Mobile application security refers to the practice of identifying, analyzing and managing the risk associated with mobile apps throughout the software development lifecycle. The discipline encompasses technologies and techniques designed to reduce the impact and likelihood of attackers stealing users’ passwords and sensitive data such as credit card payment information.
Continuous mobile application security testing is a crucial component of cyberdefenses because it enables organizations to find and fix vulnerabilities in the mobile apps they build and use before they release them. Mobile app security testing takes an attacker’s point of view to analyze the security and privacy posture of mobile apps during development or in production. For full coverage, ideally mobile apps should be assessed using a combination of automated mobile appsec testing and manual mobile pen testing.
Why Mobile App Security Testing Is Important
People rely on mobile apps to guide many aspects of their daily lives, from tracking their sleep with wearable devices, to purchasing coffee and checking the train schedule for their daily commute to having dinner delivered and streaming a movie before turning in for the night.
The Apple® App Store® and Google Play™ boast more than 5.4 million apps and counting as of Q1 2022, according to Statista. In addition, mobile apps dominate digital media usage and account for 69% of all digital traffic. Mobile apps have become indispensable to organizationes and are forecast to generate nearly $935 billion in revenue by 2023.
But as the mobile ecosystem grows, so too do the number of threats. Mobile apps have become a rich target for attackers who seek to take advantage of weaknesses in mobile apps to take over accounts, commit fraud or identity theft, access intellectual property, conduct espionage or plant malware.
In the rush to develop new capabilities that improve the user experience and attract new customers, some mobile app developers unknowingly build mobile apps with security and privacy flaws that leak data and put everyone at risk. Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is sensitive data such as a user’s full name, username, email address, phone number, location, account numbers, device ID, device serial number, Social Security Number and more.
Security breaches can result in lost organization, damaged brand reputation and financial penalties for failing to comply with laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), Global Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Major Mobile AppSec Breaches
And those are only the incidents we know about. Many more mobile apps are vulnerable to security and privacy risks as shown in the NowSecure MobileRiskTracker benchmark tool which shows real-time risk by mobile app categories.
“Because of the differing attack surfaces, traditional web application security testing tools are insufficient for assessing risks in mobile apps.”
Mobile App Risks Multiply
Many organizations have mature web application security programs but may lack knowledge about mobile application security basics. It’s important to understand that there are significant differences between web and mobile application security. Mobile apps run on a device typically connected to a cloud and server backend and interact with other apps as opposed to web apps which run on an isolated browser.
Mobile apps have a broad attack surface and many areas of risk. Potential issues include problems with code quality, data storage, network communications and backend APIs. Some of the most common mobile appsec problems include data storage in an insecure, exposed location; improperly coding network calls, insecure authentication or authorization, insecure coding practices and leaving an app susceptible to reverse engineering.
Because of the differing attack surfaces, traditional web application security testing tools are insufficient for assessing risks in mobile apps. Organizations need to thoroughly assess their mobile apps using a combination of SAST, DAST, IAST and APISec testing to uncover security vulnerabilities.
Best Practices for Strong Mobile App Security
Whether establishing a new mobile application security program or enhancing an existing one, organizations should seek to practice security by design. That is, build security into apps from the outset and continuously assess risk throughout the development and deployment phases.
Mobile security analysts and mobile app developers alike can adopt several best practices to strengthen mobile app security and reduce risk. They include the following measures:
- Embrace security standards such as the OWASP Mobile Application Security Project MASVS (Mobile Application Security Verification Standard) and the Software Bill of Materials (SBOM).
- Upskill mobile app developers on secure coding training so they can write more secure apps from the start. NowSecure Academy offers free mobile security training as well as a paid secure mobile development certification.
- Deploy a purpose-built automated mobile appsec testing tool like NowSecure Platform either on demand or directly integrated into the DevSecOps pipeline to quickly assess apps in Dev workflows and return results in minutes.
- Conduct thorough mobile penetration testing for any mobile apps that handle sensitive data or have complexities such as Bluetooth LE traffic, multi-factor authentication or USB connections.
- Continuously monitor mobile apps in production for vulnerabilities or security vulnerabilities that arise from third-party components to safeguard the mobile supply chain.
Founded more than a dozen years ago as a mobile-first and mobile-only company, NowSecure experts have deeply pen tested more than 10,000 apps and automatically tested millions of mobile apps in the public app stores. The world’s most demanding organizations, innovative mobile developers and advanced security teams entrust NowSecure to safeguard millions of mobile app users across banking, insurance, high tech, IoT, retail, hospitality, energy and government sectors.