Rooting an android phone - a net gain in privacy, or a security risk?

Let’s talk about rooting Android phones. Many of us run Custom ROMs with SU privileges/functionality built right in, or run Stock ROMs with Magisk/SuperSU enabled. I feel we would benefit from a discussion of whether rooting is a net gain in privacy, or an inherent security risk.

Advantages of rooting:

  • Ability to run privacy-enhancing applications such as AdAway (more consistent than the rootless alternative of DNS66), XPrivacyLua (sends fake data to apps forcing you to give permissions), etc. Keep in mind LineageOS’s privacy guard doesn’t function well.
  • Ability to transparently proxy all traffic through Tor via Orbot.
  • Significantly more flexibility in patching and fixing parts of Android that could potentially be problematic for privacy.

Disadvantages of rooting:

  • Significantly increased attack surface - Neither Magisk, SuperSU or most implementations of custom ROMs are not meaningfully audited for security. An app that maliciously gains root permissions through social engineering (totally legit looking app requests SU to overlock/underclock), or through a vulnerability in SU has complete and full control of the phone.
  • Unlocked bootloaders & root - unclear implications for encryption on Android phones. Could potentially be exploited by bad actors should a phone be physically compromised (e.g. at a border crossing, which US and Canadian border agents are given rights under law to do warrantless searches of phones or to indefinitely seize electronic devices to break encryption). I’m not well versed on this aspect of security, but I’m guessing a bad actor could sideload an application or firmware to compromise the encryption.

In which threat models does rooting your phone make sense for privacy? Is it worth compromising security for privacy? Is it merely a discussion of whether your threat model focuses on corporate surveillance, or nation state actors, or both?

Maybe you should keep custom ROM and rooting separate, as they are different actions?

a security risk

because most of apps will gain more access to most of the phone (or even all) so lets say virus will be so easy to it to effect your phone and control it more than normal phone and about privacy it kinda same because same virus will get more info about you but i’m not saying do not root your phone you are right some of privacy apps need root to run so use root but be careful

imo netguard is far superior to any other firewall on android and it also have the ability to block ads system wide, and does not require root. and XPL have a total different use case than ex adaway or netguard.

personally I always root my phone, mostly because I want to debloat my rom but also because I need access so certain other folder I won’t have access to. but I only allow root ‘once’ when an app need it.

the most important thing is to think and just don’t blindly give every application root access. and to add to this, I have only foss apps installed on my phone.

It’s both and there’s no way around it :frowning:

Rooting your phone is a means to end, that being to install an alternative ROM.

In my own case, I installed an alternative boot loader (TWRP) and then proceeded to install a custom ROM called Mokee which is opensource, so anyone can look at the sourcecode.

One Mokee was installed, the default is that the phone is rooted however, root access is disabled. It can be enabled in Developer Options for Apps and/or Apps and ADB.

I think this point from the OP comes down to a lesser of two evils. Either you keep your phone stock, from the manufacturer which comes with Google Play Services (essentially a rootkit by Google), filled with vendor crapware, other crapware and Google apps that you can’t uninstall which in all likelyhood are spying on you OR, you root your phone and install a Google free ROM such as Mokee, Lineage, etc, with no Google and no crapware.

For me, a Google crapware free phone is worth it.

You can most definitely install a custom ROM without enabling root. LOS recommends not flashing root. Although, you do have to unlock your bootloader if you want to install a custom ROM; which does have implication for security.

Personally I either stay on stock (AndroidOne) and don’t make any system modifications or install a custom ROM and get root access.

Why would you keep stock Android from the phone/telco manufacturer if you are concerned about privacy?