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March 20, 2024

Enhancing Mobile App Security in an Era of Cyber Espionage

Enhancing Mobile App Security in an Era of Cyber Espionage

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Enhancing Mobile App Security in an Era of Cyber Espionage

We live in an era of unparalleled digital transformation where mobile applications can provide us with virtually any functionality, from checking stock prices to booking airline tickets. However, at the same time, this digital landscape has also been unaccompanied by an equally unparalleled rise in cyber threats.

 

The 2023 Cyber Threat Overview by the French National Cybersecurity Agency (ANSSI) highlights a disturbing trend of how mobile devices are being targeted for industrial and strategic cyber espionage.

As cybercriminals employ increasingly sophisticated techniques to undermine security measures – one conclusion is clear for businesses worldwide: neither the device nor the operating system can be fully trusted. It is thus time for a shift in perspective – where the focus changes from assuming security within the device and the underlying operating system to focusing on self-protection within the mobile apps themselves. In this article, we will explore these pressing issues while providing insights into the ANSSI report and practical recommendations for enhancing mobile security.

The Modern Threat Landscape

The attack surface that the devices and mobile app provides has always proven to be challenging for businesses to secure. As per ANSSI’s 2023 Cyber Threat Overview attackers are leveraging vulnerabilities within these devices to carry out industrial and strategic espionage. The source of these attacks may range from nation-state actors to sophisticated cybercriminal gangs able to deploy advanced malware easily.

The report highlights the presence of malware like BlastPass, Triangulation, Reign, and Predator— malicious attacks designed to infiltrate mobile devices. These attacks are also highly focused on exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities within mobile devices, exfiltrating data, and avoiding detection. Given the high sensitivity of the data they handle, this can be devastating for businesses, especially within critical sectors like banking, energy, healthcare, and government.

For example, consider a hypothetical scenario of a mobile app used within the financial sector that stores transaction histories, including customer information, amounts, and timestamps, directly on the device for easy retrieval.

An exploit in the mobile device’s operating system allows attackers to access this stored data.
The breach compromises user financial data and erodes trust in the bank’s mobile app, leading to a loss of customers and potential regulatory penalties.

Mobile devices can prove a challenge to secure, given their usage on insecure public Wi-Fi networks and how they are used for both personal and professional activities. This blend of factors allows attackers to gain more insights into a person or their business activities if compromised. It also highlights the need for mobile app controls that go beyond the traditional measures of device and underlying operating systems security.

The Need for “Self-Protecting” Mobile Apps

The grim landscape highlighted by the ANSSI’s findings necessitates a shift in how mobile applications are developed, deployed, and secured, with a focus on self-protection. That is, the mobile app should not depend on the device or the OS for its security but instead have controls that are integrated into its very functionality.

This concept of self-protecting apps represents a radical shift in how mobile apps have been traditionally secured, giving them the ability to be secure regardless of whether the device or the OS has been breached. The mobile app does not take the security or integrity of the device / OS for granted and instead focuses on the following key strategies:

Data Encryption

Another key control is data encryption within dynamic memory (data in transit) and static (data at rest). Encryption can be a key control and serve as the last line of defence even if attackers access the data in an unauthorised manner. The data cannot be deciphered, making it effectively useless to cybercriminals. Industry-standard protocols like AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) for data at rest and TLS (Transport Layer Security) for data in transit can be utilised and regularly updated based on industry best practices.

Minimal Data Storage

By minimising the amount of data stored within the device, mobile apps can significantly reduce the impact of any compromise. Attackers cannot steal what is not present on the device; this privacy-by-design principle significantly decreases the mobile application’s attack surface.

Data Encryption

Another key control is data encryption within dynamic memory (data in transit) and static (data at rest). Encryption can be a key control and serve as the last line of defence even if attackers access the data in an unauthorised manner. The data cannot be deciphered, making it effectively useless to cybercriminals. Industry-standard protocols like AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) for data at rest and TLS (Transport Layer Security) for data in transit can be utilised and regularly updated based on industry best practices.

AI-enhanced Security

AI is rapidly becoming vital to any security strategy, and with mobile apps security there is no difference. AI can be crucial in identifying whether a device has been compromised. AI can also detect anomalies that may indicate a security breach by continually analysing an app’s environment and user behaviour. This allows for proactive responses to threats before they become a data breach.

At the core of Build38’s innovation is its AI-powered threat intelligence engine. This cutting-edge system processes real-time security telemetry data, extracting valuable insights to identify potential threats. Notably, minimising false positives, ensuring that application interruptions are kept to a minimum and preserving a positive customer experience.

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