The growing use of apps and mobile devices has led to the rise in security threats. As more people entrust their personal and financial details on apps, it’s not surprising why cybercriminals are paying more attention to the vulnerabilities of applications, especially on mobile devices.
A report from security company Positive Technologies reveals that 74% of Android, 57% of iOS, and 42% of server-side applications have security weaknesses. Most of these security vulnerabilities are related to data storage insecurity, with around 76% of mobile apps affected. Even more alarming is the finding that hackers seldom require physical access to devices to extract data from them. The report says that hackers only need to introduce malware to exploit 89% of the vulnerabilities existing in smartphones and other devices.
If these figures don’t sound worrying enough, the report also claims that risks don’t necessarily arise from specific client or server side vulnerabilities. Often, the risks are hidden in security deficiencies perceived to be insignificant. When these seemingly small issues are not addressed, the consequences can be serious.
That’s why developers are taking steps to make sure the apps they offer are sufficiently secure. Likewise, third parties are offering solutions such as runtime application self-protection which, when integrated into an application, can improve their resistance against cyber-attacks.
App Development Trends and Their Security Implications
In 2020, app development trends will likely center on the following: blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile payments and m-commerce, cross-platform development, artificial intelligence, and low code development.
Blockchain technology is nothing new and it has been on many mobile phones because of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. However, developers are expected to pay more attention to blockchain as its use extends beyond cryptocurrency. This distributed digital ledger system will be integrated in apps to enhance security, tracking, and quality control.
The Internet of Things is also not a new invention, but it is going to be a big factor in the development of apps in 2020 and beyond, as more devices besides smartphones and computers gain web connectivity and the ability to link with smart devices.
Another noteworthy trend is the development of apps for m-commerce (mobile commerce) and mobile payments. As the rest of the world adopts cashless mobile-based shopping, the need for the corresponding m-commerce apps grows along with the need to make them reliable, secure, and efficient.
Cross-platform development refers to the building of applications that work on multiple platforms, from desktop to mobile. Cross-platform apps have already existed for some time in what are known as web applications. In the coming years, however, the challenge is to develop client-side apps that work across different hardware and software platforms.
Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, will have a more pronounced presence in application development. This trend has already been demonstrated by the infusion of AI in the camera apps of smartphones. Artificial intelligence and deep learning are employed to make smartphone cameras capture more appealing, brighter, sharper, and more stabilized photos and videos. Additionally, AI is used in developing intelligent chatbots capable of engaging customers and enhancing user experiences.
Furthermore, low code development is seen to gain more traction among developers. This approach in app development offers significant advantages as it takes away the need for extensive manual coding. As such, it reduces the complexity of developing applications. However, it also has its drawbacks, particularly its suitability for mission-critical enterprise apps.
These trends mean more security challenges and potential avenues for vulnerabilities. It will be inevitable to have a few misses when securing apps infused with blockchain and AI. The same goes with the development of true cross-platform client-side applications. Likewise, creating apps for a wide variety of IoT devices is going to be highly challenging security-wise. Developments and changes entail new security challenges developers need to address competently.
How Developers Can Make Apps More Secure
Ensuring that an app’s code is secure is a given when building a secure application. Doing this means evaluating the code, testing, rectifying infirmities or introducing tweaks, testing again, making another round of corrections if issues are found, testing again, and finalizing once the security issues are eradicated. It’s not enough to focus on securing the code, though. There are other things that can be done to make apps resist or fight security threats.
- Ensuring Data Protection – The unwanted, unpermitted, or deceptive extraction of data is one of the biggest threats app users face. Data theft, however, can only be successful if the thief finds the data stolen data useful. Otherwise, the data stolen will only be an unwanted consumer of storage space. Encryption is the best way to protect data. Information stored in an app as well as data transferred and received when going online or interacting with other devices must be encrypted. This encryption does not have to be advanced quantum cryptography. Widely used protocols such as SHA1 and MD5 can be good enough.
- Preventing Unauthorized Access – Security weaknesses can be attributed to instances when the app user assigns weak passwords or configures the app to not require any authentication when doing critical tasks such as making purchases and payments. To address this problem, the solution is to make apps require alphanumeric case-sensitive passwords that have to be changed periodically. It is also recommended to provide the option for multi-factor authentication to stop unauthorized app access even when passwords are compromised. Moreover, it is advisable to use tokens instead of device identifiers for session handling.
- Using RASP – As mentioned earlier, runtime application self-protection is one of the ways to keep apps safe from cyber-attacks. It is a security technology that utilizes runtime instrumentation, which makes use of information already available within a running software, to identify and prevent attacks. It is different from firewalls, because of its contextual awareness. It stops attacks not through network information but by using data from the software it is meant to secure. It is arguably a better protection system (compared to firewalls) because it monitors inputs in an application to block those that are deemed potentially harmful. It is not limited to blocking or allowing connections; it can also shut an application down, terminate a session, or send attack alerts to the app user or IT team.
- Sending Alerts – There are no perfect systems for warding off attacks. Cyber threats ceaselessly evolve and become more aggressive. It’s important to notify users in case attacks defeat the defense solution set in place. The alerts will let users decide on the best course of action—cut internet connection, shut the app down, clear app data, uninstall the app, or run a malware scan. An option to notify the developer or a cyber security firm may also be added.
- Updating – Again, threats never stop evolving, so there’s a need for defense systems to similarly evolve. It’s a must to regularly update apps to improve their protection in response to emerging threats. It’s not a bad idea to suspend the functioning or limit the functions of an app until it has been updated.
Malware, DDoS, hack attacks, and other cyber threats are a constant in today’s world of internet-connected devices. Unfortunately, the apps installed in devices can become facilitators of threat penetration. Hence, they must be kept secure through data encryption, high-level authentication, RASP and other application security tools, threat alerts, and compulsory updating.