8 Tips for Mobile App Security

Experienced developers, cyber-security experts, ALM consultants, DevOps gurus and some other dangerous species.

According to a report from IBM just a few years ago, as many as 50% of companies had no budget for mobile app security. This is especially worrying because, in the first half of 2019 alone, there were data breaches that exposed around 4.1 billion records. A more recent study also showed that 3 out of 4 apps leaked sensitive data that exposed users to fraud and identity theft.

Incidences of app data breaches are increasing at an alarming rate, undermining consumer trust in mobile app safety. App users trust you enough to share their sensitive data on your platform, and the responsibility of ensuring the app is secure falls on leaders of mobile app development teams.

This begs the question, how do you ensure that the users of your app are protected against data breaches? Here are 8 approaches to securing your mobile application.

1.  Add an extra layer of security to the login process

The Verizon 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report showed that approximately 80% of all data breaches occur due to weak credentials. This is why you need to put identification, authentication, and authorization measures in place. Use authorization technology or adopt the 2FA (two-factor authentication) method to add an extra layer of security to the login process. Biometrics such as fingerprints and retina scans are some recent authentication methods, which are more reliable than the 2FA.

You should also encourage your app users to set strong passwords and update them regularly or ask the developers to design the app to only accept strong alphanumeric passwords.

2.  Conduct vulnerability testing

If hackers were to attack your app today, how well would it hold up? No one ever thinks that their app could be a hacker’s target — until it is. As part of a mobile development team, you are bound to be biased and are wired to assume that your app is extremely secure. However, you should never leave mobile app security to chance, which is why you should conduct vulnerability testing periodically. Identify all security loopholes in your app’s infrastructure and fix them before it’s too late.

You will require an effective application vulnerability scanning with a tool like Kiuwan, which supports Swift, Java, Kotlin, and Objective-C.

3.  Secure your app’s code from the ground up

Your app’s security doesn’t begin after deployment of the application; it should be part of the development process. Make security a priority and protect your code from vulnerabilities that are often caused by developer error or lack of testing. To protect your mobile app’s code, keep it encrypted through minification and obfuscation coupled with API encryption. Run source code scanning and ensure that your security measures don’t affect the user experience and the app’s performance.

4.  Implement a good data encryption policy

Ensure that all data being exchanged on your app is encrypted. This way, even if hackers get past your security, they won’t access any sensitive information. Avoid storing sensitive data on mobile devices or on your servers, and if it’s necessary, keep the data storage to an absolute minimum and in an encrypted format. For instance, the iOS keychain contains encrypted data storage.  

If you keep logs, make sure they are automatically deleted periodically.

5.  Secure the API

Since app development is strongly dependent on APIs, you should have a solid API security strategy in place. Make sure anyone who accesses your networks is verified, and that you have an API gateway in place. You can use VPN’s or encrypted connections to boost your network security, and when this is not possible, consider containerization as a security measure.

The API security stack should have measures for authorization, identification, and authentication.

6.  Have a dedicated security team from the start

Because your app’s security is a top priority, identify your security team and involve its members from project kick-off. A common approach is to organize (or hire) a “red team,” whose members concentrate on probing the app for weaknesses, and a “blue team” that focuses on developing protective measures. These two teams essentially compete against each other, with the goal of identifying and thwarting attacks before they happen. The security team should also develop a contingency plan to respond to attacks that cannot be prevented. 

Because DevSecOps is all about breaking down silos, an emerging approach to bridge the gap between the security team and developers is to designate developers as a “yellow team” that focuses on building security into the application. 

7.  Educate and inform your users

You can do everything right as a developer, but at the end of the day, your users also need to know how to protect themselves from security breaches. Inform your users that downloading the app from unverified sources puts their personal information at risk. It may seem obvious to you, but they may not know it.

If there are security breaches that you cannot prevent, warn your users about them in a timely manner, and give them tips on how they can protect themselves. 

8.  Understand platform-specific limitations

If you are developing an app for various operating systems, ensure you are well-versed with the security specifications and limitations before writing the code.  What are the packaging details on each platform? What are their password and encryption support requirements? Comply with all specifications so that you are able to control the distribution of your app across these platforms.

Protect your app against security threats

One of the reasons why apps have become so popular is because they are convenient, and users only require a smartphone to access them. The fact that the app is on a personal and portable device is probably why users are comfortable sharing sensitive personal data. With the increased rate of cybersecurity threats, it is up to you to make sure that your user’s data is secure and protected.

The importance of SAST in application security cannot be ignored, and app developers need a tool such as Kiuwan to protect applications from cyber threats. Kiuwan leverages SAST and SCA analysis, enabling developers in the SDLC to shield applications from security risks with a scalable and lightning fast platform that seamlessly integrates within any DevOps environment.

Security breaches are often followed by lawsuits and loss of brand loyalty, which ultimately costs companies huge monetary losses. Irrespective of the functionalities of your app, you should never compromise on data security.

Would you like to know more about implementing DevSecOps in your company? Get in touch with our Kiuwan team! We love to talk about security.

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