Mobile App Security: Benefits of React Native for Data Protection

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Nearly 80% of the world now owns smartphones, and downloads continue to skyrocket (230 billion downloads projected for 2021!). Mobile applications have become a daily part of our lives, yet their widespread use increases risks related to security vulnerabilities. If your business offers mobile applications for downloads or use, understanding these vulnerabilities is vitally important.

Awareness is key when it comes to safeguarding data and identity. In this article, we'll look at major mobile application security challenges as well as react native's capacity for protecting user data.

This blog discusses the best security practices to keep in mind while developing apps with React Native app development services. Adopting some effective methods, which we will outline below, could reduce the risk of your app becoming compromised or prevent sensitive data from leaking out.

Challenges in Mobile App Security

Security can often become an afterthought during app development teams' frantic rush to release apps quickly, often due to needing to be more staffed and overcommitted. As a result, security becomes something to take for granted rather than take seriously.

To protect both your company's reputation and revenue, you must pay careful consideration to these mobile app security risks.

Poor API Protection

When building an app, APIs will likely come into play. An API enables mobile applications to retrieve data from another source; for instance, travel booking websites use an API to aggregate hotel and airline booking data into one easily navigable site. At the same time, Google Maps relies heavily on APIs for displaying directions to their destinations. Many modern apps also depend on them.

Many developers need to secure their APIs. They assume that malicious actors won't find them all that interesting, but quite the contrary is true; APIs offer access to stable, structured information, which bad actors desire. They will reverse engineer your app in order to identify which APIs it utilizes, run your app through an emulator, or use mobile farms in order to find access points.

Weak Server-Side Controls

A modern mobile app development company uses both a client and server side for their functioning, with the former often acting as the user-facing user interface. In contrast, the latter serves as the functional backbone. Both sides communicate using an API.

Server-side vulnerabilities are increasingly prevalent and easily exploitable through openly available APIs. Common examples include code logic flaws, weak authentication rules, weak session management practices, insecure server configurations, and access control vulnerabilities - to name only some! Generally speaking, they fall into two categories - code vulnerabilities or configuration vulnerabilities.

Client-Side Injections

An attacker can try to gain entry to your app via unusual data that leads to unauthorized access, often by manipulating it. Hence, it resembles executable code and is sent through its network connection. Mobile SQL databases could also be targeted with creative queries in which attackers could gain access to the personal data of other users by inserting new questions with private information from them.

SQL injections are just one form of client-side injection; there's also Local File Inclusion, where an attacker uploads executable files that your app reads and runs, potentially leading to crashes or the exposure of sensitive data.

Insecure Data Storage

Mobile apps, especially banking ones, often store sensitive data locally on smartphones - this means your PIN, credit card numbers, passwords, and login details could all be stored somewhere on your phone without being protected properly from unauthorized access by software or hackers gaining entry remotely or locally to gain access and take that data with them.

Sensitive local data can often be stored insecurely due to inadequate encryption. Some mobile apps fail to encrypt local data at all, which is the worst possible offense; others may encrypt local data but forget to store its encryption keys safely or may use custom protocols that may not be considered secure.

Bad Source Code Security

The source code of your application is at the core of everything it does; without secure source code protection, you risk giving away a significant competitive edge (your intellectual protocol). In addition, source code often coexists with API or encryption keys, authentication tokens, user passwords, and other sensitive data that others should not exploit.

When we speak of source code, we don't just refer to your own - but all the source code your app uses from partners or suppliers and open-source communities, as well as anything that might compromise it. If any is insecure, your entire app could be put at risk.

Sensitive Data Leakage

Data leakage occurs when sensitive information is exposed online either accidentally or on purpose, such as what happened with Parkmobile when an exploit in third-party software led to a leak that exposed 21 million users' email addresses, dates of birth, license plate numbers, and phone numbers - among other personal details.

Sometimes, these leaks happen accidentally. Firebase, one of the most popular data storage solutions for Android apps, can easily become misconfigured; anyone knowing the right URL to an app built with Firebase could gain access to its databases and expose sensitive user information.

Unsafe Data Transmission

As we have already noted, unencrypted or poorly encrypted data at rest is inherently unsafe; similarly, unencrypted or inadequately encrypted data in transit should also be considered dangerous as attackers could easily intercept it as it travels across public WIFI or cellular carrier networks.

