The leading mobile platforms have a standard vetting criterion for third-party mobile applications. Apple’s strict app submission guidelines; Microsoft’s long and drawn-out app submission process; and BlackBerry’s guidelines for the BB apps, are infamous among developers. Android Marketplace apps do not seem to be vetted, but Android periodically removes any low-quality or malicious app from its app store. Mobile apps developers need to work within the guidelines if they want their apps to be accepted on any of the official app stores.
While I am downloading an application from the Apple App Store, Android Market or any other established mobile marketplace, I place complete trust in the companies that are vetting the applications. I know that the apps that I download from Apple’s App Store will not contain any malicious code. Similarly, most users trust the applications they download from reputed mobile stores.
However, at times, a few duplicate apps or malicious apps have escaped the rigorous vetting process of the app stores. Users have downloaded such apps and their prized smartphones have been infected by malware and adware. This is not to say that mobile apps are not secure – it’s just that they are not completely secure. First, let’s take a look at what makes mobile apps more secure than most other software out there:
1. Highly Secure Installation and Updates Process
Installing and download procedures usually serve as gateways for virus and stuff that makes your computer go blank. The problem with downloading things from the Internet is that you are never sure about the authenticity of the source. Your downloads may be spiced with payloads carrying parts of a malware.
This is one problem you will never face while downloading or installing mobile applications as they all come from the app stores. Also, whenever the app is updated, you receive the updates via the mobile app store. So, the updating process is also full secure.
2. Strict Mobile App Vetting Process
Most mobile stores have a strict vetting process. A mobile app simply can’t get on an app store if its code has vulnerabilities, or if it functions as a vehicle for malware or adware. Each app is vetted by a technically proficient employee of the smart mobile companies. Most mobile platforms have a strict submission and approval process. Some companies even demand a digital signature to fix the responsibility of the app on a real, traceable human.
3. Sandboxing of Mobile Apps
All the applications on a particular mobile operating system are separate from each other. They are sandboxed, and they cannot affect any other apps or other parts of the operating system. This is a solid security feature that plugs most of the loopholes that hackers could use to infect other apps. This is a revolutionary feature that is found only in mobile apps – most old systems like Java do not use such advanced sandboxing security measures.
4. Newer, Better, More Secure Languages
The technology used for creating platform-specific smartphone apps is not universally known. Sure, there are hundreds of thousands of developers who know how to create apps for iOS, but this number is not that big. Also, most mobile technologies are quite new. So, hackers do not have established hacking practices that they can use to hack into the mobile platforms. This makes mobile apps a lot more secure than most other legacy software out in the market.
5. Advanced, Built-in Security Measures
Most mobile operating systems have in-built security features like memory protections, enhanced defaults, type checking and boundary checking. While most legacy systems use versions of programming languages that have been around since a long time, most mobile operating systems use newer, advanced programming languages. So, the number of spots that malware can use as a point of entry are also limited.
Mobile App Security Loopholes Hackers Can and Will Exploit
While mobile apps by major mobile platforms are definitely more secure than most other software out there, there are ways in which sly hackers can hack your apps. The following are the most common ways in which the security of mobile applications is compromised:
1. Malicious Files Downloaded by Apps from the Internet
Most mobile applications thrive on Internet connectivity. Even if the application does not have any malware, it may seek the permission of the user to download data files. Such files may send the app in buffer overflow and gain an entry in the system. Over time, they may take control of the system. With the increasing popularity of Cloud Computing and other web-based technology that uses well known protocols, the instances of this kind of hacking are bound to rise.
2. Social Engineering can Trump all Security Measures
Social engineering hackers rely on persuading the users to divulge confidential information, perform certain actions through their mobiles, download certain files or run malicious software. In this case, the Internet connectivity of the app and the device can work against itself. No matter how stringent the security measures, tricksters can always find innovative ways of breaking these security barriers.
3. Sometimes, App Stores Slip Up
While the different app stores are known for their strict app submission and approval guidelines, there have been many instances of duplicate apps or apps carrying malware creeping their way into the app store. Clearly, there is, at times, some oversight in the app vetting process in all companies. Android doesn’t even seem to have such a process – it simply removes low-quality and malware-infected apps every few months.
Users who are unfortunate enough to have downloaded the bad apps end up getting infected with malware and adware. In extreme case, the hackers may also use the app to hack the phone.
Mobile Apps are Pretty Secure, but it Pays to be Cautious
As you can see, there are ways in which mobile apps can compromise the security of your phone and help hackers to infiltrate your device. But most mobile applications on the app stores are highly secure. It is just that there is no way in which mobile companies can provide complete security to you.
As a mobile user, you do not need to worry too much – more than 95% of the app do not pose any security threats. There are hackers around, but not too many of them target smartphones. As long as you don’t jailbreak your phone or install apps from shady websites, you should be okay.