Are Custom ROMs Safe/Secure?


Okay, custom ROMs are great. They give a boost to performance, they come based on newer Android versions, and they bring a lot of visual enhancements. But, what about the safety and security? Are custom ROMs safe for stuff like banking or mobile payments? Are they secure? Or is there a catch behind all these benefits? Let us answer.

Just a heads up, this post is about custom ROMs only and not rooting. We have a separate post that explains the security implications of rooting.

Before we begin this though, let’s make a note that the post shall (also) answer the following FAQs:
– Are custom ROMs safe/secure?
– How safe/secure are custom ROMs?
– Are there any security issues in custom ROMs?
– Can I trust custom ROMs?
– How can I stay secure on custom ROMs?

To begin, let’s just put this out that nothing in the world of codes is a hundred percent breach-proof. Every program, every software, every app can be exploited and hacked into, same goes for the Android OS.

Now, onto custom ROMs. To answer the major question, yes, custom ROMs are just as secure as stock ROMs, if not better, as long as you’re installing the right one. There definitely are chances of a notorious developer putting some malicious lines of code and getting access to your data, we aren’t denying that possibility, but the chances of that happening are as thin as the chances of the same being done by the stock OS developers. How you ask? Well, to understand this, you’ll need to know how and why custom ROMs are made.

Custom ROMs are made by developers and development groups out of passion and hobby, and not to sell data and make money. As a reminder, Android itself is a platform that Google uses to gather a major percentage of analytics and data for its advertising purposes. Damn all that, some OEMs like Xiaomi decide to show intrusive ads in their stock MIUI to earn a little more. In contrast, indie developers and small OS development groups (like Lineage) do this to feed their appetite for coding and OS development. They earn enough to keep the projects alive through donations and in some cases, advertisements on their sites. Add to that, most (almost all, except some Chinese forks) custom ROMs are completely open source, just like AOSP, and the codes are put out publicly for anyone to view, examine, and even build ROMs over them. This means, even if someone wanted to put bad codes or key-loggers or data miners, there is a high chance that they’d be caught and abandoned from the developer community.
We aren’t denying the fact that custom ROMs can be hijacked by some miscreant lines of code, we’re just saying that the chances of that happening with any open source ROM is really, really thin, and that too, would be mostly unintentional. ‘Open source’ is the keyword here.

Next up, what can you do to ensure maximum security on custom ROMs? First and foremost, download ROMs ONLY from where the developer asks you to. That includes links on the official forum posts on XDA, official ROM websites, or links sent by the developers on the group chat. To make things clear, we also link to the official forum posts and websites in posts throughout our website whenever we talk about a ROM and we never include direct/self-hosted/mirrored download links, unless a project has been abandoned and the official download links are dead. Secondly, if you’re a novice and you don’t know reading codes, like the majority of people, stay away from ROMs that aren’t open source and the ones which haven’t been tried by people already. We review ROMs on our site too, so you can check the reviews out as well. And finally, just take care of what apps you install, what permissions you give to your apps, and keep your ROM updated. That should solve most of your security concerns.

If you’re still paranoid about security though, it would be a better idea for you to just stay away from custom ROMs till you figure your paranoia out. Cheers.

  • Well, what about careless/naive “developers” who cherry-pick and don’t really know what they’re doing? What if my device has no official ROMs like Lineage?

    • Chances are, they know what they’re doing. If there are unofficial ROMs for your device, it doesn’t mean all of them aren’t secure. Unofficial ROMs mean those aren’t maintained by the official groups but by third-party individuals or groups.

      That said, if the ROMs aren’t open-source, or haven’t been tested by many people, you’d be better off not flashing ’em.