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My android smart phone has fancy features that I can get if and only if I root it, e.g., free-wifi tethering or Cisco VPN (with group name/password). However, the procedure to root my phone has me questioning the underlying security model.

Specifically, I used a method from http://lifehacker.com/5789397/the-always-up+to+date-guide-to-rooting-any-android-phone that uses an application called "Revolutionary" that first gets the phone into S-Off mode (so you can access the parts of restricted parts of the NAND flash memory). Then it downloads and installs ClockworkMod recovery and installs to the bootloader, from which I can then run to install a superuser.apk (e.g., from here.)

Revolutionary is closed source, so I have absolutely no idea if it does anything extra to my phone; e.g., install a (malicious) rootkit, keylog my activities, using my phone in botnet ddos attacks, etc. I don't have any super-secure data on my phone; but don't want say my gmail/android accounts stuff compromised or let some random person use my phone to do random nefarious activities. I'm also a bit paranoid that revolutionary needs a key that you get from their website if you submit your serial number.

SuperUser.apk also appears to be closed source, but seemingly vetted by the avgfree anti-virus team as well as android marketplace. Though I assume I can use tools like android-apktool to re-egineer the apk. I can't figure out if clockworkmod is open source or not.

None of these applications seem to be open source, so I really have no idea what's going on. I don't use my phone for any high-security applications, but was wondering if any security experts have ever looked into these tools. I've tried running revolutionary through a decompiler/disassembler, but couldn't make any headway. Have there been any published accounts of attacks via this method? Am I being overly paranoid? Or should I worry that one of these apps did something like DroidDream.

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1 Answer 1

Non-professional opinion here (not a security guy, more of a software dev), but I'd say in the right hands: more secure, considering how many phone manufacturers are not issuing critical updates to the Android operating system, and how many phones are just running around with giant exploits in them.

Also the source code is available, you, as far as I know, can compile it yourself (download from Google, grab drivers for your phone from one of the various projects providing these drivers, review/compile them together) if you're really paranoid.

Furthermore, people putting hacks into your open-source software is a lot more difficult, being as you have a ton more eyes on the code, and anyone can speak up and reference code that they've forked (hence the original guys can't take it down), and it would pretty much be the end of those guy's professional career.

Edit:

HBoot isn't open source, however they do have alternative open-source bootloaders along with projects analyzing hboot:

http://tjworld.net/wiki/Projects/Bootloader-AP

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The rooting process is not open source. E.g., the first step (using revolutionary to make get to S-Off) on a HTC phone uses an exploit the devs chose not to make open source (claiming that making it open source will let android close the hole in future versions): unrevoked.com/rootwiki/doku.php/public/revolutionary So basically to get to root, you have to at the bootloader level load closed source code written by random individuals; who in principle could easily attach rootkits. –  dr jimbob Nov 11 '11 at 20:35
    
I knew the rooting process was secret, didn't know the bootloader was. –  StrangeWill Nov 11 '11 at 20:39
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Updated, they have open-source bootloaders as I thought. –  StrangeWill Nov 11 '11 at 20:43

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