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Mobile App Security Based on MASVS: A Comprehensive Guide

Mobile apps have become essential to our daily lives, serving many functions, from communication to entertainment and productivity.

However, this widespread usage has also made them a major target for cyberattacks. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance for iOS and Android app programmers alike to prioritize app security to protect user data and maintain customer trust.

One powerful framework for improving mobile app security is the Mobile Application Security Verification Standard (MASVS).

In this guide, we will explore what MASVS is, learn its fundamentals, and find out how to implement it in mobile app development. We will also discuss key methods to improve mobile app security using MASVS.

What Is MASVS?

MASVS, which stands for Mobile Application Security Verification Standard, is a framework created by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). The OWASP mobile security provides guidelines for mobile app developers and security experts to build, test, and verify the security of mobile applications.

MASVS Fundamentals: Understanding Levels and Objectives

The OWASP security requirements suggest to divide the MASVS framework into three security levels, each with its set of objectives:

MASVS Fundamentals: Understanding Levels and Objectives

Standard Security (MASVS-L1)

MASVS-L1 focuses on basic security requirements that all mobile apps should meet. It includes security controls such as data storage protection, communication security, and authentication mechanisms.

Let’s delve deeper into these aspects:

  • Data Storage Protection: MASVS-L1 recommends encrypting sensitive data, such as login credentials or personal information, with the help of strong encryption algorithms. Also, developers should use access controls to guarantee that only authorized users can get this data.
  • Communication Security: To thwart hackers, MASVS-L1 recommends secure communication protocols like HTTPS. Adding certificate pinning boosts security by making sure the app only communicates to trusted servers.
  • Authentication Mechanisms: Verifying user identities is a core security principle. Therefore, MASVS-L1 promotes strong authentication methods like robust password policies, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and biometrics.

Defense-in-Depth (MASVS-L2)

MASVS-L2 builds on MASVS-L1’s basic security with more advanced controls. These controls are designed to protect against more sophisticated attacks, such as tampering, reverse engineering, and code analysis.

Here’s a closer look at the objectives of MASVS-L2:

  • Code Hardening: To deter attackers from reverse-engineering your app, employ code obfuscation techniques. These techniques make it challenging for malicious agents to understand the app’s source code and discover vulnerabilities.
  • Tamper Detection and Response: Implement mechanisms to find out if the app’s code or data has been tampered with. If tampering is detected, the app should respond by taking appropriate actions, such as notifying the user or shutting down.
  • Secure APIs and Data Transmission: Make sure your app’s APIs are safe and protect the data you share with external services. This might mean using API security measures, like authentication and authorization, and encrypting data sent to and received from the server.

App-Specific Security (MASVS-R)

The “R” in MASVS-R stands for Resiliency. This level addresses the specific security needs of high-risk applications, such as mobile banking or healthcare apps. It focuses on protecting against advanced threats and attacks that target the app’s features.

Some main goals of MASVS-R include:

  • Advanced Threat Modeling: Perform thorough threat modeling to uncover potential risks and vulnerabilities unique to your app’s domain. This means thinking about scenarios that the standard security levels might not address.
  • Enhanced Secure Coding: Urge developers to stick to the strictest secure coding practices. This includes regular code reviews, penetration testing, and automated scanning tools for vulnerabilities early in the development process.

Implementing MASVS in Mobile App Development

Integrating MASVS into your mobile app development project is important for improving security. Here’s how you can do it:

Identify App Classification

Whether you’re creating an iPhone app or an Android app, decide on the right MASVS level for it based on how sensitive it is and the risks it might encounter. Different apps need different security levels. For instance, a banking app needs higher security (MASVS-R) than a basic weather forecast app (MASVS-L1).

Integrate Security Early

Implement security measures from the very beginning of development. This includes:

  • Secure Coding Practices