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Friday, February 29th, 2008

What is a Rootkit?

Rootkits refer to the cloaking techniques and methods that, when combined with Trojans, allow attackers undetectable remote administrative access. Their concealment strategies involve modifying system code and processes that would normally detect or prevent remote access. Rootkits alter basic system functions and foundations in order to disguise unauthorized activity.

Most rootkits typically hide files, network connections, blocks of memory, or registry entries from programs used by system administrators, making them extremely difficult to detect. Rootkits can be bundled with Trojan Horses, effectively compromising the security of a computer or network and remaining undetectable. Because rootkits operate on the lowest level, if a system has been infiltrated, it is very hard to rescue. Once the system has been compromised, it usually must be wiped clean, and have its operating system reinstalled.

Rootkits differ from computer viruses in that they generally concentrate on maintaining control of a system, rather than propagating themselves and spreading infectious code to other systems. However, they are quite similar to traditional viruses because they both modify the core software components of a system in order to hide an infection. Even though it might limit itself to one system, rootkits ability to conceal unauthorized remote access poses a distinct threat to the security of sensitive information passing through a system.

Rootkits are primarily used to allow unauthorized users to act a system administrators on a remote computer. With this unauthorized access, an attacker can use the compromised system to perform malicious actions. Common abuses for rootkits include (but are not limited to): stealing data from a computer or network, keylogging, mass spam distribution, accessing login/password data, and denial of service attacks.

Rootkit Protection

Once a rootkit gains control of a system, it is difficult to detect and even more difficult to repair. In many cases, systems need to be wiped clean and the operating system reinstalled. To avoid the destruction of rootkits, the most effective protection is to detect and prevent rootkits before they can compromise a system. Always-on anti virus software is the most effective method of rootkit prevention and protection. Top anti virus software companies include McAfee Software, Norton from Symantec, Computer Associates Software, and AVG from Grisoft.

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