IBM: Half of developers do not invest in apps security

29 April 2015

50% of mobile app developers are allocating zero budget to the security of their built apps, research by IBM and the Ponemon Institute shows, and organisations on average spend a mere 5% of their budget on app security. As speed-to-market and user experience are prioritised over app security, a third of organisations never test their apps for security. The ones that do, test less than half of their apps.

IT giant IBM, together with the Ponemon Institute, recently released research into the state of mobile application security for which it surveyed over 400 large organisations operating in industries which work with highly sensitive data, such as in financial services, health and pharmaceutical, the public sector, entertainment and retail. The research reveals major security flaws in the ways which most organisations build and deploy mobile apps for their customers.

The organisations surveyed spend on average $34 million on mobile app development every year. Of this budget, only 5.5% ($1.87 million) is spent on securing these apps against security breaches and 50% of organisations do not allocate any budget towards app security. 

Budget spent on app security

With more than 1 billion personal data records compromised in 2014 and 11.6 million mobile devices affected by mobile malware at any given time, this lack of investment can pose serious threats to mobile app users. When asked about the lack of budget allocated to app security, 65% of organisations state that the security is put at risk because of customer demand or need, and 77% cite “rush to release” pressures as a primary reason why mobile apps contain vulnerable code.

As a result of this prioritising of end user experience and speed-to-market over end user security and privacy, 40% of organisations do not scan their mobile apps for security vulnerabilities and 33% never test the security of their apps, creating an excess of entry points for hackers to tap into business data via unsecured devices. The organisations that do test their apps, only 15% of them test their apps as frequently as needed to be effective, the rest does this infrequently and on average only tests less than half of the apps they build. 

Security of mobile apps tested

According to Caleb Barlow, Vice President of Mobile Management and Security at IBM, companies should to start thinking differently about security. “Building security into mobile apps is not top of mind for companies, giving hackers the opportunity to easily reverse engineer apps, jailbreak mobile devices and tap into confidential data. Industries need to think about security at the same level on which highly efficient, collaborative cyber criminals are planning attacks.” 

Related news
This is the second research on app security published by IBM in a short period of time. Just last month, the firm highlighted the vulnerability of dating apps and showed that 63% of dating apps are vulnerable to hackers as they have access to additional features on mobile devices.



Boards of top UK firms must do more on cyber-awareness

06 March 2019

A new report released by the UK Government has found that UK businesses need to do more to build awareness in their firms, if they are to fend off cyber-attackers. The study found that an all-time high of 72% of businesses now see cyber-threats as a top risk, but just less than half of UK boards do not have a comprehensive understanding of the critical assets at risk from cyber-attacks.

Digital technology has revolutionised modern business, with a rate of innovation present in many companies that arguably eclipses that of the industrial revolution. The huge opportunities presented by technology mean that many firms have rushed to digitalise their offerings; but while this means they are able to take advantage  of the latest trends, it has also opened innumerable doors for cyber-criminals looking to use technology to loot corporations from across the globe.

Illustrating the extent to which cyber-crime has boomed in the last decade, in the final quarter of 2018, a study commissioned by Bromium and presented by Dr. Michael McGuire at RSA found that the cyber-crime economy has grown to an estimated $1.5 trillion dollars annually. That is only a conservative estimate – but that conservative figure alone is so large that if it constituted a national GDP, instead of a collection of digital frauds, it would be the world’s 13th largest economy.

Amid this state of play, it is easy to see why cyber-security has become one of the key watchwords of any board room in the 21st century. The cyber-security consulting segment has boomed, with the world’s 10 largest operators in the segment bringing in more than $11 billion in related fees, as businesses tap external expertise to help find areas where they can improve their defences. As noted by a new UK Government report, the legacy of this spike in consulting activity is that almost all UK businesses now have a cyber-security strategy, with only 4% admitting otherwise. 

Cyber threats are increasingly seen as high risk in comparison to other risks that businesses face

This comes at the end of a sea-change in attitudes toward cyber-security over the last five years. According to the 2018 FTSE 350 Cyber Governance Health Check, in 2013, the largest minority of businesses felt cyber-threats represented a low operational risk, at 38%, compared to just 25% who saw it as a very high group risk. Now, the two opinions have seen a dramatic reversal, with only 6% seeing cyber-security as a low threat, compared to a huge 72% of businesses which see it as a very high risk. Considering the high profile hacks that occurred in the interim, this is perhaps not that surprising.

However, while cyber-awareness in general is at an all-time high, this is where the positive news ends. According to the study, while the vast majority of firms in the UK have a cyber-security plan in place, only 46% have a dedicated budget to enact that strategy. Should their financial positions change rapidly in the near future – something increasingly likely with the prospect of a No Deal Brexit still looming over the horizon – then that plan could fall by the wayside, with the funding shortfall exposing firms to even greater financial damage in the near future.

The study, released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in March 2019, was undertaken in partnership with Winning Moves and support from EY, KPMGPwC and Deloitte, working with their FTSE 350 clients to participate in the survey. The study also found that while most businesses have incident response plans, most are not testing them: 95% of FTSE 350 businesses have an incident response, but a mere 57% test their crisis incident response plans regularly. With companies facing the consistently evolving threat of cyber-attacks, that could leave major chinks in their armour undiscovered until it is too late.

Board understanding of business-critical assets

Similarly, many firms also seem oblivious to the threat posed by their wider supply chains, which if left unchecked, provide hackers with a blank cheque to access company data. A majority of boards do not recognise supply chain risks beyond the first tier, as 77% of FTSE 350 businesses told researchers they did not recognise the risks associated with businesses in the supply chain with whom they have no direct contact.

Meanwhile, almost half of UK boards do not understand the critical assets at risk from cyber-attacks. 54% of businesses in 2018 rated the board’s understanding of critical information, data assets and systems as comprehensive, while of that, only 12% said understanding was the best it could be. This compares to 43% of boards in 2017 and 32% in 2015/16 stating they had a clear understanding, suggesting that key progress is being made, but also that there is a great deal of room for improvement.

Commenting on the findings, Digital Minister Margot James said, “We know that companies are well aware of the risks, but more needs to be done by boards to make sure that they don’t fall victim to a cyber-attack. This report shows that we still have a long way to go but I am also encouraged to see that some improvements are being made. Cyber-security should never be an add-on for businesses and I would urge all executives to work with the National Cyber Security Centre and take up the government’s advice and training that’s available.”