The demand for iOS applications has increased, with developers releasing different applications that serve the same purpose. It has pushed users to find other ways to find which applications to use daily. When they want to use a particular application for a specific task, they look at all factors and narrow them down to security.
If you have an iOS application but did not work on the security aspects, there are higher chances of losing more users as no one will risk losing their sensitive data to cyber criminals. It’s the work of app developers to follow different security guidelines and use some of Apple’s features, making iOS applications more secure than other iOS applications. They must set up frameworks they follow every time they work on a new application.
The guide will discuss other features and practices developers can follow to ensure they have secure iOS applications. You will discover how to manage that and which methods work better.
10 Features that Makes Applications More Secure Than Others
There are several features that developers can take advantage of when they want to have secure applications. The features are as follows:
1. Authentication and Authorization
Developers can use different ways of authentication and authorization to keep their applications safe. Authentication ensures that only the authorized user can access the application using their password, username, OTP, or the set method, while authorization controls which resources and actions the user can take.
Different authentication protocols exist, and choosing the wrong option can affect your application security. One of the common types of authentication is single sign-on (SSO), where users can access different websites or applications without proving their identity again. It uses tokens for identification.
Some app developers use Kerberos to handle their SSO tasks. It doesn’t work well with some applications, especially internet and cloud-based ones, as they will require one to set up a VPN if they don’t use their corporate network.
When using Kerberized servers, one must ensure that clock time has a maximum difference of 5 minutes. You can use services like Network Time Protocol to have the same time. It also requires both the Domain Name System and forward records to be the same. Failure to do so will get errors during the whole process.
Other common SSOs that developers can use on their applications include OAuth 2.0, Open ID Connect, and SAML 2.0, which works well on connections with HTTPS protection and encryption. Apple provides all developers with resources and support to ensure all their applications connect easily with the networks and connections without facing any challenges.
Some SSO protocols, like Active Directory Federation Services, rely on factors like browser cookies when they try to authenticate their clients. Most of the modern authentication methods combine the two protocols.
Recently, there have been many changes in authentication processes due to technological changes. Some of the new ways developers can make iOS applications more secure than others using authentication are as follows:
i) Two-Factor Authentication
Developers restrict unauthorized access to your application. Even after correctly inputting your username, email, and password, it still asks for extra information to confirm your identity.
Developers can use OTP send through SMS and emails, fingerprint, and face recognition. You can use third-party APIs but must ensure they are safe and well-protected from any cyber threats.
ii) Face ID and Touch ID
Apple allows developers to use biometrics in their applications to prove identity. Even if someone has your username and password and fails to correct biometrics, they won’t access your application data. Developers can choose which one works well for their application and won’t affect the user experience.
For authorization, use role-based access control (RBAC) to set up different permissions and privileges for those with access to specific user data levels. It will limit anyone’s access to sensitive data, which can lead to data loss and other cyber security risks.
Failing to use proper authentication and authorization methods will put you at risk of cyber threats that might lead to data loss, identity theft, finance losses, business closing, fines by regulatory bodies, and reduced privacy.
2. Data Protection APIs
When developing applications, you deal with several types of sensitive data from passwords, tokens, etc. iOs provide different ways you can store this data safely apart from using the local storage.
iOs allow developers to store sensitive data on hardware supported by most devices, all of which use 256-bit AES encryption. There are several data protection APIs that one can leverage. It enables you to have different sets of protection for each file.
There are four levels of protection:
- No protection at all. In this case, all the files are always accessible.
- Complete until after the first authentication. Once the user unlock their device, the files remain encrypted and become accessible until when the device locks down again.
- Complete unless open. All the files under the application remain encrypted, and the application can only open the files when the device is unlocked. Once you unlock the device, the application can access all the files, but the app can create new files, whether locked or not.
- The file will always be encrypted until the user unlocks the device, which becomes encrypted when they lock it.
All the data protection APIs are on Secure Enclave Processor (SEP), which uses cryptography to protect all the keys and data. A unique ID gets embedded in the Secure Enclave, and the data integrity remains even when the operating system gets compromised.
It uses keys (unique ID and passcode keys from the PBKDF2 algorithm to unlock all the keys associated with different devices. Every file on the iOs system has encryption with its key that contains all the file metadata. The metadata gets encrypted using file system keys and class keys that match the one that was selected during the file creation period.
App developers should avoid using the UserDeafult option, especially when dealing with sensitive data. Learning to work with different aspects of data protection API protects all your application files.
