【Info Security Interview】Keeping Apps Secure with appGuard - Digicentre Helps Businesses Capture Mobile Opportunities


October 21, 2016 was possibly the darkest day in the history of the Internet. On this particular day, Dyn, a well-known DNS provider, was hit with DNS query requests sent by up to 10 million IP addresses. The company’s servers were instantly overwhelmed and this in turn affected the normal operation of many popular websites such as Airbnb, Amazon and BBC. The post-incident investigation conducted by Dyn and an IT security company determined that while some of the traffic for that DDoS attack came from the Mirai zombie network, the overwhelming majority came from web cams produced by Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology Co., Ltd. in China. As the devices had very simple passwords that couldn’t be changed by the user, millions of web cams were taken over by hackers and frequently used as accomplices in DDoS attacks.

Digicentre President Paul Ding said that, while Internet-of-Things (IoT) has generated unbelievable business opportunities for different industries, poor security design in many devices has led to numerous serious information security incidents. Take DDoS attacks for example. Though this mode of attack has been known for more than a decade, the increasing number of connected devices means that new records for attack traffic are constantly being set every year, making it a recurrent nightmare for IT security staff. In other words, businesses should pay attention to the security of the software architecture before they start designing IoT devices or developing smart phone apps. Otherwise, they risk becoming sitting ducks for hackers and their hard-earned business reputation may be ruined.

App Security Problems Lead to Flood of IT Security Incidents

The security of smart phones has always been a sore point compared to other connected devices. Firstly, their operating systems are not based on the established Windows platform, so they can’t run most of the common anti-virus software on the market. The devices themselves also lack processing power so the installation of protective apps designed for mobile devices usually makes the smart phone run less smoothly. User reluctance and a lack of IT security awareness mean that most users are easily tricked by phishing messages sent through messaging software. When users click on malicious links or websites, they become exposed to hacker attacks.

Secondly, the Google Play platform doesn’t have a strict review process for apps. Many malicious programs are disguised as other apps. Hackers can then secretly take control of the phone once an unwary user installs, downloads or uses these apps. Hackers may not only steal their account details, but also turn them into zombie computers at certain times to take part in DDoS attacks.

Ding noted that the reason why the Android platform has become a hot bed of hacker attacks is due to its use of JAVA as the development language. JAVA is a semi-compiled language where the app is not stored as machine code after compiling. These means hackers can use reverse compilers to acquire the source code of popular apps. Apart from using this to find holes or vulnerabilities in the program, they can also implant malicious software into the app and re-list it on the Google platform. Hacking mobile devices then becomes very easy.

Examination of app vulnerabilities, however, revealed that while the JAVA language is a problem, in some cases, the problem is due to the rush by vendors to release a new version of their app in response to market requirements without taking the time analyze their security architecture. A lack of IT security awareness among most software developers is also one of the leading causes of vulnerable apps. The mobile games market, for example, is very popular right now. Apps have an average life span of just 1 month, which is obviously not enough time for vendors to re-certify the security of their apps. The appGuard service offered by Digicentre however provides a simple way to provide total protection.

Intermediate Heading: appGuard Protects Against Reverse Compiling of Apps

The appGuard service developed in-house by Digicentre offers anti-reverse engineering, anti-app tampering, blocking of debuggers, cheats and Trojans, and encrypted data storage. As it protects the app itself, there is no need for the developer to provide their source code. No R&D intervention is also necessary to protect the binary (APK) file itself. This approach does not just protect the app against hackers. It also means weaknesses in the code itself can’t be exploited.

Ding notes that many IT security vendors provide source code testing services for app developers aimed at improving the quality of software development. While this approach is a relatively sound white-bocx solution that solves vulnerabilities or holes in the app itself, it does nothing for the vulnerabilities in the Android system itself. The Digicentre appGuard compensates for the inherent weaknesses in the Android system. It can provide apps in every industry with customized protection against all kinds of hacker attacks targeted at holes in the Android platform. This is what sets appGuard service apart from source code testing services.

Before Digicentre provides its appGuard service, it conducts a risk assessment based on the customer’s requirements that developers can use as a reference when developing future versions. appGuard also takes a very short amount of time to secure an app and the process can be completed in around 30 minutes. Once the customer completes the certification testing, they can apply for listing on the Google Play platform right away. Project development is therefore completely not affected, allowing them to take advantage of fleeting opportunities while also reducing the risk of IT security incidents.