Inject code to an iOS AppStore Application

Posted: July 23, 2015 in hackware, MacOS Programming


This Article is designated for developers with C++ & Objective-C experience, A basic knowledge of iOS Operating System is assumed.


In this article I will describe an approach enabling code injection to an existing AppStore Application, In a nut-shell, this involves breaking FairPlay encryption, Injecting code, re-signing and re-packaging the App.

Once the process described in this article is complete, the App ( having the injected code on board ) can be freely installed on any type of device, whether Jail-broken OR NOT.

High-level Flow diagram


  • A developer account with Apple
    This is required so after Injecting the DynamicLib the application could get re-packaged and installed on the iOS device, use this link to create one.
  • X-code 6 ( supporting iOS Framework Compilation )
    With X-code 6 it is possible to create custom frameworks, which are, in essence, DynamicLibraries.
  • Two iOS device
    Two devices are required for the process, one, that will run the patched app, and another, JailBroken device with cydia installed where FairPlay is Removed.
  • Mach-O View
    An application used to parse Apple Executable files, use this link to download.

The Mach-O File format

Executable files on OS-X & iOS are stored using the Mach-O format, this executable format is specific for apple and is used to store multiple instances of the binary code, each using a different instruction set ( x86, ARM, … ) along with metadata telling the OS how the code is to be executed.

The Mach-O file format consists of a header followed by a set of commands and one or more segments, Of specific interest is the set of load commands, I will cover this later in details

Application Packaging

Applications are packaged in bundles, a bundle is a ZIP file with an ‘.IPA’ extension, these, contain the Program/Framework executable, and, all of the related resources such as Strings, Images, NIBs, and most importantly the developer certificates and application Entitlements.

A simple IPA is presented bellow, this IPA consists of the Mach-O Executable ( named Tester ), the program resources, located under the Base.lproj folder, the provisioning profile ( named mbedded.mobileprovision ) where the authorized devices are defined,

the Entitlements file ( named archived-expanded-entitlements.xcent ) where specific application capabilities and or security permissions are defined, and ‘Info.plist‘ where the bundle id and other application specific properties are set, later on, these are used to re-sign an re-pack the IPA with the Injected code.

FairPlay Workaround

FairPlay is apples DRM used to protect applications downloaded from the AppStore, it prevents execution of the application on unauthorized devices.

FairPlay removal requires a JailBroken device, Having Cydia and the Clutch tool installed, I have found this site to contain the most up-to-date iOS JailBreaks, high level instructions of the process are provided by this Tutorial, next, I will provide explanation regarding FairPlay Mach-O protection, How Clutch is removing encryption, and, why a Jailbroken device is needed.

Mach-O Executables are signed with the developer certificate, this certificate is used in conjunction with other OS information during FairPlay decryption, The code injection process mandate Mach-O modifications, and these, mandate re-signing with a different certificate ( eg. a custom developer certificate ), this is why it is needed to remove FairPlay before doing any change to the Mach-O Executable.

FairPlay encrypts part of the code segment of the Mach-O executable, the encrypted region is indicated using the LC_ENCRYPTION_INFO load command ( consisting of the ‘encryption_info_command’ structure ) as can be seen in the following Mach-O View snap:

Having ‘encryption_info_command::cryptid’ set to a value different than zero indicate that the Mach-O executable is FairPlay protected.
During the process of Mach-O loading, the operating system decrypt the protected region, and thus, the binary code reside un-encrypted in memory during execution, Clutch is taking advantage of that fact by starting the application, and, once loaded in memory, copies the decrypted section back to the physical Mach-O file replacing the encrypted segment, obviously, accessing another process memory mandate root privileges, and this, is why a Jailbroken device is needed.

Code Injection

Once we have FairPlay removed and the Mach-O is un-encrypted we can inject custom code to be executed on behalf of the application ( at the application sandbox ), this is done by having the code compiled as a framework ( consisting of a DynamicLib ), and, having a LC_LOAD_DYLIB command ( referring that DynamicLib ) added to the Mach-O executable.

