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July 3, 2023

5 essential security keys for protecting mobile applications

protecting mobile apps

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5 essential security keys for protecting mobile applications

Over the years, our team has gained extensive experience in evaluating the security of numerous mobile applications, approaching them from both attacker and defender perspectives. This unique perspective has led us to develop Build38 Mobile App Security Platform, a powerful tool designed to protect mobile applications against innovative attacks. Leveraging our experience, we have identified the most crucial aspects of mobile application security.

In this article, we will explore five essential security keys that every mobile application should prioritise to ensure the protection of user and application data. These keys, ranging from obfuscation to code quality, play a critical role in maintaining the security and integrity of your mobile application.

Mobile application security: 5 keywords to keep in mind

Here are the 5 key security elements that customers should keep in mind if they want to protect their mobile applications successfully:

1. Obfuscation: the first barrier against an attack

This concept is the first barrier that an attacker should defeat if they want to compromise a mobile application through reverse engineering. With obfuscation, the data used by the application is harder to extract, even the code and the execution flow are harder to understand. A good obfuscation means more time will be needed by the attacker to know how the mobile application works. The attackers always try to apply reverse engineering to the applications to understand the most sensitive parts of it, by identifying and bypassing the security measures, if they are present.

The best strategy to this first barrier is to combine data and flow obfuscation. Data obfuscation consists of substitute cleartext values such as strings or numbers for expressions, which are then resolved at runtime. That way, the computation of the expression is necessary to reveal the value. With flow obfuscation the application tries to hide their code, converting simple instruction structures into complex graphs instructions. The goal is that an attacker cannot guess which code is executed after another one.

2. Secure storage: protecting data with encryption

Most, if not all applications must persistently store data on the device for future use or to work properly. Therefore, it is vitally important to protect this data by encryption and never store it in plaintext, since an attacker/malware with internal access to the device (rooted/jailbreak) could obtain this data and use it for fraudulent purposes. The most important aspect for secure storage is how the keys that protect this data are generated and used. Nowadays, most devices implement hardware secure modules to securely generate the keys to cipher these data, making them non-exportable and secret to the application and operating system layer.

3. Cryptography: ensuring that sensitive data remains protected

Cryptography is closely related to the previous secure storage. Using safe and recommended algorithms to encrypt data is vital for data confidentiality. Developers should avoid using outdated algorithms or keys shorter than the recommended length. Computer power quickly grows every day, so cryptographic algorithms that were safe a few years ago are now no longer recommended for use. Therefore, it is important to keep up to date with what is new in the field and have a control over how the cryptography and the state-of-the-art attack are evolving

 4. Communications: an extra layer of defence

Today, almost all mobile applications communicate and connect with an external server. The data sent through the network is susceptible to being intercepted by an attacker, so authenticating both the client and the server is almost mandatory when sensitive data is exchanged. In addition, it is a good practice to encrypt the data (payload) with a second encryption layer apart from that offered by algorithms such as TLS. That ensures that only the two allowed parties are capable of decrypting and processing the exchanged data.

5. Code quality: reducing the attack surface

Finally, like an architect who correctly uses materials to build a piece of art, removing unused or irrelevant code and debugging data to reduce the attack surface is another important step in mobile app protection. Debugging code facilitates the comprehension of the application to an external attacker.

Bad practices in code quality such as debugging code could allow an attacker to reactivate this functionality in the release versions. Besides, ensuring that your application uses the latest version of the external libraries and 3rd party components becomes crucial today. Also, using a 3rd party library or external library that does not receive regular updates exposes your application to be exploited by public vulnerabilities.

Build38’s Mobile App Security enhances your mobile application security

In the rapidly evolving landscape of mobile application security, it is imperative to implement robust measures to safeguard user and application data. The five essential security keys discussed in this article provide a solid foundation for protecting mobile applications against potential threats. Obfuscation strengthens the application’s resistance to reverse engineering, while secure storage and cryptography ensure that sensitive data remains protected.

Secure communication protocols add an extra layer of defence against interception, and maintaining high code quality reduces the attack surface. While implementing these keys may be challenging, advanced solutions like Build38 Mobile In-App Protection can streamline the process and enhance application security.

Remember, the strength of these security keys lies not only in their conceptual understanding but in their effective implementation. Taking the necessary steps to ensure that each key is correctly applied is crucial for maximising the security of your mobile application. While it may seem daunting, prioritising security measures is a worthwhile investment to protect both your users and your application’s integrity.

For more information about our Mobile In-App Protection and Mobile App security features contact us!

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