Data Security: How To Know If An App Is Secure?

4 min read

    A hacked informatic computer system

    Does the manufacturer gain administrator or debugging access? Does the app comply with a security certification? Is it regularly updated? When it comes to data protection and security, they are important questions to ask when choosing an app.

    With so much personal information being shared online, it's important to take steps to ensure that your data is kept safe and secure. This is particularly meaningful when sensitive health-related data is generated and stored on your phone or in the cloud.

    As a health professional recommending apps for your patients, or as a security-minded user, it might be difficult to sort through all these technical considerations. This article will help you make sense of it all.

    Administrator and debugging access

    An important security measure for an app is that it cannot gain administrator access to the user's device. By providing this access, a user can have complete control over the app and the system it is running on.

    Similarly, debugging access allows a user to view and manipulate the code and the data in the app's memory. It allows the user to discover vulnerabilities in the app and launch attacks on the system.

    The user can perform a wide range of actions that can potentially compromise the security of the app and the underlying system. Here are a few examples in which those access could be a security threat:

    • Unauthorized access: gain unauthorized access to sensitive data within the app.

    • Data manipulation: modify or delete data within the app, leading to data loss, corruption, or manipulation.

    • Injection attacks: inject malicious code into the app, which can be executed to steal sensitive data or take control of the system.

    • Reverse engineering: reverse engineer the app's code to discover vulnerabilities or to create a modified version of the app with malicious functionality.

    To mitigate the security risks, manufacturers should remove the administrator and debugging access of the app. If they have access, they should limit it to only those who require it, enforce strong authentication and authorization controls, and monitor activity to detect and respond to unauthorized actions.

    Security certification

    When an app declares compliance with a security certification, it means that it has been independently verified by a third-party to meet certain security standards or comply with regulatory standards. This provides reassurance to users that the manufacturer is taking data protection and security seriously.

    There are different types of security certifications, here are the most common and what they involve:

    • ISO 27001: is an information security framework that covers various areas such as risk management, security policies, asset management, access control, and incident management.

    • ISO/IEC 27017: outlines best practices for cloud service providers (CSPs) to secure their infrastructure and services, and for cloud customers to securely use those services.

    • SOC 2: focuses on the security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of customer data that is stored in the cloud. It is often used by service organizations that provide cloud computing, data storage, or other IT services.

    • HITRUST: combines various regulations, frameworks, and standards such as HIPAA, HITECH, and ISO 27001, to provide a comprehensive security framework that addresses the unique needs of the healthcare industry.

    • MASVS: provides a set of requirements and guidelines for developing secure mobile applications, covering various areas such as authentication, data storage, network communication, and cryptography.

    • PCI DSS: is a set of security standards for the management of payment card information. It aims to ensure that sensitive information such as credit card numbers are securely stored and processed, and to protect against fraud.

    The process of gaining a security certification can take several months to complete, depending on the size and complexity of the organization. However, it can provide significant benefits in terms of improving information security, building trust with customers and partners, and demonstrating compliance with regulatory requirements.

    Regular update

    While regular updates may not guarantee the security of an app, failing to update an app can leave it vulnerable to security threats.

    Outdated apps often contain outdated code that can be exploited by hackers. By contrast, apps that are regularly updated are less likely to be compromised because they contain the latest security features and patches. It can also be a sign of a committed development team that is actively working to improve and secure the app.

    Manufacturers may release updates specifically to address security vulnerabilities, and failing to install these updates can leave the app and the user's data at risk.

    Security is key

    If you don't want to go through all the research to find out if an app is secured, you can always refer to the AppGuide library which does the work for you. Among other information, you have access to the security rating of health apps established by the TherAppX Review Guidance. This allows you to make an informed decision when downloading health apps and use them with peace of mind.

    All in all, data security is crucial in protecting sensitive information and ensuring privacy. By staying informed, you can effectively safeguard your data from potential threats and enjoy the benefits of technology without sacrificing your privacy and security.

    Your health care professional can help you choose

    Feeling confident is important. Get all the essential information about health apps by talking to your healthcare professional.

    AppGuide provides reliable information about mobile health apps that allows patients and healthcare professionals to make informed, shared decisions about using a health app to track health status or act on your priority health goals.

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