Although data in transit is encrypted, it's often configured incorrectly or handled improperly, or developers use outdated customer encryption algorithms - much like what happens with unencrypted or poorly encrypted data at rest; hackers access it through different routes.

Get to Know Why to Choose React Native for Mobile App Development

Inadequate Logging and Monitoring

Once your app is live, you need to understand its performance and any problems as soon as they arise so you can respond without interfering too heavily with user experience. With adequate logging and monitoring systems set up, however, this will be possible; instead, you'll remain in the dark, with information gaps that won't allow for proper defense against security incidents.

Benefits of React Native for Data Protection

React Native is an open-source mobile application framework developed by Facebook that uses JavaScript technology. React Native allows developers to build natively rendered mobile apps for iOS and Android, becoming one of the most widely used app development frameworks today.

React Native uses JavaScript to develop its interface for Android and iOS app development, not relying solely on web views but also providing native opinions and content provided by native platforms. Furthermore, React Native supports building the app using both JSX markups for both platforms using its rendering native API's feature.

What sets React Native apart is its communication between its React Native App and JavaScript engine through the "Bridge." Any event occurring in a Native app goes through an event processing pipeline involving serialization, batching, and then asynchronously transferred to the JavaScript Engine via "Bridge." This enables active interaction between Native apps and their JavaScript engines.

React Native's advantages:

1. Code Reusability

React Native has many advantages that can help speed up development time and lower maintenance costs; one such benefit is reusing code across platforms for faster development, quicker time to market, reduced maintenance costs, and eased onboarding processes for new developers.

2. Wide Developer Community

Being an open-source network, React Native boasts its dynamic community, which continues to expand rapidly. Suppose React Native has not yet addressed any problem/issue. In that case, there is someone available who can offer assistance and make things simpler for you.

3. Live and Hot Reloading

React Native applications offer live and hot reloading features, which we can take advantage of as per our component needs. Live reloading would refresh and update any code changes as they happen, while restarting would revert the app to its initial route, which can help in testing navigation code changes more effectively.

As opposed to hot reloading, which changes or refreshes an application's entire code base with every change made in code files, hot reloading only refreshes specific files within your app while keeping its state intact.

React Native features provide several advantages over its competing options; however, it also presents certain challenges/disadvantages, which we have outlined below.

Security practices to consider while building apps with React Native

No one could think and address every security risk. Still, we have implemented some basic procedures to minimize common threats to app security and strengthen it further.

Practice 1: Android-specific Security

React Native provides the Android Keynote system as a solution to Android security, storing keys in cryptographic form in containers to make extracting them from devices more challenging for attackers. Some other key points related to Android security can also be implemented into general practices:

  • Always turn off developer mode when testing any key and privacy-related operations.

  • Saving sensitive information in "Shared Preference," Android helps protect it against these kinds of attacks from reverse engineering.

  • Use "React-Native Proguard" and keep your data protected until you no longer require it.

Practice 2: iOS-specific Security

Restricting insecure domains on iOS can protect against transport layer attacks on your data.

Practice 3: Enable Hermes

Hermes is a small and lightweight JavaScript engine optimized for running React Native on Android devices. Hermes helps improve app performance while providing ways to monitor its use.

Herms have multiple advantages for applications. Primarily, it reduces start-up times and memory usage with smaller app sizes. Furthermore, herms precompile JavaScript into ByteCode which makes its entry file unreadable at first glance.

Practice 4: React Native SSL Pinning

React Native's SSL Pinning feature converts all certificate files to ".cer" files that can then be added as assets to a mobile app bundle just like any image file is saved within it.

Frisbee or Axios libraries for accessing APIs in React-Native applications sometimes provide support for SSL pinning. There are various plugins available which we can utilize instead, including

  • react-native-SSL-pinning

  • react-native-pinch

These plugins may help secure HTTP public key pinning:

  • React Native Cert Pinner

  • React Native Trust Kit

Practice 5: Avoid Deprecated Libraries

It is generally considered best practice to avoid Deprecated libraries as they are no longer supported, making any improvements or updates incompatible. By not using deprecated libraries, you will gain relief for not migrating to their new version; alternatively, using better alternatives may be more suitable.

