The invisible rootkit threat and its mitigation

Anton P. | July 3, 2020

A rootkit is like a toolbox of the malware world. It’s a dangerous program that lets hackers gain control over computer systems without the victims’ knowledge. The ability to break into and manipulate devices silently made rootkits popular in the cyber world. Read on to find out what a rootkit is, why it’s so dangerous, and how to protect your system against it.

What is a rootkit?

The term ”rootkit“ comes from the Unix world, where the word “root” stands for accounts with full access privileges. It is similar to “Administrator” in Windows. The “kit” defines software that grants root-level access to a particular computer. So, a rootkit represents a program that gives someone full access to a machine.

The owner of the rootkit can execute files, change system configurations, access log files, monitor activities, and more. As a rule, hackers perform these actions without users’ knowledge or consent. Most malicious programs can conceal themselves in extremely surreptitious ways. Furthermore, they can be sophisticated enough to circumvent antivirus detection applications and other security tools.

Due to its exploitation for hacks, experts associate rootkits with malware. However, such parasites can’t spread on their own. Instead, they rely on stealthy techniques to infiltrate your computer. It can happen through email phishing scams, programs on dodgy websites, or compromised USB flash drives.

What can a rootkit do?

A rootkit is one of the most dangerous threats because it can perform a set of intrusive and privacy-violating actions. Potential consequences of these acts include:

  • Malware infection. Rootkits can conceal malicious software from antivirus programs by deactivating security tools without victims’ knowledge.
  • Keylogging. They can allow hackers to install vicious parasites that log everything you type. Hence, hackers can steal credit card numbers, account credentials, social security numbers, etc.
  • File removal. Thanks to the exclusive privileges, attackers can easily delete PC’s directories, registry keys, and files.
  • “Zombify” your device. They can make your device act as a bot for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. In the case of DDoS detection, all traces lead directly to the victim instead of the real attacker. Along with DDoS attacks, your device can be a valuable resource in click fraud efforts or spam campaign distributions.

How to detect a rootkit?

Detecting a rootkit on your computer may be a daunting task. Additional next-gen tools can scan memory or file system areas and remove application-based rootkits. However, detection of kernel-level intrusions is not always successful. In the end, security experts agree that the most effective way to remove such parasites is to reinstall OSs.

However, there are specific signs of a malicious program at play:

  • Slow performance. Your device freezes and fails to respond to requests from your mouse or keyboard.
  • Blue screen of death. If you’re a Windows user, BSOD is a red flag, signaling that a rootkit may have compromised your device.
  • Unusual web browser behavior such as constant redirection to unknown URLs and other irregularities.
  • Unsolicited changes to the PC settings. For instance, screensaver changing or the taskbar hiding itself.

How to prevent a rootkit?

  1. Use an antivirus program with special scanning technologies to ensure your device will detect all potential threats.
  2. Learn to recognize email phishing attempts. Crooks deceive users into clicking on malicious links or attachments via phishing attacks. Convincing social engineering techniques trigger fear, anxiety, and other emotional reactions. They could lead to impulsive clicks on malicious packages that might contain malware.
  3. Avoid downloading unknown files or apps. Instead, trust reputable services, official websites, and official stores.
  4. Don’t ignore the bizarre behavior of your computer. Instead, try to find the reasons behind it.
  5. Keep your operating system, browser, and security software up-to-date. Updates fix vulnerabilities and bugs that otherwise allow criminals to compromise devices.
  6. VPN usage. Aside from traffic encryption, advanced VPN tools offer features that prevent you from visiting potentially harmful websites. Our SafeBrowse feature does exactly that. When enabled, Atlas VPN will inform you whenever you’re about to open an unsecure link.
Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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