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What is Mobile App Security?

Mobile App Security Meaning

Mobile application security refers to the technologies and security procedures that protect mobile applications against cyberattacks and data theft. An all-in-one mobile app security framework automates mobile application security testing on platforms like iOS, Android, and others.

Mobile device usage has been steadily increasing in recent years. Recent statistics note that about 90% of the global internet population uses a mobile device to go online. For hackers, this means more people to victimize, making endpoint security for mobile devices increasingly vital.

The Need for Mobile App Security

Mobile app security can guard against a variety of harmful consequences, including:

Personal and Login Data Theft

Losing sensitive data, such as client information and login passwords, typically stem from inadequate mobile app security, which hackers leverage to obtain access to sensitive information. 

Stolen Financial Data

Mobile banking applications may contain customer financial information, including credit and debit card details. If a hacker successfully hijacks a banking app, they may also take control of the user's phone and perform a transaction without the victim's knowledge. 

Intellectual Property Theft

Without adequate mobile app security, copyrights, patents, and other forms of intellectual property can fall into malicious hands. For example, every mobile application is built on a foundational piece of code. To develop copies of popular apps, which are intended to deceive users into downloading a fake version of the real software, hackers will attempt to steal the source codes. On mobile devices, these fake apps can be used to spread malware.

Reputational Damage

Security flaws in a mobile application can put a company's reputation at risk. User data being made public will destroy customers' faith in the app developer and damage the brand’s reputation.

5 Reasons For Increased Security Threats to Mobile Apps

Mobile applications constantly face a barrage of threats because of the following:

1. Hackers Taking Advantage of App Platforms

Applications are downloaded via a mobile app platform, such as the Apple Store and Google Play Store. These platforms provide rules for secure application development, such as keychains and platform permissions. Hackers can take advantage of these platforms' communication systems to intercept information being transferred from the platform to a mobile application.

2. Insecure Data Storage

Data stored without the right safeguards poses a significant risk. An attack on the mobile device's operating system, jailbroken devices, and vulnerabilities in the application’s data maintenance framework present critical security issues. As a result, apps can be hacked, enabling thieves to steal the data they contain.

3. Communication Vulnerabilities

Mobile applications transfer data using the standard client-server approach, which involves the device’s carrier network, such as AT&T, and the internet. Hackers use communication security weaknesses to obtain access to private data. For example, an unprotected Wi-Fi network can be exploited via routers or proxy servers.

4. Poor Authentication Procedures

A skilled hacker can bypass standard identification processes and access information using a bogus identity. Online authentication procedures are not often required for mobile apps, making them more vulnerable than standard web applications.

5. Inadequate Data Encryption

Data encryption and decryption are necessary to send and receive data securely. But security can be jeopardized by subpar data encryption technology, which hackers can leverage to manipulate, steal, or alter the original data.

Most Common Vulnerabilities in Mobile Applications

While there are several ways to hack mobile applications, here are some of the most common vulnerabilities:

Server-side Vulnerabilities

Because the server stores and processes all the data necessary for the application to function—such as authentication data, business data, financial or transactional data, and personal data—most communication between an application and a user takes place via the server. Therefore, vulnerabilities in the server will put the security of the application in danger.

Storing Data Insecurely

A mobile application can store different kinds of data—such as cookies, text files, and device settings—using various storage media, including a Structured Query Language (SQL) database, information property list (.plist) file, data warehouse, Secure Digital (SD) card, or Extensible Markup Language (XML) file. To ensure the privacy of the sensitive data the application uses, encryption should be effective.

The Data Exchange Process and Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

As mentioned above, many mobile applications rely on communication with servers to function. An application delivers or receives many kinds of data, such as user session data, login credentials, financial data, and personal data, depending on the needs of the business. 

Client-server communication uses Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), but because this protocol lacks internal security measures, communications can be intercepted, altered, or diverted.

Impact of Fragile Mobile App Security on Enterprises

Insufficient app security entails both immediate and long-term consequences. Immediately, the resulting reputational damage can lead to financial repercussions and lost customers. This is why application security is a key component of mobile device management.

