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University of Sunderland

Cybersecurity and mobile applications: how to stay safe and secure

Posted on: October 26, 2023
Lock the phone with a password for mobile cybersecurity or a password to confirm login in the online banking application. Cyber security threats. Laptop and smartphone.

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, mobile applications have become seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, transforming the way we communicate, work, shop, and entertain ourselves. 

However, this convenience comes with potential security risks that should not be overlooked. Understanding the significance of cybersecurity when using mobile apps – including both Android apps and Apple iOS and iPadOS apps – is essential for protecting sensitive information and maintaining a secure online presence.

Why is cybersecurity important when using mobile apps?

Mobile and web applications are everywhere, with people’s personal and professional activities increasingly carried out through apps on mobile devices. These apps bring unparalleled convenience – but they also expose people to cybersecurity risks.

This is where mobile app cybersecurity comes in. Its aim is to safeguard sensitive data from cybercriminals, which is particularly important considering that mobile apps often handle a wide range of personal data, from contact and location details, to financial and health-related information. The interconnected nature of these apps – and the ease of sharing information on them – raises concerns about the potential misuse of sensitive information. So understanding the risks, and taking proactive steps to protect ourselves, is essential. 

Cybersecurity risks when using mobile applications

The vast array of mobile applications available on app stores creates a lucrative playground for cybercriminals seeking vulnerabilities to exploit. Some common risks associated with mobile apps include:

  • Malware attacks. Malicious software (malware) can be embedded in seemingly safe apps. Once downloaded, malware can steal user data, track user activities, restrict functionality, and even take control of the device.
  • Phishing. Hackers can create fake apps that closely resemble legitimate ones to trick users into revealing their sensitive information, such as passwords and credit card details.
  • Security breaches. Inadequate security can lead to data breaches, which expose users’ personal information to cybercriminals. This information can then be sold on the dark web or used for identity theft.
  • Unauthorised access. Weak authentication mechanisms and poor security practices can result in unauthorised access to user accounts.

Why is cybersecurity important in mobile app development?

Secure mobile application vigilance is not just the responsibility of end-users. Developers have a responsibility to ensure that the apps they build and create are resilient against cyber threats. It’s important to remember that a breach in the security of a mobile app can have far-reaching consequences, tarnishing a company’s reputation and compromising user trust.

Mobile application security measures for developers should include:

  • Code reviews. Developers should thoroughly review and test the app’s source code to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers. In cases where malware is identified, developers should run reverse engineering exercises to deconstruct and neutralise it.
  • Penetration testing. Developers should conduct regular penetration tests – to simulate cyberattacks and identify weak points in the app’s security infrastructure – alongside wider application security testing. 
  • Data encryption. When developing an app, developers should implement strong encryption methods that can protect sensitive data, whether it’s in storage or in transit.
  • Authentication and authorisation measures. An important stage in the development process is designing robust authentication mechanisms to ensure that only authorised users can access the app’s features and data.
  • API security. When an app uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to communicate with other apps and services, it’s important that developers secure any APIs used by the app to prevent unauthorised access or data leakage.

The impact of mobile devices on cybersecurity

When reviewing mobile app security, it’s also important to consider the security of the mobile devices that store and run apps. It’s worth noting that mobile devices have significantly reshaped the cybersecurity landscape, presenting new opportunities for cybercriminals – and new challenges for cybersecurity defenders. 

For example:

  • The ever-increasing number of mobile devices, and the diversity of available makes, models, and operating systems, provide cybercriminals with a larger attack surface to target.
  • Mobile devices are connected to the internet almost constantly, which means that mobile users are potentially exposed to real-time security threats at all times.
  • The trend of using personal devices for work purposes has blurred the lines between personal and professional security, potentially exposing corporate networks to additional risk.
  • Public Wi-Fi networks – popular with smartphone users – can be easily exploited by hackers to intercept data traffic and carry out attacks such as ransomware or spyware attacks.

Tips for staying safe when using mobile applications

Potential security issues when using mobile apps are a real risk, but there are several ways people can protect themselves:

  • Download from trusted app sources. Always download and install apps from official app stores, such as the Google Play Store for Android devices or Apple App Store for Apple devices. These platforms typically have stricter security measures in place, and can better screen out malicious apps. 
  • Check permissions. Be cautious when granting app permissions. If an app is asking for more permissions than it logically needs, it could be a red flag.
  • Run regular updates. Developers will regularly release updates to patch security vulnerabilities and enhance mobile app security, so keep applications – and the device’s operating system – up to date by regularly downloading and installing any available updates. 
  • Use strong authentication tools. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. This adds an extra layer of security to your device, making it more challenging for cybercriminals to access your accounts or information. Extra authentication should also be enabled for more sensitive apps, such as mobile banking applications.
  • Beware of phishing. Be wary of unsolicited emails, messages, or links advertising new apps, or asking for unnecessary sensitive information within apps. Always verify the sender’s authenticity before clicking on any links.

Help keep mobile applications secure

Gain expertise in core cybersecurity topics and learn how to build resilient security solutions with the 100% online MSc Computer Science with Cyber Security at the University of Sunderland. You will develop fundamental knowledge in areas such as networking, databases, software engineering, and usability, and you’ll also learn programming languages such as Python, R, CISCO, and Oracle.

This flexible master’s degree has been designed for aspirational people from a wide range of professional backgrounds, and because it’s taught entirely online, you can study around your current personal and professional commitments.

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