5 Ways to Troubleshoot App Security Concerns During Development

By Shibu Basheer
June 27, 2017

Five ways to troubleshoot security issues in the mobile app development process: encrypt data, secure app code, perform security testing, strengthen back-end, and secure app data.

People spend about 52% of their time consuming digital media on apps, which is no surprise, considering that there are over 2 million apps to choose from on both the Apple Store and Google Play respectively.

However, there’s a darker side to the accessibility of apps. With so many people and businesses using mobile technology, there’s a greater chance of exposure to security threats, identity theft, or email phishing.

Security vulnerabilities in apps center on access, control, encryption, authentication, and other similar functions, all of which a business should consider when using mobile technology.

It’s better to catch security flaws during the app development process, rather than incorporate security features after launch.

As founder and CTO of Cabot Technology Solutions, an IT consulting firm, I have experience in the field of mobile app development for over 11 years and know the importance of releasing highly efficient and secure mobile apps.

In this article, I'll walk you through steps to address five security concerns that companies with mobile apps often face.

1. Enable Tight Encryption

Strong encryption is key to avoiding security incidents on mobile devices, like theft of user credentials.

Encryption is the process of converting information into a special code that makes accessing data difficult for unauthorized users, allowing users to share sensitive information across insecure platforms.

Only the recipient will be able to access or read the data.

The image below shows how Xamarin, a Microsoft-owned software company based in California, encrypts a mobile app for three different platforms: iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

Xamarin encryption example

Source: Xamarin

Another way to encrypt data is through Secure Socket Layers (SSL), which creates an encrypted link between a web server and browser and is often denoted with “https” instead of “http” in the URL.

SSL provides the assurance that the communication between user and server is secure and cannot be intercepted.

2. Secure App Code

It is important to identify and fix low-quality code to prevent hacks.

Poor-quality code makes it easier for hackers to access an app, steal information, and insert malicious code.

If hackers obtain a public copy of an application, they can engineer it to suit their needs. Therefore, more popular and highly-rated apps have a greater chance of being targeted by hackers.

Once hackers access an app’s code, they can re-engineer the app and repackage it with malicious code.

When an unsuspecting user downloads the app from a third-party store, he/she is at risk of giving up sensitive personal information.

To prevent hackers from infiltrating app code, developers should secure the app code. One approach involves using the mobile code security stack’s four-layer technique.

Mobile security stack

The top layers of the stack ­(application and operating system) rely on the lower layers (hardware and infrastructure) for security.

Therefore, developers should secure app code at each of these four layers. This way, they don’t waste resources focusing on a problem area. Rather, each layer is responsible for securing the layer under its “jurisdiction.”

3. Perform Periodic Testing

It’s important to periodically test for security vulnerabilities throughout the app development process.

Here are four common tests that developers perform:

Unit Testing: The process of testing the smallest parts of an application on their own, as singular units, as opposed to part of the larger whole.

Integration Testing: The process of combining smaller units and testing them together in multiple ways. Developers may test the “outside” aspects of an app, like the interfaces, hardware, and databases.

Penetration Testing: The process of testing the system as a whole – a computer system, network, or web application – for potential security vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.

4. Strengthen Back-End Security

Applications often store app users’ personal information in the back-end, making it important to protect this information from security threats.

A back-end application may include a server, hardware, and database for an app and supports the front-end application, or what users interact with directly.

For example, when a person logs into an Amazon account (the front-end), the back-end of the site is what stores the user’s personal information, like name, address, billing information, and buying preferences.

Therefore, it’s essential to protect information stored in the back-end of an application.

Some steps that may help you protect your application’s back-end include:

5. Secure Data Stored in an App

Inefficient data storage makes it easier for hackers to access personal information stored in apps.

There are a few different steps you can take to secure data stored on mobile devices.

First, transmit and display data without storing it in the app’s memory.

If data needs to be stored, keep it in the Random Access Memory (RAM), so each piece of data only can be accessed one at a time, and close data when the application closes.

Second, add another layer of encryption, like SQLCipher, an open-source library for encryption.

Note: If you’re developing an app on an iOS platform, there’s already an added layer of data protection built in.

Third, implement third-party, verified cryptography so that only authorized users can read and process the data.

Protect User Data Throughout App Development Process

Take steps to protect app users’ information throughout the entire app development process.

The five steps presented in this article are easy first steps to share with an app development team and hopefully will protect your app from security breaches.

All five steps emphasize the importance of addressing security throughout the entire development process. This may seem challenging at first, but it actually requires thinking of your app in parts.

Take each module in your app and examine it thoroughly for security issues. Check if there are any backdoors through which hackers can access data.


About the Author

Shibu Basheer Headshoot

Shibu Basheer is Founder and CTO of Cabot Technology Solutions, an IT consulting firm that specializes in web and mobile technology solutions. Cabot offers progressive, end-to-end business solutions, blending business domain experience, technical expertise, and a quality-driven delivery model. Since Cabot’s founding in 2006, Shibu has been instrumental in driving the business’ vision, strategy, value, and growth. Apart from being a technology enthusiast, he also is an avid cyclist.

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