3. Implementing encryption
Apart from the keychain APIs that provide encryption to app data. Application developers must implement on their applications to protect sensitive data that is in transit from getting hacked. It decrypts all the information, ensuring neither the server nor Apple can get any clear information. The user usually reads the data, but there are different stories behind the scenes and the processes are automated.
Application developers use different data objects and methods to ensure they encrypt all the app files. After encryption, you must also restrict access to the encrypted files to ensure only the right users and applications can access your app.
When working on applications that run different functionalities like accessing location, ensure you provide different access levels to the data in the foreground. Apps that handle sensitive information like credit card information, personal data, health data, etc., require maximum encryption and protection.
4. Keychain API
Application developers must use keychain services to store all small data that belongs to the user. Many application users deal with different types of data, from passwords, credentials, and other relevant information that they sometimes find difficult to remember. Keychain saves them by keeping them safe from cybercriminals who may have different intentions.
Keychain API consists of different operations, i.e., SecItemDelete, SecItemUpdate, etc. It supports various types of data that the user might not need. The API encrypts the data and stores them well. Other common data Keychain stores include identities, certificates, and cryptographic keys.
Keychain is a good option compared to other storage options like NSUserDefaults, which leaves sensitive information exposed. It also allows you to select where your data is stored since you can sync them across all Apple devices when needed.
All the applications get access to the Keychain once the user unlocks their phone and gets locked when their devices get locked. An application can only access keychain data that belongs to it, not other applications. For some devices like MacOs, unlike iOs, users can create private keychains that users can manipulate and try to change the access utility.
Every keychain you create on MacOS devices will have its own login system with several accounts. Keychain use the same type of encryption used in file encryption where all the items added to the keychain get encoded using a binary plist and use 128-bit AES as encryption method.
For applications that get protected using TouchID, all the keychain security gets handled by a token, not a key. Your token is under the Secure Enclave, which came with ioS 9 with only 256-bit ECC signing. To store all your public keys, you must store them under a keychain since Enclave doesn’t support that.
One of the advantages of using a keychain is that even when you uninstall a particular application, all the data remains. Without a factory reset, and the device finds a new owner, the owner will have access to the old applications data. Keychain has better data persistence. Developers should ensure that their application’s data is persistence.
Users can test this by uninstalling and installing the application and seeing whether the data still exists. Developers can use different codes to ensure that when users change their device, the data wipes out to prevent unauthorized access from other parties. It’s easier for applications with the logout functionality where the data wipes out on logout. Using your application’s keychain as a developer enables you to store sensitive data quickly.
5. Using a digital signature
Code signing lets your users understand that your application is secure, comes from a known source, and no one else has tempered it. When using a signature, the recipient usually gets the public keys for decrypting the signature, which, upon decryption, it shows that the owner who gave you the key has the private key.
One can choose to work with keychain or use algorithms when getting private keys. The algorithm has two dimensions:
- Digest vs the message where you only use it when you have the data digest.
- Digital signature. It only applies to those who have elliptic curve keys instead of RSA.
Applications that run on iOS and iPadiOs must get the Apple code signing certificate to run. It’s compulsory for all applications and third-party apps to go through the same process to ensure trust, and apps from other sources don’t use unassigned certificates.
Developers can use two common ways to ensure their applications get the right sign. One common way is through the Apple Developer Program, while the other is through embedded frameworks where you can buy a code signing certificate from reliable providers.
Apple has put up different measures as follows to ensure all applications have a digital signing certificate:
- Validating the certificate. Apple requires all developers to join the Apple Developer Program, where Apple must prove your identity before issuing you a certificate. A developer can only submit their application to the app store when they verify their identity and certificate. If your application has bugs or any tracking code, you must remove them and submit it again.
- Signature validation. Apple uses team identifiers from the Apple certificate to validate all the libraries from the embedded extensions within the applications and ensures the processes link against launch time.
Xcode provides different frameworks and functions that one can use to sign their applications. It makes the whole process easier to implement.
6. Using Secure Protocols for Communication
App developers encounter different types of communication when they want their application to communicate with other applications and services outside the application. There are two common security measures that all app developers take to make iOS applications more secure than others. This are:
i)Application Transport Security
It is a networking feature introduced by Apple in the iOS 9.0 update, requiring all iOS devices to use HTTPS with secure TLS protocol when making any connection. If there is a case of a connection with HTTP or unsecured protocols, it gets blocked by Application Transport Security.
