Self Signed Android Certificates and Certificate Pinning in Xamarin.Forms

Next up is looking at working with self-signed certificates in an Android application. Previous posts in this sequence are:

In this post we’re going to briefly talk about non-secure services. Next, we’ll look at how to trust self signed certificates by adding them to the Android bundle. Then lastly we’ll look at intercepting the certificate validation process when making service calls.

One resource that is particularly useful is the network security documentation provided for Android developers. This lists the various elements of the network security configuration file that this post will reference.

Non-Secure (i.e. Http) Services

By default, Android, like iOS, doesn’t allow applications to connect to non-secure services. This means that connecting to or will not work out of the box. You’ll see an error similar to the following, if you attempt to connect to a non-secure service:

Java.IO.IOException: Cleartext HTTP traffic to not permitted occurred

It’s important to note that this behaviour has changed between Android 8.1 and Android 9. Prior to Android 9 there were no default restrictions on calling non-secure, or plain text, services.

Adding Network Security Configuration

You can enable accessing Http/Plain text services by adjusting the network security configuration for the application. To do this we need to add an xml file to the Resources/xml folder which we’ve called network_security_config.xml:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
     <base-config cleartextTrafficPermitted="true" />

This adjusts the network security for the application both in debug and in production. If you want to access plain text services only during debugging, you should change the base-config open and close tags to debug-overrides (everything else remaining the same). The “Application (Debuggable = true/false)” assembly attribute controls whether or not the application runs in debugging mode.

[assembly: Application(Debuggable = true)]
[assembly: Application(Debuggable = false)]

We also need to add a reference to the network_security_config.xml file. In the application manifest file (AndroidManifest.xml) add the networkSecurityConfig attribute.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
< manifest">"
     <uses-sdk android_minSdkVersion="19"
               android_targetSdkVersion="28" />
             android_value="2.1" />
< /manifest>

You can change the filename of the network_security_config.xml file, so long as it matches the networkSecurityConfig attribute value in the AndroidManifest.xml file.

If you run the application it will connect to the Http/Plain text endpoint.

Plain-text on iOS

In addition to enabling/disabling Http/Plain text services across the entire application, it can also be controlled on a per-endpoint basis. See the documentation on the Network Security Configuration for more information.

Self Signed Certificate Endpoints

Switching the endpoint to a Https endpoint with a self signed certificate (eg will raise the following error:

Javax.Net.Ssl.SSLHandshakeException: <Timeout exceeded getting exception details> occurred

Which of course is completely meaningless, except that we do know it’s related to establishing the SSL connection.

If we look to the Output window, we can find more information about the exception. Unfortunately when an Android app crashes it will spew a lot of mostly irrelevant data into the output window. I’m sure all that debug information is useful in a lot of cases. However, in this case it is a lot of irrelevant information that makes it hard to find the important information. The best way to find more information is to search for the error from the debug session (i.e. Javax.Net.Ssl.SSLHandshakeException). Once found, look at the next 10-15 lines of information. In this case we see

05-04 08:31:21.756 I/MonoDroid( 5948): UNHANDLED EXCEPTION:
05-04 08:31:21.768 I/MonoDroid( 5948): Javax.Net.Ssl.SSLHandshakeException: Trust anchor for certification path not found. ---> Java.Security.Cert.CertificateException: Trust anchor for certification path not found. ---> Java.Security.Cert.CertPathValidatorException: Trust anchor for certification path not found.

This points to the fact that the application hasn’t been able to verify the certificate path for the certificate returned by the service. This result is not surprising because the service is using a self signed certificate and neither the Android device or the application trust the certificate.

Trusting Self Signed Android Certificates

In this section we’re going to use the public key from the self signed certificate. This will allow the application to connect to the secure endpoint, without having to write code to intercept the certificate validation. We’ll cover two different ways but they amount to the same thing. In both cases it’s necessary to have the public key of the certificate authority available to the application. The application will use the public key to verify the certificate path of the certificate returned by the service.

