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mobile app security

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Managing information security amid new threats: A guide for CIOs
Contributor(s): Stan Gibilisco

Mobile app security is the extent of protection that mobile device applications (apps) have from malware and the activities of crackers and other criminals. The term can also refer to various technologies and production practices that minimize the risk of exploits to mobile devices through their apps.

A mobile device has numerous components, all of them vulnerable to security weaknesses. The parts are made, distributed, and used by multiple players, each of whom plays a crucial role the security of a device. Each player should incorporate security measures into mobile devices as they are designed and built, and into mobile apps as they are conceived and written, but these tasks are not always adequately carried out. Common vulnerabilities for mobile devices include architectural flaws, device loss or theft, platform weakness, isolation and permission problems and application weakness.

When evaluating mobile devices and apps for security, developers should ask themselves the following questions.

  • How do users obtain a particular app?
  • Should a firm create its own app store?
  • How is an app vetted before it is offered for sale?
  • How is an app protected against malware?
  • Was a particular app written and shipped in too much of a rush?
  • How can users tell the difference between a legitimate app and a fake?
  • How easily can automatic update features get hijacked?
  • What measures exist to control the risk of device jailbreaking?
  • What kind of permissions should a particular app ask for?
  • Can any of the functions and capabilities unique to mobile devices (such as geolocation) enhance app security?
  • Can any other apps keep track of when, where, and how a certain app is used?
This was last updated in March 2013

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