Apple can allow developers to configure this setting and lower their restrictions, impacting overall application security. All developers must ensure all their communications are through secure protocols like HTTPS. You can perform modifications to the info.plist file.
Apples checks all connections made over HTTPS to ensure the certificate is valid and secure. It prevents applications from facing common cyber-related attacks like man-in-middle attacks. This does not mean that your application is now free from attacks. But instead, it just lowers the chances.
Cybercriminals have ways to change the certificate details to show it’s valid, but in real sense, it’s malicious by altering the device settings and certificate details. If successful, they send communications between the clients and servers. To avoid such cases, its encouraged to perform SSL pinning.
SSL pinning is a method where an SSL certificate can only be considered valid when working on a particular website to ensure all communications go through the right channels. App developers practice pinning by modifying the app bundle by pinning all the SSL certificates. It ensures that the app can only check and communicate with the said list of certificates with the bundle.
Cloudkit is an API that works with macOS, ipadiOs, macOs,watchOs, and tvOs to store data and files that users can access anytime using its database and authentication. It supports real-time syncing, monitoring, and encryption; users can get up to 1PB of storage. It improves security by securing all the communications on the client side.
Cloud kit enables developers to organize their app’s data into silos which you can later differentiate the data using different zones and databases to help determine app data from others. It also has a console where you can view all your database schemas and data stored, view all your servers’ logs and containers, and analyze the performance of all your applications.
Some of the core features of Cloud Kitt include:
Automated processes. You can automate different processes using Cloud Kit, which supports automated syncing with various devices.
- Cloud kit promotes privacy. Developers can debug their applications without making the user’s data prone to attacks.
- It encrypts all the data in transit and in storage to protect it from cybercriminals.
8. Releasing Updates
Remember to update all your applications after a certain period to fix all bugs and vulnerabilities that may exist in your app after deployment. You can get the bugs or stay informed by going through the user’s complains and including the in your bug list.
You can also use different applications to get all the notifications that come from the application security side. It will enable you to work on the app’s real-time updates and release them in time. Fixing patches prevents cyber criminals from using them to attack your application and steal sensitive data. Developers that release updates make iOS applications more secure than other iOS applications, especially those that don’t release updates.
9. Apple Crypto kit
Apple announced a Crypto kit in 2019 to improve cryptography features in their applications. When implementing cryptographic services to your application, avoid doing it from scratch; instead, use the already proven libraries. There are several features that Cryptokit provides that make iOS applications more secure than other iOS applications, especially for developers who know how to utilize them fully. The features are as follows:
It enables individuals to ensure that their communication between different channels is safe. Crypto kit implements two types of encryption:
- Chachapoly encryption. It combines ChaCha encryption and the Poly1305 MAC.
- Advanced Encryption Standard. Mostly adopted by different United States governments.
ii) Hashing Algorithms
It’s a type of function that accepts an input of any size and outputs a fixed size (hash). The process is irreversible and if you use two different inputs in your function, i.e. W and Y, and they produce the same hash, X, W, AND Y become the same. There are three common hashing algorithms that Crypto Kit uses i.e. SHA256, SHA384, and SHA512.
iii) Proper authentication
Crypto kit use Hash Message Authentication Code (HMAC) to ensure that the person who claims to communicate with you is valid. It requires the user to create a random key which gets shared between the sender and receiver. They then send a message, generate an HMAC, and create an Instagram to ensure the HMAC is received and valid.
10. Penetration Testing
Before deployment, the app developer must look for a security expert and let them scan any existing vulnerabilities within the application if your team does not have one, you can hire from reputable sites like Hacker One. Penetration testing lets you find all the issues you might have missed during the testing and coding phases. It reduces the chances of having security breaches and other cyber threats.
You can also conduct regular updates after a certain period to find out if there are new issues. This will fix any new bugs within the app.
Application security is a very important aspect both to the users and developers. Developers must have policies that they follow during the development, deployment, and maintenance process. It will require a lot of time, skills, and methods to have a secure application. For a team to have iOS applications that are more secure than other iOS applications, they must do things that some teams or developers are not doing.
Both users and developers are now aware of all the security risks of having an insecure app. Apple supports developers by providing different libraries and applications to support and guide them. They also have rich documentation to follow when developing their application.
Having a secure iOS application is a long process, but the guide covered several features that you can use as a checklist when working on one.