To Root Android or Not?

Risky, in the name of freedom

05 Jan 2018
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Android is a well known operating system for smartphones, and it makes up the majority of the devices in the market. This means the operating system is pretty dominant, and is well known for its customisability and the bad “update” window.

To talk about the flaws on Android is another subject, so in this blog post I will talk a little bit about rooting on Android.

What is root?

In simplest terms, rooting your Android means giving you the ability to further control parts of the operating system as a superuser (root user).

What is a superuser? No it is not a common superhero of your day, but the name does hold a meaning 😁 Who is a superuser? That would be you as the device owner.

“Superuser” also has another name, which is root. Amazing how one thing can be both super, and a part of a plant.

To make the comparison worthwhile, we can say that superuser (root) is an administrator power similar to those of Windows operating system. Whenever you want to do something that affects the operating system in a way that is sensitive (in the context of system stability etcetera), this admin power is required. “Superuser” is a term for such admin privilege in the world of Linux and UNIX, and because Android is an operating system which has a Linux kernel, the same terminology applies.

As always, to avoid writing the same book, you may explore in great details by reading on Wikipedia.

Where is root useful?

Superuser, since is an admin power, would be very useful in cases which involves tapping into the power of the Linux kernel. Because Android is a whole lot different than a Linux distro on a PC, the uses of root mainly boils down to enthusiast community (those who customise, explore their phones) because the implementations are very little for broader use (like the PC brethren).

Little use does not mean complete uselessness! As of writing, root power is extremely useful as a gateway to integrate the Xposed Framework, which is a framework for in-memory hooking, that would allow great additions to the Android experience (see MaxLock). It also allows Magisk users to have a number of different root modules that serve different purposes (check mine, btw :P). Plus, it enables you to backup and restore applications with less hassle using Titanium Backup, and save more battery percentage by hibernating applications using Greenify. If you are feeling a little bit more adventurous, you can also make use of root to tweak the Kernel of your Android.

These are the very useful parts of root that you can make use of. Sadly I cannot think of any other uses of root other than mentioned above.

Is root dangerous?

Logically, because an admin access gives an ultimate control over your operating system (and to some extent, the device itself), root can be really dangerous if the power is given to malicious entities, such as another person that uses your PC, a malware, or anything of the same kind. To prevent this from ever happening, it is the responsibility of the device owner to be aware of the consequences when such a power is mishandled.

To give an example of a danger: I always told my friends that their WhatsApp chats are horribly exposed if one could acquire the database file in the /data/data folder. UNIX file system permission model is powerful. By default, the database is not accessible by anything else except root and the application's (which is WhatsApp) UID. However, like I said, if one were to be able to fetch the database file, your chats will now be exposed for anyone to read. Hence, this is where we need to think about not giving root access to something willy-nilly. Perhaps, a malicious and nerdy acquaintance of yours gave you an app that would supposedly allow you to hax in games. You as an end user of course would not know the technical source and algorithms that the app has. All you were acknowledged was that the app hacks games. You gave the app root access with no consideration, and wham, a hidden service or something copies the database and upload it to a remote server of which where this guy has access to. This very example concerns a very small scope of bad intent. Imagine if you gave an app a root access, that it would make use of it to steal all of your information for sale at somewhere shady?

Sidenote: Root access could also be acquired by exploiting flaws in the Linux kernel or the Android OS. This is why OEMs should be aware in the Security side of things and give regular security patches to their users. Users also need to understand that security patches should be a must for installation. More on this sidenote later.

Not really a danger, but it is also worth noting that rooting your device in almost all cases will absolutely void your warranty.

It is also worth mentioning that root is somewhat a very confusing thing, and has a bad rep among many OEMs. They claim that root is 100% bad (without a basis), and often try to prevent consumers from rooting their devices. This has been really bad in the past with users having almost no way to root their devices unless a very critical vulnerability is found in the Linux kernel.

Although chances are slim that your device may have strange and risky way to root it, I would still have to remind you that in some particular procedures, the risk of hard bricking your device may be greater than one can think. So I would always recommend to be extremely careful and analyse precisely what you have read when performing the rooting procedures.

Thankfully the scene has changed for the better a little bit, especially with some OEMs advocating and supporting for community contributions like SONY for example. Nowadays, most devices require to have its bootloader unlocked in order to gain root access, which is in essence more than enough for everyone compared to the old days of trying to achieve root. It would be better if root is at our fingertips like on Linux Distros or UAC access is on Windows, but oh well I could only hope for that day to come.

So should I root?

Based on the explanation above you could have already decided whether to root or not. If you did, then good, you may go on with what you have decided. :D

But if you have not yet decided, then like I always advise to people, you have to take into consideration the purpose and intention of you doing a particular something (in this case rooting your device).

Are you doing this for fun or are you intending to do it just so that you can cheat in games? Did the “uses of root” outlined above intrigued you? Do you understand the bad implications if root access is given to the wrong hands? Do you know that rooting will most likely void your warranty?

If you think root could give you opportunities you have never imagined, but acknowledged the risks that come with root, then I would suggest for you to go ahead and explore the possibilities of rooting. Otherwise do not.

Oh yeah, completely personal opinion here, if you are rooting just for bragging rights and to show off, then I would extremely suggest for you to not root. This behaviour is...annoying.

As a conclusion, I do not really encourage people who takes risks lightly to root their devices since having a rooted device but not knowing the power behind root could let you be more vulnerable to targeted attacks. However, if you do understand the risks, and is keen to make sure that yourself is safe while enjoying the abilities that rooting have to offer, then I would really welcome you to do so.

Thank you for reading! :)

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