A rootkit is one of the most difficult types of malware to find and remove.  Malicious hackers frequently use them to eavesdrop on your PC, such as key loggers, or to remotely control your computer, in case of botnets or similar threats. As you can imagine, this is a nasty type of malware and can severely impact your PC’s performance, not to mention your personal data.

“Rootkit.” is Malware bytes detection name for a category of malware that provides threat actors the means to remotely access and gain full control of affected systems without users knowing. To learn more about rootkits, read our related blog content. “Rootkit.” is Malwarebytes detection name for a category of malware that provides threat actors the means to remotely access and gain full control of affected systems without users knowing. To learn more about rootkits, read our related blog content.

The term ‘rootkit’ originally comes from the Unix world, where the word ‘root’ is used to describe a user with the highest possible level of access privileges, similar to an ‘Administrator’ in Windows. The word ‘kit’ refers to the software that grants root-level access to the machine. Put the two together and you get ‘rootkit’, a program that gives someone – with legitimate or malicious intentions – privileged access to a computer.

Because it is able to make changes at the most fundamental level, a rootkit is able to conceal itself, execute files, make changes to a system and track its use without the original owner even being aware of its presence.

HISTORY

Historically, rootkits were confined to the world of Unix and Linux but eventually made their way over to the Windows operating system, starting with NTRootkit, a tool targeting Windows NT that was first spotted back in 1999. Since then, rootkits have rapidly grown in popularity on Windows and today are a common, stubborn blight on the digital world.

HOW DO ROOTKITS WORK?

Rootkits are unable to spread by themselves and instead rely on clandestine tactics to infect your computer. They typically disseminate by hiding themselves in devious software that may appear to be legitimate and could actually be functional. However, when you grant the software permission to be installed on your system, the rootkit quietly sneaks inside where it may lay dormant until the hacker activates it. Rootkits are notoriously difficult to detect and remove due to their ability to conceal themselves from users, administrators and many types of security products. Simply put, once a system is compromised with a rootkit, the potential for malicious activity is high.

Other common infection vectors include email phishing scams, downloads from dodgy websites and connecting to compromised shared drives. It’s important to note that rootkits don’t always require you to run an executable – sometimes something as simple as opening a malicious PDF or Word document is enough to unleash a rootkit.

Type and source of infection

Depending on its method of infection, operation, and persistence, rootkits can be divided into the following types:

User mode (Ring 3): A user-mode rootkit is the most common and the easiest to implement. It uses relatively simple techniques, such as the import address table (IAT) and inline hooks, to alter the behavior of called functions.

Kernel mode (Ring 0): A kernel-mode rootkit lives in the kernel space, altering the behavior of kernel-mode functions. A specific variant of kernel-mode rootkit that attacks a bootloader is called a bootkit.

Hypervisor (Ring -1): A firmware rootkit runs on the lowest level of the computer rings, the hypervisor, which runs virtual machines. The kernel of the system infected by this type of a rootkit is not aware that it is not interacting with real hardware but with the environment altered by the rootkit.

There is a rule that states that a rootkit running in the lower layer cannot be detected by any rootkit software running on layers above it.

PROTECTION

Rootkits may be troublesome and persistent, but in the end, they are just programs like many other types of malware. This means that they only infect your computer after you’ve somehow launched the malicious program that carries the rootkit.

Here are some basic steps you should follow to make sure you don’t get infected with a rootkit, and thus avoid all of these painful and time-consuming steps to remove one.

  • Be wary of phishing or spear-phishing attempts.
  • Keep your software updated at all times.
  • Use a good antivirus.
  • A traffic filtering solution can prevent malware from even touching your PC.

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