The significance of mobile apps in the highly interconnected digital landscape cannot be ignored. Published statistics show consumers spent 3.8 trillion hours on mobile apps in 2022 alone. Further evidence suggests that mobile phone users spend 88% of their time in mobile apps, reinforcing the significance of mobile apps in our daily lives. Android and IOS are the leading mobile app stores, although other platforms such as Tizen, KaiOS, and Ubuntu Touch are slowly emerging as favorable platforms to launch an app.
It’s important to note that mobile apps are used for a wide range of purposes – online payments, online shopping, information access, weather updates, bookings, and travel. This means that a slight breach of mobile apps will lead to a significant leakage of consumer information, including personally identifying information such as social security numbers, physical addresses, credit card numbers, and mobile phone numbers. This is precisely why data security in mobile apps is a critical component in ensuring user trust.
This article delves deep into data security, exploring data security concerns in mobile apps as well as mitigation measures, and steps to building a secure mobile app:
Understanding Mobile App Data Security
Mobile app data represents a wide range of information users generate and store in their applications. It includes personal names, email addresses, financial information, credit card information, location, social security numbers, phone numbers, login credentials, multimedia files, location data, communication records, physical addresses, and more. The scope of mobile app data security ranges from the moment this data is keyed in your mobile app to the moment it is transmitted or conveyed to other people, including app platforms, social media accounts, and other digital channels. It’s crucial to note that understanding the diversity and sensitivity of this information is crucial in devising effective security measures.
Common Data Security Threats
Mobile apps, similar to other technologies, are highly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. Malware, the shortcut for malicious software, represents a high-ranking cybersecurity threat. Malware attacks are designed (or created) and conveyed to target victims by cybercriminals to either steal personally identifying information or compromise the normal functioning of mobile apps to steal consumer information. Once infiltrated into mobile apps, malware can affect the normal functioning of mobile devices, interfere with app usage, and disorient the normal functioning of the mobile app, rendering the app unusable. Malware often disguises itself as an authentic application, prompting users to download it and unsuspectedly install it on their phones.
Phishing attacks are common cybersecurity threats and one of the leading sources of data leakage in mobile apps. Phishing attacks trick users into revealing confidential information – phone numbers, credit card information, and physical addresses – by posing as trustworthy sources. In mobile apps, phishing attacks come hidden as alerts, emails, and updates that appear to originate from the app or otherwise. Unsuspecting users may inadvertently reveal their private information, leading to a possible compromise or sell their information to third-party users.
Unauthorized access to mobile app information is a common threat to data leakage and data security. Unauthorized access occurs when unauthorized persons or unauthorized entities have access to your personal information. Unauthorized access can occur when an internet service provider (ISP) or other users access your app information, thus compromising your data security. Usually, unauthorized access occurs when cybercriminals exploit possible vulnerabilities to gain entry into your app. This compromise may involve weak authorization processes, poorly encrypted data, and loopholes in the app’s code. Once inside the app, users can modify, access, or steal user data, causing significant harm and damage to individuals, brands, and businesses.
Real-Life Data Breaches
Facebook – Cambridge Analytica
The last five years have witnessed massive data breaches, affecting individuals, businesses, and brands. In 2018, the Cambridge Analytical scandal shook the foundation of data privacy following massive leakage of users’ data and information. Facebook-owned Cambridge Analytica lost the data of 87 million Facebook users. According to documented reports, the data of 87 million users was harvested without consent to a third-party app, raising eyebrows about the legitimacy of personal data stored on Facebook. This breach highlighted the dangers of lax data access policies, leading to subsequent changes in data protection regulations.
In 2017, Equifax, one of the leading credit-reporting companies suffered a massive data onslaught. Cybercriminals exploited Equifax’s website and user accounts, leading to the data loss of 147 million customers, including personally identifying information and social security numbers. The SSNs were particularly affected, underscoring the importance of safe protection safeguards for both apps and websites.
In 2016, one of the leading cab-hailing companies, Uber, suffered a serious data loss of 57 million users, including drivers and passengers. Cybercriminals targeted the Uber app, leading to the loss of information from drivers and passengers. This onslaught highlighted the importance of safe control safeguards and highlighting the sophistication and scope of cyber-attacks. In response, Uber not only paid the attackers a lump sum to conceal the attack but failed to inform its users about this serious data violation.
Just recently, the PayPal information of 36,000 users was affected, leading to account compromise. For two days, hackers had unlimited access to linked debit and credit card numbers, transaction histories, postal addresses, full names, date of birth, and individual tax identification numbers. This incident happened in October 2022 as part of a credential-stuffing attack. In credential stuffing, malicious software makes a combination of credentials often run into protected systems trying to gain unauthorized access to users’ information, accounts, and data.
Building a Secure Mobile App
Individuals and businesses must understand the significance of protecting their apps against unauthorized access. First and foremost, users and businesses must address encryption to protect users’ information in transit and at rest. Encryption conceals data using numerical forms or other algorithms, making it impossible for hackers to read and understand context information even if they gain unauthorized access to your systems, including mobile apps.
