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What is Rootkit? How to Prevent a Rootkit attack ?

Preventing a rootkit attack is easier than removing it once it is infected. Rootkits are dangerous malware files that embed themselves into applications, firmware, and operating systems. 

Rootkits can hide their activity on a user’s device by subverting the device’s traditional malware scanning techniques.  They move from one computer to another without being detected.  They sneak in using backdoors and steal valuable data out. Malware files like trojans, worms, ransomware, and viruses are executable program files. A Malware scanner can find their behavior by scanning running processes, system files, and saved data.

A rootkit tricks the malware scanner pretending to be a part of the system since it is buried deep inside the operating system. Because of this, your antivirus program may not be able to detect its infection.

Even reformating a device can’t remove some rootkits. A simple reboot of your device can remove some rootkits.

What is a Rootkit?   

A rootkit is a collection of software and tools used by cybercriminals to gain control over a computer or network.

The term rootkit derives from Linux and Unix meaning operating systems. The name of the administrative account in Unix and Linux is called “root”. The software components that implement the tool refers to the word “kit”.

Types Of Rootkits

Hardware or firmware rootkit.

Hardware or firmware rootkits can affect your router, hard drive, or your system’s BIOS. They target the firmware of your device to install malware that is difficult to detect. They allow hackers to log your keystrokes and monitor online activity. Even though it is less common than other types, hardware or firmware rootkits are a severe threat to online safety.

Bootloader rootkit.

Bootloader rootkits attack the bootloader mechanism of the operating system on a computer.  It will replace your computer’s legitimate bootloader with a hacked one. Even the operating system is fully loaded they activates the rootkit.

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Memory rootkit.

Memory rootkits load in your computer’s random-access memory (RAM). It uses the computer’s resources to carry out malicious activities in the background and affect your computer’s RAM performance. Because they only live in your computer’s RAM, memory rootkits disappear as soon as you reboot the system. They tend not to be perceived as a significant threat due to their short lifespan.

Application rootkit.

Application rootkits replace files in your computer with rootkit files and may even change the way applications work. These rootkits infect programs like Notepad, Paint, or Microsoft Office. Attackers gain access to your computer every time you run those programs. Rootkit detection is difficult for users because the infected programs still run normally. As they both operate on the same application layer, antivirus programs can detect them.

Kernel-mode rootkits.

Kernel-mode rootkits are among the most dangerous types of this threat as they target the core of your operating system (i.e., the kernel level). Hackers not only use it to access the files but also to change the core functionality of your operating system by adding their own code.

Virtual rootkits.

Once a virtual toolkit loads into the operating system, it hosts a virtual machine on the target computer. This type of rootkit can be very difficult to detect by any antivirus software.

How does a rootkit work?

rootkit allows someone to gain control over a computer without the computer user/owner permitting it.

Once it is installed, the controller of the rootkit can remotely execute anything on the host machine.

Rootkits are a type of malware that might created to remain hidden on your computer.

A rootkit starts as an executable file. 

It tricks the system in many ways, once it is executed on your device.   It starts by “hooking” the rootkit to a system process and then convincing that process that the rootkit is supposed to be there.

This prevents anyone from noticing any sign of rootkit’s access on the computer. They spy on things such as trade secrets, keyboard and mouse input, credit card information, and passwords. It sent messages to the hackers along with files and processess.

How rootkit installed on a device?

Continue reading and find out the different ways how a rootkits can get installed in a device.

  • Deceptive downloads. When users download and run files from untrustworthy sources, Malware infections occur. A Pirated software may come with a rootkit malware.  An attachment from sppofed email addressess can also be a rootkit.
  • Phishing sites. Phishing sites are fake websites that mimic legitimate web pages to steal user information. They might convince anyone to download malware files which include rootkits.
  • Drive-by downloads. By exploiting browser vulnerabilities hackers can force malware onto your device.
  • Exploit attacks. Software vulnerabilities in your browser give an advantage to exploits allowing hackers to access your device.

