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What is a Rootkit and How to Prevent a Rootkit Attack in 2022

Written by, Andriana Moskovska

Updated January, 21, 2022

The most dangerous of all e-threats, rootkits allow cybercriminals to use your banking information, and passwords disable your security software, making it easy for hackers to control your computer remotely.

Stay tuned to learn what is a rootkit, what are the consequences, and how to stay protected.

Let’s get the ball rolling!

How to Detect a Rootkit?

Now, removing a rootkit seems almost impossible. But why is that? 

Unfortunately, the rootkits are so sophisticated that they can locate themselves in some inaccessible operating system levels. That’s really bad because they become immune to malware scans. They are even capable of transforming themselves into unrecognisable items that scanners can’t detect. Things get complicated when you decide to remove a rootkit.

  • Looking for bugs and glitches

By being stuck in the systems and being unstable, they can easily modify the processes. Rootkits can cause computer slowdown, software crash and ‘blue screen of death’. That said, if your computer is slowing down, overheating, or the battery is draining fast, look for malware and rootkit infections.

  • Installing antivirus software

Modern antivirus programs come with rootkit scanners. One example that we can recommend is Bitdefender which has a unique feature, Rescue Mode, that reboots the system. 

How do the rootkit scanners work?

With the help of behaviour analysis, they demonstrate if a specific file performs any strange activity.

  • Using an alternative medium that you can trust

In order to scan an infected device, you can use a USB or another computer. The purpose of this is that the alternative trusted medium would run before the system boots up, and luckily the rootkit can’t recognise the other medium.

  • Analysing memory dump

Since this is a serious operation, this analysis must be performed by a skilled user. Memory dumps encompass the volatile or random memory.

The stored data on a computer that is running is called volatile data. Memory dumps are important because they contain the valuable data as they were before the infection. For example, the analysis of a memory dump can provide internet history, chat messages, running processes and account credentials.

  • Running an integrity check.

There are files with digital signatures created by a legitimate publisher like passports or IDs. By pretending to be legal software, user-mode rootkits do strange activities. However, a detailed analysis of the hacked application’s behaviour can tell whether it’s normal or not. It’s good to know that a rootkit scanner is ingrained in Windows 10. Some antivirus softwares have also integrated rootkit scanners such as McAfee Rootkit Remover. They do occasional integrity checks during boot and run time.

How Does a Rootkit Infect a Computer?

  • Deceptive downloads: as we all know, a device gets infected by malware by downloading from ambiguous software. Rootkits can be attached to pirated media, or they can be sent from untrustworthy emails tricking you into downloading content from a specific source.
  • Phishing sites: the scope of these fake websites is to trick you into giving them access to your banking information, including rootkits.

What can you learn from this? Never click on any link from an unverified source.

  • Drive-by downloads: these are especially dangerous and smart. You can catch a rootkit just by visiting a website. Sometimes hackers ingrain a code in legitimate websites from where you download. 

Best way to protect your computer? Enable automatic updates.

  • Exploit attacks: hackers use software security vulnerabilities in your browser or OS, and by installing an exploit code, they gain access to the targeted device. The exploit code can exist on a legitimate website that has been compromised. Once they get into your computer, they will install the rootkit.
  • Physical tampering: some rootkits can be installed manually. This usually happens in case of a stolen device or by tempering devices before they get to the stores.

Different Types of Rootkit Attack

Now that we’ve covered how to detect a rootkit and what it does to our computer, let’s take a look at the different types of rootkits:

  • Kernel-Mode Rootkits

The brain stem of the computer is called a kernel. Every operating system is divided into two parts: kernel and the userspace, where we keep our files, applications and programs. The OS is organised to keep the bugs away from the whole system.

However, the Kernel-Mode rootkits are capable of making the OS think that the rootkit is part of the OS. So they fool the antivirus as well and try to escape from scanning.

Unfortunately, the Kernel rootkit can modify your hardware and software, install other malicious programs and give access to the cybercriminals to control your device remotely.

  • User-Mode or Application Rootkits

On the other hand, this type works on the ‘user space’. The user-mode rootkits change your files, applications and programs. The good news is that this one can be detected more easily compared to the previous type.

User-mode rootkits enter Windows computers through DLL injection. The DLL (Dynamic Link Library) are files that can allow your processor or browser to access your printer with the same driver. In this way, your computer is fooled into thinking that the rootkit is a printer driver.

  • Bootkit vs Rootkit

A bootkit is a Kernel-Mode rootkit that can reshape the startup code and run whenever the computer boots.

On the other hand, a rootkit is a malicious software that allows hackers to access your computer.

A bootkit infects the Master Boot Record. Given that a bootkit loads before the operating system, it provides cybercriminals with the opportunity to change their bootloader with another under their control. 

  • Firmware or Hardware Rootkits

Similar to bootkits, this type of rootkits alter the most basic parts of the computer. They can operate on a router, network card or hard drive. 

Firmware rootkits are one of the most extreme malicious programs that even a professional struggles in removing, while hardware rootkits can hide in credit cards and steal all the information.

In its range of products, Kaspersky has a rootkit removal tool, however, if your computer is attacked by firmware rootkit, you should hire a professional.

