Google/Apple. Requiring the Account Holder to do techie things is BAD SECURITY!

tl;dr – in the name of security, you encourage me to share passwords.

Photo by Jon Moore on Unsplash

Both the Apple App Store, and the Google Play store allow business accounts to have multiple users.

This means that my client (the app owner) can own their account, and they can let me (the developer) do what I need to to develop and publish apps.

This means we don’t have to share passwords, and the account holder can limit what I have access to. So, for example I might be able to update apps – but I can’t see their financial reports. This all makes lots of sense.

Unfortunately, both Apple and Google have technical actions where they require the account holder to perform them. Because the actions are pretty technical, if the account holder is a business owner rather than a techie – they probably don’t have the skills to perform them. I hit these both recently.

In both cases, they’re important security-sensitive actions. For Apple – it was creating Developer ID Certificates to let me upload a MacOS Catalyst app to the store. For Google, it was enabling API access to automate uploading new builds.

Both of these actions are absurdly technical for a non-tech person to complete. Follow the links if you want the gory details!*

This means that the only practical way to perform these necessary actions (if you’re not physically located in the same place) is for the account owner to share their password with me the developer. This is clearly terrible security practice – and exactly what the multi-user system is set up to avoid.

I completely understand that these are security-critical steps. It makes sense that the account holder should have some kind of approval when they happen. This could be an explicit post-action approval:

‘Rob has requested XXXX – this is a critical security issue. Do you want to approve this action’

Or it could be a time-limited user permission:

‘Grant Rob permission to do XXX for the next 24 hours’

The current system achieves the opposite of what it sets out to do. It sets out to keep security-critical actions safe, but what it encourages is that the developer probably gets the account holder’s password and complete access to everything.

*for bonus foolishness – in the case of the Apple action. Xcode will automatically generate your certificates if you add the account holder’s account to Xcode. This means that it is complicated and techie for the business person to perform the actions (they don’t have Xcode installed) – but automated for the developer if they can just get the account holder’s password.