December 8, 2022
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How to Address Mobile App Security Risks

Conner Simmons

Product Team

One of today’s most sought-after commodities? Data. Knowing someone’s personal information means many opportunities for potential monetary gain. And the fast track to these goods is likely in your pocket – your smartphone.

A vast amount of personal, customer, and enterprise data is stored and accessible through smartphones, which makes mobile apps the perfect conduit for potential theft. But what exactly are they going after? How can you address the security holes that exist within mobile apps? And what can you do to protect your data going forward?

What are hackers after?

Knowing the main targets attackers are after is the first step in mitigating security threats. One of the most common data points they are looking to dig out are credentials for the device or external services. These credentials are likely used elsewhere and can be leveraged to gain access to more than just one app. 

Personal data like name, SSN, address, and location are also atop the list. Such data points are not just highly valuable to an attacker, but also have a great prospect of being sold. Credit card information including card number, CVV, and expiration date is another highly profitable target. Many do not check their statements as closely as they should, leaving the door open for stolen data to be used under the radar. Finally, access to a device can be the main objective. Sensitive data on the device, such as intellectual property, corporate account data for customer phishing, or digital infrastructure credentials, can be just what the hacker wants.

It’s not just lesser-known organizations that find themselves in the line of sight of hackers. In fact, household names like Apple, Google, and Slack have found themselves in harm’s way. As described in The Top Attack Vectors for Mobile Threats, hackers took advantage of some of the most common attack points: poor data storage, inadequately developed code, and platforms with poor architecture.

How can you address security holes in your app?

To best address potential holes in your mobile app, you’ll need to look both within your organization as well as externally.

Follow best practices

Keeping a development team educated on secure coding standards and proper architecture is critical. Otherwise, teams may leave the door open for one of the most common attack vectors, man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. With MITM, attackers can leverage unencrypted HTTP requests to capture sensitive information.

In the same vein, it’s crucial to ensure proper input validation for data submitted via mobile apps. Malformed data can consist of harmful code and trigger malfunctions not just in the mobile app, but further down the line. To this end, backend systems should always perform their own validation and not assume the data coming from the mobile app is “clean.”

One of the best ways to discover improper coding practices is to perform code reviews. Whether it’s a lack of experience or just a slip-up, developers should look to their peers to double-check their work. Having multiple eyes on code before it enters production is a great way to reduce security holes.

Finally, data must be stored correctly, not just within a database, but on mobile devices as well. Improperly stored data is one of the most common attack points and is oftentimes a result of poor encryption. By implementing more secure encryption practices, teams can rest assured that even if a bad actor gains access to data, it would be unintelligible and therefore useless.

Test, test, test

Before code gets released, it should be peer-reviewed and thoroughly tested. There are a variety of testing procedures mobile apps can be put through to ensure security robustness, including static analysis, dynamic analysis, penetration testing, and hybrid testing.

Static analysis testing is a great way to continuously inspect code quality and code security. Source code is executed by a program and compared against a set of coding rules. With the results, teams have better visibility into their code base and can more effectively act on areas of concern.

Dynamic analysis testing is one of the more well-known techniques. This entails working with the app in real time and testing its behavior as an end-user. Development logic doesn’t always match up with the natural course of action, so this can be an incredibly effective way to find holes.

Penetration testing involves testing against vulnerabilities within a network, server, web apps, endpoints, and of course mobile devices. Mobile penetration testing inspects mobile applications for security vulnerabilities, using either manual or automated techniques. The aim is to identify security flaws and rectify them before an attack can occur.

Finally, hybrid testing is a combination of two or more of the aforementioned testing methods. By testing your application through various procedures, you drastically reduce the risk of a security breach.

Turn to an expert

For instances where your internal team isn’t the best source of knowledge for secure coding practices, it may make sense to offload the development of specific features and functionalities to a third party entirely. When it comes to security, the best solution could be to implement services and plugins authored by experts. By doing so, your internal team can focus on core business functionality and you have peace of mind that when it comes to security, trusted external partners have your back.

One of the best options on the market to guarantee your application has a secure foundation is the “Security Trifecta” from Ionic. By utilizing a trio of plugins–Identity Vault, Auth Connect, and Secure Storage–teams can properly safeguard end-users and their data via advanced mobile security features. Implemented with the latest native security best practices, plugins for biometrics, single sign-on, and secure storage provide the peace of mind developers need and end-users count on.

What should you do moving forward?

When it comes to security, the best defense is a good offense, and that means getting proactive about keeping your applications, data, and ultimately users safe. 

Ensure that security is ingrained in your organization’s culture by having regular training and sharing information about potential threats with your team. By knowing what to look out for, you can reduce the risk of human error, which was a factor in 82% of cyberattacks in 2021

Having the right tools is also critical to preventing attacks before they can occur. From biometric authentication to encrypted storage, there are numerous ways to ensure your data is secure from development through production. 

Lastly, security is a team effort, so beyond regular training, having internal or external experts who are dedicated to auditing processes and staying up to date on best practices is paramount.

Conner Simmons

Product Team