3 essential security considerations for custom apps

Custom apps are becoming an essential component of the modern enterprise. It doesn't matter if you're a major corporation or a small local retailer, as chances are you need some sort of custom solution to best blend what you do with what your customer needs. In today's digital landscape, off-the-shelf solutions simply don't offer the flexibility and adaptability organizations need to keep up with the competition. As a result, companies are looking for ways to release custom apps quickly and gain a competitive edge through proprietary development.

There's just one problem, and it's a big one: Creating a custom app is a complex, time-consuming and resource-intensive process. For small- and mid-sized businesses, development is often not feasible in house. Many organizations are turning to low-code platforms and similar solutions in response to the technical demand associated with customization. However, quality and performance can vary substantially between platforms. The large-scale, complex low-code platforms built for large businesses may be able to offer true enterprise functionality with minimal code, but many of the basic systems priced for SMBs aren't useful for much more than simple, single-purpose apps.

"Companies are looking for ways to release custom apps quickly and gain a competitive edge."

The result is a situation in which many companies are sacrificing vital security functionality to take advantage of simple custom apps or consumer-focused solutions in the workplace. This decision can be disastrous from a data protection perspective. An alternative option is to work with a custom development specialist that also provides IT consulting services. These organizations can offer the unique mobile apps businesses need without putting an excessive burden on in-house IT teams. What's more, they can provide security expertise that stems from working with clients across a wide range of industries and varied regulatory climates.

While custom developers can be invaluable in empowering you to leverage secure, powerful apps, working with a third party isn't a cure-all. You need to understand what you're looking for in an app and how it should be protected. This recommendation doesn't mean having programming expertise or spending hours grilling your vendor on exactly what it's doing. Instead, it's important to assess core best practices and overarching industry challenges so you can more easily specify what you're looking for in a solution and collaborate with your custom development partner. With this in mind, here are three essential security considerations that come into play with custom apps.

Red lock overlaid on abstract binary code background.Don't neglect security issues when working with a third-party development specialist.

1. Firewall strategies
Applications are typically designed to reside within specific infrastructure architectures. Whether you're dealing with a legacy app that was meant to function in a traditional server environment or a custom mobile solution designed to be hosted in the cloud, the underlying configuration of the application has a variety of consequences on how you manage, maintain and secure the solution. If you want to customize a legacy app to support mobile functionality, for example, you'll have to deal with core programming protocols and code architectures that may not support modern firewalls or advanced security practices, such as multi-factor authentication.

According to a CSO report, many organizations find themselves faced with a difficult decision between using a legacy app and sacrificing security or modernizing their older systems to support robust data protection schemes. Next-generation firewalls help with some of these issues by providing security at the network level instead of on an app-by-app basis. This functionality can be ideal in simplifying the development burden that comes with leveraging modern firewall solutions, but what happens when you need a custom app and want to build security into the app itself?

The ability to program modern authentication and firewall protocols into an app can prove critical in simplifying security for mission-critical solutions. As you consider working with a third-party specialist on a custom app project, take the time to explore your security capabilities and goals alongside what the vendor can offer to ensure your firewall and authentication tactics can align for optimal functionality.

2. Update and patch tactics
Applications can be vulnerable in a variety of ways, but a Development Zone report explained that the actual code is often the most exploitable component of a solution. Writing secure code is critical in preventing hackers from gaining a foothold and stealing data, and maintaining a consistent patch and update cycle is essential.

This last point is particularly noteworthy when exploring custom development projects. Imagine you've partnered with a third-party specialist. That vendor has worked closely with you to:

  • Identify project specifications and define key features.
  • Align application functionality with your specific business process needs.
  • Pin down the optimal infrastructure environment for your app and help you find the right hosting partner.
  • Create the actual system and get it into production.

So far, so good. You have an app that was built based on your requirements and is live. However, a few weeks in you find out that a coding issue is leading to a potential vulnerability. What's more, the problem isn't the fault of the app itself, but instead due to an operating system update that changed how the app interacts with the rest of your systems. How will your vendor respond to the situation? Does it offer ongoing support and maintenance so that a patch can be made quickly and your systems are safe, or are you left on a waiting list and going by for weeks or even months with a security vulnerability? 

Update and patch processes are critical to the ongoing security of custom apps, and businesses must carefully assess what kind of support is available when working with third-party specialists.

Woman scanning her fingerprint on a smartphone.Mobile devices create new authentication options.

3. Mobile-specific authentication strategies
Smartphones and tablets have ushered in an era in which fingerprint scanners and high-resolution cameras are a de facto part of many devices. As such, businesses aiming to ramp up security

"Mobile-specific login tactics can go a long way in promoting security."

functionality can do so by building in authentication features that take full advantage of what mobile devices can offer.

Fingerprint scanners have been common on iPhones for years now, with iOS allowing for easy device unlocking with a simple scan. Similar capabilities are common among high-end Android devices. Apps that can support fingerprint scans can give users a greater degree of convenience while also providing protection that is generally better than passwords, which can easily be stolen, guessed or outright avoided by resetting accounts once an email address is compromised. 

Built-in cameras allow for facial or retina scanning. Both methods are relatively easy on the user and much more difficult to compromise than a fingerprint scan; you can lift and replicate a fingerprint with relative ease but can't so easily fool a retina scanner. However, retina and facial scans via smartphone or tablet cameras can be a bit finicky, with results varying based on lighting, any background activity in the video capture and similar issues. The result can be a slightly less convenient experience than a simple fingerprint scan.

Whether you want to go with biometrics or simply want a single sign-on ecosystem so users can leverage dual-factor authentication without excessive complexity, using mobile-specific login tactics can go a long way in promoting security. Working with a custom developer to identify what options make the most sense for your use case and work environment can be invaluable in adding vital layers of protection.

Taking security to another level
Ultimately, a custom app can be an opportunity to engage in highly specific security practices that are ideal for your situation as a business. You can cater the authentication process to user demands, align code and firewall management strategies with your internal capabilities and work with a third-party specialist to get exactly the system you need. At MC Services, we make this entire process simpler by partnering closely with our custom development clients, offering end-to-end services from pre-project consulting to post-release support.