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The Challenge of Securing Mobile Apps

Consideration for Securing Mobile Apps

The innovation in mobile technology has brought enormous processing capabilities to mobile devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets. Mobile computing has conquered the enterprise with the wide ever-increasing adoption of cloud technology. Mobile apps are integral for enterprises to improve productivity and stay competitive in the market.

The mobile apps are typically lightweight software designed to achieve specific use cases with excellent user experience. Gaming, e-commerce, educational, social networking, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, and utility are various mobile app categories in the market. There are different flavors of mobile apps in terms of technologies involved- native, web, and hybrid. Budget and end-user experience requirements drive the choice. When it comes to authentication and authorization architecture, each mobile app has its architecture depending on the business needs. There are several challenges while securing the information delivered through these mobile apps. Several considerations for securing mobile app are discussed below:

Authentication

Authentication verifies the Identity and authorizes the user to access a resource or perform the requested action. Knowledge factors, Possession factors, Inherence factors, location factors, and Behavior factors are different categories of authentication security controls. The username and password-based control is an example of a knowledge-based factor. Various organizations use a diverse mix of factors to ensure their app is secure. SMS one-time password (OTP), biometrics, time-based OTP (TOTP), hardware-based OTP (HOTP), call, email, push, U2F, and WebAuth are prevalent factors in the market. It is necessary to identify different use cases and determine the appropriate authentication mechanism to safeguard against malicious behaviors and attacks.

Access to Protected resources

Most enterprises use APIs to manage business logic and enterprise data. The mobile apps consume these API endpoints to render information in the application screens. The resources should be accessible only to the authorized users, and data must be transmitted over a secure channel (use of SSL).  Mobile app should appropriately authenticate the user, and API needs to validate the information before allowing access to the requested resource. JSON Web Token (JWT) based approach is a recommendation here.

Single Sign-On (SSO)

OAuth 2.0 is recommended approach for authentication and SSO as much as possible. Several vendors such as Okta, Auth0, Ping, and Azure AD providing Identity as a Service support OAuth 2.0. SAML is an alternative approach supported by such vendors allowing SSO and Just-In-Time (JIT) provisioning. Android, iOS, and the most recent browsers all support OAuth 2.0.

Compliance

There are several regulatory requirements and industry standards such as GDPRHIPAAPCI DSSCCPAISO, and more that we need to consider while dealing with user information.

User Experience

The end-user experience is crucial for mobile apps. It is ideal for reducing the number of user interactions as much as possible. The more extended application session makes it vulnerable to unauthorized access. The application sessions and user interaction requirements need to be managed explicitly. Again, we should find the balance between security needs and the user experience (UX).

There are multiple ways we can address the mobile app security challenges. The Zero Trust Security model verifies a wide range of user, app, network, and device context before allowing access to the app. It is crucial to align the business and security needs to the desired security solution. The mobile-centric architecture is necessary to provide an appropriate balance between information security and user experience (UX).

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Najar Aryal
Najar Aryal

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