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Mobile Security: 6 Ways to Protect Mobile Devices

July 26, 2023
Vitaly Unic

What Is Mobile Security? 

Mobile security is a broad term that encompasses all the measures and technologies used to safeguard both personal and business information stored on and transmitted from our mobile devices.

Mobile security can be broken down into three key areas: 

  • Physical security: Protecting the device itself from theft or damage. 
  • Software security: Protecting the data on the device, often through the use of password protection and encryption. 
  • Network security: Safeguarding data as it is transmitted to and from the device, usually through secure network protocols and firewalls.

Mobile security is critical for both organizations and end users. With so much personal and sensitive data stored on our devices – from our banking details to our emails – it’s crucial that we take steps to protect it. And as the number of mobile devices continues to soar, so too does the risk of mobile security threats.

This is part of a series of articles about web application security

In this article:

Common Mobile Security Threats 

Malware and Spyware

Malware is malicious software designed to cause harm to a device or network, while spyware is software that secretly monitors and gathers information.

Malware can take many forms, including viruses, worms, and ransomware. It can be downloaded unknowingly from untrustworthy apps or websites, or delivered via malicious email attachments. Once on your device, malware can steal personal information, damage software, and even take control of your device.

Spyware, on the other hand, is typically installed without the user’s knowledge and is used to track and record activity. This can include keystrokes, browsing history, and even phone calls and text messages. The information collected can then be used for everything from identity theft to corporate espionage.

Phishing and Social Engineering

Phishing and social engineering are another common threat to mobile security. These tactics involve tricking individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

Phishing typically involves deceptive emails or messages that appear to be from a trustworthy source, such as your bank or a popular website. These messages often contain a link to a fake website where you are asked to input your personal information.

Social engineering involves manipulating individuals into performing actions or divulging confidential information. This might involve a phone call from someone claiming to be from your bank, a text message from a ‘friend’ asking for a password, or even a stranger asking to borrow your phone to make a call.

Related content: Read our guide to web application security testing.

Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks

Unsecured Wi-Fi networks are another significant threat to mobile security. When you connect to a public Wi-Fi network – at a coffee shop, for example – you potentially expose your device to anyone else on that network.

Without proper security measures in place, an attacker on the same network can intercept your data, including passwords and credit card numbers. They may also be able to access your device directly, giving them the ability to view and even alter your data.

Physical Theft or Loss of Device

The physical theft or loss of a device is something many of us don’t think about until it’s too late. Yet it represents one of the most significant threats to mobile security.

If your device falls into the wrong hands, everything on it – from your contacts to your photos to your banking information – is at risk. Furthermore, if your device is not properly secured, an attacker may be able to gain access to your online accounts, or even your personal or business network.

Learn more in our detailed guide to mobile security threats (coming soon)

6 Ways to Improve Mobile Security 

Here are several techniques that can help protect mobile devices and the data they hold from potential security threats.

1. Encryption

Encryption forms the backbone of mobile security. It involves converting data into an unreadable format, which can only be converted back to its original form with the correct decryption key. With encryption, even if an unauthorized person gets a hold of your data, it would be of no value to them due to its unreadable nature.

There are different types of encryption, including data-at-rest encryption and data-in-transit encryption. Data-at-rest encryption protects your stored data on a mobile device. On the other hand, data-in-transit encryption safeguards your data while it is being transferred over networks. Both are equally important and help maintain the integrity and confidentiality of your data.

2. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security measure that requires two types of identification before allowing access to your data. The first factor is usually something you know, like a password or a pin. The second factor could be something you have, such as a mobile device or a smart card, or something you are – a biometric feature like a fingerprint or face recognition.

2FA provides an extra layer of security, making it harder for potential intruders to gain access to your data. Even if someone cracks your password, they would still need the second factor to access your data.

3. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are another important mobile security technology. A VPN creates a secure, encrypted tunnel between your device and the server, ensuring that all data passing through this tunnel is private and secure from potential eavesdroppers.

VPNs are particularly useful when using public Wi-Fi, which is known to be insecure and a breeding ground for cybercriminals. With a VPN, you can safely use public Wi-Fi without worrying about your data being intercepted.

4. Biometric Security Features

Biometric security features have become a standard part of mobile security. They use unique physical or behavioral characteristics, such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or voice recognition, to authenticate users.

Biometric features offer a higher level of security compared to traditional passwords or pins. They are unique to each individual and can’t be easily replicated, making them a robust security measure.

However, biometric features are not foolproof. They can be potentially tricked with fake fingerprints or photos. Therefore, it’s recommended to use them in conjunction with other security measures like encryption or 2FA.

5. Mobile Device Management (MDM)

Mobile Device Management (MDM) is a technology that allows IT administrators to control, secure and enforce policies on mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

MDM is particularly useful in an enterprise setting, where employees use their mobile devices to access sensitive business data. With MDM, IT administrators can remotely wipe data from lost or stolen devices, enforce strong passwords, and manage app permissions.

6. Secure Coding Practices for Mobile Applications

Mobile applications are a potential entry point for many security threats. Hence, it’s essential to follow secure coding practices while developing these applications.

Secure coding involves writing code that is free from vulnerabilities and can withstand potential attacks. It includes practices like input validation, error handling, and secure session management.

While secure coding can significantly reduce the risk of security threats, it’s equally important to conduct regular security testing and patching to uncover and fix any potential vulnerabilities.

Implementing Mobile Security in the Enterprise: Tips and Best Practices 

Implementing mobile security in an enterprise setting requires a strategic approach. Here are a few important best practices:

Use Built-In Security Features on Devices

Most modern mobile devices come with built-in security features. These features include encryption, biometric authentication, secure boot, and more.

Using these built-in security features is a simple and effective way to enhance mobile security. However, these features are often not enabled by default, and users need to manually activate them. Solutions like MDM can help automatically enforce security features on user devices.

Secure Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are common attack vectors for cybercriminals. Hence, it’s essential to secure them.

For Wi-Fi, use VPNs when connecting to public networks. For Bluetooth, turn it off when not in use and only pair with known devices. Remember, an open Bluetooth connection is an open invitation to hackers.

Install Reliable Security Software

Security software acts as the first line of defense against potential threats. It includes antivirus, anti-malware, and firewall applications.

Choose reliable security software from a trusted provider. Regularly update the software to ensure it can protect against the latest threats.

Data Backup

Regularly backing up data is a fundamental practice in mobile security. It ensures that even in the event of a data loss, you can quickly restore your data.

Use automatic backup features available on most mobile devices. Store backups in a secure location, either locally or on a cloud service.

Regular Updates

Regular updates are crucial for maintaining mobile security. Updates often include security patches that fix vulnerabilities and enhance the overall security of the device.

Enable automatic updates on all devices to ensure you always have the latest security patches.

Security Testing for Mobile Applications

Security testing is a vital aspect of mobile security, ensuring that applications are free from vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers. Several automated tools can help verify the security of mobile applications:

  • Software Composition Analysis (SCA) reviews open-source components in the app to identify known vulnerabilities.
  • Static Application Security Testing (SAST) inspects the application’s source code to pinpoint potential security issues. This is a proactive measure taken to prevent vulnerabilities in the early stages of development.
  • Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tests the application in its running state, detecting issues that only arise during operation.
  • Penetration testing mimics real-world hacking attempts to identify possible security flaws within the application.

Regular security testing should be integrated into the app’s development lifecycle, with vulnerabilities patched immediately and re-tested post-patching to ensure the fixes are effective. This continuous testing enhances the security of the application, fostering user trust and protecting enterprise reputation.

Learn more in our detailed guide to security testing tools 

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