Rootkits are a computer hacker’s best friend and an innocent user’s worst nightmare. This type of malicious software is comprised of stealthy tools that give cybercriminals privileged access to any computer. Rootkits penetrate computer networks in a sneaky, nearly undetectable way, which makes them a particularly dangerous version of malware.

Through privilege escalation, computer hacking, and social engineering attacks, rootkits exploit holes and vulnerabilities in your computer’s security. Once these unsecure spots are found, the malware can attach itself to your system and take it over. The cybercriminal responsible for the attack then has access to your entire computer and is able to add it to a botnet, turn it into a zombie computer, and access, change, and encrypt any existing software you have installed. This includes any anti-malware programs you have installed, which means that the hacker can turn this software off in order to install additional malware to steal valuable personal information.

The term “rootkit” comes from the Linux term that is the same thing as an administrator in the popular software program Windows. Combined with the word kit, which references the collection of hacking tools used to gain access to the computer, the term rootkit can be described as a software kit that grants administrator access to any computer through malicious means.

Because they do not require end-user consent to penetrate computer networks, rootkits are nearly undetectable until they have taken over your computer. Unlike other types of malware that has short-term uses, rootkits seek to grant the hacker continual access to the infected computer to steal ongoing information and use the device for larger, even more malicious purposes, such as botnet creation.

Rootkits are sophisticated software that constantly change and evolve, making them difficult to prevent or remove. While most anti-malware software offers some protection against rootkits, the complex nature of this type of security threat means that that often penetrate computer networks with outdated software. Unless security programs are kept up to date with the most recent malware removal tools, new rootkits may invade your system and take control.

Once a rootkit worms its way into your system, it is nearly impossible to remove. The stealthy nature of rootkits makes them hard to detect for most antivirus programs, so once the problem is there, you may need special equipment or even a complete hardware replacement to remove it. The best way to keep your computer safe is by having a comprehensive anti-malware program in place that continuously monitors the following areas.

  • File streams
  • Kernel code patches
  • Registry entries
  • Operating system service hooks

The best way to prevent rootkits from invading your network is to let your antivirus or anti-malware program search for and remove hidden files periodically. This practice helps eliminate weak points in your computer’s security that are most likely let rootkits in.