A new APK Resources Decoder with de-Obfuscation Capabilities

The latest JEB release ships with our all-new Android resources (ARSC) decoder, designed to reliably handle tweaked, obfuscated, and sometimes malformed resource files.

As it appears that optimizing resources for space (eg, the WeChat team has made their compressor/refactoring module publicly available,  etc.) or complexity (eg, commercial app protectors have been doing it for some time now) is becoming more and more commonplace, we hope that our users will come to appreciate this new module.

Here are the key points, followed by examples of what to expect from the new module.

ARSC Decoder Workflow

In terms of workflow, nothing changes: starting with JEB 2.3.10, the new Android Resources decoder module is enable by default.

If you ever need to switch back to the legacy module, simply open the Options, Advanced panel, filter on AndroidResourcesDecoderSelector and set the value to 1 (instead of 2).

ARSC Decoder Output

In terms of output, users should see improvements in at least three areas:

  • First, the module can deal with obfuscated resources and malformed files better, resulting in lower failure rates. Ideally, we’d like to get as close as possible to a 0-failure, so please report issues!
  • Second, flattened, renamed, or generally refactored resources are handled as well, and the original res/ folder will be reconstructed, resulting in a readable Resources sub-tree.
  • Finally, the module can generate an aapt2-like text output to cope with the limitations of AOSP’s aapt/aapt2 (eg, crashes); the output can be quite large, so currently, aapt2-like output generation is disabled by default. To enable it,  go to the Options, Advanced panel, filter on AndroidResourcesGenerateAapt2LikeOutput and set the value to true.  The output will be visible as an additional fragment of the APK unit view:
aapt2-like output on a file that failed aapt2

Additional Input (APK Frameworks)

By default, the latest Android framework (currently API 27) is dropped by JEB in [HOME_FOLDER]/.jeb-android-frameworks/1.apk.

If an app you are analyzing requires additional framework libraries, drop them as [package_id].apk in that folder, and you should be good to go.

Example 1: flattened resources in a banking app

Here’s a sample that demonstrates what the output looks like with an app found on VirusTotal. The app is called itsme and is produced by the ING bank. It may have been obfuscated by GuardSquare’s DexGuard 1, which performs extensive resources refactoring (res/ folder flattening) and trimming (renaming of files, name-less resource objects, etc.).

Have a look at the APK contents:

Protected app contents

aapt2 fails on it (resource id overlap):

error: trying to add resource 'be.bmid.itsme:attr/' with ID 0x7f010001 but resource already has ID 0x7f010000.

apktool 2.3.1 cannot reconstruct the resource tree either. Resources are moved to an unknown/ folder; on non-Linux system, resources manipulation also fail due to illegal character names.

JEB does its best to rebuild the resources tree, and renames illegally named resources as well across the Resources base, consistently:

A rebuilt resources tree, originally obfuscated by GuardSquare (?)

Example 2: tweaked xml

The second file is a version of the Xapo Bitcoin wallet app 2, also found on VirusTotal. This app does not fail aapt2, however, it does fail other tools, including apktool 2.3.1

I: Using Apktool 2.3.1 on 96cbabe2fb11c78a283348b2f759dc742f18368e0d65c5d0a15aefb4e0bdc645
I: Loading resource table...
I: Decoding AndroidManifest.xml with resources...
I: Loading resource table from file: [...]/1.apk
Exception in thread "main" java.lang.ArrayIndexOutOfBoundsException: 8601

The resources are flattened and renamed; the XML resources are oddly structured and stretch the XML specifications as well.

JEB handles things smoothly.


There are many more examples of “stretched” resources in APKs we’ve come across, however we cannot share them at the moment.

If you come across unsupported scenarios or bugs, feel free to issue a report, we’ll happily investigate and update the module.

  1. https://www.guardsquare.com/en/dexguard
  2. https://xapo.com/

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