Hacking or correctly speaking cracking is not an easy task. Although, the number of cyber security threats has increased from a couple of years. Initially, the only place one could actually store data was either in his/her desktop, laptop or the ledger they kept alongside. With the growing world and connectivity, the internet has become the utility it is now today and we are literally living in a web of networks. In this situation, Cyber security threats and their prevention have become the number one priority for many app companies.
The number one reason behind the attacks is the advancement of our smartphones. Previously, smartphones weren’t capable of doing much but now they are like a full-fledged computer. We store all of our personal documents, our private pictures, Credit/Debit card PINs etc in our smartphones. Although what was made to benefit is actually harming many app companies at an alarming rate.
App revolution was the point of the renaissance to our society. A lot of app development companies emerged thus making the market stronger. At present, there are various app owners from small to large scale catering to different cadres of customers. Although to give a personalized experience most of these app companies started to collect user data. This benefitted both the parties but also made both of them vulnerable at the end. Why? Because there is an immense amount of data that is being collected. Although, a simple hack can lead to a monumental leak making our privacy vulnerable.
The data that is being stolen is either sold to a company for research purposes or on the dark web to find potential victims. Also, a lot of anonymous hackers just do it for the fun of it trying to find the fun in superiority. We are an app development company so we have often been vulnerable but taking the necessary measures have always been counterproductive. Therefore, to create awareness and spread the word of wisdom, we thought of writing this article.
Note: We have also written an article over Best AI Engines to get you started with App Development, therefore click on the link to check it out.
Factors that led to Cyber Security Threats on Mobile Apps
There has been a spike in the development of smartphones from a couple of years. It is said that there are almost 1.5 billion smartphones all around the world. This makes the app market stronger than it previously had been in the history of mankind.
It is being estimated that there are almost 2.1 million apps in PlayStore, 1.8 million apps in the Apple App Store while rest of the store comprises of approximately 1.4 million. This creates a vast opportunity for attackers to target mobile app companies & individuals and bringing Cyber security threats and their prevention to the priority list.
The gain behind this is simple “most of these applications ask for your personal data”. Data is the gold that sells in the market today and there are many buyers.
Although, what are the prime factors that have led to this upsurge in the attacks. Below are some that we have addressed.
Budget: If you are a small company then getting yourself a cyber security check would be the last thing in mind. With big industries, it is almost impossible to breach the security unless you have access to their VPN. They have dynamic layers of security and access codes to them change with time. Although, even after that their security is compromised sometimes.
On the other hand, small to medium-sized companies hardly have the budget to get an app made completely in the beginning. There are multiple expenditures so they often forget that securing their data and systems from foreign intrusion is priority number one.
Connectivity: The world is connected today and it is of no doubt that every app company is vulnerable. For a person who has been running around with a device searching for open Wifi is a potential threat to your app company.
Imagine a scenario of phishing where one of your employees lost his login credentials to the attacker. It is fairly easy to masquerade a site like Gmail, or facebook and send a message to the victim about anything whatsoever important.
Accessing any mail sent by the attacker, your employee would simply login to his/her company profile simply revealing his/her personal login information. Just think how much of your company data can be compromised if any of your employee’s account gets attacked. All the employee mails, your email, in fact, some of the sensitive data which you may have shared with him/her. Data means the world to us today.
This connectivity has even led to more cases of malware attacks. A trusted mail is sent to you in the form of a file, the employee just clicks on it and download the file. The moment he opens that file a malware is installed in the background. It is even possible to encrypt a Trojan at the back of a picture or a text file. This can give complete access to the attacker with all the permission signed by some random person working in your office. The irony of the whole story is that he/she may not even know about it.
Mobile App: Yes, I am talking about the apps themselves. There is an attack known as a binary attack. It is simple yet a great way to intrude at least for a cracker or Black Hat Hacker. It only involves decrypting a mobile application and adding a bit of code into it. After that encrypting into the package again itself. This application once installed will give access to all the information and devices that you have in your smartphone. Imagine the amount of data one can get from your employee’s smartphone. In fact, the attacker is capable of establishing a connection with the app server by your credentials.
