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This question has 2 aspects, both are related and equally important from a security standpoint:

1) The "Allow installations from unknown sources" option under Security settings. Most other mobile operating systems do not have such an option as use accessible. iOS requires a jailbreak, WP a developer unlock. Is this option being available to any user justified from a security standpoint? (Also since this option is the primary entity enabling the pirate paradise that is Android).

2) Is root access ability entirely against security considerations for a (consumer or enterprise) Android device? Also, in such a case, can we actually make an Android device completely non root capable as far as the OS and bootloader goes (what OEMs can control in terms of software)? (rooting it must at least involve JTAGing into the CPU and full disassembly of the device)

Technical answers based on the Android design philosophy (no random opinions please) are encouraged.

closed as off-topic by Matthew Read Nov 3 '15 at 15:18

  • Questions on Android Enthusiasts should be asked from a end-user point of view and within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Afraid all answers here can only be opinions. It's not possible to give a purely objective answer without a lot of "ifs" and "coulds". If root were that big a security threat, you'd need to completely disable that on Unix/Linux systems as well (and definitely do the same for the Administrator account on Windows). Similarly "installing apps from other sources". If we had a kind of "driver's license" for technical devices, that could assure the correct use. As we don't have it, removing those features would harm the technically experienced. – Izzy Oct 27 '15 at 13:06
  • I talked with a Security mod and they thought it would be OK to migrate, so I have done so. – Matthew Read Nov 3 '15 at 15:20
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Afraid all answers here can only be opinions. It's not possible to give a purely objective answer without a lot of "ifs" and "coulds". If root were that big a security threat, you'd need to completely disable that on Unix/Linux systems as well (and definitely do the same for the Administrator account on Windows). Similarly "installing apps from other sources". If we had a kind of "driver's license" for technical devices, that could assure the correct use. As we don't have it, removing those features would harm the technically experienced.

Unknown Sources

While it's often recommended leaving these "unchecked" (i.e. disable them) for "security reasons", it's a "double-edged sword":

  • pro disabling: the only "known source" is Google Play, which is considered "most save" due to precautions taken by Google. Users are much less likely to (though not absolutely safe from) installing malware to their devices – hence less issues in this context.
  • contra disabling: many reasons for this:
    • openness: sources like F-Droid are as safe as Google Play in this context, but would need "unknown sources" to be enabled
    • testing: if you encounter a bug in an app, and the dev is going to fix it, the fix needs testing before a new version is published. How to do the testing (e.g. by the reporting user, who nows best about what went wrong/did not work) without the ability to install it? Cat chasing its own tail: App could only be installed from playstore to test it, but could not be put to playstore before being tested 1

root

Here our sword even has more than two edges.

  • user experience: if you don't need root, don't root your device
  • completely bug-free software is impossible, so one cannot prevent rooting (or there wouldn't be jail-breaking on iOS)
  • openness: people like me don't want to be jailed neither to Apple nor to Google or any other company. Getting rid of their "fences" (including their, the manufacturer's, and the provider's bloatware) requires root access
  • as rooting cannot be 100% prevented, a non-rooted device is not that much safer by this definition
  • nothing is safe from "crazy users", and a saying goes that "with great powers comes great responsibility": true, with "root powers" you can cause a lot of problems to your device (best examples can be found a lot on this site, in posts from users who "accidentally removed essential system components". But build a system for idiots (or make software idiot-proof), and only idiots will use it (sorry for the harsh phrasing, but you know what I mean).

Verdict

You can find many reasons pro and contra each item – but there's no objective answer of which way is best. As usually, "best" is always subjective: what's best for me might be worst for you; "one man's owl is anothers nightingale". Non-rooted non-rootable and unknown-sources-unavailable devices might be a good choice for novice non-tech-oriented users – but would be avoided by even a-little-more-technical users like the devil avoids holy water. You cannot defend freedom by using jails for the "free".


1: sure one can bypass this using adb install – but wouldn't you consider this a similar "security hole"? Or, on the other end, would you expect that "reporting user" would go through all steps to install drivers and ADB stuff on a Windows computer (considering Windows is the widest spread desktop OS, and impute this user even has a computer) to test your solution? You'd lose approx. 80% of potential testers this way.

  • Also,the second point under contras to unknown sources-use a developer-restricted method for sideload – Tamoghna Chowdhury Oct 27 '15 at 13:51
  • Technically I could – but why should I? And concerning the "developer-restricted method for sideload": Sure, one could use adb install – but do you expect the average user (who e.g. reported a bug and now shall test the solution) on a Windows computer being capable of that, or want him/her to install required drivers and software just to check your fix? I doubt you'd receive much feedback that way. – Izzy Oct 27 '15 at 13:55
  • Yeah, but then why do you want bug report data from an average user who won't be able to do a adb logcatanyway? Also, this option prevents some developers from publishing on Android as s it allows rampant piracy. – Tamoghna Chowdhury Oct 27 '15 at 14:02
  • No, adb install would not be considered a security hole as it was intended for that purpose (developers) in the first place. – Tamoghna Chowdhury Oct 27 '15 at 14:05

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