Reversing DexGuard

GuardSquare’s DexGuard, the commercial offshoot of ProGuard geared toward Android app protection, has grown significantly since its introduction in 2013. Technically, what started as “ProGuard + basic string encryption + code reflection” tool evolved into a multi-platform, complex solution including: control-flow obfuscation, complex and varied data and resources encryption, bytecode encryption, virtual environment and rooted system detection, application signature and certificate pinning enforcement, native code protection, as well as bytecode virtualization 1, and more.

GuardSquare seems to be keeping a tight lid on their product’s specs, as their website does not provide public datasheet or white papers. In this article, we present the result of reverse-engineering a high-profile app protected with DexGuard, which will allow us to infer a subset of DexGuard’s capabilities.

This article presents several bytecode obfuscation used by DexGuard, as well as DexGuard facility made available at runtime to protected programs 2. The analysis that follows was done statically, with JEB 3.20.


Identifying apps protected by DexGuard is relatively easy. It seems the default bytecode obfuscation settings place most classes in the o package, and some will be renamed to invalid names on a Windows system, such as con or aux. That being said, DexGuard’ed apps may not be as easily identified. Closer inspection of the code will reveal stronger hints than obfuscated names: decryption stubs, specific encrypted data, the presence of some so library files, are all tell tale signs of DexGuard, as shown below.

Running a Global Analysis

Let’s run a Global Analysis (menu Android, Global analysis…) with standard settings on the file and see what gets auto-decrypted and auto-unreflected:

Results subset of Global Analysis (redacted areas are meant to keep the analyzed program anonymous; it is a clean app, whose business logic is irrelevant to the analysis of DexGuard)

Lots of strings were decrypted, many of them specific to the app’s business logic itself, others related to DexGuard RASP – that is, library code embedded within the APK, responsible for performing app signature verification for instance, which is itself protected by DexGuard. That gives us valuable pointers into where we should be looking at if we’d like to focus on the protection code specifically.

Deobfuscating Code

The first section of this blog focuses on bytecode obfuscation and how JEB deals with it. It is mostly automated, but a final step requires manual assistance to achieve the best results.

Most obfuscated routines exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Dynamically generated strings via the use of per-class decryption routines
  • Most calls to external routines are done via reflection
  • Flow obfuscation via the use of a couple of opaque integer fields – let’s call them OPI0, OPI1. They are class fields generally initialized to 0 and 1.
  • Arithmetic operation obfuscation
  • Garbage code insertion
  • Unusual protected block structure, leading to fragmented try-blocks, unavoidable to produce semantically accurate raw code

As an example, the following class is used to perform app certificate validation in order, for instance, to prevent resigned apps from functioning. A few items were renamed for clarity; decompilation is done with disabled Deobfuscators (MOD1+TAB, untick “Enable deobfuscators”):

Take #1 (snippet) – The protected class is decompiled without deobfuscation in order to show semi-raw output (a few optimizers doing all sort of code cleanup are not categorized as deobfuscators internally, and will perform even if Deobfuscation is disabled). Note that a few items were also renamed for clarity.

In practice, such code is quite hard to comprehend on complex methods. With obfuscators enabled (the default setting), most of the above will be cleared.

See the re-decompilation of the same class, below.

  • strings are decrypted…
  • …enabling unreflection
  • most obfuscation is removed…
  • except for some control flow obfuscation that remains because JEB was unable to process OPI0/OPI1 directly (below,
Take #2 (full routine) – obfuscators enabled (default). The red blocks highlight use of opaque variables used to obfuscate control flow.

Let’s give a hint to JEB as to what OPI0/OPI1 are.

  • When analyzing DexGuard’ed apps, you can rename OPI0 and OPI1 to guard0 and guard1, respectively, to allow JEB go aggressively clean the code
  • Redecompile the class after renaming the fields
Take #3 (full routine) – with explicit guard0/guard1

That final output is clean and readable.

Other obfuscation techniques not exposed in this short routine above are arithmetic obfuscation and other operation complexification techniques. JEB will seamlessly deal with many of them. Example:

is optimized to

To summarize bytecode obfuscation as of DexGuard 8.4:

  • decryption and unreflection is done automatically 3
  • garbage clean-up, code clean-up is also generic and done automatically
  • control flow deobfuscation needs a bit of guidance to operate (guard0/guard1 renaming)

Runtime Verification

RASP library routines are used at the developers’ discretion. They consist of a set of classes that the application code can call at any time, to perform tasks such as:

  • App signing verification
  • Debuggability/debugger detection
  • Emulator detection
  • Root detection
  • Instrumentation toolkits detection
  • Certificate pinning
  • Manifest check
  • Permission checks

The client decides when and where to use them as well as what action should be taken on the results. The code itself is protected by DexGuard, that goes without saying.

