The advent of mobile technology in the banking world certainly disrupted it to the very core. A traditional centralized system that operated in highly-controlled spaces started to shift towards servicing clients through mobile devices. This was undoubtedly a revolution that implied the redefinition of numerous workflows, standards, and practices.
It also brought one massive challenge – how to safeguard the clients’ privacy and security when they carry the banks in their pockets? Today’s mobile banking apps are ubiquitous, so the challenge is more relevant than ever. Developers of mobile banking apps have to understand the needs of the banking system and its users and create ways to address them while preserving highly sensitive data protected across operations, transactions, and multiple vulnerable points.
Naturally, the system has been strengthened with acts and regulations that seek to guide how to achieve that tall order. Thus, mobile app engineers have to have a thorough understanding of the regulatory framework when building apps. It isn’t an easy task, but today, mobile developers have a deeper comprehension of what it takes to create a mobile banking app with privacy and security compliance in mind. Here’s how that looks like.
Understanding the Essentials of Mobile Banking
One of the first things a software engineering team has to do in a mobile banking app project is to understand the basics. Beyond the application’s actual development, there are plenty of things to consider, especially in the security and privacy aspects of the project, which are the highest priorities in any mobile banking app.
Given the highly dynamic nature of the mobile environment, the number of threats and vulnerabilities is ever increasing, making it even more challenging to keep the protection at the top level. Thus, mobile developers have categorized the potential risks and vulnerabilities better to address them through the app development life cycle. There’s an “attack surface” that is divided into these categories, depending on the area that’s targeted for attack.
Following that line of thinking, developers have identified three major parts of the attack surface:
- Devices: The components of mobile devices, like the browser, the device itself, the apps, or the operating system, all have multiple vulnerabilities that can be doors for a breach. Thus, malicious agents target this with phishing attempts, brute force attacks, SMishing, and dynamic runtime injection, among many others.
- Networks: mobile devices depend mostly on wireless connections to carry out their tasks, so it’s only natural that the networks they use to do so are targets for attack. Though mobile devices use more than just Wi-Fi to connect, it’s these connections that are the most vulnerable to encryption issues, man-in-the-middle attacks, and Facebook SSL Certificates, among others.
- Data Centers: those connections bridge mobile devices with servers that handle a lot of information and have their vulnerabilities. Thus, malicious attacks target those end-points (including web servers and databases) using weak input validations, server misconfigurations, data dumping, and SQL injection attacks.
Such a panorama paints the whole picture for mobile security. Granted, developers working on a mobile banking app can’t tackle all of them. They have to worry about the most common threats and vulnerabilities related to this kind of application. On the one hand, the common vulnerabilities are surrounding mobile banking systems, how they are used, and the devices they use, including:
- Jailbroken and rooted devices. Jailbreaking and rooting means removing certain security limits to access protected parts of the operating system. While this provides the user with more control over the system, it also exposes them to attacks that can take the system over more easily.
- Data storage on the phone. Storing sensitive banking information on the phone is a huge red flag, as any app with enough permissions can access it and exploit it to commit banking fraud.
- Non-SSL use. On one hand, using links without SSL provides attackers with the opportunity to intercept traffic and inject a fake login prompt. On the other, sending specific information (such as activation codes) without a security certificate can provide the same attacker with data needed to hijack a session.
- Outdated connections. Open Wi-Fi networks are highly vulnerable to attacks.
These four significant vulnerabilities show that mobile app developers need to take into account more than just the gaps in the systems – they also need to understand the shortcomings of devices and their users, both of which provide additional vulnerabilities that exceed those found on a banking app.
Malicious actors exploit those vulnerabilities in different ways, but some attacks are more common than others. Mobile engineers working on banking apps often develop their security systems paying particular attention to the following:
- Man-in-the-middle (MiTM) attacks: when the banking app communicates with the bank, there’s vital information coming and going. Hackers attempt to intercept it to use it later to access the user’s account.
- Infrastructure breaches: mostly aimed at servers, these are attacks that seek to harvest credentials (such as usernames, passwords, and other personal information).
- Pirate apps: hackers reverse engineer a legitimate app to later distribute their infected version, thus gaining access to the information of people that unknowingly install the pirated version.
- Mobile malware: just as it happens with desktop systems, there is plenty of mobile malware that targets mobile devices. Banking apps are some of their primary targets.
- Clickjacking: a technique that tries to trick users into clicking on a button or element to perform a seemingly innocuous action but that triggers a malicious response (such as downloading malware or gathering confidential information)
Naturally, the attacks don’t just target the mobile applications themselves but also the system issues and the insecure behavior of mobile users. This means that the mobile development team’s security efforts have to be closely aligned to broader security efforts that bring further protection to the rest of the system.
How Mobile Development Teams Ensure Banking App Security
All of the above should inform a mobile development team in the early stages of their SDLC. Armed with that information, the team can better identify the risks associated with mobile banking apps and create a more robust application. Developers can do this in several ways, especially following standard security practices for application development. However, there are other specific practices they can follow, including:
- The security policies of the development team should be dependent on user compliance.
- There are plenty of practices that can help reduce the risks associated with developing a mobile banking app, including risk mitigation, integrity checking, repackaging detection, regulatory compliance obligations, data encryption, and identification of vulnerabilities in the source code.
- A mobile banking app should always include multi-factor authentication, be it through SMS or (preferably) biometric data.
- Also, it should have reliable password protection that doesn’t allow the user to save the passwords.
- Auto log-off after a fixed amount of time of inactivity is a must. The time may vary, but it should never be more than 1 minute.
- The app should use the latest on digital signatures and secure transfer protocols.
- Developers should always include SSL certificate checks and end-to-end encryption.
- Testing and QA should be extensive and present throughout the entire SDLC.
Aside from all that, the development team should pay special attention to data management and handling regulations. There might be numerous regulations applying to a particular app, depending on the region, country, or even state in which it will be used. A good development team will keep compliance at the top of the priority list. Being aligned with those regulations doesn’t just avoid fines – it also follows proven security principles that can reduce the risks associated with mobile development for banks.
All of this comes to show that developing a mobile banking app isn’t an easy task. In fact, it’s something that not all mobile development teams can do. It takes a well-versed and knowledgeable team of engineers with enough experience and expertise in the industry to tackle this multifaceted problem.
Thus, any company looking to create its banking app should carefully analyze the market and pick a seasoned mobile development company that keeps security, privacy, and compliance as its primary focus. Those that consider all the aspects described above are the best alternatives, as all that is essential to approach mobile banking development. Considering all that information is the only way to develop a safe app that protects consumers and banks alike.