Frida Hacking

Frida Hacking

A brief but fun introduction to compromising data integrity on an Android application. **

This article will give an overview of setting up a rooted Android emulator, installing a tool called Frida, creating Frida scripts to intercept code at runtime, and replacing data in an application.

The Pirate Ship: Emulator

Having a rooted device or emulator image is essential to breaching mobile applications effectively in terms of time and functionality.

It’s Magisk

A common tool to allow root access in Android devices is called Magisk. The application enables you to modify the filesystem, root access, boot image, and processes.

MagiskOnEmulator is a collection of scripts that automates the Android emulator installation process. Use this to backup and generate a custom emulator image with root access installed.


Frida is a suite of tools that provides an API to dynamically instrument code in native applications. ‘Hooking’ is a scripting API that injects code into the entire device’s memory including a target application.

Frida operates in a client/server model where the server must be installed on the target device. There a couple ways to install the server:

  • Inject it on the device filesystem (requiring rooted/jailbroken access)
  • Embed it as a gadget inside the application (requiring repacking the application)

Frida Loader is an Android application that will manage installation for you. Ensure you are breaching the correct device and double check using a command like `frida-ls-devices’. It should return something like:

frida hacking

The USB emulator device is our target. To view a list of process on the device, use `frida-ps -D emulator-5554` or `frida-ps–U` for the USB device.

Frida: Hooking Treasure

The goal is to write Frida scripts to intercept and manipulate data for:

  • the network API and replace a random joke
  • saving a joke to the database
  • sharing a joke

As an analogy, I will call these use cases the 3 parrots. The use cases will just echo back data or a message inside the application.

Disassembly: Locating Parrots

Writing Frida hooks is easy when you have the source code and a debug build. In the real world, you must locate the obfuscated methods after disassembling them. The process usually looks as follows:

  1. Disassemble the application APK in a tool called JADX-GUI
  2. Scan the resources and code for strings related to the targets (service, network, API, client, remote, database, repository, etc.)
  3. Use Frida to trace execution of target code using regex (frida-trace -U -j 'x4.a!*' Jiver)
  4. Use the application at points of execution to verify and gather more information (like parameters)

Once you have located the target code to hook or have the source code, you can start writing scripts to exploit potential vulnerabilities.

Network Parrot 🦜

From the source code we know that the ‘JokeService’ class returns a ‘JokeResponse’ when querying the API.

The following Frida script intercepts the network service and returns spoofed data as a response:

frida hacking

The basic premise of the code is:

  • Lines 1-5: Define Java types used
  • Line 6: Use the Java instrumentation to perform the hooking
  • Lines 7-8: Define the Java classes in the application binary to use
  • Lines 11-21: Overload the API method in the network service classes
  • Line 18: Log the actual value
  • Line 20: Return the spoofed Response

Kotlin coroutines internally passes an intrinsic parameter to signal the function has suspended instead of returned. In Frida we need to handle this on lines 14-16 before performing the overload by checking for the constant COROUTINE_SUSPENDED.

The command to run the script (frida -U --no-pause -f com.github.ryjen.jokeapp -l network.js) shows application parrots back the hacked response every network call.

frida hacking

The logging should look something like this in the Frida console:

JokeResponse(id=kOfaUvP7Muc, joke=What did the Dorito farmer say to the other Dorito farmer? Cool Ranch!, status=200)

Database Parrot 🦜

When the user adds a favourite joke, we want to hook into the methods that insert the joke to the database. Then we can replace the data with arbitrary values designed to trick the application. The following script accomplishes the task.

frida hacking

The difference from the previous script is replacing the method call with a spoofed parameter instead of returning spoofed data.

Running the script and saving a joke in the application adds the hacked data to the database.

frida hacking

Again, our logging should log the original data for snooping.

Joke(id=EYo4TCAdUf, content=I tried to write a chemistry joke, but could never get a reaction., created=null, isFavorite=true)

Sharing Parrot 🦜

When the user shares a joke, we want to send a hacked web address for the user to follow. We accomplish this by intercepting the android intent system and replacing the joke message.

frida hacking

In the chooser we only look for SEND intents and replace the text value. After running the script, sharing a joke will result in the spoofed content instead. Logging would show the original joke content as expected.

frida hacking

Conclusion: Returning Home

I have shown how to run Frida on a rooted emulator which is a powerful tool for active discovery, testing and manipulation of information in a native application.

Spoofing data in memory is a small sample of what Frida can accomplish (ex. By-passing SSL pinning or encryption).

Avoiding Pirates

The best way to avoid hacking by Frida is to 1) avoid rooted mobile devices and 2) detect if the application binary has been tampered with.

If your application is distributed via the play store a verification API from Google play store is available to add an additional security layer to user actions. Additional backend checks might be necessary depending on your architecture.

At the application level some best practices include:

  • Adding detection of rooting/jailbreaking
  • Verifying the integrity of signing signature
  • Verifying the vendor package
  • Verifying release builds are not debuggable
  • Checking for Frida installs
  • Harden network access points

Enterprise applications requiring extra security should consider a service like NowSecure which is provided by the creators of Frida. Other options include VeraCode, Fortify, or Checkmarx.

Dynamic analysis security services (AKA Penetration Testing) can be run ad-hoc per identified risk. Static analysis security services can be integrated into continuous integration per release.

As vulnerabilities and mitigations are constantly evolving, an application must be pro-active in keeping up to date and knowing its risk factors.

In summary, there are several options to prevent hackers from breaching security at the device level and the application level. A service specializing in detection can be practical and adaptable in a cybersecurity landscape.

** DISCLAIMER: This is partially setting up a penetration testing environment. Do not use on targets without authorization as you would be potentially breaking the law. Bugcrowd has a list of projects accepting testing within limits.

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