A rootkit lets criminal groups gain authorization over your device to control and modify the target computer environment using administrator privilege. While most infection attacks the scope similar to ordinary malware, some rootkit can affect a much deeper layer of the computer, such as the kernel and network firmware. These characteristics make rootkit extremely difficult to discover or remove. This article will describe effective ways to handle them.
A rootkit is, as the name indicates, a kit or toolset to access the root of the system. Root refers to the administrator's rights to control the target computer, server, or mobile device. Originally was developed by individual device vendors as a security bypass backdoor tool to provide administrator assistant. As an example, there is and Windows OS rootkit as well as one for Android OS.
Unfortunately, over the years criminal groups started to take advantage of using Rootkit for hacking. This approach immediately became one of the most dangerous hacking techniques due to the level of controls that hackers can access. Rootkit allows hackers to remotely execute administrator commands without being noticed by the user. Common illegal activities performed through Rootkit are identity theft, phishing, and activity spying.
History of Rootkit
The first conceptual rootkit was theorized in 1983 by one of the Unix operation system creator Ken Thompson. His idea, which never used as a threat, was to exploit the login command so that an attacker can gain administrator access using the dedicated password.
Three years later, a rootkit called Brain was developed to provide product owners with a way to prevent their system from piracy activities.
In 1999 the first malicious rootkit called NTRootkit was discovered attacking Windows NT OS computers. Compare to other malware, rootkit had quite a long period until being utilized as an actual threat tool.
How does Rootkit Work?
Let's say the carpenter who builds your house have the entry key and records of all the house structures and system. Now imagine a theft who gained a copy of all those without anyone noticing. The theft can now enter your house during your absence to steal items, do illegal things, and set up hidden cameras to monitor where the money is.
What rootkit does is quite similar to what just described. Hackers can gain almost full control of your system and data through rootkit because it is designed to allow unauthorized actions. Installed software can turn into spyware, malware can be freely injected, and data files become all exposed.
Being able to access unauthorized areas of the system means threats can be hidden deep in a much natural manner. This makes threats introduced through rootkit almost impossible to be noticed by most users. To discover hidden malware, using deep scan features provided by antimalware is highly recommended.
What Can Rootkit Do to You?
Using rootkits, hackers can manipulate software programs installed on the target's PC to make it act as spyware. As a result, the user's network streams and keystrokes may be constantly monitored remotely. If a browser program is under spy, the user's financial and social accounts can be jeopardized.
Implementation of a back door to the victim's system or software program is a common threat caused by a rootkit. A back door creates a second hidden gateway where commands and actions can be freely performed by unauthorized users without being noticed.
Streamed data bytes can be decrypted and manipulated by the rootkit to provide secured information to remote hackers. The modified data stream will be used to bypass security checks and gain access to unauthorized functionalities.
Types of Rootkits
Designed to affect the master boot record which is the program associated with the system startup events. When the system boots up, the rootkit also gets activated to root its control to the system fundamentals. Extremely difficult to detect due to infecting the core area that is usually not scanned by the security system.
Injects malicious program into the core of the operating system, the layer between software and hardware called the kernel, to manipulate foundation functionalities to take over controls. Due to the base privileges that Kernel has over higher layer operations such as application, this type of rootkit requires focused observation to discover.
Similar to Kernel Rootkit, these operate on the firmware layer of the system responsible for managing the hard drives, routers, and network cards. The activity period is sync to the device's life cycle. Existence is hidden deep within the code which makes the discovery quite difficult.
Also known as Application Rootkit for gaining application control of the scope accessible by an ordinary user. The life span of User-Mode Rootkit is associated with the user's device usage. Although the infection rate can be higher compared to other types of rootkits that attack the system core (i.e. kernel), the harms derived by User-Mode Rootkit are often less critical. Fairly easier to discover and remove compared to more submerged rootkits.
How to Protect Yourself from Rootkit Infection
Compare to most malware, rootkits are known to be more dangerous and difficult to detect due to its native permission to perform administrator commands. Therefore paying careful attention to avoid rootkit infection by in advanced protection is always recommended.
Install Antimalware Software
The most efficient approach is to install antimalware software to apply protection toward multiple layers. You never know what new or hidden infection route hackers use to deploy rootkit on your system. Antimalware specializes in analyzing any incoming data to make sure no harms are bundled. Additionally, even if rootkit somehow found its way into your system, antimalware will be able to discover in advance to minimize damages.
Be Aware of Phishing Emails
A common way for a rootkit to sneak into your system is through a technique called Phishing. Email phishing will try to trick you to install the attached or linked rootkit using social engineering messages written by the scammers. The message usually contains instructions with alerting stories making the victim feel urgent actions are needed, which leads to voluntarily installing malware.
Check for misspells and grammar mistakes in the message as most scammers are not fluent in writing English. Do not download files or click links unless you are certain that it is safe, which requires an antimalware software. Confirm the email is from an official source by contacting the business represented before taking any action.
Avoid Unofficial or Third-party File Downloads
When downloading a file from the internet, be aware that you are unclear about the file details unless it's from an official source. Hackers often attach their rootkit into an official application and upload it to sites that users can easily find. These files are usually tagged with appealing terms such as 'Free', 'VIP', and 'Unlocked' to attract more people.
The first thumb of rules is, never trust files that are not from a legitimate source, which includes unofficial websites, torrent P2P downloads, emails, and community forums. If you want to take a chance, at minimum scan the files using appropriate antimalware software to check there are no obvious threats included.
How to Remove Rootkit
Rootkit gains administrative control over the system which makes it very hard to be detected by users. Fortunately, years of researches and development have brought antimalware software to discover rootkits in many efficient ways. Recommended antimalware software comes with features that can scan and remove rootkits at once.
Tracing the infection scope can help to define the type of rootkit. Start by investigating the memory and CPU usage to look for any abnormal performance decrease. Also, check for any unusual program names that are using the device resource after bootup. An occasional occurrence of Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) is another sign that hidden rootkit may be active.
Keep every version up to date on your system, especially the antimalware software as well as OS and browser. These updates help increase the chance of discovering rootkits on your system. An ultimate solution is to back up all important files and format the entire computer for a fresh start. Though we suggest running a malware scan against backup files so that rootkit will not come back when restoring backup data to the system.