A rootkit is a common cyber threat facing small businesses. As the name suggests, it’s a “kit” of malicious software or files that provides a hacker with “root” access to the victim’s computer or network. If a hacker has deployed a rootkit on your small business’s computer or network, he or she will have complete root access. Of course, rootkits typically go unnoticed by the victim. They remain hidden on the victim’s computer or network, all while providing the hacker with root access.

If your small business’s computer or network is infected with rootkit, a hacker will have complete control — just like an administrator. Of course, this can lead to a world of other problems, including data breaches, the deployment of other forms of malware, phishing and more. The hacker can essentially wreak havoc by acting as an administrator.

Origins of Rootkits

According to Wikipedia, the first rootkit was a modified suite of administrative tools for a special Unix-based operating system that, like modern rootkits, provided the hacker with root access. Thankfully, anti-malware software like Tripwire could easily detect these early model rootkits. It wasn’t until the 1990s when rootkits became more advanced, and thus, harder to detect and eliminate. Today, rootkits remain a common cyber threat facing small businesses.

Different Types of Rootkits

While all rootkits are designed to provide a hacker with root access, the way in which they function varies depending on the type. A user-mode rootkit, for example, works by running in sync with other applications that automatically intercept and change application programming interfaces (API), whereas kernel-mode rootkit operates with the highest privileges in the targeted operating system. In addition to user-mode and kernel-mode rootkits, other types of rootkits include bootkits and hypervisor-level rootkits.

How to Protect Against Rootkits

As a small business owner, you can protect your computers and network from rootkits in several ways. First and foremost, make sure your operating system is up to date. Running an outdated operating system is a serious security vulnerability that hackers can exploit to deploy a rootkit. When a new version of your operating system, download and install it immediately to keep your computers protected against rootkits.

Conventional anti-malware software can also protect against rootkits. Because rootkits themselves are malware, anti-malware software can typically detect and either remove or quarantine them. By running anti-malware software on your small business’s computers, you can protect them from rootkits as well as other forms of malware.