As can be seen on the image to the right, With X-code 6, Creating an iOS DynamicLib was made much simpler, with older X-code versions, one would have to tinker through with the solution files to have X-code produce iOS compatible DynamicLib, X-code 6 has introduced a new type of project, the “Cocoa Touch Framework”, which in essence, is a DynamicLib packed together with it’s associated resources.

The compiler attribute “__attribute__((constructor))” is used to ensure the Framework code execute upon ‘module loading’/’application start-up’, this is illustrated bellow:

#import <Foundation/Foundation.h>
#import <UIKit/UIKit.h>

void EntryPoint() {
    NSLog(@“Injected routine…\n”);
    dispatch_async(dispatch_get_main_queue(), ^{
        UIAlertView *alert = [[UIAlertView alloc] initWithTitle:@“Hello”
                                                        message:@“Code Injected”
        [alert show];

The framework code injected to the application executable might have references to common frameworks, for example, both, the Injected code and the Application code might use/refer UIKit.framework, this is a tricky situation since only a single framework version is loaded during execution, using different versions of the same type of framework might cause un-predictable behaviour, having that said, it is essential, either to have the injected code dependent on a minimal set of external frameworks, OR, to make sure to compile the Injected code with the same frameworks used by the application being injected too.

Once the framework to be injected was generated, the Application IPA ( Zip file ) must be extracted and the Injected framework must be copied to the Application executable folder so later on it could get loaded in to the application memory address space, this is demonstrated on the image to the right.
The Mach-O executable is then to be added a load command referring the Injected Framework, this, will make the OS load the framework when the Mach-O executable is lunched.

After the injection has taken place, the Application Executable looks as follows ( in red is the path to the Injected Framework ), Note the ‘@executable_path’ notation, this notation is used resemble a path relative to the current executing Mach-O.

The Injected framework is added as the last LC_LOAD_DYLIB Command to ensure that all the application dependent modules were already loaded.

Sample Code ( download )

This Article is accompanied a simple single file sample-code implementing the Injection logic, the following include an explanation of the major parts of the code.

As stated before, In-order to be able to inject the framework the Mach-O must be un-encrypted ( otherwise signature verification will fail, and, it’ll not get loaded by the OS ), the following code-snap iterate through all of the commands until it finds the ‘LC_ENCRYPTION_INFO‘ command, if found, it verify no encryption is applied by evaluating ‘cryptid‘, the file is concluded un-encrypted if either ‘cryptid‘ is evaluated to zero, OR, when the ‘LC_ENCRYPTION_INFO‘ command is not found.

m_pCmdFirst‘ in the code bellow is found immediately after the mach_header ( whether 64 bit or not )

template< typename T >// Supports both the 32bit and 64 bit versions of ‘mach_header’
bool MachOParser<T>::IsMachOEncrypted() {
    uint8_t*        pPtr = (uint8_t*)m_pCmdFirst;
    load_command*    pCmd = m_pCmdFirst;
    for (uint32_t i = 0;
        i < m_pMachO->ncmds;
        i++, pPtr += pCmd->cmdsize, pCmd = (load_command*)pPtr)
        if (LC_ENCRYPTION_INFO != pCmd->cmd)
        if (0 != ((encryption_info_command*)pCmd)->cryptid)
            return true;
        break;// We have found the encryption info section, no need to keep on searching
    return false;

The next code-snap is responsible for injecting the ‘dylib_command‘ as the last ‘dylib_command‘ of the Mach-O, this is done using ‘m_pCmdLastLoadLib ‘ which is pre-initialized to the last ‘dylib_command‘ upon Mach-O loading ( see the ‘ReloadCommands()‘ method of the accompanied code ).

cmdInjected‘ define the injected command, important variables are ‘dylib_command::cmd‘ that indicate the command type, and, ‘dylib_command::dylib::name::offset‘ that indicate an offset to where the name of the framework is located within the Mach-O, relative to the beginning of the ‘dylib_command‘ command, in our case, the name of the framework is directly located after the command, and thus, the relative offset is ‘sizeof(dylib_command)

One more thing to note, all commands must be aligned to 4 bytes length, and thus, the name of the framework is padded with zeros making sure it is appropriately aligned.