Installing to the Android Certificate Store

The first option is to install the public key of the certificate authority onto the Android device. Android maintains two different certificate stores: system and user. We’re going to be adding the certificate to the user store. Aadding to the System store requires root access and can be done using ADB as shown in various posts, such as this one.

The public key that we need to use is the public key of the certificate authority. As discussed in previous posts, we’ve used mkcert to generate our self signed certificate. The public key of the certificate authority used by mkcert is available at C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\mkcertrootCA.pem

The first challenge is to get the certificate onto the device, which I typically find easiest via a download link. I add the public key to dropbox and then open the link in Chrome on the Android device:

image image

Installing the Public Key

After downloading the pem file, clicking on the file in the Downloads list does nothing. You actually need to go to Settings / Security & location / Encryption & credentials / Install from SD card


The name of the items under settings may vary from device to device. For example Install from SD card might be Install from storage. The quickest way is to search for certificate and go to the item that says something like Install from SD card.


Clicking on the Install from SD card/storage settings item will display a file picker. From the burger menu you can select Downloads which will reveal the pem file you’ve just downloaded. However, this item will be disabled, presumably because of some security related to downloaded items. I initially thought that I’d downloaded the wrong certificate format. In actual fact, if you go back to the burger menu and browse the contents of the device (see third image above) and click on Download, you’ll see the same rootCA.pem file but this time it’s not dimmed out and you can click on it.


Saving the Root Certificate

If you have a PIN setup on the device, when you click on the rootCA.pem, you’ll need to enter your pin. After entering your PIN you’ll be asked to enter a Name for the certificate and what the certificate is to be used for.

The Name isn’t particularly useful since it doesn’t show up anywhere. It doesn’t appear in either the Trusted credentials screen (second image, showing the added certificate), nor the Security certificate popup that appears if you click on the certificate for more information.

Since we want the certificate to be used by the app we leave the default use, “VPN and apps”. At this point if you open the service endpoint in the browser you should see that the certificate is trusted.


Accessing the Android Certificate Store

Now that we’ve installed the certificate, there’s just one change we need to make to the Android application itself. By default Android applications will only use certificates in the system store. However, you can adjust the application to make use of the user certificate store. To do this we need to add a trust-anchors and certificates elements to the network_security_config.xml with the following contents:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
            <certificates src="user" />

In this case, the certificates element will only be used when the application is running in debug mode (ie by using the debug-overrides element). Running the application now will return data from the Https endpoint.


The issue with this approach is that the public key for the certificate authority has to be installed on the device. Since the public key appears in the user store, it means that at any point the user could remove it. Whilst it is unlikely that the user will delete the individual item, they may decides to clear all cached credentials.

Clearing cached credentials has the unfortunate side effect of clearing out the user store, thus preventing the application from running. If you’re only connecting to endpoints for the purpose of development or debugging, this option may be sufficient and would minimise the changes required to the application.

Adding to Application Package

The second option is to add the public key of the certificate authority to the application package itself. We’ll use the DER format for the public key which we generated from the mkcert public key file in the previous post. Add the kestrel.der file to the Resources / raw folder, with Build Action set to AndroidResource, and the Custom Tool to MSBuild:UpdateGeneratedFiles.


You need to link the public key to the network security configuration file. Add the trust-anchors and certificates elements to the network_security_config.xml file as follows:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
             <certificates src="@raw/kestrel" />

If you only want to use the certificates in debugging, exchange the base-config with debug-overrides.

That’s all you need to do to be able to access a service that uses a self-signed certificate.

Validating Server Certificates (i.e. Android Certificate Pinning)

The other alternative to working with self signed certificates is to override the certificate validation that is done as part of each service request. On Android you can override the ConfigureCustomSSLSocketFactory and GetSSLHostnameVerifier methods on the AndroidClientHandler. For example, here’s a CustomerAndroidClientHandler that inherits from the AndroidClientHandler and overrides these methods:

public class CustomAndroidClientHandler : AndroidClientHandler
     protected override async Task<HttpResponseMessage> SendAsync(HttpRequestMessage request, CancellationToken cancellationToken)
         request.Version = new System.Version(2, 0);
         return await base.SendAsync(request, cancellationToken);

    protected override SSLSocketFactory ConfigureCustomSSLSocketFactory(HttpsURLConnection connection)
         return SSLCertificateSocketFactory.GetInsecure(0, null);

    protected override IHostnameVerifier GetSSLHostnameVerifier(HttpsURLConnection connection)
         return new BypassHostnameVerifier();

internal class BypassHostnameVerifier : Java.Lang.Object, IHostnameVerifier
     public bool Verify(string hostname, ISSLSession session)
         return true;

