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Root of the problem

Question : What exactly are rootkits, and how are they different from other types of spyware?

Answer : A rootkit is a collection of software programs and tools that someone can hide deep within a computer system and then use to gain access to the computer. The term comes from the Unix system, where the all-powerful administrator account that controls the computer is commonly called the "root" user account.

Rootkits are hard to detect because they can intercept the operating system's internal functions and exchange that data with false information - like purposely preventing the rootkit's own files from being listed by Windows Explorer or the Windows XP Task Manager.

Most regular spyware programs are meant to run in a stealthy manner, but cannot usually cloak themselves as thoroughly as a rootkit can. Because they can fool the operating system, rootkits can also be used to conceal spyware and other malicious programs planted on the computer.

While rootkits can be difficult to detect and remove, free software tools for Windows are available to expose them, including RootkitRevealer (www.sysinternals.com/Utilities/RootkitRevealer.html).

There's also a test version of the F-Secure Blacklight rootkit detection program at www.f-secure.com/blacklight; the trial version will expire on Sept 1.

Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool can detect some rootkits as well; the company releases an updated version on the second Tuesday of every month at www.microsoft.com/security/malwareremove/default.mspx.

There is more information on rootkits at www.antirootkit.com.


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