Types of Cyber Security Threats
Malware or Malicious Software are programs that are often propagated in our system via malicious code. These codes will be downloaded to the user’s system via an application. Most of these files might look like software or an app but the damage they can do is endless. From destroying files to replication to completely taking over your system. Most of this depends on the nature of Malware you have downloaded by ignorance. There are a variety of Malware Attacks that can intrude in your app companies system software such as:
File Infectors: Most of these viruses are executed in the system using a .exe file. The moment someone opens that .exe file, a File Infector start infecting the system.
Boot Loader Virus: I have personally been a victim of this one. These viruses will attach themselves to the bootloader of your system. A Boot loader virus will hinder you from accessing your system by disabling the bootloader. This makes the system incapable of loading the Operating System. These viruses can also move from one computer to another and different parts of the hard drive.
Macro Viruses: These are self-replicating types. Most of these viruses will attach themselves to a sequence of Excel or Word files. The moment someone opens them before transferring the control to the prospective application they get executed.
Trojans: A trojan is generally a back-door to your system. In this, the attacker will inject the code into a program that looks trusted. Once installed by the victim, it will make the attacker capable of making your system a Zombie. The attacker is then capable of accessing your file, read/write, in fact, he/she can access the devices in your system too. Devices like Web Camera, Microphone, GPS etc. This cyber security threat can completely take over the system and needs a special check.
Logic Bombs: These are unique by nature. They are executed once a certain condition or occurrence happens. For instance, a certain date or time or any event can activate a logic bomb in your system.
Stealth Viruses: These will conceal an antivirus thus hindering it from detecting the presence of any other virus. Most of these attacks are carried by malicious file carrying the strain. This is often achieved by the virus by changing the date and time.
Worms: They are themselves a virus and are self-replicating. They are mostly spread to people to different systems via emails most of the time. They can do other malicious activities but their basic purpose is to spread across the internet. They are indeed one of the most prominent cyber security threats out there.
Droppers: A Dropper is not exactly a virus but it serves a purpose in making any cyber security threat more effective. Typically these droppers are untraceable by any anti-virus. They can connect to the internet and update the viruses that are already propagating in your system.
Ransomware: A virus named WannaCry became real notorious in the year 2017. It was a type of ransomware and a real deal in the list of cyber security threats. What this Malware did was to encrypt all the files in your system so that the victim is unable to access it. The attack will ask for a ransom to lose your system by providing you with a key to decrypt all the files.
Spyware: The purpose of these viruses is to spy over you. A Spyware will collect your information & habits and send it to a remote attacker. They are also capable of downloading other programs to your system. Spyware is generally installed in your system via adware or a freeware.
Adware: These can be automatically downloaded to your system while browsing the internet. Most of these viruses are propagated to your system via a pop-up window. Although, these are advertisements by the company to promote themselves but the attacker can use it for malicious purposes.
Phishing and Spear Phishing
These are emails that feel like they have been sent to you by a trusted source. The mail will be consisting of the page that masquerades as some trusted website such as Facebook, Gmail, Instagram etc. A lot of phishing might include social engineering where the attacker builds trust before the attack. For instance, you may have received messages such as you have won a prize of $10000 and then there would be a link which would ask you to log into your credentials(don’t go ahead with that).
On the other hand Spear phishing is another type where the target is not random. Before the attack, the attacker might do proper research about the target and then execute it.
There are a variety of ways of how these attacks are carried out. The most common is social engineering. Since most of the files are secured using a password this attack involves either guessing the password, sniffing it from a network, gaining access to a database, brute-force, or as I told you social engineering.
In brute-force, the attacker might start guessing the password one by one till the time he has a result in his hand. Another way a brute force attack is carried out is by using a dictionary. In these, the attack will try all the possible combinations in a dictionary.
DDOS(Distributed Denial of Service)
If you are a mobile app or a service that serves online, this is something that you should be truly aware of. These attacks have been carried out on really big organisations in the past and have caused damage of millions at times. This is one of the most legit cyber security threats out there.
