What Is A Rootkit? And How To Defend Against Rootkits
A rootkit is a clandestine computer program designed to provide continued privileged access to a computer while actively hiding its presence.
The term rootkit is a connection of the two words “root” and “kit.” Originally, a rootkit was a collection of tools that enabled administrator-level access to a computer or network. Root refers to the Admin account on Unix and Linux systems, and kit refers to the software components that implement the tool.
Rootkits can contain a number of tools, ranging from programs that allow hackers to steal your passwords to modules that make it easy for them to steal your credit card or online banking information. Rootkits can also give hackers the ability to subvert or disable security software and track the keys you tap on your keyword, making it easy for criminals to steal your personal information.
Because rootkits can hijack or subvert security software, they are especially hard to detect, making it likely that this type of malware could live on your computer for a long time causing significant damage. Sometimes the only way to completely eliminate a well-hidden rootkit is to erase your computer’s operating system and rebuild from scratch.
Types Of Rootkits
Here are five types of rootkits.
Hardware Or Firmware Rootkit
The name of this type of rootkit comes from where it is installed on your computer. This type of malware could infect your computer’s hard drive or its system BIOS, the software that is installed on a small memory chip in your computer’s motherboard. It can even infect your router. Hackers can use these rootkits to intercept data written on the disk.
Your computer’s bootloader is an important tool. It loads your computer’s operating system when you turn the machine on. A bootloader toolkit, then, attacks this system, replacing your computer’s legitimate bootloader with a hacked one. This means that this rootkit is activated even before your computer’s operating system turns on.
This type of rootkit hides in your computer’s RAM, or Random Access Memory. These rootkits will carry out harmful activities in the background. The good news? These rootkits have a short lifespan. They only live in your computer’s RAM and will disappear once you reboot your system — though sometimes further work is required to get rid of them.
Application rootkits replace standard files in your computer with rootkit files. They might also change the way standard applications work. These rootkits might infect programs such as Word, Paint, or Notepad. Every time you run these programs, you will give hackers access to your computer. The challenge here is that the infected programs will still run normally, making it difficult for users to detect the rootkit.
Kernel Mode Rootkits
These rootkits target the core of your computer’s operating system. Cybercriminals can use these to change how your operating system functions. They just need to add their own code to it. This can give them easy access to your computer and make it easy for them to steal your personal information.
How To Protect Yourself Against Rootkit Malware
Rootkits are so dangerous, and so difficult to detect, it’s important to exercise caution when surfing the internet or downloading programs. There is no way to magically protect yourself from all rootkits. Fortunately, you can increase your odds of avoiding these attacks by following the same common-sense strategies you take to avoid all computer viruses, including these.
Never Ignore Updates
Updates to your computer’s applications and operating system can be annoying, especially when it seems as if there’s a new update for you to approve every time you turn on your machine. But don’t ignore these updates. Keeping your operating systems, antivirus software, and other applications updated is the best way to protect yourself from rootkits.
Avoid Phishing Scams
Be alert for phishing emails that try and trick you into clicking on a link leading you to a fake website where you could accidentally download a rootkit to your computer. Common email phishing scams often impersonate a financial institution like a bank or credit card company. If you don’t recognize the company name, just delete the email. If it comes from an institution where you have an account, go directly to their website to find a legitimate contact to confirm whatever information you have received.
Regularly Scan Your Computer For Viruses
Running regular scans of your antivirus program is highly recommendable. There is always the chance you can catch malware that was downloaded but not yet executed from damaging your computer.