Messenger apps are one of the most convenient ways for people to eliminate time zone and distance barriers and connecting with each other freely. They change the way we approach both business and personal communication. Although the market doesn’t lack big players – such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Viber – there’s always room for improvement and innovation a PHP developer for hire can use. 

Developing a messenger app is a lucrative niche for software developers. Whether you want to target a new audience or offer a unique range of services, appealing to people by offering a convenient messaging experience is a reasonable move. 

Technology Stack of Messenger Apps

Before you dive into the development process, figure out which programming languages, frameworks, and technologies are most relevant. Here is the technology stack an outsource web development company should use to develop a standard chat tool. 

  • Programming languages: PHP and Java, Erlang;
  • APIs: REST, Real-time;
  • Protocols – SIP for making VoIP calls, XMPP – extensible messaging and presence protocol;
  • Hosting: Facebook Data Center, AWS
  • Frameworks: Bootstrap;
  • Database management tools: SQL, Mnesia. 

Messaging Apps Security Challenges

Despite promoting end-to-end encryption and military-level security, most messengers are not fully impenetrable. In fact, apps developers should acknowledge that implementing end-to-end encryption is not enough to fully protect users from data leaks and security threats. 

Here are the main messaging app security challenges tech teams have to deal with:

1. Spreading worms

Messengers are a common way to infect devices with worms and malware. There are several ways to infect messengers with malware and spyware:

  • Using instant messaging API. The infrastructure of an API is robust enough to create a favorable environment for planting worms. API-infected malware spreads easily and is challenging to notice – a malware might be transferred to a device anytime users exchange texts or files. 
  • Using Windows APIs to enumerate messages without a user’s consent. Essentially, a virus will create an application capable of running a sequence of events with no human supervision – be it writing a text or sending a file to another application user. 
  • Sending infected URLs. Another way to infect a large number of people with malware is by sending them infected links. Once a message clicks on the link, the system is infected with malware and can be manipulated by it. 

2. Modifying and patching files

Changing or replacing DLL files is another common way to penetrate the security of messenger apps. There are two major DLL types hackers usually use – messaging- and operating-system-specific ones. 

W32.AimVen.Worm is a common worm Windows users are injected with. Its objective is to modify the DLL file responsible for sending texts and attachments. 

3. Information hijacking

There are multiple ways to steal someone’s personal data taking advantage of instant messaging protocols. A hacker can, for instance, hijack a messaging session, sniffle network traffic, commit password theft, impersonate users, or use data proxying to run attacks. 

Here are the most common information-hijacking-related attacks:

  • Data export attacks;
  • Cookie session attacks;
  • Man-in-the-middle intrusions. 

4. Password theft

For a higher level of protection, most messengers store passwords in their obfuscated forms in a separate registry. However some messengers use straightforward and easily revertible obfuscation algorithms – AIM, for instance, obfuscates messages simply by translating character byte nibbles. 

Stealing passwords from network traffic is another common way to conduct password theft. It will take hackers no more than 60 hours to recover a simple password.

5. Data encryption exploits

Although most messengers claim to not have access to messages, the backup version of all message data can be recovered and accessed. Message data vulnerabilities were repeatedly pointed out for WhatsApp – Google Drive backup texts were not encrypted. Encryption exploits were among Facebook messenger security issues as well. 

Data encryption also fails to protect messengers from hashing and low encryption algorithm resilience. iOS messenger apps are usually the first ones to be targeted by data encryption security threats.

Top Messenger App Security Tips For Software Developers

Security compliance is essential for offering messenger app users a safe way to connect with each other. Also, taken data protection regulations into account, failing to comply with security regulations might result in high reputational and financial losses. 

Here are some tips that will help a dedicated php developer  ensure stellar security of their messenger projects:

Tip #1. Ensuring secure data storage

Encryption is one of the most common and safest ways to protect messenger data from third-party attacks. Although implementing AES-256 encryption requires a high level of tech skill, there are additional tools for a messenger development kit that help complete the task:

  • OpenSSL protocol for encrypting and decrypting 64-bit data;
  • Encryption frameworks: CoreData, RealmiOS;
  • SQLite for secure database storage. 

Tip #2. Secure client-server-side communication

Ensuring a safe interaction between the server and the client is a mandatory requirement set by most data security regulations, such as FFIEC or HIPAA. The easiest way to ensure client-server-side communication protection is by setting up TLS/SSL protocols.  Make sure to attach CA certificates to SSL protocols as well. 

Tip #3. Implementing session-level security

This way, it’s easier for a PHP web developer to keep track of encryption keys and ensure every text is protected to the highest extent. Essentially SLS implies generating a unique key for every in-app session that is accessible only by the reader and the recipient. 

Tip #4. Avoid using unauthorized APIs

Keep in mind that APIs can grant third parties tremendous privileges – that’s why you wouldn’t want for hackers to penetrate into the system via a poorly-protected API. Relying on APIs with central authorization ensures that no third party will be able to take advantage of authorization information caches and other operations.

Tip #5. Run extensive security testing

Daily monitoring is a low-commitment way to ensure the safety of a messenger application. Make checking for new security updates and patches into a habit- this way, you reduce the system’s vulnerability to security exploits. Also, running penetration testing and making the most out of emulators is an efficient security testing practice. 

Conclusion

Messengers have become a universal sharing tool – here, we express our thoughts, exchange all kinds of attachments, as well as sensitive data. Needless to say, high-level data protection is essential for chat apps. 

By implementing data encryption, using session-based messenger security practices, ensuring safe communication between the server and the client, using APIs responsibly, and running continuous security testing, development teams ensure immunity to most security threats and exploits.

Anastasia Stefanuk

Anastasia Stefanuk is a passionate writer and Information Technology enthusiast. She works as a Content Manager at Mobilunity, a provider of dedicated development teams around the globe. Anastasia keeps abreast of the latest news in all areas of technology, at the same time sharing her experience online to help tech startups and companies to be up-to-date.

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