7 Mobile App Security Best Practices Developers Should Follow

The mobile ecosystem is feature-rich with apps that have the ability to control everything - even the heating and lighting in your house in real-time. Mobile apps are constantly evolving and it’s imperative that mobile app developers not only look for ways to build feature-rich apps but also make them secure.

Mobile app security has quickly become one of the top concerns for many businesses as data residing within the app can pave the way for attackers. They can leverage information and gain access to unauthorized sensitive data and potentially breach the enterprise network.

Developers need to be extra cautious and follow mobile app security best practices to build secure apps. These include clearing the cache, using encryption algorithms and tamper-detection mechanisms, securing local storage, and many others.

7 Mobile App Security Best Practices For Developers

Here is a list of some of the top mobile app security best practices that developers should follow while building and maintaining a mobile application:

1. Use Certificate Pinning

Certificate pinning is an excellent way to ensure your highly sensitive information such as credentials, personally identifiable information (PII) of users, logic code of the mobile application, confidential business data, and much more are transported securely over the network.

Certificate pinning is a proven method to defend against security vulnerabilities such as compromised CAs, man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. Particularly, attackers can trick users into installing malicious data or a self-signed certificate on a mobile device.

Although traditional certificate validation (without certificate pinning) protects mobile apps from various types of MITM attacks, it doesn’t guarantee protection from all of them.

Certificate pinning helps to ensure that your mobile app only talks to your known trusted server with its own known and trusted certificate. If a user installs a malicious certificate, the mobile application can prevent the interception of its network traffic. This will protect the user’s data from being exposed to the attacker.

2. Secure Storage Options / Encrypt Data

Encryption is the process of converting your data into a form that is unreadable by anyone without a decryption key. It is an efficient method to save data from being stolen or used in a malicious way.

To secure stored data on your mobile app, it needs to be protected from accidental destruction, unauthorized access, and malware or infection.

What happens if your stored app data is not secure?

Attackers can run an automated script or inject malicious code to infiltrate the local memory by using the file manager or different addresses in the mobile app. They can gain access to sensitive data such as confidential information, bank account details, credentials, social security numbers, and much more.

Therefore, it’s important that your stored data is adequately protected. You can use encryption to secure your files so that they can be read-only after a corresponding key has deciphered it.

Also, don’t just implement encryption for data storage, but also make sure that all sensitive transactions within the mobile app are encrypted.

3. Secure Your API Keys

API keys are often needed when accessing data from different services. For instance, they can be used for services like Navigation with Google Maps or while using the Google search engine.

Basically, API keys enable the system to determine whether a user is an authorized user of the particular service. It's important to safely store these API keys to protect them from unauthorized users who may want to gain access to the internal systems and networks of a mobile app.

How can you securely store APIs?

In this instance, API keys should have a higher level of security and protection, which is possible when they are stored on the server side.

If the mobile application does not have a server side, these keys can be securely stored within the mobile app. In such cases, the keys are coded and encrypted with only a limited level of access.

4. Secure Your APIs

Unauthorized or loosely coded APIs can unintentionally grant access privileges to an attacker which can further cause a data breach or loss. Ensure that all of your APIs require authentication and enforce authorization.

How can you secure your APIs?

Implement the principle of least privilege (POLP) to ensure authorized users can only access the data they need to complete their tasks.

Experts also recommend that the best way to protect your mobile app from malicious users is to validate all input data coming from the mobile device and outside network. Assume that anything can be malicious code or can harm the mobile application.

5. Use Tamper-Detection Technologies

Mobile app developers should deploy tamper-detection technologies that can quickly detect and set off alarms if anyone tries to tamper with your mobile app’s code or inject malicious data into it.

Use digital signatures, checksums, and other validation methods to help detect tampering in your mobile app. If an attacker tried to manipulate the mobile app, the app would validate the checksum and this could identify and prevent illegitimate execution.

While these technologies are not foolproof, they definitely increase the amount of time and effort an attacker will spend to breach the app.

Moreover, mobile applications that have tamper-detection capabilities can notify administrators.

What can you do if tampering is detected?

This is very subjective and varies from one mobile app to another. Reporting these situations to the server is a good idea so that you can assess the severity and scale of the issue and take appropriate action.

6. Manage Vulnerabilities in Your Dependencies

Mobile applications are vulnerable to several security risks. If you do not maintain their components, then they can easily become the target of exploitation from attackers and other malicious users.

The best way to protect your mobile app is to manage vulnerabilities in your dependencies and follow strong security policies and practices to mitigate risks in the app.

Here are some of the most popular vulnerability database:

  • CVEDetails: This is a database of security issues and vulnerabilities acquired from various other sources. Each vulnerability has a CVE score that determines its severity and impact.
  • National Vulnerability Database (NVD): This is the U.S. government repository of various standards-based vulnerability management data.

Apart from these, you can also keep yourself updated with the latest information on cybersecurity from our blog. We regularly update and publish blog posts on cybersecurity risks and ways to mitigate them.

Further, make sure that you have proper mitigation controls to address application security risks and vulnerabilities that might crop up in your mobile app.

7. Write Secure Code

Code is one of the most vulnerable features of any mobile app. Often developers have to follow rigorous and quick deployment processes that tend to impact the security of a mobile app.

Yes, this is what it’s all about.

Secure code is a key component of building a secure mobile app. As much as quick deployments are important in today’s market, it’s also essential to address security challenges early in the development process.

How can you write secure code for a mobile app?

One of the best ways to implement mobile app security is to regularly hold training for mobile developers to teach them specifically about secure code development.

Additionally, having a secure software development lifecycle (SDLC) during which the software is tested for various security vulnerabilities from early in the development process helps identify and mitigate security risks in a timely manner.

Mobile app developers should also implement a combination of both manual security testing and automated security testing to detect and mitigate security vulnerabilities that might be present in the code. This will give them a comprehensive understanding of how secure the code really is and what can they modify to strengthen application security.

Final Thoughts

These are some of the mobile app security best practices that developers should follow to provide critical endpoint security to apps. In recent years, mobile application security has proven its importance and with increasing competition, it’s necessary for businesses to not just focus on building a user-friendly UI but ensuring that the mobile app is secure.

Regardless of the target audience for your mobile app, be it an app used within your organization for internal functions or an app for your customers, it has to be built in a secure way to prevent malicious users from launching cybersecurity attacks. If you want to know more about cybersecurity, check out our blog for more information.