Supply chain attacks in the overall software space continue to make headlines and cause major headaches. After all, as dependence grows on using bundles of someone else’s code instead of old-school custom coding on your own, you’re inevitably in for some not-so-good surprises along the way.

 Just last month, the White House published its National Cybersecurity Strategy Implementation Plan, which lists the need to address supply chain-related attacks as one of the plan’s top 5 pillars. Considering that OWASP recognizes “Insufficient Supply Chain Security” as the 2nd most common mobile vulnerability, it’s no surprise that supply chain attacks are especially harmful to organizations.

Mobile apps are no exception to this need for greater scrutiny and ongoing monitoring in order to prevent or quickly remediate software supply chain attacks. Such attacks pose significant risks not only to app users but also to the very businesses that rely on these apps to thrive and serve their customers in the first place.

Mobile app development can be an entry point for data security breaches

While consumers are slowly becoming aware of data security risks, app developers must also acknowledge that their creations have become a vulnerable pathway exploited by cybercriminals to sabotage enterprises. 

Modern app development practices boast the integration of various code snippets from diverse sources, streamlining the development process for speed, cost effectiveness, and collaboration. 

It’s extremely common, even for large companies, to outsource much or all of the mobile app development process to third parties, creating even further distance between an app owner and its core code. Yet this convenience comes with disturbing risks. 

Malicious actors, or even unwitting developers, can inject backdoors or vulnerabilities, mostly dormant cores of malware, downloading arbitrary malicious code once productively deployed, into the third-party code during development. These compromised components can end up in the third-party libraries embedded in some of the world’s most trusted brand name mobile apps.

What is a mobile app supply chain attack?

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Regrettably, since app developers may unintentionally incorporate these tainted libraries, unaware of the hidden vulnerabilities, a company’s stance is often purely reactionary, largely responding to eventually-found exploits that can provide unauthorized access to the app and lead to data breaches. 

A proactive approach during development as well as an insight- and intelligence-based approach thereafter are key.

Strategies to mitigate software supply chain attacks

To shield the app fortress and protect users, developers must adopt effective mitigation strategies:

  • Secure Code Reviews: Conduct comprehensive code reviews to identify and eliminate potential vulnerabilities in third-party libraries and components. If you cannot do this on your own, use third-party tools or services to get indication of how trustworthy the third-party components may be.
  • Vendor Verification: Thoroughly vet and endorse the security practices of third-party vendors and suppliers, ensuring the integrity of app components.
  • Regular Updates: Proactively maintain software, libraries, and third-party components with the latest security patches to prevent exploitation.
  • Code Signing and Encryption: Protect the app’s code through signing and encryption, ensuring its integrity during distribution while promptly detecting unauthorized modifications. It’s best to have a runtime verification of integrity within an app. 
  • Monitoring and Anomaly Detection: Strengthen app defenses with vigilant monitoring systems, promptly detecting unusual behavior, unauthorized activity from malware cores in the supply chain, or other signs of exploitation.
  • Employee Training: Instill a security-conscious culture among app development teams by raising awareness of supply chain attack risks and best security practices.
  • Forge Alliances with App Stores: Collaborate with app store platforms to enhance security measures and ensure secure app distribution for users.

Armed with an understanding of these threats, app developers can better protect their apps and users against the dark underbelly of the digital realm, which now sees mobile apps as just as appealing as other enterprise-related potential targets.

How app developers can be more proactive about mobile app security

Embracing effective security measures, monitoring for vulnerabilities, and embracing collaborative partnerships will be instrumental in preserving the sanctity of the ever-advancing mobile app space.

Today’s collaboration between app developers and app stores is essential. By working together, they clearly create a more secure ecosystem for app distribution. 

But it’s not the answer. Nor can it ever be considered an app store’s job to ensure 100% safety. That’s a duty placed squarely on the shoulders of mobile app developers. As they continue to innovate and push the boundaries of app development, the need for solid security practices becomes more critical than ever. 

By staying informed, proactive, and collaborative, app developers can effectively combat the threats posed by software supply chain attacks and ensure a safer digital experience for all.