Android Reverse Engineering for Data Science

Almost a year ago I started using an app called “Too Good To Go” (this article is not sponsored!). Its goal is to reduce food waste by allowing stores from all around Europe to sell their unsold products to the app users at a very small price. You usually pay 20 to 50% of the retail price, but the products have very short expiration dates and you don’t know what you will get beforehand.

img app1 img app2 img app3

I absolutely love the app (still not sponsored, but @toogoodtogo feel free to slide in those DMs) to get fancy stuff at a very low price, or to challenge my cooking creativity by getting random food from my local grocery store.

The only issue is that demand is always higher than supply on high-quality stores, so it’s quite challenging to buy at the right time when a store just restocked and there is still stock available. On the most hyped stores, stock typically lasts less than 10 minutes after restock.

Until a few weeks ago, stores in France could only sell for the same day, which meant that next-day restocks were only taken into account at midnight. I only had to set an alarm and got my packages every time. However, a recent change made it possible for stores to restock for the next day, which means that restocks can now happen pretty much anytime and are much harder to predict.

Instead of being one of those normal people constantly watching the application for new offers on the best stores, I decided to put my degree to good use and automate it. Also, there are never enough open datasets in the world, so I decided to have one for myself and have some fun with it :)

First step - Find the API

Apps usually communicate with servers through an API. By communicating with the backend through such an API, we can divert the stream of useful data for our own use. The first reflex is to search for a public API for the product, but there isn’t one.

Having not found any hints about any endpoints online, we have to get dirty and find them ourselves. The app knows how to communicate with the API, and we can download a copy of the app to reverse engineer it.

After downloading the .apk (Android package) file corresponding to the app, let’s load it into a visual decompiler for Android called JADX.

img jadx

We know that the app is inside package (it’s also Google Play Store’s internal identifier), so we can take a look at the class hierarchy and see if something API-related comes up.

img jadx2

Sadly, all classes have names like e.d.b which makes it very hard to understand what’s going on…

img jadx3

Does it mean that the company obfuscated their source code to make it harder to reverse ? No. It’s actually due to the fact that many informations are stripped from the original source files (including the filename) when compiling to an APK file, much like compiling a Java file to a .class file. JADX actually does a very good job converting Android bytecode back to source code, and it can also try to guess the original filename by enabling deobfuscation.

img jadx4

Even with all the class hierarchy, the app is still quite a big piece and it’s not easy to see how all the parts interact. But we don’t really care, all that matters is how to get to the juicy API. For that, we can search the package for the string “https://” in hopes of finding an endpoint.

img jadx5

Among the 142 results in the search, there are some that look very promising like There is no obvious endpoint to the API and hitting the URL returns an error so we have to dig deeper in the app (UPDATE: Swagger doc has since been added to this URL).

One way would be to find the string containing the URL, and finding all references to that string. JADX allows us to find references, so we quickly find a lot of pieces which use this string as a base to build URLs.

img jadx6

img jadx7

Owning this list of endpoints is cool but not very useful : the server often expects us to send parameters to the API (search criteria, user credentials, GPS position, etc.) but these query parameters are nowhere to be found in the source code related to these endpoints. This means the endpoints must be generated somewhere else. After a few more searches, we finally get it : a few lines of code where endpoints are actually called with all the query parameters needed !

img jadx8

The reason this list didn’t appear in the original search was because they actually use function annotations to make HTTP calls, and the URL is not explicitly specified.

We could also have used a technique to intercept live network communications made by an Android phone, but this proves to be rather challenging with HTTPS in recent OS versions, especially when certificate pinning is enabled (it wasn’t, but this is quite a common security measure).

Now that we have a clear list of API endpoints, we can start retrieving it for exploitation.

Second step - Extracting all the data

There are a few endpoints that we can use to retrieve all the data.