Distributed Denial of service is an upgraded version of DOS attack. In this, the user gets spammed with requests from multiple sources and stopping the service from server overload. These attacks can be of various kinds such as:
TCP SYN Flood Attack: This is the most common type of DDOS attack. In this, the attacker sends an SYN Packet to the victim. These packets are capable of exploiting the buffer of the victim while he is initializing a handshake using TCP. The attack will send an enormous request to the queue to gain access but doesn’t respond to it. This leads to session timeout stopping the service from responding to any other request during that time.
Smurf Attack: The attack is carried out using IP Spoofing. The attack occurs on a broadcasted IP address using ICMP request from the attacker. In this, the attacker will spoof the IP of the target and send a request to all the IPs in the range. The response from the nearby IPs will be broadcasted back to the attacker. During this time there will be huge congestion in the network and since the attack is repeatable, it will completely stop the service from serving.
Botnets: Imagine millions of computers under the control of the attacker. This attack is leveraged by using all those systems to perform a DDOS attack on the victim. This is the best example of a DDOS attack since the system sending request are located in different locations.
Ping of Death: The IP size of 65,535 bytes are not allowed. The attacker will distribute them into smaller packets. Once they are received by the system, these small packets are assembled by the system leading to a buffer overflow and other types of crashes.
Man in the Middle
This type of attack occurs when the attacker places him/herself between the victim and the server he/she is requesting. These attacks are carried out in the following ways:
IP Spoofing: In this, the attacker will spoof the ID and try to communicate with a host computer as a trusted source. Although, the attack isn’t complete unless the target accepts the request and responds to it.
Session Hijacking: In this, the attacker basically hijacks the session between the client and the server. In this, the attacker will sniff out the network place himself between the communication. This is generally achieved by using a sequence number. Once the attack is executed the client will still be communicating with the server but via the attacker. It is one of the among the most common cyber threats.
Replay: In this kind of attack, the attacker saves the messages that are sent by the victim. These messages are sent using a counterfeited timestamp while the attacker is impersonating the victim.
It is another way of spreading Malware to a website that has security issues. Most of these sites are vulnerable to the attack because they lack security updates. A Drive-By Download attack is carried out on HTTP protocol or PHP code. In this, the attacker might install a script into the code which carries a Malware. The attack is easily carried out while visiting a website, viewing an email or a pop-up. The attack is capable of infesting an application or a browser also.
Rogue Security Software
A lot of people may have seen this one. This is basically a fraud that is prevalent on the internet. In this, the victim might be made to believe that his system is infected with viruses. The user would then pay for a fake Malware removal tool which goes in the pocket of the attacker.
This is another really common cyber security threats that happen with a PHP or an ASP.NET Script. It happens because SQL doesn’t distinguish between the data plane and the control plane. In this, an attacker might send a query from the client to a server. This will enable him/her the access to sensitive data which can be read/write/updated/modified by the attacker.
Cross-Site Scripting(XSS) Attack
This one is prevalent in big organisations. A former employee, or any contractor who has had access to the network. At Least with big companies, most of them are having their own intranet within the organisation. This makes them identical to a DMZ. Although, with an insiders threat, breaching the security layer is possible.
In large organizations where the risk of insider threats looms, the implementation of physical security measures like perimeter security systems and access control is paramount. These systems play a pivotal role in fortifying organizational boundaries, acting as a proactive defense mechanism against potential breaches by former employees or contractors with prior network access.
AI Powered Attacks
This is the latest threat which the victim may have to bear with. In an AI powered attack, a concept is known as Machine Learning is used. This concept is generally used to train codes to run on their own. The concept uses a reward-based system where the machine goes through the iteration of use cases until the ultimate goal is met. It’s like trying all the paths to the destination to the point where you finally reach your goal. The concept can be used to carry out different cyber security threats such as identity theft, cracking the password, DOS attack, and many different types of attacks.
Reason for Cyber Security breaches to Mobile Apps and Prevention
Insecure Design: App development is tricky business and not everyone is capable of providing a secure application. Most of the attacks that occur on a website or an app are because the design is vulnerable. A lot of people prefer functionality over safety. Although, with so many financial payment gateways in an application, one should address the security aspect of the application seriously.
