There are many types of malware out there today, and rootkit malware is one of the most common. Rootkits are also particularly troublesome as they are designed to remain hidden on your system.

How can you define a rootkit? What is a rootkit attack? And how can you protect yourself from it?

What is a rootkit?

A rootkit is a type of malicious software designed to attack computer systems using advanced intrusion vectors to bypass standard security protocols. Rootkits also use sophisticated obfuscation techniques to hide themselves visibly in system kernels.

Typically, rootkit malware is used to spy on system activity, steal data, control critical machine operations, and install other types of malware. This is typically achieved by acquiring high-level system administrator privileges.

Hence, many of them are difficult to get rid of. In some cases, a complete hard drive reformatting and operating system reinstallation are required to remove this class of computer worms. In extreme cases, a hardware swap is the ultimate solution.

Types of rootkit malware

There are many types of rootkit malware. Here are some of the most common types of rootkits.

1. Firmware rootkits

The most advanced rootkits are firmware rootkits. This is because they target sectors with high privileges like the Basic Input / Output System (BIOS) and the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) components.

BIOS and UEFI are primary targets because they host critical system components that have Ring 0 privileges. BIOS and UEFI are also responsible for loading all core firmware, software, and hardware systems when the computer boots.

Related: What Is UEFI and How Does It Protect You?

Damaging these system components allows hackers to have better control over system resources.

2. Hardware rootkits

Hardware rootkits are designed for hardware peripherals such as Wi-Fi routers, webcams, and hard drives.

They are commonly referred to as hardware malware because they are able to control hardware system components, intercept any useful data that passes through them and send it to hackers.

3. Boot loader rootkits

The bootloader rootkit targets the master boot record segment in a system. The boot loader is responsible for starting the operating system.

It locates where the operating system is stored on the hard drive to enable booting via random access memory (RAM). By replacing the default boot loader with one created by hackers, attackers can gain access to most system modules.

4. Application rootkits

Application rootkits are the most commonly used rootkits. They target apps in Windows, especially those that are normally used to enter sensitive data.

The most targeted apps are usually browsers and native Windows apps like Microsoft Word and Excel.

How rootkit malware gets into a system

Rootkit malware typically infects a computer system through several modes.

1. Portable media

Infections via data carriers such as USB sticks and external hard drives are among the most common. This is because they are popular, inexpensive, and portable. Because they are regularly used to transfer data between computers, they are often targeted in infection campaigns.

In most cases, malware spreading through USB drives can be detected when the device is connected to a computer. As soon as this is set up, it executes malicious code that is embedded on the hard drive. This attack technique helps hackers find new sequential victims.

2. Infected attachments

The other vector of infection that contributes to the spread of rootkits are infected attachments. These type of tricks send legitimate-looking emails with malware attachments to destinations usually disguised as urgent notifications. The malware infection sequence begins once the emails have been opened and the attachments downloaded.

If the infection is successful, hackers use rootkits to modify operating system directories and registry keys. They can also intercept sensitive data and communications on the computer, such as: B. Chat messages.

Related: How to Detect Unsafe Email Attachments

To control computer functions remotely, intruders use rootkits to open TCP ports in Windows and write firewall exceptions.

3. Downloading unsigned applications on torrent sites

Another way that new rootkit infections can spread is by downloading unsigned applications from torrent sites. Since the files are corrupted in most cases, there is usually no way to verify their security.

As a result, many of the applications are loaded with malware, including rootkits.

How to prevent and remove rootkit malware

Rootkits are extremely harmful once they get their hands on a machine. Here are some of the ways you can prevent rootkit infections.

1. Use reputable antivirus software

Using reputable antivirus software is one of the first steps to take to prevent rootkit infections. The best antivirus suites for this type of infection include Avast, Kaspersky, Bitdefender, ESET Nod32, and Malwarebytes.

Kaspersky has a fast dedicated tool called Kaspersky TDSSKiller, which is designed to detect and remove the TDSS family of rootkits. Scanning usually only takes a few minutes. McAfee also has its standalone Rootkit Remover tool that can remove Necurs, ZeroAccess, and TDSS rootkits.

2. Avoid opening emails from unknown sources

Rootkits are sometimes spread through attachments in email and chat applications. Typically, hackers trick a target into opening an email with a dubious offer or urgent notification.

Once the attachment is opened, the infection sequence begins.

Do not download attachments or click links in emails that you are not sure about.

3. Update software

Every now and then, hackers attack outdated applications that are full of bugs. This is one of the main reasons Windows regularly releases system patches and recommends turning on automatic updates.

As a rule of thumb, sensitive applications like browsers should be updated regularly as they are gateways to the Internet. Therefore, their security is of the utmost importance for the protection of the entire operating system.

Related: Understanding Malware: Common Types You Should Know About

The latest versions usually have updated security features such as anti-cryptojackers, pop-up blockers and anti-fingerprinting mechanisms. Installed anti-virus software and firewalls should also be updated regularly.

4. Use rootkit detection scanners

It's best to use a variety of rootkit detection tools to help prevent these types of infections. Not all rootkits can be detected with certain antivirus software. Since most rootkits are triggered early by system processes, scanners that are active when the system boots are essential.

In this case, Avast Boot Time Scanner is one of the best for it. It starts to scan for malware and rootkits just before Windows starts and is very effective at catching them before they hide in system kernels by emulation.

Protection against rootkit viruses

Scanning the system in Safe Mode is another trick that is used to intercept most viruses in their inactive form. If that doesn't work, it will help to format the hard drive and reinstall the operating system.

For enhanced protection against rootkits, it is recommended that standard computers be replaced by secured core computers. They have the latest and most sophisticated threat prevention mechanisms.

Windows 11 is a free upgrade for all Windows 10 users

However, this may depend on your system hardware.

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About the author

Samuel Gush
(13 published articles)

Samuel Gush is a tech writer at MakeUseOf. If you have any questions, you can contact him by email at

By Samuel Gush

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