When most computer users think of malware, they think of viruses and rootkits and all kinds of bad things that they don’t want on their computers. While they are right about the “bad” part, many users don’t understand that viruses and rootkits are quite different, and virus protection software might work well against one while being completely ineffective against the other. But what is the difference?
Viruses are the bombers of malware. They are made to invade your computer, perhaps send themselves to other computers, and to launch a specific kind of attack. Whether it’s a popup window telling you to click to claim your prize or an e-mailed link that mysteriously sends itself to everyone in your address book, it’s there for a purpose, and it’s not going to be quiet about that.
Rootkits, on the other hand, are the ninja of malware. They slip in quietly, secretly. There’s no visible attack, no flashy pop up window, no long list of e-mail replies from friend and family telling you you’ve sent out a virus. No, they are trickier than that. A rootkit gets into the very operating system on your computer, sets up a nice little nest, and carries out its dirty deeds without drawing attention to itself.
How can this mischief happen? Simple. Both malware programs were designed by people to achieve a certain end. Viruses and rootkits are just designed differently.
Virses are files added to your computer somewhere in the hard drive. Thousands of new viruses are discovered daily, and many antivirus software programs do a good job of either protecting your computer from the virus or finding and eliminating it if it does get in. It’s a pretty straightforward process, and it happens all the time.
However, rootkits are sneakier. They replace key parts of your operating system, insinuating themselves into vital files without adding any new files. Some rootkits can replace your master boot record, so they are activated before your antivirus software even launches. As a result, many antivirus software programs will scan right past a rootkit and upon finding nothing out of the ordinary, declare your computer to be just fine.
Once it’s in your computer, a rootkit allows other operations to run and conceals those from your view, so your computer can be doing things you don’t even know about, like letting in other users or granting administrator rights to strangers. These are not a once and done popup window; they can allow continued and repeated access to your files by an outside person, who is probably up to no good.
A rootkit is much harder to eliminate than a virus. Sometimes a complete wipe of the hard drive, erasing absolutely everything, is required to get rid of the infected files. If you think you might have a rootkit on your computer, you should seek technical support before trying to wipe your own hard drive.
After all, what’s the point of erasing your computer and reinstalling infected files on a clean system? Professional tech support can help you identify and eliminate your rootkit problem while preserving as much of your data as possible.
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