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Four out of five approved mhealth apps fail security tests

Steve Rogerson
January 19, 2016
 
More than 80 per cent of the mobile health apps approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) or the UK National Health Service (NHS) have at least two of the top ten security risks, according to tests by Arxan Technologies.
 
The research is based on the analysis of 126 popular mobile health and finance apps from the USA, UK, Germany and Japan, as well as a study examining security perspectives of consumers and app security professionals.
 
Maryland, USA, based Arxan discovered a wide disparity between consumer confidence in the level of security incorporated into mobile health and finance apps and the degree to which organisations address known application vulnerabilities. While most app users and app executives believe their apps to be secure, nearly all the apps Arxan assessed, including popular banking and payment apps and FDA-approved health apps, proved to be vulnerable to at least two of the top ten serious security risks.
 
A combined 84 per cent of mobile app users and mobile app executives believe that their mobile health and finance apps are “adequately secure”, and 63 per cent believe that app providers are doing “everything they can” to protect their mobile health and finance apps.
 
But 90 per cent of the mobile health and finance apps tested had at least two of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) mobile top ten risks. More than 80 per cent of the health apps tested that were approved by the FDA or NHS were also found to have at least two of the OWASP mobile top ten risks.
 
A massive 98 per cent of the mobile apps tested lacked binary protection – this was the most prevalent security vulnerability identified – and 83 per cent of the mobile apps had insufficient transport layer protection. Such vulnerabilities could result in application code tampering, reverse-engineering, privacy violations and data theft. In addition to sensitive data being taken, the vulnerabilities could lead to a health app being reprogrammed to deliver a lethal dose of medication, or a finance app to redirect the transfer of money.
 
Most consumers would change providers if they knew their apps were not secure; 80 per cent of mobile app users said they would change providers if they knew the apps they were using were not secure and 82 per cent would change providers if they knew alternative apps offered by similar service providers were more secure.
 
“Mobile apps are often used by organisations to help keep customers sticky, yet in the rush to bring new apps to market, organisations tend to overlook critical security measures that are proving crucial to consumer loyalty,” said Patrick Kehoe, CMO of Arxan Technologies. “Our research demonstrates that mobile app security is an important element in customer retention. Baking in robust mobile app security is not only a smart technology investment to keep the bad guys out, but also a smart business investment to help organisations differentiate from the competition and to achieve customer loyalty based on trust.”