compromise and expose the sensitive data of the company.
Enforcing and maintaining a detailed audit trail across all transactions made by your consumers. It is an ideal method to detect accidental data leaks and malware-based attacks. Moreover, data compliance regulations require companies to maintain a user monitoring system to track access and changes to sensitive data.
#4: Provide Frequent Patches for App and Operating System Vulnerabilities
Keeping your operating system or your application updated is crucial to keep your platform safe from cyber attacks. As mentioned before, cyber attackers have been increasingly becoming more complex over time. Ensuring that your systems are regularly updated and in compliance with current industry security trends.
Although it is the customer’s responsibility to ensure that their application or device operating system (OS) is up-to-date, providing the option to update them can help push your consumers to update their devices’ OS to the latest version.
To further ensure that your consumers are using the latest ad safest version of their OS or application, you can set your requirements to specified OS versions. This allows you to ensure that your application only runs on a specified OS that is void of any critical vulnerabilities.
#5: Regularly Scan Your Mobile App for Malware
Regularly scanning your mobile app for any malicious software that may have been lingering inside can help you prevent incurring any damaging attacks or data breaches within your application. Malware can be detected using virtual sandboxing or signature-based scanning tools. Moreover, there are AI-powered behavior-based AV solutions that do not rely on the signature itself. You can easily change the signature of the malicious app by applying encoding and obfuscation.
These scans can help you spot and identify potential attacks or any suspicious activity within your mobile app. Scanning your server for any potential threats is also ideal to prevent malware or similar threats.
Going through each of these procedures can help you ensure that your mobile application is fully equipped to prevent, mitigate, and avoid cyber threats and attacks.
As the world becomes more reliant on technology and mobile applications, take the time to assess and ensure that your mobile application is fully secured and compliant with relevant regulations. Doing so enables you to provide the best mobile application while at the same time establishing a high level of trust and quality customer satisfaction within your consumer market.
Moreover, having a threat-resistant mobile application against malware, cyber attacks, hackers, and similar can help you ensure that your company data (as well as consumer data) is safe from those who want to exploit and compromise your organization.
At present, there are numerous commercial mobile application security tools that are readily available. If you find such to be challenging and you are unsure of which tools best fit your needs when developing and safeguarding your mobile application, you can reach out to us at TechMagic. We provide a comprehensive mobile application security process to enable you to secure your mobile app, with ease and hassle-free.
FAQs About Mobile Application Security
1.What is mobile app security?
Mobile app security is where you safeguard high-value mobile applications and digital properties and identities from fraudulent acts and cyber attacks.
2. Why is Mobile App Security important?
Ensuring that your mobile application is fully equipped with a robust security system helps you avoid incurring any damaging issues that can place your organization at risk. Moreover, it keeps sensitive data, app infrastructure, and similar safe from exploitation and exposure.
3. What is mobile application security testing?
Mobile application security testing is a process of assessing the security of your mobile application through various methods such as penetration testing, automated scanning using industry-recognized tools, etc.
4. What is a mobile app security checklist?
A mobile app security checklist offers a guide to ensure that you cover all aspects of mobile security to ensure that your mobile app is fully equipped with a comprehensive and robust security system.
5. What are the security risks of mobile apps?
Here are the most common risks to mobile apps:
- Weak Server-side Controls
- Insecure data storage
- Insufficient Transport Layer Protection (TLS)
- Improper Platform Usage
- Insecure Data Storage
- Insecure Communication
- Insecure Authentication
- Insufficient Cryptography
- Insecure Authorization
- Client Code Quality
- Code Tampering
- Reverse Engineering
- Extraneous Functionality