The first one is list_all_business_map_v2_gz/, which returns a list of elementary informations about all existing businesses. There are currently around 17000 registered stores, which means only a few fields are actually returned (business name and GPS coordinates) in order to minimize network traffic.

Another endpoint we can use is list_business_guestv4/, which also allows for text queries and searching stores within a certain radius. This one returns full business information, but is limited to at most 20 stores at a time (with pagination). Full content includes number of likes, business description, prices, opening hours, and much more.

Both endpoints aren’t really satisfying for our use, they really feel like ‘free’ versions while we can unlock the premium one : by querying list_business_guestv4/ and automatically querying each of the 800~ pages, we can get full business information on all stores in the world !

I won’t post any source code for this - mostly to avoid having someone accidentally DDoS the API - but the scripts should be fairly easy to reproduce at your own risk.

Third step - Have fun with it

Now that we have raw data over 17000 shops, we can extract and visualize some trends. This is mostly for fun, but this can also help identify the best stores and the best times to shop.

We have plenty of info on each business :

  • Latitude, longitude
  • Name
  • Picture, logo, website, email address
  • Original price
  • Selling price
  • Country
  • Address
  • Number of likes in the app
  • Description
  • Start and end of sales
  • Category (restaurant, bakery, …)

First, some basic stats per country :

Country Stores Stores per million inhabitants
Belgium 1198 105.6
Denmark 1859 323.9
Faroe Islands 11 224.5
France 6226 92.8
Germany 2473 29.9
Netherlands 905 53.0
Norway 1260 239.6
Spain 242 5.19
Switzerland 523 62.11
United Kingdom 1359 20.58

Although France has almost as many stores as the rest of Europe combined, we can see that there is a much higher market penetration in Denmark and Norway which are smaller countries.

Many shops have pickup hours in the evening, because it’s hard to predict which food items are going to waste until the last minute. Let’s visualize how many stores are open along a day :

img density_all

No big surprise there, but it’s also quite funny that the peak hour is around 18:40, not a very round figure.

Countries and cultures do not all operate on the same daily schedule, and it would be quite interesting to know if these differences are also reflected in Too Good To Go.

img all_countries

Let’s untangle this a bit :

img all_countries_individual

And so we can confirm, peak opening hour strongly correlates with Bedtimes around the world !

Each store also gives the original and selling price of packages, so we can get some stats on the price difference. Fun fact : The most expensive package costs 53 euros, and is originally worth 160 ! The package is 1.5kg of smoked salmon :)

img old_new

Finally, I was quite interested in visualizing where the stores are actually located around the world and in Paris where I live.

img heat0

img heat1

img heat2

Shops are mostly concentrated around large cities and the heatmap can be correlated with a population map. At a smaller scale, Paris is quite surprising : the highest concentration is on the northern side (right bank of la Seine), in the central arrondissements. I tried to find a correlation with population density or wealth, but didn’t find one.

We’re done playing with all these useless (but interesting) visualizations, congratulations for making it this far ! Here is the good stuff - stores with the most likes in Paris and in the world, so you can add them to your favourites :

