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The Coalfire Blog

Mobile Application Security – The New Frontier

April 18, 2011, Bruce DeYoung,

Bruce DeYoung

The power and popularity of consumer mobile computing is changing faster then you can say iFart (the #1 downloaded app worldwide). Commercial entities are rapidly adopting mobile-based applications for retail sales floors, restaurants and dining rooms, distributed mobile banking, and more.

These platforms introduce new threat landscapes and new opportunities for the bad guys to capture data from millions of unsuspecting mobile app users. Our most personal and valuable information, including bank accounts, social security numbers, credit numbers, images of scanned checks, are lying around waiting to be picked up by anyone.

So what should you do if you are currently designing or implementing a mobile app? Here is a checklist of some security best practices to consider during your development and testing process. Note: these are iOS-specific, but can be more generally applied to the Android platform in most cases.

  • Input and output validate every dynamic input (user input, external HTML or database feed, URLs)
  • Audit traditional unsafe methods dealing with memory management (memcpy, strcpy, etc.)
  • Look for setAllowsAnyHTTPSCertificate and didReceiveAuthenticate to see if certificate exceptions are being bypassed
  • Ensure information is being secured in the KeyChain and/or the filesystem
  • Be sure no critical data is stored using NSUserDefault

What it comes down to is due-diligence. Include your own research on mobile app security, and implement a plan for mobile app security assurance in your organization.  Don’t let the intense pressure to get to market create a myopic view towards your application’s security in the marketplace. Short-cutting security may mean earlier entry to market, but exploitation of a vulnerable app will most likely destroy your brand quickly.

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