A rootkit is a form of malware that allows hackers to gain access to and control over a target device. Although most rootkits, attack software and the operating system, some can also infect the hardware and firmware of your machine. Rootkits are good at hiding their existence, yet they are still active when they are concealed.

Rootkits allow hackers to steal personal data and financial information, install malware or utilize computers as part of a botnet to send spam and engage in DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks after they gain illegal access to computers.

The term “rootkit” comes from the Unix and Linux operating systems, where the most privileged account administrator is called “root.” The “kit” refers to programs that give unlawful root or admin-level access to the device.

A rootkit is a piece of software that hackers employ to take control of a computer or network. Rootkits might look like a single piece of software at times, but they are usually made up of a set of tools that provide hackers administrator-level access to the target device.

Rootkits are installed on target devices in a variety of methods by hackers:

Phishing or another sort of social engineering assault is the most prevalent. Victims unintentionally download and install malware that hides within other programs running on their PCs and grants hackers access to nearly all components of the operating system.

Another method is to exploit a vulnerability — a flaw in software or an out-of-date operating system – and force the rootkit onto the machine.

Malware can also be packaged with other items, such as contaminated PDFs, pirated movies, or software downloaded from dubious third-party websites.

Rootkits work near or within the kernel of the operating system, allowing them to send orders to the machine. Anything that runs an operating system is a possible target for a rootkit, which may include your refrigerator or thermostat as the Internet of Things expands.

Rootkits can conceal keyloggers, which record your keystrokes without your knowledge. As a result, thieves may easily obtain your personal information, such as credit card or online banking information. Hackers can employ rootkits to launch DDoS attacks or send spam emails from your machine. They can disable or uninstall security software.

Some rootkits are used for lawful reasons, such as remote IT assistance or supporting law enforcement. However, they are mostly utilized for nefarious reasons. Rootkits are harmful because of the numerous types of malware they may distribute, which can change a computer’s operating system and grant remote users administrative access.

Rootkit types

1. Rootkit for hardware or firmware

Rootkits can harm your hard drive, router, or your system’s BIOS, which is software loaded onto a little memory chip on your computer’s motherboard. Instead of attacking your operating system, they target your device’s firmware to install malware that is harder to detect. They allow hackers to collect your keystrokes and track your internet behavior since they influence hardware. Hardware or firmware rootkits, albeit less prevalent than other varieties, pose a danger to internet safety.

2. Bootloader rootkit

The bootloader mechanism is in charge of installing an operating system on a machine. Bootloader rootkits target this system by replacing the legitimate bootloader on your machine with a compromised one. This launches the rootkit even before the operating system on your machine has finished loading.

3. Memory rootkit

Memory rootkits conceal themselves in your computer’s random-access memory (RAM) and utilize its resources to carry out harmful actions in the background. Memory rootkits have an impact on your computer’s RAM performance. Memory rootkits vanish when you reset your computer since they only exist in RAM and do not insert permanent code – albeit occasionally more work is required to remove them. Because of their brief existence, they are not seen as a danger.

4. Application rootkit

Application rootkits replace regular files on your computer with rootkit files and may even alter the behavior of standard apps. These rootkits infect software such as Microsoft Office, Notepad, and Paint. Every time you run those apps; attackers get access to your computer. Rootkit detection is difficult for users since infected apps continue to run normally – but antivirus products can identify them because they both operate on the application layer.

5. Kernel-mode rootkits

Kernel-mode rootkits are among the most dangerous varieties of this threat since they attack the heart of your operating system (i.e., the kernel level). Hackers use them not only to get access to your computer’s data but also to alter the functioning of your operating system by inserting their malware.

6. Virtual rootkits

A virtual rootkit installs itself behind the operating system of a machine. The target operating systems are then hosted as virtual machines, allowing them to intercept hardware calls made by the original operating system. This sort of rootkit does not require kernel modification to corrupt the operating system and can be extremely difficult to detect.

Examples of rootkits


Stuxnet, a dangerous computer worm discovered in 2010 and suspected to have been in development since 2005, is one of the most notorious rootkits in history. Stuxnet did significant harm to Iran’s nuclear program. Although neither government has confirmed involvement, it is commonly assumed to be a cyberweapon developed in collaboration between the United States and Israel as part of the Olympic Games.

Other notable examples of rootkits include:

Flame is another well-known rootkit example.

