Mobile Application Security Assessments: The Best Practices to Launch and Maintain a Secure App

Are you considering a mobile app security assessment? Discover the top 5 ways apps are compromised and the main types of testing and best practices moving forward.

Mobile App Security Assessment Basics: Is Your App Safe?

If you're wondering whether or not your mobile app is safe and secure, it may be time to consider a security assessment. According to the first-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report, the average U.S. consumer spends an average of three hours and 48 minutes a day on digital media, and consumers spend 62% of that time on apps and web usage via smartphones.

Since many apps require access to user data, app creators must provide optimum security for their platform. Data breaches through mobile applications are an increasingly popular target among cybercriminals — and the average cost of a data breach is $3.86 million. Data leaks through unsecured Wi-Fi networks, weak cryptography, or other vulnerabilities can make your app a prime target for crafty threat actors. Learn the top five ways apps are compromised and the best security testing measures to protect your mobile app.

What Is Application Security and Why Is It Important?

Application Security is the process of testing and examining an application to ensure that mobile apps, web applications, or APIs are secure from potential attacks. Organizations often lack the expertise and bandwidth to monitor their applications adequately and adapt their security protocol to mitigate emerging threats. Also, changing compliance laws require enterprises to follow strict mandates to protect people from inept security (similar to GDPR compliance dictates).

Each enterprise is unique and requires expert guidance to develop a security strategy equipped to meet compliance, prevent attacks, and protect user data. Application security is essential because enterprises can work on developing and improving business with the assurance that applications are secure from potential danger.

Application security increases operational efficiency, addresses compliance requirements, reduces risk, and improves trust between a business and users. Public security breaches and compliance violations severely tarnish the reputation of an enterprise and make potential users wary of trusting the business' services. Implementing effective application security is a worthwhile investment.

Mobile App Security: Top 5 Security Threats to Mobile Devices

The drastic rise of smartphones in the workplace and everyday situations has made them the prime target for hackers. No computing device is 100% secure, and threat actors continue to explore new ways to exploit vulnerabilities on mobile devices. As reported by Nicholas Fearn, mobile application attacks increased 63% in 2017, so it's crucial to stay aware of the biggest mobile security threats.

1. Unsecured Wi-Fi

Unverified servers and unsecured Wi-Fi networks at coffee shops or bookstores are a hacker's paradise, not to mention one of the biggest mobile security threats. According to CNBC reporter Jennifer Schlesinger, hackers are attempting to compromise enterprises through mobile vulnerabilities due to a rise of endpoint smartphones in the workplace.

Despite prompts warning smartphone users of potentially harmful and unverified servers, users will continue to connect to dangerous networks. Threat actors can leverage these unprotected networks to access sensitive data directly from phones or apps.

2. Apps with Malicious Code

Smartphone users downloaded 197 billion mobiles apps in 2017. However, people can download apps from third-party websites outside the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. Hackers can use unsecured apps to exploit sensitive data from mobile users.

For instance, a malicious mobile app malware strain called “Gooligan” infected 1.3 million Android users, and threat actors were able to steal user data. Hackers can create copycat apps and plant them on third-party app stores, then — just like phishing schemes — use the malicious software to steal data. You can prevent mobile security threats by only downloading apps from official app stores.

3. Operating System Vulnerabilities

Smartphone manufacturers must continuously update operating software to accommodate technology improvements, new features, and improve overall system performance. A smartphone user is periodically advised to upgrade operating systems (for instance, iPhone users on iOS operating systems).

Software engineers monitor emerging vulnerabilities and adjust operating systems to address threats. However, users may choose to avoid system updates or perhaps their device is no longer compatible with the latest update. The best protection against emerging mobile threats is to update your operating system as soon as possible and upgrade your mobile device if the operating system is no longer compatible with new updates.

4. Data Leaks

Mobile apps typically store data on remote servers. Users often download apps and immediately fill out prompts to begin using the application but often do not adequately review the permissions. Advertisers can mine the data to learn more about target demographics, but cybercriminals can also gain access to servers and leak confidential data. Unintended data leaks can come from caching, insecure storage, and browser cookies.

