One of the most controversial topics when it comes to mobile devices is the idea of rooting and jailbreaking.
Although rooting and jailbreaking are technically different processes on different platforms, the end-goal is the same: to gain higher-level privileges and access to sensitive functionality that isn’t normally available (for simplicity, we’ll use the word “rooting” to refer to both). Let’s look at the pros and cons of rooting and examine how and why we need to protect against it.
Rooting is a technical process driven by practical and philosophical desires. The practical aspect is that rooting lets you install apps that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to use, either because the platform is locked to a single app store (iOS) or because the app requires access to sensitive internal functionality (Android and iOS). Philosophically, some technically-minded people (including most white hat hackers) want the ability to access everything on their smartphones, which is why many Android smartphones come with unlocked bootloaders. However, rooting is also complex for most people and can cause issues with system stability, software updates, warranties, and most of all security.
The Root of the Problem
Preventing and detecting rooting is one of the most difficult games of cat-and-mouse in all of security. Hackers are constantly looking for new vulnerabilities and many devices are rooted before they’re even released. A well-designed piece of malware with super user permissions can easily hide itself from a simple root-detection app that’s just looking for flags typically associated with rooting. The most effective way to detect rooting is to use a hardware root of trust to integrate the solution across the hardware, OS and app layers.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Business
The simplest way to protect yourself is to not root your device, but many devices can also be rooted without your knowledge, either by malware installed on the device or in some cases even remotely. Whether you’re an individual consumer or an IT administrator tasked with protecting thousands of devices, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your business:
- When possible, use devices with built-in rooting protections; look for features like hardware root of trust and integrity detection. If all else fails, Google “how to root/jailbreak ”. If you find lots of websites with simple instructions on how to root the latest OS, that’s usually not a good sign.
- Download apps from trusted sources. Native app stores like Google Play and BlackBerry World have built-in app vetting systems that protect against malicious apps. Third-party app stores are hit-or-miss, with many lacking the resources to implement robust malware detection.
- Be careful with free apps that request unnecessary sets of permissions. If a flashlight app needs access to your system settings, it’s probably going to be doing more than enabling the flash on your camera.
- As an IT administrator, deploy Enterprise Mobility Management solutions that detect and protect against rooted devices. Make sure you’re able to remotely track those devices and quarantine them from your enterprise network.