Some consequences are more significant in the long run than in the short term. An attacker can take advantage of the holes in your app's security in several ways. For example, they can use ports for illicit communication or execute data theft and man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks.

Mobile Apps Hacking Statistics

Figures related to mobile app hacking are sobering, to say the least. Here are a few:

1.         The Slack mobile app hack exposed the credentials of more than 12 million users.

2.         Thirteen different Android apps ended up leaking the data of up to 100 million users.

3.         The breach of ParkMobile, a parking app, impacted up to 21 million users.

4.         The hack on Portpass, a COVID passport app, exposed the personal data of 650,000 users.

7 Steps to Boost Mobile App Security

Using the following seven mobile app security best practices can significantly boost the security of mobile apps:

1. Increase User Authentication Security

Stronger mobile app access controls must incorporate additional ways of verifying users’ identities. Look for an authentication server solution that supports different ways of deploying two-factor authentication (2FA) and password protection. Your authentication procedures can be based on:

  1. How sensitive the application's data is
  2. The extent of the reputational damage a breach can expose your company to

2. Ensure the Software Supply Chain Is Secure

The software supply chain for mobile applications includes components provided by third parties. When choosing libraries and frameworks for mobile apps, developers have to be careful. You want respected, well-maintained, open-source projects.

3. Secure Data

Data security includes making sure data cannot be read by anyone who intercepts it. Encryption transforms data into an unreadable format that threat actors cannot exploit, so make it a core component of any mobile apps security system.

4. Ensure Safely Managed Sessions

Ineffective session management can seriously compromise security in applications that hold sensitive information, such as online banking apps. As such, set session timeouts to one hour for low-security applications and 15 minutes for high-risk ones. Also, use industry-standard technologies for issuing security tokens and ensuring sessions are terminated when a different user logs in, for example.

5. Use the Concept of Least Privilege

Sensitive user data is unnecessarily exposed when an app demands more permissions than needed, significantly increasing the mobile application's attack surface. Developers should approach permissions more carefully, making sure only those needing access to perform their jobs get authorization.

6. Modify Your Testing Strategy

One way to modify your testing strategy is by switching from periodic tests to a continuous testing methodology. This means developers will conduct tests on an ongoing basis instead of at specific intervals. To do this, use automated testing and threat modeling to constantly scan for flaws that can put your app's users at risk of a cyberattack.

7. Use App Shielding

App shielding is designed to safeguard Android and iOS mobile apps from tampering, reverse-engineering, and other types of attacks. It protects the data inside apps by separating the application’s data from the runtime environment, making it a valuable tool during a mobile app security test, either before or after an app has been deployed.

A common method of app shielding is runtime application self-protection (RASP). RASP keeps an eye on the application's internal state, inputs, and outputs, enabling developers to identify vulnerabilities in their apps during mobile application security testing. RASP technology can also thwart attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in applications that are already deployed.

How Fortinet Can Help

Building business-critical applications often requires the use of web applications and application programming interfaces (APIs), which must adapt to changing business requirements. To safeguard your web applications, FortiWeb provides advanced performance, manageability, and extensive protection features. For instance, you can: 

  1. Block known and unknown application dangers without affecting users
  2. Ensure the security of any APIs supporting your mobile applications
  3. Block malicious bot activity without disabling useful bots, such as those used for search engine performance and health monitoring


Why is mobile app security important?

Mobile app security is important because it can help you avoid:

1.         The theft of personal and login data

2.         Stolen financial information

3.         Theft of intellectual property

4.         Reputational damage

What are the security techniques used in mobile applications?

To secure mobile applications, teams should use multiple techniques. For instance, they can:

1.         Increase user authentication security using multi-factor authentication (MFA)

2.         Ensure the software supply chain is secure

3.         Secure data

4.         Ensure safely managed sessions

5.         Use the concept of least privilege

6.         Modify your testing strategy

7.         Use app shielding

How does mobile app security work?

Mobile app security works by actively detecting, preventing, and reporting attacks. If necessary, it can also protect data and transactions from even the most powerful assaults by completely shutting down the app, making it impossible for the attacker to take advantage of vulnerabilities present when the app is running.