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Apr 18, 2011

Security Questions Before Building Mobile Apps

The recent CSO Article, "8 security questions to ask before building mobile applications" got me to thinking.

The competing needs of users and security are very clear when building enterprise mobile apps to run on devices such as smart phones and tablets.

We need to make sure employees "eat the dog food" by presenting a “user friendly” face to Enterprise Apps. But how can a developer do this, while ensuring that user access is authenticated, that data is protected, and access is shut down when an employee leaves the organization?

Make Sure Users can Find and Use the Apps

Here are tips on making it easy for the users.

  • Make sure apps are displayed to users from an “App Store” like environment installed and run just like consumer apps.
  • Make it easy for users to install multiple apps from the company at the same time.
  • Provide a “starter kit” of corporate apps when someone joins a company. 
  • Make the apps fun to use and “consumer like” so folks will want to use them.

The point is, if you don’t make it easy for users to find and use corporate apps, and want to use them on a daily basis, you won’t get your ROI. If you make it too Draconian to use the apps, you’ll lose the value leveraging shared (individual-liable) devices.

OK - But What About Security?

  • Design apps to allow elements of a “Sandbox” — password authentication, encrypted transport, but only when required. For example, access to the “executive dashboard” would require authentication and encryption, but the product catalog could just open up based on basic authorization (i.e., if the user is still part of the organization).
  • Provide de-provisioning of apps when someone leaves the organization or moves groups. 
  • Do not rely on “Device Wipe” as your only solution. Incorporate the option to “brick” or remove the corporate apps — make them unusable and lock up the data.

Now that users are increasingly bringing their own devices, any enterprise apps and data to be removed must be done in a surgical manner, without messing with the user’s personal data and apps. Systems like EASE that provide app security management will include a developer SDK that can help with core functions like authentication, authorization, and version checking.


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