Top 5 Security Issues and Solutions in Mobile App Development

In the 21st century, mobile apps have become an essential part of businesses as they allow for easy access to products, services, and information. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global mobile application market size was valued at USD 206.85 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.8% from 2023 to 2030.

However, as mobile app usage continues to increase, so do the risks associated with it. With more sensitive data processed and stored in mobile apps, the risks of cyber-attacks and data breaches increase, making app security more important than ever before.

In this blog post, we will explore five security issues, and their solutions, to understand when developing and deploying mobile apps.

In this blog post, we will explore five security issues, and their solutions, to understand when developing and deploying mobile apps.

1. Insecure Data Storage

Threats posed by insecure data storage rank second on the OWASP Mobile Top 10 security risks. As the name suggests, insecure data storage refers to the storage of customer data without adequate protection. This security issue can occur when data is not properly encrypted, or when storage mechanisms are not secure enough to prevent unauthorized access.

Insecure data storage is the prominent cause of data breaches, unauthorized access to sensitive information, and identity theft. A recent data breach in the Starbucks app serves as a timely example. A security researcher named Daniel E. Wood found a vulnerability in the STARBUCKS v2.6.1. iOS mobile application, which stored customer data and GPS locations in plain text format in the file system (source).

Solutions to mitigate these risks include:

  • Implement a strong data encryption mechanism to encrypt customer data both at rest and in transit.
  • Obscure customer data by employing techniques such as data masking or data tokenization.  
  • Ensure that you store sensitive data on secure servers that encrypt data and restrict access to authorized users.
  • Conduct regular security audits to identify any potential vulnerabilities in your application and address them before they can be exploited by attackers.

2. Weak Authentication & Authorization

When weak authentication and authorization mechanisms used to grant access to the app are easily compromised, it leads to unauthorized access to sensitive data and functionality within the app. Hackers can exploit this major vulnerability to gain access to sensitive information, leading to data breaches, financial loss, reputational damage, and other serious consequences.

Examples of weak authentication and authorization include using weak passwords, not implementing password policies, using default credentials, applying outdated or insecure authentication protocols, and not implementing multi-factor authentication.

Weak authentication and authorization caused the 2022 DoorDash data breach. Hackers accessed the personal information of DoorDash users and merchants by exploiting a vulnerability in the third-party payment provider’s authentication and authorization systems.

Consider these steps to mitigate the risk of weak authentication and authorization:

  • Implement stronger password policies like setting up alphanumeric passwords.
  • Keeping an expiry date for passwords and implementing password lockout policies.
  • Refrain from using default credentials and implement two-factor or multi-factor authentication mechanisms.
  •  Regularly update your authentication and authorization protocols.

3. Lack of Transport Layer Security

A Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol ensures secure communication between two endpoints, such as a mobile app and a server, over the Internet. It provides confidentiality, integrity, and authentication by encrypting data in transit and verifying the identity of the communicating parties.

The lack of TLS in mobile apps is a significant security risk. Without TLS, data transmitted between the mobile app and server is vulnerable to interception, modification, and theft by attackers. Hackers can exploit this vulnerability to gain access to sensitive information, such as passwords, financial data, and personal information.

4. Code Tampering

Code tampering happens via an unauthorized modification of an application’s code or its behavior. Attackers modify the code of an application to bypass security checks, steal sensitive information, or execute malicious code on a victim’s device. Code tampering is used to create malicious versions of legitimate apps that can be distributed through third-party app stores or malicious websites.

Code tampering can compromise the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial data, and personal information. Attackers can also use code tampering to install malware on the victim’s device, giving them full control over the device and access to all data stored on it.

Security researchers have found that Pinduoduo, a popular Chinese app, has malware that can bypass users’ cell phone security to monitor activities on other apps, check notifications, read private messages, and change settings.

Implementing several security measures is the only way to mitigate code tampering risks. Some of the must-have security features include code obfuscation, checksums, code signing, and runtime application self-protection (RASP).

Code obfuscation makes the code more difficult to read and understand, which can make it harder for attackers to identify vulnerabilities. Similarly, checksums can be used to verify that the code has not been modified during the app’s installation.

5. Insufficient Cryptography

Insufficient cryptography refers to the use of weak or inadequate encryption algorithms or key lengths in mobile apps. Encryption helps to protect sensitive information from unauthorized access or theft. If the encryption used in an app is weak or inadequate, it can be easily bypassed or decrypted by attackers, leading to a data breach.

The use of insufficient cryptography can compromise the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive information, such as passwords, financial data, and personal information.

To mitigate the risk of insufficient cryptography, mobile app developers should use strong encryption algorithms and key lengths that meet industry standards. They should also use up-to-date encryption libraries and frameworks, as they are more likely to have been tested for vulnerabilities and patched against them. In addition, developers should perform regular security audits and penetration testing to identify and remediate vulnerabilities in their app’s encryption.

Similarly, users can also take steps to protect themselves from insufficient cryptography attacks by using strong passwords and avoiding the use of public Wi-Fi networks when transmitting sensitive information. They should also keep their mobile device’s operating systems and apps up to date with the latest security patches and updates to protect against known vulnerabilities.

Check out these additional resources to help you better understand how you can test your app for vulnerabilities:

1. The Complete Checklist for Mobile App Testing – Ensure Your App Is Ready for the Public

2. Mobile Application Testing

To Sum Up

In today’s digital age, mobile app security is of paramount importance. Mobile app developers need to take proactive steps to identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities in their apps to prevent data breaches and protect their users’ sensitive information. By following the best practices and solutions discussed in this blog, mobile app developers can strengthen the security of their apps and provide their users with a secure and trustworthy experience. At InApp, we offer comprehensive software testing services that can help identify and remediate security vulnerabilities in your app. Contact us today to learn more.