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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rootkits

Once a malicious program is installed on a system, it is essential that it stays concealed, to avoid detection and disinfection. The same is true when a human attacker breaks into a computer directly. Techniques known as rootkits allow this concealment, by modifying the host's operating system so that the malware is hidden from the user. Rootkits can prevent a malicious process from being visible in the system's list of processes, or keep its files from being read. Originally, a rootkit was a set of tools installed by a human attacker on a Unix system, allowing the attacker to gain administrator (root) access. Today, the term is used more generally for concealment routines in a malicious program.

Some malicious programs contain routines to defend against removal, not merely to hide themselves, but to repel attempts to remove them. An early example of this behavior is recorded in the Jargon File tale of a pair of programs infesting a Xerox CP-V time sharing system:

Each ghost-job would detect the fact that the other had been killed, and would start a new copy of the recently slain program within a few milliseconds. The only way to kill both ghosts was to kill them simultaneously (very difficult) or to deliberately crash the system.
Similar techniques are used by some modern malware, wherein the malware starts a number of processes that monitor and restore one another as needed. In the event a user running Microsoft Windows is infected with such malware, if they wish to manually stop it, they could use Task Manager's 'processes' tab to find the main process (the one that spawned the "resurrector process(es)"), and use the 'end process tree' function, which would kill not only the main process, but the "resurrector(s)" as well, since they were started by the main process. Some malware programs use other techniques, such as naming the infected file similar to a legitimate or trustworthy file (expl0rer.exe VS explorer.exe).

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