App Signing Verification

  • Certificate verification uses the PackageManager to retrieve app’s signatures: PackageManager.getPackageInfo(packageName, GET_SIGNATURES).signatures
  • The signatures are hashed and compared to caller-provided values in an IntBuffer or LongBuffer.

Debug Detection

Debuggability check

The following checks must pass:

  • assert that Context.ctx.getApplicationInfo().flags & ApplicationInfo.FLAG_DEBUGGABLE is false
  • check the ro.debuggable property, in two ways to ensure consistency
    • using android.os.SystemProperties.get() (private API)
    • using the getprop‘s binary
  • verify that no hooking framework is detected (see specific section below)

Debugging session check

The following checks must pass:

  • assert that android.os.Debug.isDebuggerConnected() is false
  • verify no tracer process: tracerpid entry in /proc/<pid>/status must be <= 0
  • verify that no hooking framework is detected (see specific section below)

Debug key signing

  • enumerate the app’s signatures via PackageInfo.signatures
  • use getSubjectX500Principal() to verify that no certificate has a subject distinguished name (DN) equals to "CN=Android Debug,O=Android,C=US", which is the standard DN for debug certificates generated by the SDK tools

Emulator Detection

Emulator detection is done by checking any of the below.

1) All properties defined in system/build.prop are retrieved, hashed, and matched against a small set of hard-coded hashes:

86701cb958c69d64cd59322dfebacede -> property ???
19385aafbb452f39b5079513f668bbeb -> property ???
24ad686ec83d904347c5a916acbe1779 -> property ???
b8c8255febc6c46a3e43b369225ded3e -> property ???
d76386ddf2c96a9a92fc4bc8f829173c -> property ???
15fed45d5ca405da4e6aa9805daf2fbf -> property ??? (unused)

Unfortunately, we were not able to reverse those hashes back to known property strings – however, it was tried only on AOSP emulator images. If anybody wants to help and run the below on other build.prop files, feel free to let us know what property strings those hashes match to. Here is the hash verification source, to be run be on build.prop files.

2) The following file is readable:


3) Verify if any of those qemu, genymotion and bluestacks emulator files exist and are readable:


4) Check for the presence of wired network interfaces: (via NetworkInterface.getNetworkInterfaces)


5) If the app has the permission READ_PHONE_STATE, telephony information is verified, an emulator is detected if any of the below matches (standard emulator image settings):

- "getLine1Number": "15555215554", "15555215556", "15555215558", "15555215560", "15555215562", "15555215564", "15555215566", "15555215568", "15555215570", "15555215572", "15555215574", "15555215576", "15555215578", "15555215580", "15555215582", "15555215584"
- "getNetworkOperatorName": "android"
- "getSimSerialNumber": "89014103211118510720"
- "getSubscriberId": "310260000000000"
- "getDeviceId": "000000000000000", "e21833235b6eef10", "012345678912345"

6) /proc checks:

/proc/ioports: entry "0ff :" (unknown port, likely used by some emulators)
/proc/self/maps: entry "" (GF: older emulator kernel name)

7) Property checks (done in multiple ways with a consistency checks, as explained earlier), failed if any entry is found and start with one of the provided values:

- "ro.product.manufacturer": "Genymotion", "unknown", "chromium"
- "ro.product.device": "vbox86p", "generic", "generic_x86", "generic_x86_64"
- "ro.product.model": "sdk", "emulator", "App Runtime for Chrome", "Android SDK built for x86", "Android SDK built for x86_64"
- "ro.hardware": "goldfish", "vbox86", "ranchu"
- "ro.product.brand": "generic", "chromium"
- "ro.kernel.qemu": "1"
- "": "0"
- "": "sdk", "vbox86p", "full_x86", "generic_x86", "generic_x86_64"
- "": "generic/sdk/generic", "generic_x86/sdk_x86/generic_x86", "generic/google_sdk/generic", "generic/vbox86p/vbox86p", "google/sdk_gphone_x86/generic_x86"
- "ro.bootloader": "unknown"
- "": "Android-x86"
- "": "test-"
- "init.svc.qemu-props" (any value)
- "qemu.hw.mainkeys" (any value)
- "qemu.sf.fake_camera" (any value)
- "qemu.sf.lcd_density" (any value)
- "" (any value)

Hooking Systems Detection

The term covers a wide range of techniques designed to intercept regular control flow in order to examine and/or modify execution.

1) Xposed instrumentation framework detection, by attempting to load any of the classes:

Class loading is done in different ways in an attempt to circumvent hooking itself, using Class.forName with a variety of class loaders, custom class loaders and ClassLoader.getLoadedClass, as well as lower-level private methods, such as Class.classForName.

2) Cydia Substrate instrumentation framework detection.

3) ADBI (Android Dynamic Binary Instrumentation) detection

4) Stack frame verification: an exception is generated in order to retrieve a stack frame. The callers are hashed and compared to an expected hard-coded value.

5) Native code checks. This will be detailed in another blog, if time allows.