How dangerous are rootkits?

The danger comes from the malware whose traces the rootkit covers, not from the rootkit itself.  Its capability in hiding files and processes and from virus scanners and security solutions is a credible challenge to your online security. The danger level of the rootkit infection is dependent on what the intruders are planning to do in your system.  It also depends on what type of malware the intruder wants to place on the system.

How to Detect a Rootkit?

It is much easier to prevent rootkits from infecting than it is to remove them from your device.

Though it is impossible without an advanced anti toolkit detection tool, Detecting and removing a rootkit is extremely difficult.   It is because a rootkit takes some measures to ensure its survival by hiding its presence in the system.  A rootkit can evade operating systems and can subvert the anti-malware tools.

Rootkit detection can take different approaches because of these technical complications. There are rootkit detection and removal tools available today.  Bitdefender and McAfee both make specialized anti-rootkit software.  They can remove most of the rootkits from your disk.

However, if you think your system has been infected with a rootkit, you should consult with a cybersecurity expert. Many rootkits can survive defragmentation of the hard drive or even a total OS reinstall.

How to Stay Protected and prevent a rootkit attack

There are many steps a user has to take to prevent a rootkit attack. These steps are simple and easy to follow. Be sure to implement before rootkit enters your devices through backdoor.

Use Anti-Malware Software with Rootkit Detection

Windows has made significant upgrades with its protections.  Windows features like Boot Guard, UEFI hardening, and System Guard all provide a powerful layer of anti-rootkit protection.

But advanced anti-malware programs like  McAfee, Bitdefender, and Norton 360 have better malware protection than Windows Defender. 

These anti-malware programs use behavior analysis, advanced firewalls, and machine learning to provide real-time protection against rootkit download and deployment. Also Bitdefender and McAfee both provide advanced anti-rootkit detection and removal tools.

Do NOT Ignore Updates

Updates usually contain security patches that close up vulnerabilities, even though they are pretty annoying. Rootkit intrusion is less lilkely, if your softwares are up-to-date.

Vulnerabilities in any software can provide a backdoor route for hackers into your system. Some anti-malware software like Norton and Avira include vulnerability scanners that can give you live updates if any of your software is out of date.

Get Anti-Phishing Protection

A phishing site which is designed to be a legitimate site is hard to detect.

These sites might used to steal your information. They can convince you to install malware on your devices.  

Anti-phishing tools from antiviruses software like Avira use a large database of known phishing sites. They also scan and track them to help prevent phishing attacks and block suspicious websites.

Avoid Pirated Software and Media

Cracked software and pirated media might be free.

But they were misused by cybercriminals to install rootkits and other malware onto victim’s devices.

You’re giving an unknown hacker permission to make changes on your device, once you run a pirated file on your disk. This can include installing rootkits. Once it has given permission torun, it can quickly hide on your machine.

Of course, the best antivirus scanners will perform real-time virus scans. Also, they should be able to block malware files before you run them. Everyday new malware variants are relased. So it’s better to be cautious and avoid pirated software and media outrightly.

Can antivirus software detect rootkits?

Sometimes, yes. Some of the most well-known rootkits leave a few signs on user devices, which make them detectable by antivirus scanners.

For example, both Bitdefender and McAfee’s rootkit removers can detect the ZeroAccess, TDSS, and Necurs family of rootkits on user devices. In my testing, anti-malware suites like Norton and TotalAV were also able to detect these known rootkits.

However, because rootkits subvert the computer’s own detection systems to hide their presence on user devices, it’s always possible that a new type of rootkit will be able to escape detection.

If you think you’ve been infected by a rootkit, I recommend downloading antivirus software and also taking your device to an IT specialist to ensure that the rootkit is completely removed from your device.

Prevent a rootkit attack – End note

Rootkits are dangerous malware files.  It is hard to get rid of a rootkit once it infects your device, but it is easy to prevent a rootkit attack It is easy once you understand how to protect your valuable information from a rootkit attack.