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The latest update of Google Maps is unavailable in my country, so I downloaded a version by googling for "Google Maps 5.4.0 apk". I did in fact find it, but now I wonder how I can tell if this is in fact the same version as in the market.

How can I be sure that it hasn't been tampered with? Are apps signed in any way? Is there any way of checking the signatures?

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Sidestepping the debate over the legitimacy of installing that app on your phone, the question of verification is one that I've been meaning to understand for a while, and you've prompted me to try to figure out a possible way of verifying who signed an apk.

Android apps are signed in the normal manner of .jar files (.apk is really just a special .jar which is just a special .zip) however it may not be trivial to trace the authenticity of the certificates unless you have something known good to compare to. That's basically what the phone itself does - verifies that something that claims to be from the same party as something already on the phone actually is - the phone doesn't refuse to install things with unknown signers, it can only (object to/clear application data of) apparent forgeries when something new doesn't match something old that it claims to.

You will need to have jarsigner and keytool. I believe these come from the JDK which is a prerequisite to the android SDK rather than the SDK itself.

First you want try to verify the public key contained within the .apk. Usually this is in META-INF/CERTS.RSA but it can be in another file - unzip -l will tell you. You want to see what you can find out about it:

unzip -p suspect.apk META-INF/CERT.RSA | keytool -printcert

That's going to dump out a lot of information about who the signer claims to be. Some certificates are apparently themselves signed by known parties, but without figuring out how to trace that, I suspect you could do something like this:

unzip -p suspect.apk META-INF/CERT.RSA | keytool -printcert | grep MD5
unzip -p knowngood.apk META-INF/CERT.RSA | keytool -printcert | grep MD5

If you have a known trusted apk from the same author who used the same certificate. I'm assuming that the certificates having the same MD5 sum is enough.

Assuming you've decided to trust the certificate, then you can see if it has been used to sign each of the files within the .apk

jarsigner -verbose -verify suspect.apk

(If there's more than one .RSA file in the archive, you should add the -certs flag to tell you which certificate(s) have been used to sign each file, so you can be sure its the certificate you verified)

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There is (now) an apksigner tool in build-tools that does what you want. From the docs:

Check whether the APK's signatures are expected to be confirmed as valid on all Android platforms that the APK supports:

apksigner verify [options] app-name.apk
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The correct way to verify an APK file is to use apksigner.

apksigner is part of the Android build tools, therefore you may find multiple versions installed, one for each build-tools version installed.

One example path within the Android SDK to apksigner is:

android-sdk/build-tools/29.0.2/apksigner

Execute apksigner this way:

apksigner verify --verbose --print-certs "Signal-website-universal-release-4.49.13.apk"

Verifies
Verified using v1 scheme (JAR signing): true
Verified using v2 scheme (APK Signature Scheme v2): true
Verified using v3 scheme (APK Signature Scheme v3): true
Number of signers: 1
Signer #1 certificate DN: CN=Whisper Systems, OU=Research and Development, O=Whisper Systems, L=Pittsburgh, ST=PA, C=US
Signer #1 certificate SHA-256 digest: 29f34e5f27f211b424bc5bf9d67162c0eafba2da35af35c16416fc446276ba26
Signer #1 certificate SHA-1 digest: 45989dc9ad8728c2aa9a82fa55503e34a8879374
Signer #1 certificate MD5 digest: d90db364e32fa3a7bda4c290fb65e310
Signer #1 key algorithm: RSA
Signer #1 key size (bits): 1024
Signer #1 public key SHA-256 digest: 75336a3cc9edb64202cd77cd4caa6396a9b5fc3c78c58660313c7098ea248a55
Signer #1 public key SHA-1 digest: b46cbed18d6fbbe42045fdb93f5032c943d80266
Signer #1 public key MD5 digest: 0f9c33bbd45db0218c86ac378067538d
<skipped a lot of warnings>

Now you have verified the APK, but you still don't know if you can trust the person/organization who has signed the APK file. This is because on Android APK signatures use by definition self-signed certificates. If you can trust a certificate is therefore a difficult question. The only way is to check the other apps that have been signed using the same certificate.

The only way I know to do so is to use PlayStore crawling service androidobservatory.org. It has an API for checking which apps have been signed by the same certificate using the certificate SHA-1 digest:

Edit: apkmirror.com also allows to search for the certificate digest. Just enter the plain SHA-1 or SHA-256 certificate digest (without colons or spaces) in the search field:

On this page you can see all the other APK files on Google Play Store that are signed with the same certificate.

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  • This is the answer that helped the most, thanks! I used apksigner to compare the cert from an app from the same developer I got from the Google App Store and the one I got from ApkMirror – yorch Jun 20 at 18:59
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You can also try uploading the APK to the free VirusTotal.com virus checker. It will generate a unique hash for the APK and if others have already uploaded it to test it (very likely) then you will have more of an idea that the APK is valid.

The service will also scan the APK with over 60 virus scanners and let you know if it believes it has similar signatures to viruses already found.

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  • 1
    I wouldn't trust the virus check, as doubt that these anti-virus programs focus on just every Android APK ever distributed. Also, the MD5 will not tell you much, apart from that the same file has been uploaded before. – Stan Apr 28 at 14:41
  • @Stan - It scans the bytes in the file for malware bytes. It doesn't have to know every APK ever distributed. Also, it's not an MD5, it's a SHA256 and there is a bit of additional info communicated in that if this is the first time the APK has ever been uploaded then maybe it is something unknown and more possibly malicious. Also, most valid APKs will probably be there. Why not include this as part of analysis as another tool for use? It can provide just another level of confidence or non-confidence about the package. You don't have to consider it the final word, but considering it more data – raddevus Apr 29 at 13:29
  • OK I agree it's useful as an additional source, just not the only one. – Stan May 2 at 16:27
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To compare certificates from a suspect apk file, maybe one idea is to download it's version on the official Play Store on your phone, doing a backup on your computer and go in the backup directory, select the concerned apk file and do the same checks. You can also view the Google certificates by doing the check on a device-default application (like any com.google.android.* apk)

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