Everything you need to know about
rootkits and how to protect yourself
A rootkit is not a virus. It’s not spyware, nor is it a Trojan. So then, what is it exactly?
While being associated with malware, rootkits are not naturally malicious. However, their power to manipulate a computer’s operating system and provide remote users with authorized access has made them popular tools among cyber criminals.
You can learn about rootkits, their types, and how to protect your system against this long-standing cyber threat.
What is a Rootkit?
A rootkit is a covert computer program that provides continued access to a system or network while actively hiding its presence.
Although most rootkits impact the software and operating system, some can contaminate your computer’s firmware and hardware. Rootkits are experts at hiding their presence, but though they are hidden, they stay active.
Once they gain unauthorized access to your computers, rootkits allow cybercriminals to steal financial information and personal data. It also installs malware or uses computers as a botnet to distribute spam and join DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks.
The name “rootkit” comes from Unix and Linux operating systems, where the account admin is called the “root.” The applications which permit unauthorized root or admin-level access to the device are known as the “kit.”
How do Rootkits Work?
Rootkits cannot spread by themselves and instead rely on hidden tactics to infect your computer. They secretly hide in software that appears to be legitimate and can be functional. However, the rootkit quietly sneaks inside when you grant the software permission to install into your system. After this, it can stay inactive until the hacker activates it.
Rootkits are tricky to detect and remove due to their capability to hide from administrators, users, and many security products. Once a system has a rootkit, the possibility of malicious activity is high.
So as you know, rootkits sometimes need you to run an executable. Sometimes, simple files such as opening a malicious PDF or Word document are enough to release a rootkit.
Types of Rootkits
Hardware or Firmware Rootkit
Hardware or firmware rootkits can impact your router, hard drive, or a system’s BIOS, i.e., the software installed on a tiny memory chip in your computer’s motherboard.
Instead of targeting your operating system, a firmware rootkit targets your device’s firmware to install malware that is challenging to detect. Because this rootkit affects hardware, it allows hackers to log your keystrokes and observe your online activity. As a result, hardware or firmware rootkits are serious threats to your online safety.
The bootloader rootkit contaminates the Master Boot Record of your hard drive or additional storage devices connected to the system. It attacks the system by replacing your computer’s legitimate bootloader with a hacked one. This triggers the rootkit before your computer’s operating system is completely loaded.
A memory rootkit hides in your computer’s RAM (random-access memory) and uses its resources to carry out malicious activities in the background. Since they live only in your computer’s RAM, memory rootkits vanish as soon as you reboot your system.
Sometimes additional work is required to get rid of them. Therefore, memory rootkits tend to impact your computer’s RAM performance. However, their short lifespan also means they are not a significant threat.
Application rootkits replace inbuilt files with rootkit files in your computer. They also change the way standard applications work. Unfortunately, these rootkits can contaminate and corrupt programs like Notepad, Microsoft Office, Paint, etc.
Hackers get access to your device every time you run these corrupted programs. Rootkit detection is difficult for users as the infected programs still keep running. Antivirus programs can detect them since they both work on the application layer.
Kernel Mode Rootkits
Kernel mode rootkits are among the most extreme threats as they target your operating system’s core (i.e., the kernel level). Hackers use them not only to change the functionality of your device but also to access files by adding their code.
Virtual Machine-based Rootkits
Virtual machine-based rootkits operate as malware that controls one or many virtual machines. This is why the rootkit and the virtual environment cannot be discovered or are extremely difficult to detect.
A virtual machine-based rootkit (VMBR) loads itself under the existing operating system, then operates it as a virtual machine. This way, a VMBR can go undetected unless you use special tools to look for it.
How to Avoid Rootkits?
Rootkits can be dangerous and hard to detect, so it is crucial to stay alert when downloading programs or browsing the internet. You can also follow the simple steps below to prevent a rootkit infection.
1. Use a comprehensive cyber security solution.
It would help if you took active measures to secure your devices. Install an advanced and comprehensive antivirus solution to keep your system secure. Imagine IT provides full-scale security to keep your network safe from all cyber threats, including malware.
2. Stay Up-To-Date
Software updates are essential for staying secure and preventing hackers from infecting your system with malware as it is ever-evolving. Keep your operating system and programs updated to avoid rootkit attacks.
3. Stay On-Guard Against Phishing Scams
Phishing is a cyber-attack where hackers use email to trick users into providing their financial data or downloading malicious software, such as rootkits.
To prevent rootkits from entering your computer, please don’t worry about opening emails, especially if the sender is unknown to you. Please only click on a link if you are sure about it.
4. Download Files from Trusted Sources Only
Be mindful when opening attachments. Avoid opening links or attachments from people you don’t know to prevent a rootkit from being installed on your computer. Try and download software from reputed sites only. Please do not neglect your web browser’s warnings when it suggests a website you are trying to visit is unsafe.
5. Constantly Evaluate Your Device’s Performance.
Recurring problems on your system or network can indicate that a rootkit is active on your system. Please stay tuned to any unpredictable changes and try to find out why these are occurring.
Rootkits are a very challenging type of malware to discover and remove. Because they are challenging to detect, prevention is often the most viable defense.
How to Detect Rootkits?
Detecting the existence of a rootkit on a device can be difficult, as this kind of malware is specifically designed to stay hidden. As a result, rootkit malware can remain hidden on your computer for a long time, causing significant damage.
Possible signs of a rootkit malware infestation are
1. Slow device performance
2. Blue screen
3. Unusual web browser behavior
4. Web pages don’t function properly.
5. Your Window settings change without permission.
A Rootkit is just one of a thousand tools that cyber criminals and hackers use to infiltrate your system and breach your organization.
This article helped you identify the telltale signs of a malicious rootkit at play.
However, finding and removing them can be another story together. So, in addition to the common sense tips above, you can mount an even more vigorous defense by installing robust antivirus.
And this antivirus must be part of a full-layered cyber security system that will protect your entire organization from a breach.
To get yourself more educated on cyber security, check out this link:
Understanding Cyber Security
If you’d like to learn more about The Security Shield, our fully-layered enterprise-grade cyber solution for midsized organizations would be great. Check this out:
The Security Shield
If you are concerned, you may be infected or need assistance, reach out, and let’s talk.