  • Virtual or Hypervisor Rootkits

Hypervisor (virtualised) rootkits treat the targeted OS as a virtual machine, with the rootkit being its hypervisor. No wonder these rootkits can block or modify any activity of the OS, delete data or shut the system down. 

  • Well-known Rootkit Examples
  • NTRootkit: found in Windows OS, represents one of the most dangerous rootkits.
  • Flame: another Windows OS can record keyboard activity, do screenshots, record audio.
  • Machiavelli: works by creating hidden calls and kernel actions, and this is the first rootkit that ever attacked MacOS.
  • Zeus: identified as a Trojan horse that stole banking details by key loggers.
  • Stuxnet: the first rootkit that attacked industrial control software. It destroyed the machines in Iran’s uranium facility. 

What are the Possible Outcomes of a Rootkit?

Long story short, if your device gets a rootkit attack, cybercriminals can access it. They could perform illegal actions, like sending phishing emails to other computers or doing DDoS attacks, which make systems inoperable.

Check the list below to find out the possible consequences of rootkit attacks.

  • Sensitive data stolen

One of the purposes of the attackers is to install this rootkit malware software in order to steal your sensitive data, such as passwords or banking information.

  • Malware infection

The bad news is that rootkits are able to deactivate your security software by installing malware on your device and, again, do unlawful acts on your behalf.

  • File removal

If hackers want to delete files or records from your computer, they will attack with rootkits as they are entirely able to do this.

  • Eavesdropping

Known as spying or sniffing, it allows attackers to gain access to messages exchanged via chat.

  • Remote control

Hackers love this malicious software because it will enable them to access and alter systems remotely.

How to Prevent and Stay Protected from a Rootkit Attack

By now, you’ve learnt that rootkits are hazardous, and it’s hard to detect them, however, there are ways to stay protected:

  • Install security software that will protect you against antiviruses, antimalware and rootkits

Let me help you by listing several good security softwares:

  • McAfee Rootkit Remover is one of the best on the market, which currently detects Necurs, TDSS and ZeroAccess rootkits. Still, their lab is working on more removers for other groups of rootkits.
  • Norton 360 package includes rootkit detection and removal and is able to assist you when your computer gets hit by suspicious malware.
  • Avast offers a free rootkit-scanner and remover.
  • Don’t ignore updates. We know updates can be annoying, but they are important! The best way to stay protected from a rootkit attack is to update your antivirus software, operating system and apps frequently.
  • Checking emails and anti-phishing protection

Next, watch out for e-mail spam and password cracking. Scammers usually send e-mails pretending they are a financial institution. You have to click on a link to verify your identity most of the time. By doing that, you’ll download rootkits onto your computer.

  • Keeping away from pirated software and media

It turns out many people commit software piracy without being aware of that. But knowing what pirated software means is something that every person who uses the internet should know. So bear in mind that the unlawful selling, sharing or copying of software is piracy.

  • Being careful with downloads

Why is it important to be precautious about what you download? Because you can easily click on a fraud and download rootkits, viruses, Trojans etc. And remember, this malicious software can hide in a legitimate file.

  • Monitor network traffic

Usually, the only rootkit symptoms are intermittent traffic and slower speed. That’s why, if you suspect there is a rootkit in your computer software, it’s recommended to monitor all network traffic. 

  • Scanning your system

By now, you should understand that you must do a rootkit scan since it’s the best way to detect an infection. Even though rootkits are able to camouflage, if you believe there is one in your system, do a scan from a clean system.

Bottom Line

To sum up, rootkits are high-profile e-threat that must be taken seriously. Although they are a nightmare even for professionals, there are ways to prevent them and protect your computer software.

Getting good security software, being careful with spam e-mails and downloads, and scanning your system regularly are just some of the ways to protect your computer.

So, don’t wait, take our advice and protect your PC!

Frequently Asked Questions And Their Answers

How to remove a rootkit?

Now, let’s not forget that rootkits hide deeply in your OS. Removing rootkits is not easy. However, if you install specialised software, you should:

  • run rootkit removal
  • perform boot-time scan
  • format a hard drive and reinstall it

What are rootkits malwarebytes?

A malwarebytes scan for rootkits is the newest technology for detecting and removing rootkits. This anti-rootkit scan runs a program that cleans your computer from malicious software.

Where do rootkits hide?

Rootkits perform near the kernel of the operating system or inside it. The bad news is that cybercriminals managed to upgrade rootkits to operate in anything that has an operating system. For example, they can hide in your fridge as well.

Can antivirus software detect rootkits?

Yes! Activating an antivirus software that has a rootkit detector is the best thing to do to protect your computer. Norton, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, McAfee rootkit remover are just some of the options in the market. 

As a digital marketing specialist, I am well aware of how hard it can be to find credible sources online. Frustrated at the state of affairs, I created Don’t Disappoint Me. Now, together with my team of dedicated experts, we aim to bring you 100% reliable, unbiased and recent content on everything you could ever imagine. When I’m not working, you’ll catch me watching a documentary or two, rewatching LOTR for the 20th time, or going on walks with my two dogs, which take up most of my free time. But hey, who’s complaining?