February 9, 2016
Mobile application development is no child’s play. Protecting the privacy of app users is becoming one of the biggest challenges for developers due to myriad security risks. Android is the most widely used mobile operating system today, and this makes Google’s mobile app development platform more vulnerable to cyber attacks and hacks. Despite Google’s consolations, Android security threats still exist. But the question arises – how real are these vulnerabilities, and how much potential of damage they have? Is Android OS a safe bet for enterprise mobility solutions?
In this post, I will provide an insight to the top security threats that app developers should address, and which often comes has a challenge for mobile application development.
1. Google Play Store’s Potential Risks
Android being an Open Source Operating System, there is no walled garden, and this puts the users at risk of security breaches when things are not managed properly. Google Play Store itself is considered one of the biggest sources of potential threats. According to the experts, Google Play is not a well-policed environment and there is increased risk of apps that contain malware and malicious software or social engineering that connects to malware. When users download mobile apps from Google Play, they often don’t pay heed to the extent of permission an app should have on their device. They just accept the permission during download, and this puts them at higher security risks.
2. Malicious Software or Malware
Do you know that approximately 95 percent of Android mobile devices are at a risk of being affected by some kind of malware or malicious software? This means, the devices are vulnerable of being hacked without the user being aware of it. Android is Open Source, and this leaves the Operating System at a risk of over 75,000 identified security threats. Some of the most common Android malware and malicious software are Andr/PJApps-C, Andr/Generic-S, Andr/BBridge-A, Andr/DrSheep-A, and Andr/BatterD-A. These malware or malicious apps aim at sending personally identifiable information to a server to hack personal accounts, display ads on the phone, or may involve some sort of illegal action.
3. Risks of Android Fragmentation
One of the biggest drawbacks of Android is that it suffers the problem of fragmentation. Fragmentation means that there exist multiple versions of Android, even on latest devices. However, some devices are never updated to the latest Android version as and when Google does. Needless to say, Android devices that are not updated are more vulnerable to risks due to former Operating System programming errors. They will also not have the latest security updates.
Now this is a big challenge for Android app development. Fragmentation creates unique user experience on different devices, and this is often a greater risk. It is difficult to take appropriate security measures or educate the users about potential vulnerabilities because the experience is different on each device. Thus, there would be no single security solution that will seamlessly fit all of Android’s variations.
4. Granting Permissions to Apps
Often, app developers do not have clear understanding as to what permissions a mobile application actually needs. This results into overzealous and irrelevant permission requests. At the same time, app users have a tendency to tap the Accept button for whatever permission an application requests. This is one of the biggest security threats, and this is true for all Operating Systems. An app should request only for minimalist permissions to function optimally. At the same time, users should also not automatically grant permissions to apps whose functions seem irrelevant to need such access.
5. Mobile App Downloads Outside Google Play
While Google Play has its share of security breaches, the risk of being hacked or affected by malicious software increases considerably when users download apps from unidentified sources other than the official store. Being Open Source, building an Android app is free. So, anyone can create a malicious app and upload it on the Internet. Often users download apps from unofficial sites to avoid payment. However, this can result in downloading a malicious app or that has been modified to automatically install a virus on Android devices.
6. Malicious Software for Mobile Application Development
Android’s security weaknesses exist everywhere – in the OS itself, in mobile apps that are built-in the device by default or that are downloaded, and in tools that are coming from different sources other than Android platform. These vulnerabilities in mobile application development pose serious security threat.
7. Customized Operating Systems
Another major security threat faced by Android platform is caused due to the option of customizing the operating system. Often, device manufacturers modify the OS to make it function optimally on their device. On the other hand, users also modify the OS, integrating customization layers or launchers. This tends to cause security gaps.
How to Build a Secure Environment for Android Application Development?
If your business or organization is planning a roll-out of Android apps or a BYOD program, you have to develop a strategy to protect your users from security threats. For this, it is not only important to know about potential security risks and vulnerabilities, but also developing a trust model that helps determine which users you can trust with which app or data and under what scenario. It is also vital to hire an expert Android app developer who has knowledge of the latest security threats and can build an app that can cope with such risks.
If you are planning to use an app, it would be a good practice to use third-party app reputation service that evaluates a wide range of apps and assigns a risk score. Based on this, you can set policies.
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