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Last updated: May 11, 2024

Exploring the App Package

Once you have collected the package name of the application you want to target, you'll want to start gathering information about it. First, retrieve the APK as explained in "Basic Testing Operations - Obtaining and Extracting Apps".

APK files are actually ZIP files that can be unpacked using a standard decompression utility such as unzip. However, we recommend using apktool which additionally decodes the AndroidManifest.xml and disassembles the app binaries (classes.dex) to smali code:

$ apktool d UnCrackable-Level3.apk
$ tree
├── AndroidManifest.xml
├── apktool.yml
├── lib
├── original
│   ├── AndroidManifest.xml
│   └── META-INF
│       ├── CERT.RSA
│       ├── CERT.SF
│       └── MANIFEST.MF
├── res
└── smali

The following files are unpacked:

  • AndroidManifest.xml: contains the definition of the app's package name, target and minimum API level, app configuration, app components, permissions, etc.
  • original/META-INF: contains the app's metadata
    • MANIFEST.MF: stores hashes of the app resources
    • CERT.RSA: the app's certificate(s)
    • CERT.SF: list of resources and the SHA-1 digest of the corresponding lines in the MANIFEST.MF file
  • assets: directory containing app assets (files used within the Android app, such as XML files, JavaScript files, and pictures), which the AssetManager can retrieve
  • classes.dex: classes compiled in the DEX file format, that Dalvik virtual machine/Android Runtime can process. DEX is Java bytecode for the Dalvik Virtual Machine. It is optimized for small devices
  • lib: directory containing 3rd party libraries that are part of the APK
  • res: directory containing resources that haven't been compiled into resources.arsc
  • resources.arsc: file containing precompiled resources, such as XML files for the layout

As unzipping with the standard unzip utility leaves some files such as the AndroidManifest.xml unreadable, it's better to unpack the APK using apktool.

$ ls -alh
total 32
drwxr-xr-x    9 sven  staff   306B Dec  5 16:29 .
drwxr-xr-x    5 sven  staff   170B Dec  5 16:29 ..
-rw-r--r--    1 sven  staff    10K Dec  5 16:29 AndroidManifest.xml
-rw-r--r--    1 sven  staff   401B Dec  5 16:29 apktool.yml
drwxr-xr-x    6 sven  staff   204B Dec  5 16:29 assets
drwxr-xr-x    3 sven  staff   102B Dec  5 16:29 lib
drwxr-xr-x    4 sven  staff   136B Dec  5 16:29 original
drwxr-xr-x  131 sven  staff   4.3K Dec  5 16:29 res
drwxr-xr-x    9 sven  staff   306B Dec  5 16:29 smali

The Android Manifest

The Android Manifest is the main source of information, it includes a lot of interesting information such as the package name, the permissions, app components, etc.

Here's a non-exhaustive list of some info and the corresponding keywords that you can easily search for in the Android Manifest by just inspecting the file or by using grep -i <keyword> AndroidManifest.xml:

Please refer to the mentioned chapters to learn more about how to test each of these points.

App Binary

The app binary (classes.dex) can be found in the root directory of the app package. It is a so-called DEX (Dalvik Executable) file that contains compiled Java code. Due to its nature, after applying some conversions you'll be able to use a decompiler to produce Java code. We've also seen the folder smali that was obtained after we run apktool. This contains the disassembled Dalvik bytecode in an intermediate language called smali, which is a human-readable representation of the Dalvik executable.

Refer to "Reviewing Decompiled Java Code" for more information about how to reverse engineer DEX files.

Compiled App Binary

In some cases it might be useful to retrieve the compiled app binary (.odex).

First get the path to the app's data directory:

adb shell pm path com.example.myapplication

Remove the /base.apk part, add /oat/arm64/base.odex and use the resulting path to pull the base.odex from the device:

adb root
adb pull /data/app/~~DEMFPZh7R4qfUwwwh1czYA==/com.example.myapplication-pOslqiQkJclb_1Vk9-WAXg==/oat/arm64/base.odex

Note that the exact directory will be different based on your Android version. If the /oat/arm64/base.odex file can't be found, manually search in the directory returned by pm path.

Native Libraries

You can inspect the lib folder in the APK:

$ ls -1 lib/armeabi/

or from the device with objection:

...g.vp.owasp_mobile.omtg_android on (google: 8.1.0) [usb] # ls lib
Type    ...  Name
------  ...  ------------------------
File    ...
File    ...
File    ...
File    ...

For now this is all information you can get about the native libraries unless you start reverse engineering them, which is done using a different approach than the one used to reverse the app binary as this code cannot be decompiled but only disassembled. Refer to "Reviewing Disassembled Native Code" for more information about how to reverse engineer these libraries.

Other App Resources

It is normally worth taking a look at the rest of the resources and files that you may find in the root folder of the APK as some times they contain additional goodies like key stores, encrypted databases, certificates, etc.