Another protection is secure authentication. Most often, users do not consider the possibility of a multi-layered security approach whereby there is more than one form of authentication to gain access to a protected system. For instance, 2-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication represents one of the leading forms of security. The two-factor authentication can protect your mobile apps from foreseen and unforeseen circumstances, preventing a possible breach that could expose users’ data.
Another step to building a secure mobile is ensuring regular software updates. Software updates provide you with the opportunity to access the latest version of the software, sometimes saving you money and time in accessing the latest product or service. Keeping your apps and operating systems up-to-date also extends the opportunity to access the latest patching, thus protecting your apps and operating systems.
Another step to protecting yourself is using secure coding practices. Developers must use secure coding practices to create apps that are secure and inaccessible to unauthorized third parties. Secure coding practices provide a safe encryption standard, protecting your apps and operating systems against attacks.
The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) provide a benchmark for safe and secure computing practices. The GDPR believes it’s the responsibility of businesses and organizations to protect consumer data against potential leakage. The GDPR provides strict guidelines for protecting personally identifying information and securing your app against unauthorized access and third parties.
Part of protecting your app against potential attacks is following and strictly adhering to compliance requirements. The first policy you need for regulatory compliance is a data protection policy. Data protection policy runs across organizations, providing employees, customers, and other stakeholders with a requirement to safeguard personal data. The second compliance step is the data retention policy, which is one of the 25 principles outlined in the Data Protection Act. The retention policy limits how data is created, stored, and distributed, thus safeguarding consumer information and data.
Privacy policies and notices are crucial benchmarks in regulatory compliance, especially in protecting data against potential violations. Privacy policies and notices inform people about the necessary safeguards for data, including steps, approaches, and strategies to protecting data. It also contains the repercussions of poor data handling and storage. Information security policies represent another set of laws to protect mobile apps and other technologies against potential data violations.
Information security policies define how information will be handled, from the moment it is created to the moment it is used and stored. Finally, an incident response plan is a crucial component of compliance. Organizations and businesses with an incident response plan can maneuver better in case of attacks, and some end up protecting their consumer data and brand in the process. An incident response plan must contain the steps, processes, and measures that will be taken in case of an attack, including isolating the entire organization’s computing infrastructure to another whole new network in case the existing one is compromised.
Building User Trust
Mobile apps provide a huge advantage to users, including the possibility of making online payments and securing flights and trains online. However, user trust continues to be a top-ranking priority for most mobile app developers and businesses. In creating your app, remember that user trust matters as it determines the adoption and the retention of your users. To ensure user trust in your app, here are a few steps you can take.
- Transparent privacy policies. Organizations must have clear and precise privacy policies that are easy to read and understand. Employees depend on easily understandable and accessible information, making transparency a key factor in designing your privacy policies.
- User education. Research shows that most cyberattacks can be prevented only if people are educated and trained enough. For most organizations, cybersecurity training is gradually becoming a must-have, especially for organizations dealing with highly sensitive consumer information – education, healthcare, finance, defense, and manufacturing.
- Secure communication. All communication must be secured both in transit and at rest. Secure communication prevents information leakage, preventing unauthorized access and ensuring user safety. Transparent communication about security measures can reassure users, providing them with an opportunity to protect their data against unauthorized access.
- Responsive customer support. Did you know responsive customer support is crucial in protecting your apps? Well, when users find genuine concerns, they’re likely to contact you if your app is useful. However, this doesn’t always happen because apps lack a dedicated customer support team and rely on AI bots as response machines. Responsive customer support will give you an added advantage, especially in dealing with new and reported attacks.
These practices secure your app, providing you with maximum security and protection of your users’ data.
Challenges and Future Trends
Cybersecurity is a changing frontier due to the growing scope and sophistication of attacks. Cybercriminals are becoming clever every single day and more experienced with every single successful attack. One of the glaring challenges to mobile app data security is AI-driven attacks. While AI has provided immense opportunities and unlocked many doors of productivity and performance, there remains a lot to be desired in terms of data privacy. AI-driven attacks, unlike contemporary attacks that are orchestrated by humans, are more efficient, faster, and more dangerous. In addition, AI-driven attacks have serious implications for mobile app security because they expose consumer data, compromise the normal functioning of apps, and affect the overall productivity of their target victims.
It’s important to acknowledge that although emerging technologies continue to pose a significant threat to data security, there are still some new technologies that stand to protect individuals and businesses against threats. For instance, blockchain technology has huge potential in combating cybercrime and mobile app privacy violations.
Blockchain technology ensures transparency in transactions, secures transactions and informs everyone in the chain about a transaction. This way, it builds consensus on who and who has not conducted any transaction, thus protecting your information and sensitive data like transaction history. Blockchain technology represents a potent solution in mobile apps, especially in protecting your information against unauthorized access and leakage.
NS804 – Building Secure Apps, Ensuring User Trust
At NS804, we believe that everything starts with security, from the mobile apps we build to the technologies we launch and install. NS804 provides custom mobile app solutions, safeguarding users against potential threats and data leakage. We use the latest technologies and secure coding languages to create apps that are hard to crack. Our app development methodology follows standard practices, ensuring we comply with data protection laws and regulations.
Contact NS804 today for secure mobile app solutions, Android and iOS alike.