Rank Store Likes Country
1 IKI sushi - Østerbro 5339 Denmark
2 Åpent Bakeri Produksjon 4944 Norway
3 Fuji Sushi - Frederiksberg 4866 Denmark
4 Restaurant Soya 2 - Aarhus 4629 Denmark
5 Restaurant Soya - Aarhus 4337 Denmark
6 Baker Brun Bogstadveien 4244 Norway
7 Slagter Friis - Frederiksberg 4218 Denmark
8 REINH. van HAUEN - Falkoner Allé 4017 Denmark
9 Kolonihagen Bakeri 3994 Norway
10 Yo! Sushi Østbanehallen 3872 Norway
11 Jaipur Indisk Restaurant - Middag 3785 Norway
12 Baker Hansen St.Hanshaugen 3715 Norway
13 Brødbakerne - Bislett 3680 Norway
14 Jaipur Indisk Restaurant - Lunsj 3668 Norway
15 Nibon Ya Sushi - Kbh V 3582 Denmark
16 SMELT 3427 Norway
17 Åpent Bakeri Tranen 3398 Norway
18 Renaa Xpress Sølvberget 3394 Norway
19 MÆSK - Frederiksberg 3365 Denmark
20 Gutta på Haugen 3340 Norway
21 Ostehuset - Øst 3302 Norway
22 Det Grønne Køkken - KBH N 3287 Denmark
23 REINH. van HAUEN - Gammel Kongevej 3275 Denmark
24 Bio Nant - Racine 3271 France
25 Vincent Guerlais - Nantes 3225 France
26 Cafe Fika - Aarhus 3222 Denmark
27 Ostehuset Domkirkeplassen 3192 Norway
28 Comptoir Veggie 3156 France
29 Focacceria 3128 Norway
30 Lenôtre Bastille 3115 France

Rank Store Likes
1 Comptoir Veggie 3156
2 Lenôtre Bastille 3115
3 La Pâtisserie des Rêves - Bac 3022
4 Berko 3007
5 Lenôtre Vincennes 2906
6 Tandooright (soir) 2879
7 Les Poireaux de Marguerite - Paris 14ème 2860
8 Mandarin Oriental, Paris 2853
9 La Bossue 2796
10 Sushi Wasabi Saint Germain 2786
11 Les Poireaux de Marguerite - Saint Maur 2730
12 Big Fernand - Paris 13 2678
13 VG Pâtisserie 2670
14 Sol Semilla - Service 16h 2605
15 Lenôtre Lecourbe 2604
16 Opoa 2602
17 Le Garde Manger des Dames 2487
18 Eric Kayser - Bercy Village 2485
19 PAF le jus Pressé A Froid 2456
20 Mamy Thérèse la Madeleinerie 2453
21 L’Eclair de Génie - Pâte à choux 2430
22 Ten Belles Bread 2408
23 La Meringaie 2404
24 Wild & The Moon Charlot 2370
25 Les Belles Envies - Monge 2339
26 Helmut Newcake - Sans Gluten - Madeleine 2326
27 La Pâtisserie des Rêves - Bac - Entremets 2303
28 La Pâtisserie des Rêves - Poncelet 2284
29 Lenôtre Courcelles 2234
30 Top Primeur 2227

Bonus - How not to crypto

While reverse engineering the app, I stumbled upon strange API parameters like subscription_id_encrypted or creditcard_encrypted. Surely this means there is some cryptographic functions in the code, let’s hope they did it right. (spoiler alert : no)

img cryptation

First sign that the crypto’s gonna be fucked is the name given to the class : Cryptation. Seriously, call the crypto police now.

Then, we dig into the actual code, and find that they use AES-CBC. Not the best block operating mode (CBC has several known attacks), but at least it’s AES. Now, where are the keys and IVs located ? Some sort of secret token unique to each user ? No, it would be way too complex, let’s use “12345678901234567890123456789012” and IV = 0 instead ! Yes, the function you see in the screenshot above is the one that contains the key…

Luckily, this example of terrible crypto is not used as the only security for sensitive information, because everything transits through HTTPS anyway. This is just an additional feature from the developers to avoid getting credit cards in plaintext everywhere in the server logs and in the phone’s memory, but any attacker with a decompiler and half a brain can very easily render this layer useless.

This article is coming to an end, so here are some crypto wisdoms to remember kids :

  • Never roll your own crypto
  • Always hash and salt passwords in your database
  • Never use ECB
  • Avoid MD5
  • Avoid CBC
  • Never call anything Cryptation ;)

The visualizations have been made with matplotlib, seaborn, folium, plotly. If you have any special requests like publishing my viz source code, getting a custom data analysis, etc., please get in touch! My Twitter DMs are always open.

Written on February 9, 2019
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