Enabling Google App Signing for Android Project

Signing key management of Android Apps is a hectic procedure and can grow out of hand rather quickly for large organizations with several independent projects. We, at FOSSASIA also had to face similar difficulties in management of individual keys by project maintainers and wanted to gather all these Android Projects under singular key management platform:

To handle the complexities and security aspect of the process, this year Google announced App Signing optional program where Google takes your existing key’s encrypted file and stores it on their servers and asks you to create a new upload key which will be used to sign further updates of the app. It takes the certificates of your new upload key and maps it to the managed private key. Now, whenever there is a new upload of the app, it’s signing certificate is matched with the upload key certificate and after verification, the app is signed by the original private key on the server itself and delivered to the user. The advantage comes where you lose your key, its password or it is compromised. Before App Signing program, if your key got lost, you had to launch your app under a new package name, losing your existing user base. With Google managing your key, if you lose your upload key, then the account owner can request Google to reassign a new upload key as the private key is secure on their servers.

There is no difference in the delivered app from the previous one as it is still finally signed by the original private key as it was before, except that Google also optimizes the app by splitting it into multiple APKs according to hardware, demographic and other factors, resulting in a much smaller app! This blog will take you through the steps in how to enable the program for existing and new apps. A bit of a warning though, for security reasons, opting in the program is permanent and once you do it, it is not possible to back out, so think it through before committing.

For existing apps:

First you need to go to the particular app’s detail section and then into Release Management > App Releases. There you would see the Get Started button for App Signing.

The account owner must first agree to its terms and conditions and once it’s done, a page like this will be presented with information about app signing infrastructure at top.

So, as per the instructions, download the PEPK jar file to encrypt your private key. For this process, you need to have your existing private key and its alias and password. It is fine if you don’t know the key password but store password is needed to generate the encrypted file. Then execute this command in the terminal as written in Step 2 of your Play console:

java -jar pepk.jar –keystore={{keystore_path}} –alias={{alias}} –output={{encrypted_file_output_path}} –encryptionkey=eb10fe8f7c7c9df715022017b00c6471f8ba8170b13049a11e6c09ffe3056a104a3bbe4ac5a955f4ba4fe93fc8cef27558a3eb9d2a529a2092761fb833b656cd48b9de6a

You will have to change the bold text inside curly braces to the correct keystore path, alias and the output file path you want respectively.

Note: The encryption key has been same for me for 3 different Play Store accounts, but might be different for you. So please confirm in Play console first

When you execute the command, it will ask you for the keystore password, and once you enter it, the encrypted file will be generated on the path you specified. You can upload it using the button on console.

After this, you’ll need to generate a new upload key. You can do this using several methods listed here, but for demonstration we’ll be using command line to do so:

keytool -genkey -v -keystore {{keystore_path}} -alias {{alias_name}} -keyalg RSA -keysize 2048 -validity 10000

The command will ask you a couple of questions related to the passwords and signing information and then the key will be generated. This will be your public key and be used for further signing of your apps. So keep it and the password secure and handy (even if it is expendable now).

After this step, you need to create a PEM upload certificate for this key, and in order to do so, execute this command:

keytool -export -rfc -keystore {{keystore_path}} -alias {{alias_name}} -file {{upload_certificate.pem}}

After this is executed, it’ll ask you the keystore password, and once you enter it, the PEM file will be generated and you will have to upload it to the Play console.

If everything goes right, your Play console will look something like this:

 

Click enrol and you’re done! Now you can go to App Signing section of the Release Management console and see your app signing and new upload key certificates

 

You can use the SHA1 hash to confirm the keys as to which one corresponds to private and upload if ever in confusion.

For new apps:

For new apps, the process is like a walk in park. You just need to enable the App Signing, and you’ll get an option to continue, opt-out or re-use existing key.

 

If you re-use existing key, the process is finished then and there and an existing key is deployed as the upload key for this app. But if you choose to Continue, then App Signing will be enabled and Google will use an arbitrary key as private key for the app and the first app you upload will get its key registered as the upload key

 

This is the screenshot of the App Signing console when there is no first app uploaded and you can see that it still has an app signing certificate of a key which you did not upload or have access to.

If you want to know more about app signing program, check out these links:

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