m_vecCommands‘ is pre-initialized with all commands upon Mach-O loading ( see the ‘ReloadCommands()‘ method of the accompanied code ).

template< typename T >// Supports both the 32bit and 64 bit versions of ‘mach_header’
int MachOParser<T>::InjectDyLib(const char* pDynLibPath) {
    union {
        dylib_command    cmdInjected;
        char            __pRaw__[512];
    cmdInjected.cmd = LC_LOAD_DYLIB;
    cmdInjected.dylib.compatibility_version = 0x00010000;
    cmdInjected.dylib.current_version = 0x00020000;
    cmdInjected.dylib.timestamp = 2; = (uint32_t)sizeof(dylib_command);

    char* pLibNameStart = (char*)(&cmdInjected + 1);
    strncpy(pLibNameStart, pDynLibPath, sizeof(__pRaw__);
    cmdInjected.cmdsize = + (uint32_t)strlen(pLibNameStart);
    const div_t d = div(cmdInjected.cmdsize, 4);
    if (0 != d.rem) {// Commands size must be aligned to 4
        memset((char*)&cmdInjected + cmdInjected.cmdsize, 0, 4 – d.rem);
        cmdInjected.cmdsize += (4 – d.rem);

    if (FALSE == IsThereEnoughSpaceForCmd((load_command*)&cmdInjected)) {
        // TBD: In case no space is available in the existing Mach-O, enlarge
        // the size of the file and update section offsets/RVAs
        return ENOBUFS;

    char* pInjectionOffset = (char*)m_pCmdLastLoadLib + m_pCmdLastLoadLib->cmdsize;
    const char* pLoadCmdsEnd = (char*)m_vecCommands[m_vecCommands.size() – 1] +
                                m_vecCommands[m_vecCommands.size() – 1]->cmdsize;
    // Make space for the new command
    memmove(pInjectionOffset + cmdInjected.cmdsize,
            (size_t)(pLoadCmdsEnd – pInjectionOffset));
    // Inject the dynlib command
    memcpy(pInjectionOffset, &cmdInjected, cmdInjected.cmdsize);
    m_pMachO->sizeofcmds += cmdInjected.cmdsize;
    return 0;

Sign & Re-package

This is the last step before the patched application can be used on a non Jail-broken device, In this section a method for signing/packaging using a provisioning profile is demonstrated although any other approach will work ( potentially, even AppStore distribution )

  1. Extract application IPA
    iOS applications are packed in IPA files, which, in essence, are zip files containing all of the application resources, the first thing to do is to extract the Application IPA to a known folder, this can be done using the unzip command-line utility in the following manner:

    unzip %Filename%.ipa -d %dest folder%
  2. Remove existing signature
    When applications are signed, a per file signature is generated, these are stored in a special file named ‘CodeResources‘ which is located under the ‘_CodeSignature‘ folder, to remove these signatures the ‘_CodeSignature‘ is to be removed:

    rm -fR %dest folder%/Payload/%App

  3. Update Provisioning Profile
    The provisioning profile defines the devices the application is allowed to execute on, An iOS developer account is required, click here to generate one, once the provisioning profile is ready it should be copied to the application @executable_path and named ‘embedded.mobileprovision‘:

    cp %profile file%.mobileprovision %dest folder%/Payload/%App

  4. Update Entitlements
    The Entitlements file is a simple ‘.plist‘ file that “confer specific capabilities or security permissions to your iOS” App, it should be copied to the application @executable_path and named ‘Entitlements.plist‘, it refers the developer via the ‘application-identifier‘ variable which must prefix with the developer id, this is illustrated bellow:

    <?xml version=“1.0” encoding=“UTF-8”?>
    <!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC “-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN”;>
    <plist version=“1.0”>
        <string>%Developer Id%.*</string>

    The %Developer Id% can be retrieved directly form the developer portal, OR, under the ‘User Id’/’Org Unit’ when inspecting the developer certificate using using the KeyChain tool.

