There’s been some talk about rootkits in the media lately, mostly in the context of scandals around certain software vendors when it was discovered that they had been distributing rootkits with their own products. Nowadays, consumers are more aware of the situation, but one big question remains unanswered for many of them. What exactly is a rootkit in the first place?
A rootkit is a type of malware designed to give access to your system on a “root” level, that is, giving an attacker complete privileges over every aspect of the system. This is unlike other types of viruses which may simply run with regular application privileges. A rootkit is more dangerous because it’s specifically designed to give complete access to every functionality of the system, including tasks that even some of your own applications may not be capable of carrying out. The other scary aspect of a rootkit which sets it apart from traditional viruses is that it’s designed to be as difficult as possible to detect. It may exploit various flaws in the operating system to conceal its existence, going beyond traditional tricks like renaming its executable. Needless to say, to a user without much experience, a rootkit may as well not even exist on their computer.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that a rootkit is completely undetectable. Any piece of software that modifies your computer can be traced down in your system, and once you’ve identified it, it’s only a matter of removing its different instances. However, some security experts would agree that a compromised computer system is not really trustworthy after the infection has been discovered, and the only viable step at this point is to just reinstall the whole operating system from scratch. This is particularly true when it comes to a rootkit, which may already have copied itself in various places as backup, just waiting for you to remove the main installation so it can come back.
How To Protect Yourself
Defending your computer against rootkits is more difficult compared to standard viruses, and it may take some more expertise. Things get particularly challenging when you consider the fact that a rootkit may be custom-made to target specific systems, making it particularly challenging to defeat. In those cases, you should rely less on complex software solutions, and more on your own common sense and your ability to spot a threat before you’ve even executed it.
On that note, a little common sense can go a long way when dealing with security threats on your computer. Rootkits are no different from other types of malware in the techniques they rely on in order to infect you, so as long as you take preventative measures and avoid visiting shady sites and running files with an unknown origin, you should be able to stay relatively safe. Running an antivirus can never hurt either, although you should not rely on it as a complete solution to all your problems. In fact, many modern rootkits can actually circumvent traditional antivirus tools with relative ease.