Dynamic SSL pinning for Android

WultraSSLPinning is an Android library implementing dynamic SSL pinning, written in Kotlin.

Introduction

The SSL pinning (or public key, or certificate pinning) is a technique mitigating Man-in-the-middle attacks against the secure HTTPS communication.

The typical Android solution is to bundle the hash of the certificate, or the exact data of the certificate into the application. The connection is then validated via X509TrustManager. Popular OkHttp library has built in CertificatePinner class that simplifies the integration.

In general, this works well, but it has, unfortunately, one major drawback in the certificate’s expiration date. The certificate expiration forces you to update your application regularly before the certificate expires. Unfortunatelly, some percentage of users don’t update their apps automatically. In effect, users on older versions, will not be able to contact the application servers.

A solution to this problem is the dynamic SSL pinning, where the list of certificate fingerprints is securely downloaded from the remote server.

WultraSSLPinning library does precisely this:

  • Manages the dynamic list of certificates, downloaded from the remote server.
  • All entries in the list are signed with your private key and validated in the library using the public key (we’re using ECDSA-SHA-256 algorithm)
  • Provides easy to use fingerprint validation on the TLS handshake.

Before you start using the library, you should also check our other related projects:

What is pinned

In SSL pinning there are two options of what to pin:

  1. Pin the certificate (DER encoding)
  2. Pin the public key

WultraSSLpinning tooling (this Android version, iOS version and Dynamic SSL Pinning Tool) use option 1 - they pin the certificate.

In Java (Android) world this means that the library computes the fingerprint from:

Certificate certificate = 
byte[] bytesToComputeFringerprintFrom = certificate.getEncoded()

Note: Many blog posts and tools for certificate pinning on Android instead mention/use option 2 - public key pinning. An example is CertificatePinner from popular OkHttp library.

In case of public key pinning the fingerprint is computed from:

Certificate certificate = 
byte[] bytesToComputeFringerprintFrom = certificate.getPublicKey().getEncoded()

This means that CertificatePinner cannot be readily used with WultraSSLPinning library.

Installation

Requirements

  • minSdkVersion 16 (Android 4.1 Jelly Bean)

Gradle

To use WultraSSLPinning in you Android app add this dependency:

implementation 'com.wultra.android.sslpinning:wultra-ssl-pinning:0.8.1'

Also make sure you have jcenter() repository among the project repositories.

Usage

  • CertStore - the main class which provides all the library features
  • CertStoreConfiguration - the configuration class for CertStore class

The next chapters of this document will explain how to configure and use CertStore for the SSL pinning purposes.

Configuration

An example for CertStore configuration in Kotlin:

val publicKey: ByteArray
val configuration = CertStoreConfiguration.Builder(
                            serviceUrl = URL("https://…"), 
                            publicKey = publicKey)
                        .identifier(identifier)
                        .expectedCommonNames(expectedCommonNames)
                        .fallbackCertificate(fallbackCertificate)
                        .build()
val certStore = CertStore(configuration, cryptoProvider, secureDataStore)

The configuration has the following properties:

  • serviceUrl - parameter defining URL with a remote list of certificates (JSON).
  • publicKey - byte array containing the public key counterpart to the private key, used for fingerprint signing.
  • expectedCommonNames - an optional array of strings, defining which domains you expect in certificate validation.
  • identifier - optional string identifier for scenarios, where multiple CertStore instances are used in the application.
  • fallbackCertificateData - optional hardcoded data for a fallback fingerprint. See the next chapter of this document for details.
  • periodicUpdateIntervalMillis - defines interval for silent updates. The default value is 1 week.
  • expirationUpdateTreshold - defines time window before the next certificate will expire. In this time window CertStore will try to update the list of fingerprints more often than usual. Default value is 2 weeks before the next expiration.
  • executorService - defines java.util.concurrent.ExecutorService for running silent updates. If not defined silent updates run on a dedicated thread (not pooled).

Predefined fingerprint

The CertStoreConfiguration may contain an optional data with predefined certificate fingerprint. This technique can speed up the first application’s startup when the database of fingerprints is empty. You still need to update your application, once the fallback fingerprint expires.

