Tech Tips

What Is A Rootkit? And How Can You Get Rid Of Them?

Rootkits are a buzzword that you may have come across in your time on the computer.  Basically a rootkit is a type of malware infection designed to camouflage itself and masquerade as a system file critical to the operating system.  Thus, antivirus software may overlook the file, and if you try to remove it Windows may prevent you since even the operating system thinks its a critical system file.

The word rootkit comes from the days when it was mainly used in a Unix/Linux environment.  Root is the term for administrative access, and kit is a term for programs that operate to the admin level and execute programs at that level.  In this way rootkits can allow someone to operate functions on a computer at the administrator level, eavesdropping on software, accessing logs, monitor user activity, and more.

Rootkits aren’t always malware – they can be used for good and legitimate purposes.  However, when your computer becomes infected with a rootkit it’s generally a bad thing.

Rootkits are one of the most difficult types of infections to remove.  The rootkit itself is not harmful, however they are used to hide malicious software: worms, bots, etc.  Rootkits are activated before the operating system boots up, enabling the attacker to gain control of the infected computer in very critical ways.  However, these days rootkits are mostly used to install and mask malware.  A rootkit can hide on a computer for years before being detected – that’s how sneaky they are.

By design, a good rootkit should be almost invisible.  So how do you know if there’s one on your PC?  Even experts can have a hard time sniffing these buggers out, however be vigilant in terms of your computer’s performance.  If you’re suddenly experiencing network problems, see settings change in Windows randomly, or are having lag issues, then you might want to scan your computer with some programs we recommend in the next paragraph.

So how does one actually go about finding and removing a rootkit?  Thankfully there are a few good high end rootkit removal software tools, such as BitDefender’s Rootkit Removal software as well as Spyhunter 5.  You should try to use a tool that has been well reviewed and is published by a reputable company.  There are a lot of “no name” spyware removal software tools out there and I wouldn’t trust them as much as the more high end ones.  You can never be sure that a software program is up to date with the latest definitions of malware.

For more than you probably want to know about rootkits, check out TechRepublic’s list here.

Bill Gordon

Bill Gordon has been writing on tech and malware subjects for 6 years and has been working in the internet and tech industry for over 15 years. He currently lives in Southern California.

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