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The exponential proliferation of global internet access has coincided with the growth in global mobile device adoption. In fact, mobile apps have become part and parcel of our daily lives, helping us run our errands, manage our finances— and even monitor our healthcare.
However, this mobile device proliferation also reiterates the dire need for increased security mechanisms to protect users’ information stored on smartphones.
The security issues associated with mobile apps are a growing concern of the 21st Century.
This should come as no surprise as many mobile apps have unprecedented access to users’ personal data (sometimes without the user’s knowledge or consent).
This article discusses all things mobile application security and explores actionable best practices that ordinary users and app developers can take to mitigate any security risk or bad actors. So, without further ado, let’s delve in!
What is mobile app security?
Mobile app security alludes to measures imposed to protect data stored on mobile devices from any unauthorised access, malware, viruses or theft.
Security and privacy concerns cannot be understated. Especially as unsecured mobile apps may be vulnerable to a diverse range of malicious cyberattacks—leaving mobile users at risk of losing their personal or even financial data.
Key components of mobile app security
Mobile app security constitutes several components that work together to protect sensitive personal and business data stored on mobile devices, namely:
- Data encryption: Data encryption revolves around the conversion of sensitive data into a code to prevent unauthorised access by bad actors to sensitive information.
- Authorisation: The authorisation component of mobile security revolves around mechanisms that grant or deny access to a mobile system. The process of granting access is typically based on the user’s identity, role, and permissions. For example, role-based, attribute-based, and rule-based mechanisms.
- Secure communication: The secure communication component involves using secure protocols like SSL/TLS to protect data transmitted between the mobile app and the server.
- Authentication: The authentication component of mobile app security encompasses processes to verify the identity of the user.
Why is mobile app security important?
Mobile app security is imperative as it fosters user trust and confidence in the dynamically evolving mobile app landscape.
Implementing mobile app security mechanisms like antiviruses and firewalls may manifest tangible benefits such as:
Protecting user data
Mobile app security is vital for protecting mobile users’ data from unauthorised access and breaches.
Unsecured mobile apps are more vulnerable to a wide range of malicious cyberattacks—even posing unimaginable physical security risks if one’s home is compromised by burglars via their smart home mobile app.
Therefore, securing mobile apps is mission-critical to protect users and businesses from security threats. Especially as more malicious actors devise creative ways to attempt to gain access to users’ sensitive information, or exploit mobile apps to attack other computer systems.
Maintaining user trust
Security is indispensable in maintaining user trust and upholding the reputation of an app developer. A highly secure app inspires user trust by ensuring that users’ personal and sensitive data is optimally shielded from unauthorised access and breaches.
An insecure app will have users uninstalling or switching to competitors in fear of security breaches that may give hackers access to users’ crucial information. This can lead to digital fraud and potential harm to users.
Therefore, by prioritising security, app developers can build and maintain trust with their users, which is essential for the success of the app and the business.
Compliance with regulations
Mobile app security is critical for compliance with data protection laws and regulations. Regulators across the globe typically dictate that app developers impose strict authentication, authorisation, encryption, and access control mechanisms.
This strict requisite is implemented to meet regulatory requirements and ensure that user data is handled ethically in accordance with legal standards.
Consequently, failure to comply with mobile security regulations may lead to profound legal implications and reputational damage for the app developer, especially if a hack occurs.
As such, it is imperative to prioritise mobile app security to meet regulatory obligations and protect user data.
Common security threats in mobile apps
Mobile apps typically face various security threats that may compromise user data and the reputation of the app developer. Some of the prevalent security threats faced by mobile apps include:
- Malware attacks: Malware is malicious code designed to harm a device or mobile app, typically to access private information. It may be inconspicuously spread through links, downloads, or apps, enabling cybercriminals to target millions of people who download and rely on mobile apps daily.
Read: How to remove malware from android?
- Data breaches: These occur when cybercriminals breach an app’s database and gain access to sensitive information, even when an app is no longer in use or has been deleted.
- Unauthorised access or login data theft: It may occur when hackers access user login credentials and exploit them to access sensitive data.
