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Are the gapps (e.g. from goo.im) signed in a way that prevents tampering? Is there a way to verify they're the same as you'd get from Google?

Do all / most ROMs check for this?

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3 Answers 3

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As Michael Hampton's helpful answer says, all android apps are signed. This means:

  • the android system will ensure that every app it tries to run has been signed by someone.
  • When android updates an app, the new app must be signed by the same key that signed the original app. Otherwise, the upgrade will fail. If the key changes, the name of the app must also change.

All of this does not mean that a recovery console like TeamWin or ClockworkMod recovery will properly check the signatures of these keys.

Do common roms check the signatures on zip files?

  • Fortunately, it appears that TeamWin recovery does check (I'll check and update for ClockworkMod). If I understand it correctly, the source code (esp here and here) of TeamWin recovery checks that a zip file in its entirety has been signed by using a private key that corresponds to one of the public keys in /res/keys. It does this if told to verify the signature of a signed zip file, which is different from checking the md5 checksum of the file. In my version (v2.7.0.0) I can see a "Zip file signature verification" option on the install screen, which I assume turns this functionality on.

Can we be sure that the apps came from google?

All of this checking brings us back to the keys found in /res/keys. I'm not sure (yet) where these come from. I will try to check and update this answer. One would hope that this is where the Android system stores the keys it uses, which would mean that the signed zip file must be signed with a key from an already installed app.

Even if that is true, any of the keys in /res/keys can be used to sign a binary. If somehow a malicious key could get in there, then this check would provide no protection. The big question, then, is how/if we can verify what keys are in /res/keys and who they belong to.

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All Android apps are signed.

Android will not run an unsigned app. In addition, the signatures are tied to the app permissions, such that if the signature was wrong, other apps would not be able to talk with it, and you would not be able to receive updates to it from Google Play.

Android signing is discussed in more depth in Signing Your Applications in the Android developer documentation, from which the above information was drawn.

If you are paranoid and want to verify an app's signature, you can use the jarsigner utility included with the Java Development Kit (JDK). For example:

jarsigner -verify -verbose -certs Vending.apk
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the page you reference says "Android uses this certificate to identify the author of an app, and the certificate does not need to be signed by a certificate authority. Android apps often use self-signed certificates." Doesn't this mean that, while android will verify that the app is signed, it will not care WHO signed it? That would mean that we have no protection against a malicious app unless we somehow check that the gapps we received are signed by Google. This answer seems to be glossing over some VERY necessary checking steps. Am I missing something? –  stochastic Jan 24 at 0:01
@stochastic As the page also mentions, updates must be signed with exactly the same key or Android will refuse to install the update. It doesn't matter that the key wasn't signed by a CA, just that it's the same as the one originally used to sign the app. –  Michael Hampton Jan 24 at 4:06
Thanks for pointing that out! Doesn't this still presume, though, that there is an existing app with the same name? When installing through, say, Google Play, that is fine, but when installing a zip file of gapps via a recovery rom it's entirely possible that the gapps are simply not present yet (which is why they are being installed in this way), so wouldn't there be a real vulnerability if we don't do some kind of key checking manually? Also, while the android system does the checking you describe, does that mean that a recovery rom will perform the same checking? –  stochastic 2 days ago
  • If you got your gapps from goo.im, you could manually check if the MD5sum of the .zip file you downloaded is correct. This would assure you that the file has not been tampered with.

  • If flashing through ClockworkMod Recovery, there is this option: install zip from sdcard > toggle signature verification.

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I don't think zip signature verification will check that the apps (or other contents) inside the zip are signed, though; it only checks that the zip file itself is signed. Similarly, checking the md5 of the zip doesn't really prove anything about the apps it contains unless you create your own flashable zip with known good copies of the same versions of the same apps and then md5 them both (but then why would you download it? You'd already have your own flashable version) –  eldarerathis Feb 10 '13 at 15:54

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