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Mobile app security: What is it and how to boost it with RASP technology? 

February 21, 2022
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Let's crunch some numbers with the help of buildfire's mobile app stats for 2021. As of today, we have 3.2 billion smartphone users. An average smartphone user has around 80 apps installed on their phone. The fact that more than 60% of those apps remain untouched after the initial login/use makes the following conclusion even more concerning. Now, if we multiply those two numbers, we get the total for the surface on which mobile app attackers can operate. You're curious about the total, right? That's 256 billion opportunities for hackers to harm the end-user, company brand, or developer reputation. It's time to talk about mobile app security.  

Let's crunch some numbers with the help of buildfire's mobile app stats for 2021. As of today, we have 3.2 billion smartphone users. An average smartphone user has around 80 apps installed on their phone. The fact that more than 60% of those apps remain untouched after the initial login/use makes the following conclusion even more concerning. Now, if we multiply those two numbers, we get the total for the surface on which mobile app attackers can operate. You're curious about the total, right? That's 256 billion opportunities for hackers to harm the end-user, company brand, or developer reputation. It's time to talk about mobile app security.  

What is mobile app security? 

Mobile app security is a measure taken in order to prevent malicious use of mobile applications through various types of attacks. With the ongoing growth of available mobile applications, mobile app security has become imperative in today's mobile-first economy. The average app user might not be showing much concern about the security of their applications. However, developers agree on one thing. The standard smartphone operating system platforms alone do not offer sufficient security.  

To get the point across, let's look at some relevant stats by NowSecure

  • 82% of Android devices were susceptible to at least one out of 25 vulnerabilities in the Android operating system. 
  • Business apps are three times more likely to leak log-in credentials (both personal and corporate data) than the average app. 
  • One in four mobile applications contains at least one high-risk security flaw. 
  • 50% of apps with five to ten million downloads include a security flaw.  
  • 25% of 2 million applications available on Google Play alone include a security flaw.  

That is why the focus is shifting toward safeguarding mobile applications in a way that does not disturb the look and feel of the application in question. Being able to both detect and prevent mobile application attacks in real-time is the end goal.  

''Mobile application security must be a proactive measure, not an afterthought.'' 

Importance of mobile app security 

To understand the weight of how important mobile application security is today, you need to be aware of the consequences that come with unsecured apps. As we already mentioned, the potential for hackers is vast. There is a number of applications out there offering little to no security when it comes to protecting the end-users and their data.  

We're going to take mobile banking applications as a prime example for a potential hacker attack. What's in it for the hacker? Loads of good stuff; client personal data including email, phone number, home address, credit card numbers, bank account numbers. The attacker can make illicit transfers, tamper with the rightful owner's account in many ways. That is, if we are talking about a targeted attack on an individual. What happens when the target is not the client but the bank itself? Picture this. A hacker is able to surpass the security of an mBanking application. He then gains access to a couple hundred thousand customers' sensitive information. What follows is blackmail, demanding ransom from the bank in order to keep quiet about the bank's security issue. That is just one out of numerous scenarios happening when it comes to insufficient mobile app security. 

And we're not talking about an extreme case here. Company brand image and developer reputation are commonly targeted by attackers by using end user accounts to tamper with the application. This is why mobile app security must be the focus of the entire application development lifecycle, not an afterthought.  

Mobile app security threats 

Without implementing any form of mobile app security, your app is vulnerable to reverse engineering attacks and can easily be manipulated. Take a look at the most common mobile security threat that you should keep an eye on:  

Poor data encryption

In case your app is storing sensitive data in a local file without encryption, it's time to switch things up. Encrypt those data and use Keychain (iOS) or Keystore (Android) for storing decryption keys.  

Vulnerable OSs

Hackers are up to date with all of the loopholes in the operating systems in order to tamper with them. Make sure that your operating system is always updated to the latest version.  

Reverse engineering 

In simple terms, reverse engineering, in this case, is application development done backward. Hackers often disassemble apps piece by piece in order to understand the algorithms and workflows, followed by exploiting detected vulnerabilities.  

Mobile app attacks  

Rooting or jailbreaking your device puts your smartphone at high risk. This is because the default OS security measures can be easily removed. Your phone won't be able to recognize if an app from an unsecured source is being installed. Exact copies of an original app developed by hackers, injected with malware, can steal data contained on your phone.  

Furthermore, fraudsters have gotten pretty creative throughout the years when coming up with new or transforming old hacker attacks targeting mobile apps. These include the previously mentioned jailbreaking/rooting, debugging, hooking, screen recording, emulator attacks, and others.  

Mobile app security ft. RASP 

RASP, short for Runtime Application Self-Protection, is a technology developed with mobile application security in mind. When the app is up and running, so is RASP. RASP protects mobile applications from various types of malicious attacks in real-time by both detection and prevention. Most RASP-based security systems have the following responses to potential attacks: notifying the user, notifying the server, or terminating the application in use. Depending on the risk level of a detected attack, applications with integrated RASP technology will respond accordingly. Also, by implementing RASP, you are not affecting the design or the performance of the application whatsoever. Everything remains the same, except for the added layer of security provided by RASP technology.  

By collecting data which is showcasing the ''normal'' behavior of the app and its users, advanced RASP versions are able to develop patterns and decide which ones are out of the ordinary. Meaning, some type of fraud. This data includes typical information such as IP address, device type, geolocation but also takes into consideration advanced data, including whether the device is jailbroken or rooted. RASP has insight into application logic, configuration, and event flows. This makes it highly successful at detecting both known and emerging fraud.  

How does App Protector fit in? 

App Protector is a security technology integrated into the application runtime environment, capable of controlling application execution, detecting early intrusion, and preventing real-time attacks. The end goal of App Protector is to protect all of the application's stakeholders; owners, developers, and the app's end-users.  

App Protector detects threats present within the device on which the application is installed, alerts, and neutralizes those threats. If an anomaly is detected, App Protector responds in one out of three ways:  

  • Generates false response values so that the attackers are presented with false data, making them unable to continue the application misuse. 
  • Notifies the end-user of the application about a potential threat.  
  • Terminates the app immediately after an anomaly is detected. 

It comes in two modes: offline and online. Offline mode offers configuration which is hardcoded, while the online mode comes with a portal enabling configuration customization in the form of selecting a wanted response for the individual security threat. App Protector is successful at detecting and preventing mobile app threats, including jailbreaking/rooting, debugging, emulator attacks, hooking, and screen recording (for iOS).  

App protector download datasheet

In case you're curious, feel free to contact us - zero obligation. Our ASEE team will be happy to hear you out. 

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