Android CA Certificates

2 minute read

Use Case

Developing Android applications sometimes requires debugging requests to and from servers. The easiest way to do this is with a something that can sniff wireless traffic like tcpdump or wireshark. However, this doesn’t work when the communication is with HTTPS / SSL servers.

Man in the Middle Proxy (mitmproxy)

Luckily, there exists a tool called mitmproxy. Mitmproxy works by intercepting SSL connections, generating certificates, and then proxying the original requests. In order to communicate using SSL, the Android client needs to be able to authenticate the certificate chain back to a root certificate it trusts. To accomplish this, mitmproxy generates certificates on the fly for the site requested. Fortunately, for security reasons, it’s impossible for mitmproxy to ever generate a trusted certificate, so instead it generates its own root certificate authority (root CA). The user needs to install this root CA certificate on the clients under test to complete the certificate chain.

In my case, I was running mitmproxy on a gateway Linux router and transparently relaying http and https traffic through it for debugging. Mitmproxy’s website has a lot of documentation on how to set this up. All clients (in my case Android clients and my laptop) were relayed through the server. Both of these devices had the root CA certificate installed.

Installing a root CA certificate on Android

Android stores all of the trusted root CA certificates under /system/etc/security/cacerts/. Inspecting this directory will reveal all the root CA certificates names are hashed, but the hashing method isn’t immediately obvious. To properly install the certificate, all that needs to happen is to hash the root CA certificate mitmproxy generated and install it in the right spot.

This can be accomplished with the following shell script:

NAME=$(openssl x509 -in $CERT -subject_hash_old -noout)
cp ${CERT} ${OUT}/system/etc/security/cacerts/${NAME}.0

It may be necessary to remount the /system file system as read-write as it’s normally read-only. This can easily be achieved as long as the user has root access to the board. Furthermore, to write to this directory, root access is likely needed as well.

That’s it, https server <-> client traffic can now be easily debugged, modified, and recorded.

Why old hash?

OpenSSL prior to version 1.0 used md5 for the filename hashing algorithms (.0 is appended for hash collisions). After version 1.0 OpenSSL switched to sha1 for the filename hashing algorithm. At some point I suspect (hope) Android will update to the newer hashing convention. Developers can check what their implementation uses by digging through the Android core code. For Ice Cream Sandwich, the hashing algorithm is defined in libcore/luni/src/main/java/org/apache/harmony/xnet/provider/jsse/

private String hash(X500Principal name) {
	int hash = NativeCrypto.X509_NAME_hash_old(name);
	return IntegralToString.intToHexString(hash, false, 8);

Mac OS X

The same can be done with Mac OS X, users need to install the certificate in the user’s keychain. Ensure that the mitmproxy root CA certificate is marked as “trusted” after it’s installed in to the keychain.

Web browsers should show mitmproxy as the certificate issuer when loading https websites.