The Security of Apps: Definitions & Best Practices
Though it only takes a few seconds to download an app, it also takes a decent amount of trust in the app’s developers. Mobile device users may share personal information, credit card numbers, device intelligence, and other highly sensitive data with the apps they use daily, and that’s why it’s so important that mobile apps are as secure as possible.
On top of having negative consequences for the affected customers, data breaches and other security lapses can leave companies with a damaged reputation and a significant loss in engagement and revenue.
Why mobile apps security matters and the consequence of poor security
Security breaches can have far-reaching consequences for users and businesses alike. Here’s a closer look at the different areas that security or the lack thereof can impact.
What is digital trust? Put simply, digital trust is the confidence users have in a given app or company to act ethically and keep themselves and their data safe from harm. Currently, many big tech companies are experiencing a digital trust deficit, meaning that a significant amount of their user base no longer trust them. For example, according to a survey conducted by SEO Clarity, only 28% of TikTok users find the app trustworthy, even despite its massive active user base.
So, why does digital trust matter? No company wants their apps and security to be known as untrustworthy products to download. People who don’t trust an app are much less likely to spend money on it, follow advertiser links, or recommend the app to friends and family. Poor digital trust has a negative impact on user experience, retention, and revenue.
User experience and user loyalty
If a user has their personal or financial information compromised while using an unsecured app, it’s not hard to understand why that user may not use the app again. Events like security breaches and account takeovers can be stressful for users and destroy the user experience value of an app.
An app whose name is in the news every other week for security breaches will have a hard time holding onto a loyal user base, and research shows that some consumers will stop associating with a brand after a single negative experience.
Monetary costs of security breaches
If a hacker manages to take over a user account and spend money using the associated credit card number, the affected user can file a chargeback once they regain control of their accounts. In this case, the app loses both the original payments and any chargeback fees leveraged by the payment processor.
When data breaches and other security events hit the news, parent companies can suffer a dip in the stock market or a loss of potential investor interest. Companies also have to pay for the extra resources required to address the aftermath of a security breach, including labor costs for extra security professionals and PR consulting to handle public perception.
Lastly, if consumer protection agencies decide there is evidence of negligence leading to the security breach, the app may suffer fines, suits, and other legal penalties.
- Mobile application security is a vital component in protecting users and maintaining trust and safety standards
- Some of the biggest threats to app security include cyberattacks, social engineering attacks, and breakdowns in the user authentication process
- Developers can practice app security by using encryption, strong authentication, and releasing regular security patches
Common threats to mobile app security
Having robust security for mobile apps now is a good way to avoid significant losses in the aftermath of a breach. There are many threats to a mobile app’s security, but here are a few common ones.
When hackers find a vulnerability in an app’s code, they can write their own program, known as an exploit, to exploit that vulnerability and gain access to restricted data and infrastructure.
Many security professionals treat the threat of a cyberattack as inevitable, which is why mobile app security standards put an emphasis on defensive measures such as user education, encryption, and restricting admin access to sensitive areas.
The weakest link in most security chains is often the end users themselves. While efforts like multi-factor authentication exist to impede the efforts of hackers who have access to passwords and usernames, it’s still not a foolproof solution. Phishing and smishing scams can be used to encourage users to give up access to their account information and verification codes without ever realizing what they’re doing.
User education and passive authentication can be helpful in mitigating the threat of social engineering attacks.
Many users reuse passwords across accounts or use weak passwords, which is why they shouldn’t be relied upon as the only line of defense against unauthorized account access. If another website suffers a data breach, hackers can use a credential stuffing tool to test the user credentials across hundreds of different apps and websites.
If there’s no passive authentication or multi-factor authentication in place, then a password will be all an attacker needs to access a user’s account and compromise their personal data.
Mobile app security best practices
While there is no full-proof way to prevent breaches, a few app security best practices can help keep users safe.
Encryption is a vital part of any security protocol. After all, what good does it do a hacker to access sensitive user information if the data is encrypted and they can’t read it? Data on the end user device, traffic from user devices to networks, and sensitive information like passwords should all be encrypted. This can help prevent things like man-in-the-middle attacks and mitigate the damage of any data breaches that do succeed. Additionally, encrypting the app’s source code can help stop hackers from analyzing the code for vulnerabilities.
Breakdowns in the authentication process mean that bad actors have the potential to access and take over user accounts. One compromised account is bad enough on its own, but once a hacker has access to one account, they can use that account to social engineer people in that user’s contact list, leading to even more accounts being compromised.
However, even with strong authentication methods like one-time passwords (OTP) and multi-factor authentication (MFA), users are still at risk of being socially engineered into giving up their access. That’s why apps should strongly consider using passive, spoof-resistant authentication methods such as location and device intelligence.
Patches and updates
If hackers find a vulnerability in the app or in the OS of user devices, they’re bound to exploit it. That’s why patching vulnerabilities and releasing regular updates is vital to ensuring the continued security of an app. User awareness is also an important factor–patches and updates cause friction, so many users won’t download them. It’s up to software developers to educate users about potential security vulnerabilities and the importance of installing security patches promptly.
Poor app security damages the user experience, the app’s digital trustworthiness, and the long-term prospects of the app and its owners. That’s why developers have a responsibility to embrace security measures in the mobile app development process.