What to Know About Mobile Application Authentication

What to Know About Mobile Application AuthenticationThe need to develop secure mobile applications is more important than ever as mobile devices are widely used. To build safe and secure apps that shield data from unauthorized access, mobile app authentication is crucial.


Organizations can make sure their apps are secure even when they are used outside the data center or cloud environment by properly implementing various levels of security in the device, backend and communication channel.


Mobile devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones that can function as desktop PCs are the way of the future for communication. They are perfect for use from any location with an internet connection due to their size, operating systems, applications and computing power.


Additionally, every piece of hardware that has been upgraded with this software and functionality turns into a mobile computing device with the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and operating systems like Chrome OS, macOS and Windows 10.


What Is Mobile Security?

Mobile security refers to the steps taken to safeguard data on mobile devices and stop malicious software from stealing and using such data. This includes measures such as device encryption, antivirus defense, app access authentication mechanisms and secure communication channels.


It’s important to remember that mobile security is not just about safeguarding data stored on a device, but it also involves preventing hostile parties from accessing critical information or resources.


Importance of Mobile App Authentication

While developing mobile apps, it’s vital to have a robust authentication process that verifies whether users are who they claim to be. You can do this by using passwords, biometrics or two-factor authentication. This confirms that the user has permission to utilize specific data or resources and stops unauthorized individuals from accessing private information.


The risk of unauthorized users accessing an organization’s data can be reduced with properly configured mobile app authentication. This is particularly true for apps that store and send sensitive data, such as account numbers or private documents.


Authentication vs. Authorization

To protect systems and data, administrators employ authentication and authorization as two essential information security procedures. A user’s or service’s identity is confirmed through authentication and their access privileges are established through authorization.


They determine a system’s security when taken together. Without adequately configured authentication and authorization, a technique cannot be considered secure.


User authentication is the process through which users demonstrate that they are authorized app users. App authentication describes the process the app uses to authenticate with the backend.


Only a small portion of the authentication procedure is visible to users specifically, whenever they are prompted to enter some data (such as a username, PIN, password or OTP) or carry out a biometric verification (such as a fingerprint or face ID). It can be tricky to choose the best user authentication and app authentication method for your mobile app.


You often start from what you are most familiar with when formulating best practices and strategies. You need to remember that device authentication, wherein a device fingerprint is sent to the server, is available to all apps running on your user’s smartphone and is easy to manipulate.


Issues and Best Practices for Mobile App Authentication

1. Implementing Standard Web Authentication

Incorporating the typical username-password website authentication sequence into the mobile app is perhaps one of the least effective approaches. It can be difficult to enter a (complicated) password on a smartphone.


The username-password should be kept in the app or the protected storage of the mobile OS as a temporary solution due to the user friction the above technique will generate. The mobile app must, however, have access to the password to authenticate at the backend.


As there is a possibility that credentials on a mobile device could be stolen, tokens are used to reduce this danger. A user can authenticate their identity without entering login credentials by using authentication tokens, which are produced by an authentication provider. Once the user finishes browsing and logs out of the service, this token expires.


2. Incorporating Old Authentication Methods

Using a straightforward yes/no biometric question is an undesirable thing to do with biometrics for security concerns. Depending on whether the biometric authentication was successful, the mobile device responds to the app with yes or no.


This is entirely futile because anyone with the ability to change the value, for instance, by patching the app code or hooking on the system calls, can completely bypass the security check. To avoid this scenario, an OTP can be generated and transferred automatically without any user input using protocols like OCRA.


The OATH challenge-response authentication algorithm (OCRA), is the most reliable and the safest multi-factor authentication algorithm. It enables the use of a challenge input in addition to the secret key (seed) and a counter or time for the creation of a one-time passcode.


The primary advantage of using OCRA is that they compute an OTP using a cryptographic key that is kept secret rather than relying on giving a plaintext password or token to a server for authentication. The end-user can be sure of the server’s legitimacy and this confidence in the validity of the server considerably increases security.


3. Utilizing All Available Device Features While Providing Logical Alternatives

Almost all smartphones come equipped with a secure component that can store cryptographic keys safely. The secure element will only let you use the key for specific activities, such as adding a digital signature and won’t permit reading the key. These keys can be unlocked in a variety of ways, that includes, always-on, by using the screen lock or by utilizing the device’s biometric sensors.


In this scenario, a verification-without-disclosure method, such as nextAuth’s True 2FA technology, in which the server verifies the PIN without ever seeing it, is the approach that is required. The 2FA or the two-factor authentication process requires the user to authenticate their identity in two different methods before being given access to the system.


Users are required to provide a one-time token that is dynamically generated and supplied in a way that only they can access.


Some additional practices for mobile app authentication are:


  • Do not validate biometrics or user secrets directly on a mobile device.
  • Utilize the integrated secure element’s capabilities to the maximum.
  • Depending on the application’s security needs, request user consent as necessary.
  • Use electronic signatures and never rely on passwords provided to the server in plaintext for validation.
  • Carefully manage app sessions and user interaction requirements and connect user and app authentication.


Organizations and individuals use mobile devices over desktop computers because they are more accessible and portable. Additionally, due to the widespread use of wireless internet connections, all types of mobile devices are more susceptible to data breaches and fraud. Using multi-factor authentication can help stop unauthorized access and password-guessing attacks.


The risk of unauthorized access is drastically decreased when password-based authentication is combined with a client certificate, device ID or one-time password. To stop fraud, you can also add location and time-based limits.

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