5. Cryptography Issues

Mobile cryptography is crucial for security and assures that data and applications operate safely. iOS software must verify the application is digitally signed from a trusted source and then decrypt the app to execute it. Android software simply verifies the application is digitally signed, and doesn't necessarily verify the trustworthiness of the signer. This design of digital trust increases the importance of downloading applications from an official source.

Sensitive data at rest on a mobile device commonly falls victim to unintended disclosure due to poor, or complete lack of, cryptographic implementations. Developers dealing with tight deadlines or trying to cut corners may use encryption algorithms with existing vulnerabilities or not use any encryption at all. Threat actors can use these vulnerabilities or pillage data from a compromised mobile device.

What is Mobile App Testing?

Mobile app testing reduces risks, tests potential vulnerabilities, and examines software to ensure that an application is safe and meets adequate security compliance. Cybersecurity experts use a variety of tests and strategies to monitor vulnerabilities to assess the security of a mobile app.

Testing the security of mobile apps requires advanced knowledge and resources. Security experts often create realistic cyberattacks to identify potential risks. They examine not only the mobile app but also the entire back-end system, supporting infrastructure, and APIs.

Mobile App Penetration Testing: Find Your Vulnerabilities

Penetration tests are a crucial security procedure for mobile app testing. While vulnerability scans aim to test known vulnerabilities, security analysts use penetration tests to find any potential weakness, whether it's poor security settings, unencrypted passwords, or an unknown flaw.

By imitating the habits of threat actors, analysts can anticipate the strategies of cyber criminals and create a security protocol that's one step ahead of the bad guys. Professionals should perform penetration tests at least once or twice a year, since cybersecurity attack strategies are continually evolving.

Security analysts often utilize two types of penetration tests: black box and white box tests.

1. White Box Testing (Static Application Security Testing)

White box testing, also known as Static Application Security Testing (SAST), aims to test the security of a mobile app from the viewpoint of an informed attacker. Security analysts try to gain as much information on the specific mobile app and network before performing the test. The security professionals will conduct attacks based on their insights. White box testing takes less time than black box testing because it uses previous security investigations to guide the simulated attacks; however, it's not as realistic.

2. Black Box Testing

Black box testing simulates how an uninformed attacker would try to exploit vulnerabilities. Security professionals deploy various threats to analyze the security strength of a mobile app. Although it simulates a more realistic attack than does a white box attack, cybersecurity professionals may not be able to test some vulnerabilities due to a lack of information about the specific app.

Secureworks® consultants combine aspects of both white box and black box techniques when performing mobile testing. By combining the approach of an informed attacker with black box testing techniques, consultants are able to efficiently test mobile environment components in less time than black box alone.

Mobile Device Security and Protection: The Best Practices for Safety

When a user agrees to the terms and conditions of your app, your organization becomes responsible for the personal data of the user. Unfortunately, business apps are three times more likely to leak login credentials than the average app. If an app does not have adequate mobile security to protect against data leaks and vulnerabilities, your enterprise could be in big trouble.

Without thorough security testing, threat actors could infect your app with malware or spyware, and it could leave your users' financial account information and personal credentials exposed. The official Apple and Google app stores do not strictly monitor apps — and without investing in thorough mobile app security, threat actors could leverage your app to steal data and money, and severely hurt your enterprise's reputation.

During a mobile security assessment, security professionals will implement best practices, including:

  • Testing vulnerabilities through simulated attacks to assess the security strengths and weaknesses of your app.
  • Analyzing internal controls and examine the code to investigate potential malware and danger.
  • Monitoring the application interface and infrastructure to locate any security flaws.
  • Improving security posture and crafting an actionable security plan with expert guidance.

Mobile Application Security Assessment

Mobile app security assessments are essential cybersecurity measures for any enterprise with publicly available apps. Professional cybersecurity experts can assess the strength of an application against known and potential threats to protect not only your users but also the enterprise from potential disaster. Proper assessments can give you confidence on the security of your mobile apps and APIs. They reduce risks, save time, and implement actionable security measures to not only improve safety but meet mandatory compliance.

A professional security assessment covering this testing is the best practice to assess the security controls of your application. Data breaches cost enterprises millions, and public reporting of a breach can severely impact a brand's reputation. Since smartphone and mobile app use will only increase in the future, reliable mobile security is an absolute must.

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