Watch Demo×

See NinjaOne in action!

By submitting this form, I accept NinjaOne's privacy policy.

What Is a Rootkit & How to Detect It

Delving into the world of cybersecurity, one encounters a myriad of threats, with one of the most insidious being rootkits. These stealthy entities pose significant challenges to both users and security professionals alike, highlighting the need for an in-depth understanding of their nature and operation.

What is a rootkit?

A rootkit is a collection of malicious software tools that grants unauthorized access to a computer or an area of its software that would not otherwise be allowed. It operates by masking its existence or the existence of other software. The term “rootkit” is a combination of “root,” which is the traditional name of the privileged account on Unix-style operating systems, and the word “kit,” which refers to software components that implement the tool.

Types of rootkits

Rootkits are categorized into several types, including hardware/firmware, memory, bootloader, application, virtual, and kernel mode rootkits, each with unique characteristics and methods of operation.

Hardware/firmware rootkits

Hardware or firmware rootkits infect a device’s firmware or hardware, persisting even after a system reboot or hard drive reformat. These rootkits are particularly challenging to detect and remove due to their low-level operation.

Memory rootkits

Memory rootkits reside in a computer’s Random Access Memory (RAM). They are typically less persistent than other types, as they disappear after a system reboot, but can be equally damaging during their existence.

Bootloader rootkits

Bootloader rootkits target the computer’s bootloader, which is responsible for loading the operating system. By infecting this component, the rootkit ensures its activation early during the boot process, making detection and removal difficult.

Application rootkits

Application rootkits replace standard application binaries with modified versions or infect them in a way that allows the attacker to control the application. These rootkits are often used to spy on user activities or steal sensitive data.

Virtual rootkits

Virtual rootkits, also known as hypervisor rootkits, exploit virtualization technologies to gain control over the system. They operate by positioning themselves beneath the operating system and can intercept hardware calls, making them extremely stealthy and resilient.

Kernel mode rootkits

Kernel mode rootkits target the kernel, the core of an operating system, giving them high-level control over the system. These rootkits are among the most challenging to detect and remove due to their deep integration into the system’s functions.

5 ways to detect rootkits

  1. Behavioral analysis: Unusual system behavior such as slow performance, crashes, or network congestion can be indicative of a rootkit.
  2. Security software: Antivirus or anti-malware tools often have features for detecting rootkits.
  3. System Integrity checkers: These tools can identify changes in system files, which could suggest a rootkit infection.
  4. Network monitoring: Unusual network traffic patterns can hint at the presence of a rootkit.
  5. Log analysis: Logs may reveal suspicious activities linked to rootkits.

5 ways to remove rootkits

  1. Anti-rootkit tools: These specialized tools can detect and remove many types of rootkits.
  2. System restore: Restoring the system to a state before the rootkit infection can help.
  3. Reformatting and reinstalling: In severe cases, reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling the operating system might be necessary.
  4. Firmware update: For firmware rootkits, updating the firmware can sometimes remove the infection.
  5. Professional assistance: If other methods fail, seeking help from cybersecurity professionals is recommended.


Rootkits represent a significant threat in the realm of cybersecurity. Their stealth and persistence make them a formidable challenge, emphasizing the importance of robust cybersecurity practices. Remember, prevention is always better than cure, especially when it comes to cybersecurity.

Ready to become an IT Ninja?

Learn how NinjaOne can help you simplify IT operations.