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Report: Majority of mHealth Apps Contain Critical Security Vulnerabilities

January 13, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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While most mobile health (mHealth) app users and executives believe that their apps are at least adequately secure, many of the health apps tested that were approved by FDA or the UK National Health Service (NHS) were actually found to be vulnerable, according to a report from Bethesda, Md.-based IT security vendor Arxan Technologies.

 A combined 84 percent of mobile app users and mobile app executives believe that their mobile health and finance apps are "adequately secure," and 63 percent believe that app providers are doing "everything they can" to protect their mobile health and finance apps. However, according to the report, the 5thAnnual State of Application Security Report, the majority of mobile health and finance apps contain critical security vulnerabilities.

The new research is based on the analysis of 126 popular mobile health and finance apps from the U.S., UK, Germany, and Japan, as well as a study examining security perspectives of consumers and app security professionals.

Arxan found that 90 percent of the mobile health and finance apps tested had at least two of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Mobile Top 10 Risks. More than 80 percent of the health apps tested that were approved by the FDA or the NHS were also found to have at least two of the OWASP Mobile Top 10 Risks. The OWASP Mobile Security Project is a centralized resource intended to give developers and security teams the resources they need to build and maintain secure mobile applications. Through the project, its goal is to classify mobile security risks and provide developmental controls to reduce their impact or likelihood of exploitation.

What’s more, the security and safety risks are real and significant—98 percent of the mobile apps tested lacked binary protection, as this was the most prevalent security vulnerability identified. Also, 83 percent 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, according to the report.

According to the report, most consumers would change providers if they knew their apps were not secure. Eighty percent of mobile app users would change providers if they knew the apps they were using were not secure, while 82 percent would change providers if they knew alternative apps offered by similar service providers were more secure, according to the report.

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