Security measures were not always front-of-mind when application development first hit the scene, but with the industry expected to reach over $935 billion in revenue by 2023, and with over 143 billion apps and games downloaded in 2021 alone, this space surely has skyrocketed and welcomed many opportunists ready to assess applications for any vulnerabilities they could potentially exploit. It is for this reason that application security is now a high priority when it comes time to develop and design a product, and for fintech this need is even more pressing. So, here’s an introduction to application security and why your fintech should care about it.
Defining Application Security
Application security is defined as the steps taken by a development team to create, test, add or manage the relevant security measures of applications and platforms to mitigate threats, such as attacks or unauthorised access, and strengthen vulnerabilities the application may have. Application security measures may be any combination of hardware, software, protocols, and best practises to protect against vulnerabilities. Examples may include proxy servers, firewalls, or encryption, though the overarching goal of application security is always the same: to prevent security breaches.
Reasons Application Security is Important
The main reason applications are considered vulnerable to threats is that they are connected to the cloud and made available through numerous networks. In recent times, hackers have shifted focus to infiltrating applications and it’s easy to understand why. According to Think with Google, the average person has approximately 35 applications on their mobile device. Companies are under pressure to guarantee their customers’ security, not only on a network-level but within the application itself. Other reasons why application security matters are:
- Reduces a company’s attack surface. An attack surface is the number of entry points any application has where unauthorised access could potentially be gained. Finding and eliminating entry points reduces the attack surface and ultimately, a security risk.
- Proactivity minimises risk. A company that is proactive with its security measures is better protected against orchestrated attacks and thus minimises potential losses that otherwise could have materialised, had the company been reactive instead.
- Fosters trust with customers. Any individual that makes use of a website or application wants to know that their online activities, personal information, and assets are protected and secure. Consumers are more likely to trust your product, and use it, if they know that privacy and security are a top priority.
Types of Application Security:
Authentication security is built into the application itself by software developers. The purpose of authentication procedures is to ensure that only the sanctioned person may gain access to the app by incorporating “login” features such as a password, security questions or biometrics. The use of multiple authentication procedures is commonly referred to as two-factor authentication and simply takes this security measure one step further by combining two protocols. For example, logging into a mobile app with a password in addition to scanning a fingerprint.
Authorisation is the second step, after authentication, whereby the application needs to vet the person who has been authenticated against a list of authorised user accounts. While authentication takes place within the application itself using software programming, authorisation is stored and managed on a server, to feed the relevant data back to the application. Once authorised, the sanctioned person may access and use the application in question.
Consideration needs to be made for data or information that is shared between the application in use and the web server or cloud-based application. This information is also considered sensitive and thus should be protected. Encryption protocols transform the data being shared so that anyone who does not have authorisation cannot interpret the data. Examples of encryption include Secure Shell (SSH) and Socket Layer (SSL) protocols.
Logging is a type of application security tool that offers feedback to the development team. Application log files continually track who is accessing the application and how they achieved access. This tool becomes particularly important in the instance of a security breach as it provides further information as to who gained access to the application and in what way, so that vulnerabilities can be identified and fixed.
Testing and Control
It is important to continually administer system checks and testing protocols to ensure your application security measures are functioning optimally. There’s no point in investing resources into security measures if they aren’t maintained, and/or become ineffective! Developers may wish to conduct security audits wherein the application is reviewed to ensure it meets a set standard of security criteria. Penetration testing is also common and entails developers acting as cybercriminals to search for application weaknesses. Fuzzing is another measure of testing and control. Developers purposely use unexpected inputs to review how the application reacts and assess these reactions for vulnerabilities.
Now that you have a better idea regarding the types of application security, what are some examples of how these might look in real-world applications?
Application Security for Web
Web applications are apps or services that are accessed via a browser interface on the internet. The application data is stored on remote servers which is why the information must be transmitted to the user via the internet; it is for this reason that application security for web applications is considered a high priority. The most common way to protect a web app’s network is by way of a web application firewall. These work by managing data packets. The firewall software reviews these data packets and blocks any that may pose a threat to the web application.
Application Security for Mobile
As with web applications, mobile applications are considered vulnerable because they too transmit information via the internet and not a private network. Companies may wish to provide a private network for their internal staff by incorporating a virtual private network (VPN) into their application security measures. Vetting mobile applications used on company devices by staff is another way to protect against threats. When it comes to providing efficient application security for your fintech mobile apps, several tools can be utilised, including conducting regular scans for malware and protecting against unauthorised logins with sufficient authentication steps.
Application Security for Cloud Apps
Cloud-based applications are considered a bit trickier than web or mobile. Not only do cloud-based applications operate online, but cloud environments share resources. Due diligence must be taken to ensure that only authorised users have access to the relevant data on the cloud.
We’ve looked at what application security means for your mobile or web-based application, in what ways it is important and can benefit your product development, as well as the different ways to achieve a secure environment for your customers. Feel that it’s time to start caring about your fintech application’s security? Connect with our developers and find out how we can help you create an app with a Fort Knox likeness.