While some tech extremists predict the imminent end of software as we know it now that voice-controlled artificial intelligence can control our devices, it hardly seems that mobile apps are disappearing. In fact, every year another 200,000 or so apps become available in the Google Play Store, and Apple’s App Store should offer more than 5 million apps by 2020.
Becoming familiar with app-building processes is a smart way for smartphone users and tech enthusiasts to gain more experience and comfort navigating their devices. Android is an ideal starting point for learning about app development because the operating system is more tolerant of tinkerers than Apple’s iOS; plus, there are more Android users in the U.S., meaning a successfully developed app could have a wider audience when placed on the market.
However, it is because of that flexibility and frequency of use that Android apps and devices tend to be more susceptible to real cyberattacks. It doesn’t matter whether you want to build Android apps for public use or you are merely concerned with keeping your devices and apps safe — you need to know the following practices for securing apps.
Secure Your Test Device, First
It should go without saying that an insecure device will produce unreliable results. Most first-time app developers test their creations on their own devices, but if your device is susceptible to attack, you can’t be certain whether your app is buggy or whether you have fallen victim to mobile malware. You can find free anti-virus tools from reputable cybersecurity providers to verify the safety of your machine before you start testing.
Understand Data Storage Options
Data is an app’s most precious commodity, which means as a developer, you must be keen on keeping data secure from other apps on users’ devices. There are three options for how to store data:
- Internal storage. Android ensures that files in internal storage are only accessible by the apps that created them.
- External storage. Some apps access data from SD cards and other external storage devices. These are globally readable and writable, which means you probably shouldn’t rely heavily on them.
- Content providers. If you want your app’s data accessible by other mobile processes, you should use a content provider. You must be specific about your app’s permissions to use android dialers, though — which means you can move on to the next section.
Understand Permissions Needs
By necessity, apps share space on a device; therefore, they must share the device’s resources. Thus, developers declare permissions to explain to other developers and users what resources their app will need. Even if you don’t use a content provider, you should understand the concept of permissions and what permissions pertain to your app.
You should request as few permissions as possible while developing your app. Not only does this make your app seem safer to users, it also reduces the possibility of you mishandling sensitive data. If you do obtain permission-protected data, it is vital that set up strong defenses to prevent leaks.
Understand Networking Concerns
Network transactions are among the riskiest actions because transmitting data can easily go wrong. Not only must data be secure on the original device, but it must remain secure while traveling over a network and onto a recipient’s device. There are two common methods for using networking:
- Telephony network. The original way to send data between users, SMS is outdated and dangerous, and it is particularly poorly suited for apps. SMS is neither encrypted nor authenticated, so anyone could see data sent over this network.
- IP network. Android networking is not much different from other Linux networking, so you can take advantage of secure HTTPS protocols. Because Android devices commonly connect with uncertain wireless networks, securing network connections is critical.
Handle User Data Properly
As mentioned before, the best way to mitigate possible misuse of user data is to collect as little user data as possible. That data your app does use should never be stored or transmitted, especially not insecurely or without users’ knowledge and consent.
Ultimately, encryption is the most foolproof way to keep your app, your users, and you safe from cyberattacks. Fortunately, Android provides data isolation, secure communications channels, full-filesystem encryption support, and many algorithms for protecting data using cryptography — so you should take advantage of it. Before you start encrypting, you should understand what type of cryptography architecture your app can use.