Business, Development, Fundamentals Friday December 4, 2020

Why is mobile security testing essential in an app development, and how to implement it?

Have you ever wondered if your mobile app is secure? or how to secure your mobile application? May be or maybe not but you definitely don’t know if your application will or will not be under the scanner of the potential hackers! The hackers can attack your backend system any time, and your application can fall prey to potential threats.

According to the Gartner, Dubai, UAE- more than 75 per cent of mobile applications fail the basic security tests. More than two-thirds of large enterprises are not able to comply with the mobile security standards. Each security breach costs the firm about $3 million per year, and you could be one of them.

However, you can act against all the possible security threats and mitigate potential risks by being active during your app development. You can build and test your app to uncover all the unseen flaws in the app code and fix them before anyone exploits them. In this article, you will learn why app testing is crucial in mobile app security, and how to conduct the basic tests in the modern mobile app development ecosystem.

 Why is the mobile security process important?

The cyber attackers can violate the privacy of the application or users and seek to take delicate information stored on the servers/device. Hence it becomes the collective responsibility of the development team to achieve the desired level of security for the application.

When your users download and install the app, a binding contract is established between you and your users. This acts as your responsibility to offer a secured application to the end-users for reliable services. Same goes with your clients, you also hold the application security responsibilities towards your client.

 Securing the mobile application code to avoid code hacking is one of the foremost things you can do to protect your application. This can be a hectic process if you have a complex algorithm implemented in the development. Hence, the owner needs to play the leading role in the entire development process for a strategic plan.

Let’s walk through the most critical areas of mobile security and understand how to address them…

 1. Network traffic:

When building a mobile app, it is very important to establish a secure data channel between the browser and application to ensure that the server communication is protected. This is where the Hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) protocol helps to achieve secured communication between two systems. You need to be aware of all crucial safety protocols along with SSL/TLS that are used for data exchange encryption. 

When the website is visited with a secure socket layer (SSL), it enables the easy encryption of the data transferred between the two systems. This restrains the attackers from reading and modifying any information in servers. One can also use the latest Transport Layer Security (TLS) to encrypt the information, which is an updated version of SSL proving to be more secure.

HTTPS appears in the website URL when the website is protected with SSL/ TLS certificate. This establishes a safe communication channel between web applications and servers like web browsers security while loading the website. This method is also used to encrypt other communication mediums such as messages, emails, and voice over IP(VoIP). 

To perform fundamental tests for mobile security, it is crucial to gain some experience with Proxy tools such as Burp Suite, Charles Proxy and Proxyman, that can be utilized to intercept requests and reactions from the Web API. You can check out the proxy tools and select the one that is most suitable according to your requirement.

In case, you have never worked with any of them, You can get started with Burp Suite. It can satisfy your requirement for portable testing as it offers a more extensive view on the integration and communication with a Web API.

The hackers can reverse the requests and manipulate it to seek server vulnerabilities. You can use the proxy tools to verify that your app server communication follows the protocol strictly. With Burp Suite, you will be able to track the network traffic flowing through the devices and filter the URLs under your API domain. 

2. Application’s persistent data:

Another vital aspect of mobile security testing is storing crucial information in the application. This can be a simple task if implemented properly. All you need to do is identify an appropriate framework to stockpile the user information. Make sure to get a reliable framework that can store all the back-end user information safely.

Android applications generally depend on SharedPreferences and SQLite information storages for application’s data. You need to connect your device with the ADB command and locate your data directory with the system. 

The databases and shared_prefs directories can help lessen your work. Now locate the files that your team have created and pull them out to your workstation. Now you can test if your files are encrypted or not. If it’s encrypted you can sit back and relax as a layer of security was implemented by your developer team but if you come across the key-value pairs in a text editor file, then the files are not encrypted. 

Also, verify the SQL database by selecting an SQL viewer and importing the data from the .db file. It’s good news if the files are not opening but if it does, that means your data is not encrypted. You can browse the sample data manually or perform a test check a few SQL queries to confirm if everything is as planned.

Appoint a Data Protection Officer to keep an eye on all the stored data. Your firm needs to make sure all your user’s information is surveyed regularly and protected with assurance.

3. Android Build Artifact

The iOS apps distribution system for mobiles have a very closed and secured access. However, the Android application system is more open to public interference. Hence your developers need to take extra effort to make Android less accessible to the public modifications. 

The Android build artifact system will compile the app resources and source code and compile them into APKs. Now you can test and deploy your app across multiple device configurations without hassle.

The best strategy followed by hackers is to follow the reverse engineering to decode the application code.

There are a few tools that can help you build a code harder to break such as ProGuard, R8 and DexGuard

ProGuard:

ProGuard excels in optimizing Java bytecode. It is generally combined with Android’s Dalvik converter D8. It is an efficient tool for code obfuscation to change the code with literals. It reduces the size code by 8.5% with multiple passes for removing the logging code.

R8:

R8 is used by default for all versions from Android Studio 3.4. It can convert the code to Dalvik bytecode for less readability. The long codes are replaced with a combination of letters to reduce size by 10%. It also offers small optimization tests to ensure the compilation of code.

4. Third-party libraries

According to the HPE Cyber Risk Report 2016, hackers have shifted their target from servers and application operating systems to third-party open-source software. You need to implement a few strategies and tools to mitigate the third party library risks.

Sonatype estimated that 90% of all application development requires third-party components which expose them to Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) via download.

When you are adding a new library for your information, make sure to look out for the following criteria:

  • The open-source library must be widely used by many app developers with excellent reviews.
  • Checking the code repository and social media testimonials to confirm if the library has a good online reputation by public approval.
  • The library should not have faced any major issues found by the testers and scanning tools.
  • Check the permissions app ask for, if the app is asking access to features only relevant to its functions

If your shortlisted library fulfils all the above criteria and is found safe enough, you can select the library for your development. If you have already introduced libraries, you can run an automated dependency check regularly to avoid any potential vulnerabilities in your system. Dependency check plugin by OWASP is a reliable plugin to ensure existing library safety.

Concluding Remarks:

The security of mobile apps has become an essential factor for all the businesses. This creates the grave need for proper security testing methodologies for the mobile applications and hence is considered an important job for the app testers and owners. 

Data storage, proper usage of APIs, inter-app communication, and secure network communication are just a few of the major considerations. Testing mobile security is a major task and if not done properly can create security threats to mobile application.

With the help of this article, you have come one step closer to taking care of your application online. Now you exactly know the complexities in mobile security and can tend to work in the right direction.

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