What is a rootkit?

There is a wide variety of malware for macOS, Windows, Linux and other operating systems. One type of malware is the so-called “rootkit”. In this guide I have summarized what a rootkit is, what options are available to hackers and what damage can be caused. If you have any questions or comments on the topic, please leave a comment.

What is a rootkit? What harm can this malware do? Which rootkits can be removed? And what is a backdoor? You can find the answers to these questions here!
What is a rootkit? What harm can this malware do? Which rootkits can be removed? And what is one Backdoor? You can get the answers to these questions here!

What does the term rootkit mean?

Rootkit is made up of the words root and kit. Appropriate translations would therefore be "admin kit" or "full access tools". The term means that the software used gives the attacker full access to the system and/or network. In addition, the rootkit makes it possible to disguise the traces of the attack. Starting the system, logging into accounts, installing additional malware and the like can be deleted from the logs and added or changed files can be hidden. In this way, a rootkit attack can go unnoticed by the victims.

Rootkit use in preparation for a backdoor

In addition to the one-time use of the rootkit, there is not only the option of using it multiple times in order to gain access to the targeted system again and again. In the event of a rootkit attack, a so-called backdoor can also be created by additional malware or by adapting existing software. The term "backdoor" can be directly translated as a back door. This back door in the system then allows the hackers to penetrate with less effort in the future - albeit with possibly fewer options for action. However, if the individual attacks have a specific target, the backdoor can be tailored accordingly.

Possible targets of a rootkit attack

Administrator access to the system can be exploited in various ways. This allows access to the entire system of an office, a company or servers. This is also possible on individual computers, regardless of whether they are used privately or for a job. The system can then be modified, software added or information tapped. Here are a few possible targets of a rootkit attack:

  • Copy and derive data, access data, files and other information
  • installation of virusto bring down the system and destroy data
  • installation of spyware / stalkerwareto capture keystrokes, audio, video, and more
  • Use of the hijacked facility for further attacks (e.g. DDoS attacks on web services)
  • Placing backdoors, such as a shell, to interface with network ports

Differentiation from the Trojan horse

A rootkit enables active access to the system so that attackers can look around and make changes themselves. And that is exactly what separates the administrator toolkit from the Trojan horse away. The latter is foisted on users so that they run it as a supposedly useful program and thus enable it to automatically install further malware, backdoors, etc. Such automatic malware is therefore not suitable for searching for specific information or adapting the attack to specific system factors. In comparison, the Trojan horse can only cover its tracks to a limited extent.

How to remove rootkit from computer?

There are different types of rootkits, some easy and some difficult to get rid of. Memory rootkits, for example, only put themselves in memory. If the computer is restarted, then they are deleted from it. Other forms, such as userland rootkits, are removed by reinstalling the operating system. They get stuck with DLL files and API methods that are no longer available in the newly installed system. It is more difficult with kernel and BIOS rootkits. The latter in particular are not affected by system changes and cannot be removed with 100% certainty. A preventative, hardware-based write protection is recommended to prevent infection.

Jailbreak and Rooting: Deliberate intrusion into an operating system

The topics jailbreak (iOS) and rooting (Android) are not directly related to the rootkit topic, but are definitely related. This is because certain read and, above all, write rights are also obtained on a device (smartphone, tablet, etc.) in order to make adjustments or load a different operating system. Since Apple keeps its offerings proprietary and hasn't yet allowed iPhone apps to be sideloaded outside of the App Store, the term "jailbreak" (prison break) was coined for iOS. Android devices are usually referred to as "rooting". With both, the goal is to have more freedom for customization and app installations. Nowadays, however, this is less in demand than it was with the first iPhone generations.

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