A rootkit predominantly used for cyber espionage in the Middle East was identified in 2012 by cybersecurity specialists. Flame, also known as Flamer, sKyWIper, and Skywiper, can monitor traffic, take screenshots and audio, and log keystrokes from a computer’s operating system. The Flame hackers have not been identified, but analysis indicates that they utilized 80 servers spread across three continents to access affected systems.


Necurs first appeared as a rootkit in 2012, and it was found in 83,000 infections that year. Necurs is associated with top cybercriminals in Eastern Europe and is said to stand out owing to its technical sophistication and adaptability.


ZeroAccess, a kernel-mode rootkit that infected over 2 million machines worldwide, was identified in 2011 by cybersecurity specialists. Rather than altering the infected computer’s operation directly, this rootkit downloads and installs malware on the infected system, making it a member of a global botnet used by hackers to carry out assaults. ZeroAccess is currently in use.


The TDSS rootkit was discovered for the first time in 2008. This is similar to bootloader rootkits in that it loads and operates at the beginning of the operating system, making discovery and removal difficult.

How do rootkits operate

Rootkits operate through a process known as modification, which involves modifying user account rights and security. Typically, this is a procedure that can only be authorized by a computer administrator. While on computers, modification is frequently used to make beneficial modifications that attempt to enhance systems, attackers seeking full control will use modification to provide themselves unfettered access so they may wreak damage. Furthermore, because rootkits are not meant to proliferate on their own, attackers often utilize covert means of infection.

Furthermore, once an attacker has gained root or administrator access, they can install a rootkit. Attackers can achieve this access by exploiting known vulnerabilities, such as privilege escalation, or by phishing for private passwords. Surprisingly, this procedure can occasionally be automated.

How to Spot Rootkits

It can be difficult to detect the existence of a rootkit on a computer since this type of malware is specifically designed to remain concealed. Rootkits can also deactivate security software, making the process much more difficult. As a result, rootkit malware may persist on your computer for an extended period, inflicting considerable damage.

Rootkit malware can be identified by the following symptoms:

1. The blue screen

A significant number of Windows error messages or blue screens with white text (sometimes known as “the blue screen of death”), while your machine is continually rebooting.

2. Disturbing web browser behavior

Unrecognized bookmarks or link redirections are examples of this.

3. Decreased device performance

Your device may take some time to boot up, perform slowly, or freeze often. It may also fail to respond to mouse or keyboard input.

4. Unauthorized changes to Windows settings

Examples include your screensaver changing, the taskbar disappearing, or the erroneous date and time showing – even though nothing has changed.

5. Web pages do not work correctly

Because of heavy network traffic, web pages or network activities may show intermittently or may not operate correctly.

A rootkit scan is the most effective method of detecting a rootkit infection that your antivirus solution can undertake. If you suspect a rootkit virus, one technique to identify it is to shut down the computer and run a scan from a known clean system.

Another way of rootkit identification is behavioral analysis. This implies that rather than hunting for the rootkit, you should seek rootkit-like activities. Whereas targeted scans are useful when you know the system is acting strangely, the behavioral analysis may detect a rootkit before you realize you are under assault.

How to Avoid Rootkits

Because rootkits are hazardous and difficult to detect, it is critical to exercise caution when visiting the internet or downloading software. Many of the same safeguards you employ to avoid computer viruses also help to reduce the risk of rootkits:

1. Make use of an all-inclusive cyber security solution.

Take a proactive approach to device security by installing a thorough and powerful antivirus solution. Kaspersky Total Security offers comprehensive cyber-threat protection and the ability to execute rootkit checks.

2. Stay current

Ongoing software updates are critical for keeping your computer safe and preventing criminals from infecting it with malware. To avoid rootkit attacks that exploit vulnerabilities, keep all programs and your operating system up to date.

3. Be wary of phishing frauds.

Phishing is a sort of social engineering assault in which scammers use email to mislead consumers into disclosing financial information or downloading dangerous software such as rootkits. Avoid opening questionable emails, especially if the sender is unknown to you, to prevent rootkits from infecting your machine. If you’re not sure if a link is safe, don’t click on it.

4. Only download files from reputable sources.

To prevent rootkits from being installed on your computer, be cautious when opening attachments and avoid opening attachments from individuals you don’t know. Only download software from reliable websites. When your web browser warns you that a website you’re attempting to access is hazardous, don’t disregard it.

5. Keep an eye on your computer’s performance or behavior.

Behavioral difficulties may indicate the presence of a rootkit. Keep an eye out for any unexpected changes and attempt to figure out why they are occurring.

Rootkits are one of the most difficult forms of malware to detect and delete. Because they are difficult to identify, the greatest protection is generally prevented.

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