StrictMode can be an excellent alternative to deprecated libraries for highlighting potential problems within an application without rendering any available UI and activating additional checks and warning systems for users. StrictMode helps identify components with unsafe lifecycles while also detecting unexpected side effects and assuring reusable stats are being met.

Practice 6: Storing Security

A wide range of React native keychain libraries provide storage security. Keychain libraries allow users to securely store sensitive data such as passwords, IDs, and card details into small chunks for easier accessibility.

Some third-party libraries/plugins may promise storage security for React-Native, such as:

  • React-Native Keychain: primarily stores generic and digital passwords.

  • React Native Sensitive Info: This plugin is more mature and flexible than React Native Keychain, offering compatibility between Android and iOS platforms.

  • Native Security Storage: Although still under development, its manual provides installation instructions but no usage guidelines.

Practice 7: XSS attacks

Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks are a technique where websites are targeted with malware by inserting various scripts onto them that inject malicious scripts onto them, leading to execution by unsuspecting browsers.

Here are a few low-risk strategies to protect against XSS attacks (but we still recommend adding them to the list)-

  • Education and Awareness: It is best practice to educate your developers, designers, and QA team about the techniques hackers employ to exploit vulnerabilities and provide safety guidelines with regard to proper encoding techniques.

  • Sanitizing Input Data: Always validate and sanitize user input data, whether for websites or internal web pages, if it will be used in HTML output.

  • Securing Content with Policy: Utilizing a content security policy (CSP) is often seen as the best practice, as it limits what a website can do while restricting access from certain activities, lowering the risk for cross-site scripting attacks (XSS). CSP can prevent completely blocking an XSS attack or, at the very least, reduce it significantly.

  • Code Scanners: Employing third-party software that scans code for vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting can significantly decrease your chances of an XSS attack.

Practice 8: Deep Linking

Deep linking is a method for transmitting data directly into an application from external sources. A deep link looks similar to the app://, with any text after the "." is used internally by your app scheme for processing this request.

Deep links should generally be avoided due to no central registry for URL schemes; one should avoid sending sensitive data through them.

Security for deep links lies with Universal links - standard web links that point directly to both pages and content within them simultaneously. Establishing a universal login interface and validating any received login token helps prevent hijacking and malicious login token replaying attempts.

Practice 9: Secure API endpoints

React API has its advantages and disadvantages: the connection is only permitted between your app and other services, potentially exposing it to XSS attacks and SQL injection.

As one effective means of mitigating this vulnerability, one effective and impactful technique for mitigating API vulnerabilities is validating all API functions using their respective API schemes. Schema validation and SSL encryption should also be regularly scheduled to protect API's.

Practice 10: Detect Jailbroken and Rooted Phones

Jailbroken and rooted phones can be considered insecure, as root administrators grant users permission to gain access to sensitive data OS security features, spoof data, analyze algorithms, and gain entry to secured storage.

Prior to any critical action on a device, it is best practice to check its status of being jailbroken or rooted. Jailmonkey allows React Native applications to detect root or jailbreak statuses of machines.

Conclusion

Mobile app security is an integral component of app development. As people rely increasingly on them for all sorts of tasks, from communication to financial transactions, their security has become the subject of potentially malicious cyber threats.

Data leakage, unprotected Wi-Fi connections, insecure storage space, inadequate cryptography, and poor session handling are among the many security threats to mobile apps that should be recognized to design effective countermeasures to avoid them. By allocating enough time and resources towards properly protecting your mobile app against cyber-attacks, prioritizing security can greatly enhance user engagement while building its resilience against future cyber-attacks, ultimately leading to success on digital marketplaces.

Above, we have examined numerous approaches for securing React Native applications. To ensure these safeguards, it's advisable to hire app developers with experience creating error-free and scalable mobile apps that work flawlessly for you.

Years of development experience enable us to understand the complexities of mobile app security services and develop solutions tailored specifically to address various cybersecurity issues. Reach out to us now, so we can discuss your requirements!

Author

Assim Gupta

Saurabh Sharma linkedin-icon-squre

VP of Engineering

VP of Engineering at Closeloop, a seasoned technology guru and a rational individual, who we call the captain of the Closeloop team. He writes about technology, software tools, trends, and everything in between. He is brilliant at the coding game and a go-to person for software strategy and development. He is proactive, analytical, and responsible. Besides accomplishing his duties, you can find him conversing with people, sharing ideas, and solving puzzles.

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