To configure the property, you need to provide GetFingerprintResponse.Entry with a fallback certificate fingerprint. The data should contain the same data as are usually received from the server, except that signature property is not validated (but must be provided). For example:

val fallbackData = GetFingerprintResponse.Entry(
                       name = "github.com",
                       fingerprint = fingerprintBytes,
                       expires new Date(1591185600000),
                       ByteArray(0))
val configuration = CertStoreConfiguration.Builder(
                            serviceUrl = URL("https://..."),
                            publicKey= publicKey)
                    .fallbackCertificateData(fallbackData)
                    .build()
val certStore = CertStore.powerAuthCertStore(configuration = configuration, appContext)

Updating fingerprints

To update the list of fingerprints from the remote server, use the following code:

val updateResult = certStore.update(updateMode)

The app (not the library) is responsible for invoking updates. The library performs the update only when it’s forced to or the stored fingerprints are expired or about to expire.

The app has to typically call the update during the application’s startup, before a secure HTTPS request is initiated to a server that’s supposed to be validated with the pinning.

The update function works in two basic modes:

  • Blocking mode, when your application has to wait for downloading the list of certificates. This happens when the update is forced (UpdateMode.FORCED), when there are no fingerprints or when all certificate fingerprints are expired. In such cases the calls to certStore.update() are blocking. Therefore it should be run on a worker thread.

  • Silent update mode, the execution of the update is handled on a background thread. and update() method does not block the thread, it returns immedieately with result UpdateResult.SCHEDULED. The purpose of the silent update is to avoid blocking the app’s startup while keeping the list of fingerprints up to date.

If the update is called more often then the value that’s predefined and determined by the configuration. The update returns immediately with UpdateResult.OK and no update is performed.

The silent update is performed on an ExecutorService defined in the configuration, if not defined the update run on its own dedicated thread.

The direct update (blocking mode) runs on the thread the method is invoked on.

Switching server certificate

Certificate pinning is great for your app’s security and at the same time it’s a dangerous technology. Be careful with the update parameters for CertStoreConfiguration. Also it’s recommended to call forced update when validation on a pinned domain fails.

Fingerprint validation

The CertStore provides several methods for certificate fingerprint validation. You can choose the one which suits best for your scenario:

// [ 1 ]  If you already have the common name (e.g. domain) and certificate fingerprint

val commonName = "yourdomain.com"
val fingerprint: ByteArray = 
val validationResult = certStore.validateFingerprint(commonName, fingerprint)

// [ 2 ]  If you already have the common name and the certificate data (in DER format)
val commonName = "yourdomain.com"
val certData: ByteArray = 
val validationResult = certStore.validateCertificateData(commonName, certData)

// [ 3 ]  You want to validate java.security.cert.X509Certificate
val certificate: java.security.cert.X509Certificate = connection.getServerCertificates()[0]
val validationResult = certStore.validateCertificate(certificate)

Each validate… method returns ValidationResult enum with following options:

  • ValidationResult.TRUSTED - the server certificate is trusted. You can continue with the connection

    The right response in this situation is to continue with the ongoing communication.

  • ValidationResult.UNTRUSTED - the server certificate is not trusted. You should cancel the ongoing connection.

    The untrusted result means that CertStore has some fingerprints stored in its database, but none matches the value you requested for validation. The right response on this situation is always to cancel the ongoing connection.

  • ValidationResult.EMPTY - the fingerprint database is empty, or there’s no fingerprint for the validated common name.

    The “empty” validation result typically means that the CertStore should update the list of certificates immediately. Before you do this, you should check whether the requested common name is what you’re expecting. To simplify this step, you can set the list of expected common names in the CertStoreConfiguration and treat all others as untrusted.

    For all situations, the right response in this situation is always to cancel the ongoing connection.

The full challenge handling in your app may look like this:

val url = new URL("https://mydomain.com/")
val urlConnection = url.openConnection() as javax.net.ssl.HttpsURLConnection
urlConnection.connect()

val serverCert = urlConnection.getServerCertificates()[0]
val validationResult = certStore.validateCertificate(serverCert)
if (validationResult != ValidationResult.TRUSTED) {
    throw javax.net.ssl.SSLException()
}

PowerAuth integration

The WultraSSLPinning library contains classes for integration with the PowerAuth SDK. The most important one is the PowerAuthSslPinningValidationStrategy class, which implements PA2ClientValidationStrategy with SSL pinning. You can simply instantiate in with an existing CertStore and set it in PA2ClientConfiguration. Then the class will provide SSL pinning for all communication initiated within the PowerAuth SDK.

