Let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night and you see an shadowy figure lurking outside your window. Your heart is pounding so loudly you wonder why the rest of the family doesn’t hear it. You reach over quietly and grab the phone. Carefully you dial 911. The person who answers listens to your fearful explanation but then tells you that the person outside is a police officer who is making sure the neighborhood is safe.
At this point, maybe you decide that you don’t need to be afraid, and you go back to sleep.
Now let’s imagine that when you dialed 911, some bad guy had rerouted your phone call from the usual 911 call center, and instead of a helpful dispatcher, you had been speaking to the partner of the criminal, yes criminal, who was casing your house.
What your call did is merely insure that the criminal went undetected by the lawful authorities and gave you a false sense of security.
That, roughly, is what a rootkit does inside your computer. It’s a clever, almost undetectable bit of software, often written by someone working for an organized crime ring, which sits on your computer and provides cover for other viruses and malicious programs that are having a field day compromising your personal information.
So what can you do? I recently came across a valuable article on the TechRepublic Website called “Five Tips for Dealing with Rootkits” that gives you some basic tips for protecting yourself. If you’re technologically challenged, you might want to talk to a geeky friend to get them to explain some of this to you, or you might want to Google “rootkit” and read more about it yourself.
In another article here, you can learn about a recent bit of rootkit programming called “ZeroAccess” that’s estimated to be on hundreds of thousands of computers. The article states “Once a computer becomes infected with ZeroAccess, the malware pursues a variety of …techniques to stay functional and undetected…the malware uses low-level disk and file system calls aimed at defeating popular disk and in-memory forensics tools, and includes defenses against antivirus software detection. In short, it demonstrates the crimeware state of the art.”
I want to explain that my statement at the outset to “be afraid, be very afraid,” is a bit of hyperbole. I don’t really want you to live with an emotional sense of fear. But I do want you to have a reasonable sense of concern about a very real threat to your computer system and the Internet generally. The more users of the Internet who are informed, the less the criminals are empowered.