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What is a rootkit and how can you avoid it?

Sep 04, 2019 · 3 min read

What is a rootkit and how can you avoid it?

You might have encountered some forms of malware while surfing online. There’s one type of malware that is nastier than almost any other. Rootkits are very difficult to remove and detect. Read below about ways to prevent and remove it.

What rootkits do

A rootkit is a collection of malicious software hidden in your computer designed to reach areas typically not accessible to an unauthorized user and take control over your system. Hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in your software to add and remotely control it.

Rootkits are very difficult to detect as they use sophisticated techniques to avoid detection. It might hide in the kernel level, which controls your entire system, or masquerade as other software and even trick detection apps. Rootkits can also boot up with your OS and intercept its communication.

Apart from your laptop or desktop device, a rootkit can also target IOT (internet-of-things) devices. It has a high threat level and is difficult to detect and remove.

Uses of rootkits

Here’s what hackers can do with rootkits:

  • Infect you with malware. Rootkits make malicious software less detectable and can inject it into your system;
  • Open your system to hackers. It can serve as a gateway for a hacker to take over your accounts, data, etc. If the rootkit takes control of your OS, it would also control your device. It can also achieve this via the malware or trojans it injects;
  • Flood your computer with data to initiate denial-of-service attacks;
  • Subvert anti-malware apps and spread malicious software.

They can also be used for good causes such as the detection of hacker attacks, security software protection or anti-theft defense for laptops allowing their monitoring in case of stealing.

Types of rootkits

  1. Kernel-mode rootkit. This is one of the most complicated to detect. Hackers insert this code into the core of your operating system. The kernel level is like the control center of your device, which means that this rootkit can take over your entire system.
  2. User-mode rootkit. This operates on the computer’s application level, hijacking processes, manipulating software, and compromising your data. It is easier to detect as it operates on the software level.
  3. Bootkits. Bootkits infect the boot sections of your hard drive. They are loaded before your operating system or any antivirus software starts working.
  4. Firmware rootkit. These access your firmware software, which controls specific devices such as routers, PC peripherals, etc. Firmware is tied to your hardware and can act as a some devices’ operating systems. As a result, hackers could gain full control of certain devices.
  5. Rootkit hypervisor. These rootkits can run your operating system in a virtual machine. By doing this, it intercepts your original operating system’s hardware calls, thus taking over your device.

How you can get infected

A rootkit can infect your system in the following ways:

  • It can piggyback on the reliable software that you download online. It could be implemented by a website, a third-party, or sometimes even developers themselves;
  • By obtaining or stealing your access data using social engineering;
  • By compromised websites. You might automatically download a rootkit once you access them;
  • Compromised USB drives.

How to remove rootkits

Luckily, rootkit attacks are not too common today as various kernel protection systems are more widely available. However, if you do get infected, the removal process can be quite complicated. It can be eliminated by:

  • Using third-party tools such as antivirus and anti-rootkit applications. Try using several different tools as just a single one might not be enough to wipe it. Make sure the tools are reputable and trusted;
  • Reinstalling your operating system. Depending on the type of rootkit, this might potentially clean the infected device;
  • In case of firmware, boot or kernel rootkits, third-party software might be ineffective. You might need to back up your data, wipe your system, and reinstall everything anew to get rid of it.

How to prevent rootkits

The best cure for all types of malware is prevention. You should do the following to minimize the possibility of rootkit infection:

  • Perform a rootkit scan at least once a month. You can perform it using reputable third-party tools. Make sure they’re safe and privacy-focused;
  • Avoid downloading software from unreliable websites. Use official developers’ sites or trusted official stores;
  • Do not download attachments you don’t recognize or open suspicious links;
  • Do not use USB devices you don’t trust;
  • Do not reply to phishing emails or give out your info to scammers (or anyone you don’t trust completely);
  • Keep your OS and security software updated so that they can respond to the latest threats.

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Paul Black
Paul Black successVerified author

Paul is a technology and art enthusiast who is always eager to explore the most up-to-date issues in cybersec and internet freedom. He is always in search for new and unexplored angles to share with his readers.


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