Root Detection

While root detection overlaps with most of the above, it is still another layer of security a determined attacker would have to jump over (or walk around) in order to get protected apps to run on unusual systems. Checks are plenty, and as is the case for all the code described here, heavily obfuscated. If you are analyzing such files, keeping the Deobfuscators enabled and providing guard0/guard1 hints is key to a smooth analysis.

Static initializer of the principal root detection class. Most artifacts indicative of a rooted device are searched for by hash.

Build.prop checks. As was described in emulator detection.

su execution. Attempt to execute su, and verify whether su -c id == root

su presence. su is looked up in the following locations:


Magisk detection through mount. Check whether mount can be executed and contains databases/su.db (indicative of Magisk) or whether /proc/mounts contains references to databases/su.db.

Read-only system partitions. Check if any system partition is mounted as read-write (when it should be read-only). The result of mount is examined for any of the following entries marked rw:


Verify installed apps in the hope of finding one whose package name hashes to the hard-coded value:


Unfortunately, that value was not reversed, let us know if you find which package name generates this hash – see the algorithm below:

    public static long hashstring(String str) {
        long h = 0L;
        for(int i = 0; i < str.length(); i++) {
            int c = str.charAt(i);
            h = h << 5 ^ (0xFFFFFFFFF8000000L &amp; h) >> 27 ^ ((long)c);
        return h;

NOTE: App enumeration, as is common with DexGuard, is performed in two ways to maximize chances of evading partial hooks.

  • Straightforward: PackageManager.getInstalledApplications
  • More convoluted: iterate over all known MAIN intents: PackageManager.queryIntentActivities(new Intent("android.intent.action.MAIN")), derive the package name from the intent via ResolveInfo.activityInfo.packageName

SElinux verification. If the file /sys/fs/selinux/policy cannot be read, the check immediately passes. If it is readable, the policy is examined and hints indicative of a rooted device are looked for by hash comparison:


The hashing algorithm is extremely simple, see below. For each byte of the file, the crc is updated and compared to hard-coded values.

long h = 0L;
//for each byte:
    h = (h << 5 ^ ((long)(((char)b)))) &amp; 0x3FFFFFFFL;
    // check h against known list

Running processes checks. All running processes and their command-lines are enumerated and hashed, and specific values are indirectly looked up by comparing against hard-coded lists.

APK Check

This verifier parses compressed entries in the APK (zip) file and compares them against well-known, hard-coded CRC values.

Manifest Check

Consistency checks on the application Manifest consists of enumerating the entries using two different ways and comparing results. Discrepancies are reported.

  • Open the archive’s MANIFEST.MF file via Context.getAssets(), parse manually
  • Use JarFile(Context.getPackageCodePath()).getManifest().getEntries()

Discrepancies in the Manifest could indicate system hooks attempting to conceal files added to the application.

Permissions Check

This routine checks for permission discrepancies between what’s declared by the app and what the system grant the app.

  • Set A: App permission gathering: all permissions requested and defined by the app, as well as all permissions offered by the system, plus the INTERACT_ACROSS_USERS and INTERACT_ACROSS_USERS_FULL permissions,
  • Set B: Retrieve all permissions that exist on the system
  • Define set C = B – A
  • For every permission in C, use checkCallingOrSelfPermission (API 22-) or checkSelfPermission (API 23+) to verify that the permission is not granted.

Permission discrepancies could be used to find out system hooks or unorthodox execution environments.

Note the “X & -(A+1) | ~X & A” checks. DexGuard makes use of multiple arithmetic tricks to complicate the obfuscation flow. Here, that expression is never equals to v2, and therefore, the if-check will always fail. JEB 3.20 does not clean all those artifacts.


Other runtime components include library code to perform SSL certificate pinning, as well as obfuscated wrappers around web view clients. None of those are of particular interest.

Wrapper for android.webkit.WebViewClient. Make sure to enable deobfuscators and provide guardX hints. When this is done, most methods will be crystal clear. In fact, the majority of them are simple forwarders.


That’s it for DexGuard obfuscation and runtime protection facility. Key take-away to analyze DexGuard’ed code:

  • Keep the obfuscators enabled
  • Locate the opaque integers, rename them to guard0/guard1 to give JEB a hint on where control flow deobfuscation should be performed, and redecompile the class

The second part in the series will focus on bytecode encryption and how such classes can be confidently retrieved and decrypted.

  1. VM in VM, repeat ad nauseam – something not new to code protection systems, it’s existed on x86 for more than a decade, but new on Android, and other players in this field, commercial and otherwise, seem to be implementing similar solutions.
  2. So-called “RASP”, a relatively new acronym for Runtime Application Self-Protection
  3. Decryption and unreflection are generic processes of dexdec (the DEX Decompiler plugin); there is nothing specific to DexGuard here. The vast majority or encrypted data, regardless of the protection system in place, will be decrypted.

Published by

Nicolas Falliere

Author of JEB.

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