Prevention: Firstly, the application or the website should be developed in a manner that it is attack proof. Secondly, one can hire a security agency who might try to infiltrate the service by throwing a variety of attacks. Doing so will expose the vulnerabilities of the website and hence hacking it would become reasonably difficult.
Device Management: A lot of businesses might think of making themselves more secure although what if the issue is with smartphones, the customers are using. To protect the application from these, Encryption is the only method. On one hand, we have Apple which is actually known to be quite secure. They use an advanced 256-bit encryption system to protect different sections of files, databases, and other types of data. Also, they have the power to block any user from using an app.
Although, things get a little tricky with Android since they don’t come with this kind of support. Also, the devices are being manufactured by different smartphone vendors, therefore, making a unified security system difficult. This is the sole reason why Android is relatively easy to hack.
Prevention: The only way to prevent the systems from getting breached is to use mobile device management(MDM). One can also use EMM(Enterprise Mobile Management). There are multiple services that provide such an infrastructure. Although, the best way and the cheapest way of doing so is Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync Protocol. Also, with android devices, it is recommended to use Android for Work(A4W).
App Wrapping: App Wrapping is an important aspect in terms of avoiding any sort of security breach. It is a fundamental step that should be taken to secure any application.
Prevention: If you are using a Mobile Device Management then you won’t have to deal with this security flaw.
Strong User Authentication: The first question that anyone gets while he/she reaches a website or app is “Who are you?”. By this, I mean to address authentication. If the user is not in the system then he/she won’t be allowed. Although, if the authentication isn’t strong enough then an attacker might breach your system.
Prevention: To prevent it, one can employ two-factor authentication or maybe multi-factor authentication. It will include all aspects of the user such as privacy, Session Management, identity, and security features of User’s device.
Hardening the OS: The one thing that Android truly lags in because of its open-source nature is that it is not difficult to breach. From day 1, Apple has done a phenomenal job of hardening their OS. This is not an issue but the fix itself. If the operating system of the users in your organisation is not secure then the company might be vulnerable to attacks.
Prevention: As we know that Apple is already great in terms of Security, therefore, we will be talking about Android. There are a variety of categories of security that can be checked. These categories are Basic Security, Authentication, Browser Security, Network Security, and additional security.
There are a variety of factors that needs to be checked to make sure the devices are safe such as updated OS, avoiding installation of third-party apps, auto-lock timeout, forget wifi etc. In case if you wish to know about these factors in detail then click on the link here.
App Security to APIs: An API is a base at which most of the modern-day app companies are standing. They give you additional functionalities that make your app company’s application and website way more workable. Although, little did a lot of entrepreneurs know that they are quite vulnerable to attacks. There are a variety of attacks that can be carried out on APIs such as Reverse Engineering, Spoofing, Man in the middle, Session Replays, and Social Engineering.
Prevention: Since a lot of communication is carried out using an API, therefore, it can be secured using 256-bit SSL encryption. Also, it is essential to secure the origin as well as the device.
Getting a system hacked is inevitable although by taking proper measures it is possible to handle them well. If there is an attack on your system then sitting there won’t solve the problem. Knowing the problem and getting to the bottom of it might help you figure out what went wrong. A lot of app companies, especially small and medium-sized often stays ignorant to cyber security threats. Although in this pool of connectivity everyone is vulnerable, the only difference is some dive in with proper gear for security while some just choose to keep a blind eye and get everything messed up.
By this article, we have tried to educate our community of app companies about the possible cyber security threats out there. It is at times impossible to save yourself but with a contingency plan, a lot of things can be handled well. In case if you wish to read about Mobile App Security Best Practices for App Developers then click on the link provided. We are an app development company with a decent portfolio. We offer best in class prices to our customers and develop great quality apps for them. In case, if you wish to contact us for app creation purposes or any consultation then you can mail us at [email protected] .We hope this article may have been of some help to you. Also, thank you for reading it until the end. #HappyReading !!!