- Intellectual property theft: This happens when cyber hackers steal an app’s source code and design in order to engineer cloned apps.
- Phishing attacks: This happens when hackers create convincing replicas of popular apps to attract unsuspecting users in order to unnoticeably steal their sensitive data.
Mobile app security best practices
Keeping abreast with evolving threats and best practices in mobile security is essential to secure any mobile system.
Here are some of the recommended best practices to safeguard mobile apps.
Secure coding practices
Secure coding practices are vital in mobile app development to mitigate security vulnerabilities.
By following secure coding practices, mobile developers can appreciably reduce the risk of security loopholes and shield mobile apps from inconspicuous security breaches.
Recommended best practices may include: encrypting the source code, leveraging code-signing certificates, and implementing file-level and database encryption.
Regular security audits and testing
Regular security audits and penetration testing play an indispensable role in sustaining optimal app security.
Security audits are expressly designed to help identify and address security vulnerabilities, ensuring that the mobile app remains resilient to cyber-attacks.
Implementing strong authentication and authorisation measures
Always leverage effective user authentication and authorisation strategies to considerably reduce the risk of a security breach, or the emergence of vulnerabilities.
Such strategies may encompass: validating inputs from untrusted data sources, sanitising data sent to other systems, and implementing monitoring and logging systems.
Ensure safe sessions
Most users typically forget to log out of mobile apps or websites after using them. Unfortunately, such a habit can be very harmful in terms of mobile security risk.
To mitigate this, it is advisable that app developers institute mechanisms to automatically enforce session logout, after a specific time frame of inactivity.
Additionally, session invalidation mechanisms may be implemented on the server side to avert HTTP manipulation tool attacks.
All these mechanisms ensure that user sessions are secure and protected from unauthorised access.
Use app shielding techniques
It is advisable to always leverage app shielding techniques.
App shielding techniques like encryption, code obfuscation, and following secure coding practices add another lay of protection for the app.
This consequently helps protect apps from reverse engineering attacks and exploitation of security vulnerabilities.
The future of mobile app security
As more users entrust mobile applications with running their daily lives, mobile app security is no longer an issue of convenience but a matter of urgency. Especially, in an era where mobile applications play a central role in daily interactions.
As the mobile app landscape evolves, so will the dynamism of cyber threats. Fortunately, technology is advancing in tandem to combat these threats.
This technological advancement demonstrates the mobile app industry’s commitment to staying ahead of the curve when ensuring the privacy and security of mobile users. Examples of such emerging trends are:
1. Biometric authentication
It is an emerging trend to introduce an additional layer of security to mobile devices through mechanisms like facial recognition, and iris scanning.
These mechanisms seek to not only deliver a more secure and convenient way for mobile users via natural ‘unhackable’ biological traits— but also substantially reduce the reliance on traditional passwords and PINs.
Thereby, making it significantly harder for unauthorised access by bad actors without users having to remember long sophisticated passwords.
2. AI-driven security measures
These are becoming increasingly indispensable in mobile app security.
For example, artificial intelligence (AI) is being explored to help in identifying and responding to security threats in real-time. Thereby, providing proactive protection against dynamically evolving cyber threats in an intricate software ecosystem.
ML algorithms promise to systematically analyse threat patterns, detect anomalies, and respond to potential security breaches more efficiently than traditional methods. These, therefore, enhance the overall security posture of modern mobile apps.
3. Behavioural biometrics is another emerging paradigm with the potential to revolutionise mobile app security.
This technology paradigm methodically analyses user behaviour patterns like typing speed, and swipe gestures to introduce an additional authentication layer to a mobile app.
In practice, behavioural biometrics programmatically recognise not just who the user is, but how they interact with the app.
In today’s tech-driven landscape, mobile apps have quickly become lucrative targets for hackers via viruses and malware that seek to exploit vulnerabilities in poorly secured apps.
This consequently compromises the confidentiality and integrity of users’ financial transactions and personal data.
As such, it’s mission-critical that mobile app developers deploy encryption mechanisms, secure authentication protocols, and perform regular security updates to fortify their mobile infrastructures against dynamically evolving threats.