    Copy the ‘Entitlements‘ file to the ‘@executable_folder‘:

    cp %entitlements file%.pinfo %dest folder%/Payload/%app

  5. Update Framework
    Once the framework is compiled ( into a folder named %Proj Name%.framework ) it should be copied into the the applications @executable_path, make sure to have any descendent _CodeSignature folder removed.

    cp -R %Name%.framework %dest folder%/Payload/%app

  6. Inject Framework to the App Executable
    This is where we use the above mentioned code, compile the accompanied code and run the following to Inject the framework into the application executable:

    Injector “%app path%/Payload/” “@executable_path/%Proj name%.framework/%Proj name%

  7. Sign
    It is needed to replace the signature embedded in the Mach-O executables, and, to re-generate the _CodeSignature folder using the developer identity, during the process of creating a developer account the development signing certificates were installed on the local machine ( this might have been done automatically by xcode ), these can be seen using the Key-Chain tool, OR, via the xcode project ‘Code Signing Identity’ of the project target ‘Build Settings’ ( located at ‘project properties->Target->Build settings->Code signing->Code signing Identity‘ ), the codesign tool is to be used to sign the Mach-O binaries with this identity as demonstrated bellow:

    codesign -s “%KeyChain cert name%” –force –deep “%dest folder%/Payload/%app”


    codesign -s “%KeyChain cert name%” –force –deep “%dest folder%/Payload/%app Name%.framework/%Proj Name%”

    Once the application executables signature is updated/replaced, the _CodeSignature folder is to be reconstructed using the development signing certificates and the Entitlements file:

    codesign -s “%KeyChain cert name%” –entitlements “%dest folder%/Payload/%app” –force –deep %dest folder%/Payload/%app

  8. Re-package
    The last step is to zip together all of the resulting files into an IPA, this is done using the zip command in the following manner:

    zip -r %dest folder%/%Name%.ipa “%dest folder%/Payload/

  9. Deploy
    That’s it, all is set, simply drag the resulting IPA on to iTunes and install the patched application on a provisioned device as described on the ‘Installing Your App on Test Devices’ of this link.
    If the app being packaged include 3rd party Frameworks and/or Extensions these are also to be signed, of specific importance is the order in which they are signed, for example, if the app is composed of the following dependent modules


    the order in which they are to be signed must be bottom to top, thus, %tool app% -> %Extension% -> %app name%, otherwise package verification will fail and the app will not get installed on the device.

    When signing a module ( App/Framework/Extension/… ) the generated _CodeSignature refer all of it’s decedents, if any of the decedents is changed AFTER the _CodeSignature was generated verification will fail due to signature inconsistency and the app will not be installed, To avoid that, module signing must be bottom to top.

    A handy way to verify validity is to use the following for each of the embedded modules

    codesign –verify –verbose %App/Extension/Framework Name%

End result

Background is intentionally blurred

Risks & Limitations

  • Usage of a provisioning profile ( ad-hoc distribution ) limits usage on up to 100 devices
  • Injected framework must consist of a minimal set of dependencies to avoid different version of the same framework being loaded by the Mach-O
  • The current injection code takes as granted that there is enough space available between the last command and the first section for the Injected ‘dylib_command‘, while I have seen no cases where there was not enough space, in theory such a case can exist, to deal with it, a page aligned block should be inserted, and, all sections RVA should get correspondingly modified.


The write of this article takes no liability for any direct of indirect damage that usage of the accompanied source code and the demonstrated approach might cause.


Register as a developer with Apple, Mach-O file format, Mach-O View, Appels FairPlay, Creating provisioning profiles,
Application Entitlements, Bundle Structure, Cydia, Clutch Open-Source project, Creating Your Team Provisioning Profile, Working with the System Key-Chain, codesign tool, Beta Testing iOS Apps

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the detailed and very useful article.

    But I’m not sure how do I find out the %Developer Id% mentioned in the entitlements.plist file in Step #4? I checked my “iPhone Developer” certificate in Keychain Access tool but not sure value of which field (“User ID”, “Common Name”, “Organizational Unit”) is the %Developer Id%. Please help.

    Thanks in advance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nadavrub says:

      It’s found on the developer portal, and, part of the embedded.mobileprovision file of an existing IPA compiled for development ( see the ‘’ variable )


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