Rootkit detection

Every day we hear news about data breaches, hijacked systems, and cyber incidents. If today the target is someone else, tomorrow it could be you. We must take precautions based on the benefits that technology brings while also knowing the harms that come along with it.

Rootkit detection
Rootkit detection

What is a Rootkit, and how can it be detected?

We’ve heard of worms, spyware and ransomware. We also have malicious software that has gained cyber awareness like ‘Trojan’ and ‘backdoor’ and so, in this article, we will learn about one of the most dangerous cyber viruses on computers…Rootkits.

The most important feature distinguishing rootkits from other malicious software is that they are among the most malicious of them all. Rootkits are pests called “root user machines.” When installed on the system, they are of malicious intent that sometimes affects the system kernel, by modifying it and sometimes staying under the radar with the system antivirus.

A rootkit is structurally powerful. Thanks to its administrative rights, that helps it hide from security programs. This pest, which also has hardware properties that affect system hardware, is among the most dreaded computer infection today.

History of rootkits

If we look at the history of rootkits, the first rootkit was written in 1990 for the operating system called SunOS. Since the main administrator account is called root in Unix-based operating systems, its name comes from here.

For Windows NT, the first rootkit was the NTRootkit created by Greg Hoglund in 1999. The article on this type of rootkit, written based on scientific research, has been published in hackers and the computer magazine Phrack.

In 2005, Sony BMG Music Entertainment placed rootkits on nearly 22 million CDs to prevent plagiarism. When inserted into a PC, the discs automatically installed two programs to modify the operating system to prevent playback.

Both programs were extremely difficult to uninstall and created vulnerabilities for malicious code.

Administrator privileges

Once the system is penetrated, the rootkit can exercise exclusive administrator functions. It can hide open ports that give away communication, and even if there is a system for sending spam, it will hide mail system activity.

Likewise, if an antivirus tries to stop or discover a rootkit in operation, in that case, the rootkit will spoof the data so that the antivirus will not know if there are any irregularities. So the antivirus won’t be able to disinfect the system.

This malware can target the kernel, firmware, the user program or the hypervisor.

The characteristics of rootkits drawback effects are not exactly specified. However, every threat is targeted at a computer so they are not designed to affect computers the same way. Moreso, they are designed with specific functions and mandates to infiltrate a computer network and cause damage to a marked target.

How rootkits work

In a nutshell, there are three types of rootkits that work: user mode, kernel mode, and those that interfere with hardware. If we explain this in more detail, the software works as user mode or kernel mode depending on their functions and the languages they are written.

In general, software that does not need to access the hardware and does not have its drivers runs in user mode. Software is written in high-level programming languages (such as C#, Python) generally runs in the user mode layer of the system. This type of software uses the system APIs to perform the functions they need superficially.

Software running in Kernel mode, on the other hand, is software that can attract more speed and hardware, at the same time has its driver libraries (.drv, .sys), can communicate with the system kernel, and can sometimes drive it.

With some examples, we can understand the situation a bit.

Examples of normal software usually run in the user mode layer: stock/accounting software, an ordinary web browser (there are exceptions), CCleaner.

Examples of software running in Kernel mode: anti-cheat software, antivirus programs, such as Kaspersky.

Rootkit detection – how to?

Rootkit detection is still a very complicated process. In this case, it is good to use alternative operating systems, behavior-based methods, signature checks, different checks, and memory dump analysis.

Other specialists recommend shutting down the system at any suspicion. If a rootkit is inactive, it will be more difficult to hide its presence.

There are also programs to detect it. “Chkrootkit” and “Rkhunter” are the most commonly used applications for Unix-based systems. For Windows, there are “Blacklighq” and “Sysinternals Revealer.” Of course, some rootkits have started to include detection programs in their systems to evade them.

 What to do once we have a Rootkit on our system?

If detection can be difficult, removing this attack can become an equally or even more cumbersome process. In this case, it is a priority to save the data with the systematic practice of backups, an essential method, especially because it helps to deal with unforeseen eventualities.

However, if the rootkit has managed to penetrate the kernel of our system, we will, unfortunately, have to reinstall the operating system. Even if the rootkit is unknown (it has been developed for a specific system), any antivirus will fail.

A good and very timely practice for any system is real-time monitoring of all network activity. This forensic activity will make it possible to record everything that happens and, even if the rootkit is masked, unusual behavior can be detected.

How are rootkits detected and cleaned?

Rootkit detection can be done in more than one way, but it should not be done with only one method because rootkits can be difficult to detect at different levels of development.

Today, successful antivirus (IS) and security software usually block rootkits before and after infection.

In the past, antivirus/security software had difficulty detecting rootkits. Most likely, security software also communicated with the kernel, avoiding pests without being active, acting only on the kernel response, and having difficulty detecting rootkits.

Today’s antivirus software has additional modules that can detect rootkits, and many (but not all) can be blocked by real-time protection, intuitive methods, and database detection.

In addition to antivirus, special software has been created for rootkit detection and cleaning, but it can damage the system when used unconsciously. For this reason, it should be used under the guidance of a specialist. This software can also be used for detection.

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