For example, this is how the configuration sequence may look like if you want to use both, PowerAuthSDK and CertStore:



val certStoreConfiguration = CertStoreConfiguration.Builder(
                            serviceUrl = URL("https://..."),
                            publicKey= publicKey)
                    .fallbackCertificateData(fallbackData)
                    .build()
                    
val powerAuthCertStore = CertStore.powerAuthCertStore(certStoreConfiguration, appContext)


val powerAuthConfiguration = PowerAuthConfiguration.Builder(
                appContext.packageName,
                BuildConfig.PA_API_SERVER,
                BuildConfig.PA_APPLICATION_KEY,
                BuildConfig.PA_APPLICATION_SECRET,
                BuildConfig.PA_MASTER_SERVER_PUBLIC_KEY
            ).build()

val powerAuthClientConfiguration = PowerAuthClientConfiguration.Builder()
                .clientValidationStrategy(sslPinningValidationStrategy)
                .allowUnsecuredConnection(false)
                .build()
                
val powerAuth = PowerAuthSDK.Builder(powerAuthConfiguration)
                .clientContifuration(powerAuthClientConfiguration)
                .build(appContext)
                    

PowerAuth integration from Java

Some of the Kotlin’s PowerAuthSDK integration APIs are inconvenient in Java. A CertStore integrating PowerAuthSDK can be created with:

CertStore store = PowerAuthCertStore.createInstance(configuration, context);

or

CertStore store = PowerAuthCertStore.createInstance(configuration, context, "my-keychain-identifier");

Note that Kotlin’s way of construction CertStore.powerAuthCertStore is not available in Java. Call this in Java is too cumbersome: PowerAuthIntegrationKt.powerAuthCertStore(CertStore.Companion, configuration, context, null).

Integration

For integration with HttpsUrlConnection or OkHttp use classes SSLPinningIntegration and SSLPinningX509TrustManager. These provide the necessary SSLSocketFactory and X509TrustManager.

FAQ

Can the library provide more debug information?

Yes, you can change how much information is printed to the debug console:

WultraDebug.loggingLevel = WultraLoggingLevel.RELEASE

Is there a dependency on PowerAuthSDK?

There’s an optional dependency on PowerAuthSDK.

However, the library requires several cryptographic primitives (see CryptoProvider) that are provided by PowerAuthSDK. Also most of our clients are already using PowerAuthSDK in their applications. Therefore it’s a non-brainer to use PowerAuthSDK for the cryptography in WultraSSLPinning.

If needed the library can be used without PowerAuthSDK. In this case you can’t use any class from com.wultra.android.sslpinning.integration.powerauth package since they expect PowerAuthSDK to be present. Also you have to provide you own implementation of CryptoProvider and SecureDataStore.

PowerAuthSDK already provides these functions.

If you do not desire to integrate PowerAuthSDK you can implement necessary interfaces yourself. The core of the library is using CryptoProvider and SecureDataStore interfaces and therefore is implementation independent.

How to use public key pinning instead of certificate pinning?

If you really want to use public key pinning instead of certificate pinning (e.g. because you are fond of OkHttp’s CertificatePinner). You have to do couple of things:

  • You need different fingerprints in the update json. Dynamic SSL Pinning Tool computes only certificate pinning. Therefore you need to generate those fingerprints yourself.
  • Don’t use these classes/methods (they are bound to certificate pinning):
    • CertStore.validateCertificate(X509Certificate)
    • SSLPinningX509TrustManager
    • SSLPinningIntegration.createSSLPinningSocketFactory(CertStore)
    • PowerAuthSslPinningValidationStrategy

You can use CertStore.validateCertficateData(commonName, byteArray) only if you pass public key bytes as byteArray.

For validating certificates, utilize CertStore.validateFingerprint() this way:

fun validateCertWithPublicKeyPinning(certificate: X509Certificate): ValidationResult {
    val key = certificate.publicKey.encoded
    val fingerprint = cryptoProvider.hashSha256(key)
    val commonName = CertUtils.parseCommonName(certificate)
    return validateFingerprint(commonName, fingerprint)
}

If you need SSLSocketFactory, reimplement X509TrustManager using the above validateCertWithPublicKeyPinning() method.


License

All sources are licensed using Apache 2.0 license. You can use them with no restriction. If you are using this library, please let us know. We will be happy to share and promote your project.

Contact

If you need any assistance, do not hesitate to drop us a line at [email protected] or our official gitter.im/wultra channel.

Security Disclosure

If you believe you have identified a security vulnerability with WultraSSLPinning, you should report it as soon as possible via email to [email protected] Please do not post it to a public issue tracker.

Last updated on Nov 22, 2018 (14:50) Edit on Github Send Feedback
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Dynamic SSL Pinning for Android