How to Prevent Android Applications from Reverse Engineering

How to Prevent Android Applications from Reverse Engineering

Reverse Engineering is a technique used by software engineers, i.e. attackers, to obtain a source code of an application, disassemble, analyze, and rebuild the principle of the android application, check for the internal working of the application, and find the vulnerabilities in the app to make an upgraded similar app with improved features like security and performance. In this, attackers use reverse engineering techniques to hack an app and have access to a wide range of individual sensitive data such as backend server information, ciphers, and theft of organizational details.

The impacts of reverse engineering on an organization may include the following:

  • Intellectual Property Concerns: This resulted in Reverse engineering infringing on the intellectual property right of the parent producer, resulting in legal issues.
  • Decreased competitiveness: Reverse engineering can reduce the competitiveness of the competitors since they can easily copy up with existing products in the market.
  • Decrease incentive and innovate: if reverse engineering is widely used, companies may lose their morale for research and development as their ideas are easily copied.

To prevent reverse engineering, an android developer must implement various security measures to make it difficult for attackers to decompile and analyze their codes. Some standard methods include:

This is a technique that transforms a source code in a manner that is difficult for humans to read and understands. The source code, therefore, becomes more complex and less readable to human beings but still performs the intended function as desired. The attackers, therefore, cannot understand the code and locate vulnerabilities within the source code. Obfuscation techniques include:

  • Meaningless codes: involves adding an empty code to make an application difficult to analyze and long but still performing intended functions.
  • String encryption: involves encrypting strings to make them more challenging to read and understand by attackers.
  • Name mangling: involves changing the names of variables, methods, and classes to make them less readable.
  • Control flow obfuscation involves changing the code’s control flow, thus complex and hard to understand.

By using obfuscation, developers make their code more difficult for attackers to read and understand their principles which reduces the risks associated with reverse engineering.

Code signing involves issuing an application with a digital certificate that identifies an application developer preventing any modification and alteration of an application source code. Code signing ensures the authenticity and integrity of an android application, whereby another developer is denied the right to alter the source code of other android applications installed on different devices.

When developers assign their application, the system checks the signature before installation. The installation occurs only on a valid signature basis. The signing also provides trust in an application and the integrity of the developer. It, therefore, prevents the installation of malicious applications that can compromise the information security of an organization allowing for the installation of applications from legitimate sources.

In summary, code signing has been used to prevent reverse engineering through code authenticity and trust in application sources.

This tool can shrink, optimize, and obfuscate code, making code harder for reverse engineering. ProGuard reduces the size of the code by removing redundant and unused codes and changes the naming of classes, methods, and other attributes in the code. In addition, the aspect protects against reverse engineering by making a code more difficult to decompile, ultimately making reverse engineering more time-consuming.

In conclusion, ProGuard can prevent refers engineering by making an application code more difficult to understand. However, it is not an assurance of protection since skilled reverse engineers can still figure out how the codes work.

It’s used to prevent Android applications from reverse engineering by making sensitive data unreachable to attackers. This can be done by converting plain texts into cipher texts using cryptographic algorithms and secret keys. This makes application codes more secure since only a decryption key can reverse the encryption process. In addition, the encryption keys can be stored in native environments or secure servers to secure it further.

Ultimately, it’s necessary to understand that encryption alone is not enough to protect Android applications against reverse engineering. Skilled attackers can still decrypt the codes and analyze and find the vulnerabilities in the code. Therefore, combining encryption with other security measures, such as temper detection and obfuscation, is advisable.

There exist several applications that can be used to prevent reverse engineering. They are as follows:

  • Protector: This is a java bytecode obfuscator library that offers a variety of obfuscation techniques’ including string encryption, control obfuscation, unused code removal, and temper detection.
  • R8: this is a code shrinker provided by Google as an Android plugin. It supports obfuscation and prevents reverse engineering.
  • DexGuard: it’s a commercial obfuscator and optimizer that offers advanced obfuscation and tempering detection techniques.
  • Native security libraries: usually used to store sensitive keys and blocks of codes in a native platform, making attackers hard to understand principles.

Temper detection is a technique that helps to determine if an android application has been tempered in any way. It can be implemented in an android application in the following ways:

  • Checksum verification: a checksum of the application code and resources can be generated and stored on the device or a server. Confirmation is then carried out when the application is running to detect any alteration that may have occurred.
  • Signature verification involves signing the application with digital signatures that detects the authenticity of the application developer. This method helps to prevent other users from having the right to make any alteration to an application.
  • Root detection: This technique determines whether devices have been rooted. Since root access allows for full control over a device.

In conclusion, preventing reverse engineering of Android applications is a more complex task requiring several approaches to the same application. This may include combining some of the guidelines above to fully safeguard an android application. Furthermore, since reverse engineering is constantly evolving, it’s necessary always to keep updated with the new technologies and approaches against reverse engineering. Ultimately, the goal is to make reverse engineering time-consuming and codes more difficult to understand while still allowing the functionality of an application as expected without any operational changes.

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Originally published at on February 22, 2023.



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