We’ve also included the class BypassHostnameVerifier, which is a basic implementation of the IHostnameVerifier that needs to be returned from the GetSSLHostnameVerifier method. In the ConfigureCustomSSLSocketFactory method we’re returning a factory generated by the GetInsecure method. According to the method documentation the GetInsecure method “Returns a new instance of a socket factory with all SSL security checks disabled”. The documentation goes on to provide a warning “Warning: Sockets created using this factory are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks!”.

I would like at this point to reiterate this warning. By providing your own handling of the SSL checks, you are effectively taking ownership and responsibility of making sure your application isn’t being hacked. As such, I would recommend only overriding these methods when you need to connect to a service that uses a self signed certificate. Make sure that in the Verify method you validate the service response to ensure only responses with self signed certificates that you trust are processed (ie check for man-in-the-middle attacks).

If you’re just interested in certificate pinning (i.e. ensuring that your application is connecting to a server that is returning a known certificate) you can simply override the GetSSLHostnameVerifier method. This will leave the default SSL verification/security in place but give you the opportunity to validate that the certificate being returned is what you expect.

Http2 Handling on Android

The bad news is that Http2 combined with self signed certificates doesn’t currently play nicely with the out of the box AndroidClientHandler. The AndroidClientHandler is the default and preferred handler on Android. When you attempt to connect to a service that is Http2 only and it uses a self signed certificate, you’ll probably see an error similar to the following:

Javax.Net.Ssl.SSLHandshakeException: Connection closed by peer occurred

Unfortunately there’s no simple solution without importing another library. Luckily, the ModerHttpClient library has the code necessary to do this and is updated slightly in the modernhttpclient-updated nuget package.

Please do not include the nuget package in your application as neither the original or the updated package are being actively maintained. Instead, copy the source code that you need (in this case the NativeClientHandler) and take ownership of maintaining it within your application logic.

To round this out, here’s an example that overrides the NativeMessageHandler to set the Http version to 2.

public class CustomNativeClientHandler : NativeMessageHandler
     protected async override Task<HttpResponseMessage> SendAsync(HttpRequestMessage request, CancellationToken cancellationToken)
         request.Version = new System.Version(2, 0);
         return await base.SendAsync(request, cancellationToken);

And when an instance of the CustomNativeClientHandler is created, the EnableUntrustedCertificates property is set to true. This effectively disables any of the SSL checking, so again opens up the risk of man-in-the-middle attacks.

Mvx.IoCProvider.LazyConstructAndRegisterSingleton<HttpMessageHandler, IServiceOptions>(options =>
     return new CustomNativeClientHandler
         AutomaticDecompression = options.Compression,
         EnableUntrustedCertificates = true

And when we run this, we can see that the Http protocol used is Http/2.


In this post we’ve touched on using both self signed certificates, as well as certificate pinning. This is not an easy topic but important for application developers to be across. If you come across issues with your application security, feel free to reach out on twitter or via Built to Roam’s contact page.

Nick Randolph @thenickrandolph

Built to Roam on building cross-platform applications

6 thoughts on “Self Signed Android Certificates and Certificate Pinning in Xamarin.Forms”

  1. Thanks for the article. I am having issue with xamarin forms android and trying to follow your steps to “Adding to Application Package”. However i got lost on the step to generate the DER file. Where do I get pfx file so that I can extract public key from? I have control over the IIS server, so went and extracted the pfx file using Server Certificate then extracted pem, then der from it, then used it in Android project, but that didnt fix it. What did I do wrong?

    Thank you for your assistance!

  2. Hello Nick!
    Nice article, but I need real example with not self signed certificate. You have for that theme article?


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