Irina Linnik
Irina Linnik 16 December 2019

The Pitfalls In Mobile App Security That Everyone Should Know About

Do you know how secure your mobile application is? With the rapid development of new forms of cyber threats and the growing frequency of hackers attacks, the security of mobile applications and the stored sensitive data is the issue number one in today’s technological environment. Learn about the most common security mistakes that developers make when creating an application.

The mobile app development industry is one of the most fast-growing. By 2022, the number of mobile app downloads is predicted to reach 258 billion which is 45% higher than the number of downloads in 2017. 

However, the number and quality of cyber attacks on mobile are also growing exponentially. Companies pay enormous amounts of money for the leak of the user’s data and the issue of mobile security remains one of the most critical out there. Learn about the most common pitfalls in mobile app security and tips on preventing them.

Insecure data storage

Mobile applications contain a massive amount of sensitive user data such as location, name, credit card number, contacts, etc. The leak of this data may lead to big problems so mobile app developers should pay great attention to secure data storage. Here are the key areas to consider when thinking about storage security.

The data that is stored in the mobile must always be encrypted. While the iOS file system does it by default, the Android system is not encrypted so it’s the first thing to consider when developing an app. It is also recommended to use additional third-party encryption to enhance data security. In addition, pay attention to the way HTML5 stores the data.

Check the way your app caches the data and logging. It is desirable that the app clears the data after the user closes the app and the data is masked when being on the background.

Lack of encryption

Data encryption is an absolute must if you want to keep the data safe. Encryption is the way of turning the initial data into a different format so it becomes much harder or even impossible to read or steal it.

There are two basic ways to encrypt the data on mobile:

  • Software-based encryption: implies the use of special software to generate and verify the encryption keys. This method is preferred by Google and is considered more common and universal.

  • Hardware-based encryption: implies the use of a piece of hardware (aka the encryption engine) that generates and verifies the encryption keys. This is the method preferred by Apple and is more costly than software-based encryption.

As said above, it is also a good idea to use additional layers of encryption to guarantee the robust security of the data.

Poor authentication

Authentication and authorisation are one of the weakest points in the mobile app security. There are dozens of ways hackers can trick the app’s authentication system or simply bypass it by using the brute force attack or fake biometric authorisation. And there is much more to secure authentication than requesting an 8-digit password:

  • Limit the number of login attempts

  • Demand the use of a strong password

  • Keep the passwords and PINs encrypted 

  • Use session expiry

  • Use biometric authentication if possible

One more common mistake within the field of authorisation - the definition of the error upon the login. Many apps directly say “incorrect password” or “incorrect email” and that gives hackers extra information about the app. In the case of incorrect data input, simply write “incorrect credentials”. It seems minor, but such little things help make your app more secure.

Dubious third-party software

It’s natural that mobile app developers use available third-party tools for the faster and more efficient development process. However, this software may become a weak spot in your app’s security.

First, you do not know the quality of this third-party code. So it’s important to check and verify it before using the chosen tool.

Second, test the chosen software and see whether it’s hacker-proof. The implementation of non-secure third-party software will double the security issues of the app and may lead to big problems in the future.

Missed security basics

In an attempt to maximally secure the app, developers may go above and beyond - but they might still miss the most basic security principles that will backfire in the future. We are talking about updates and patching.

When a mobile app requires an update, it’s not because the developers came up with another brilliant idea - it’s because the developers constantly work on the app’s performance optimisation and improvement of its security. One of the ways how developers make the app more secure is by providing regular updates that include patching.

Security patches are small code snippets that take care of the loopholes and eliminate existing bugs and errors. These patches come with the app updates so for the developers, it’s important to regularly provide these updates and ensure that the app is patched. Though seemingly simple, there is still a great number of non-patched apps that naturally become more vulnerable to the possible hacker attacks.

Unsecured server

The app constantly communicates with the server and exchanges the data with it, including the most sensitive one. So if the server and this communication are not secured, the app might be in trouble.

The most common way to secure the interaction between the app and the server is by using the SSL certificate. SSL stands for Standard Socket Layer and secures the data exchange in three steps:

  1. The server and the SSL certificate exchange information

  2. The certificate authenticates the server and the app

  3. The server and the app exchange the encryption keys

To optimise the SSL certificate even more, you can use certificate pinning which means embedding the certificate in the app code.

One more piece of advice - always test your own code and check its quality before the release. Constant 360-degree testing will help you avoid many security issues in the future and will provide the security of the data for your users. If you are a client looking for mobile app developers, try finding an agency that provides both development and QA services as such companies tend to be more knowledgeable and experienced.

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