The RootKit Virus: What It Is and How to Remove It

A particularly sneaky form of virus

A conceptual illustration of the Rootkit virus destroying a laptop computer.

Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

All viruses have similarities about how they work. A RootKit virus is a type of virus that can be hidden deep inside your computer and remain undetectable while causing havoc in the background. 

RootKit viruses can affect any kind of computer, including Windows and Mac based systems. They're more likely to affect Windows-based PCs but if you're a Mac user, you're still not entirely safe. RootKits can also infect Android based smartphones. 

What Is the RootKit Virus?

The RootKit virus is a potentially highly dangerous form of virus or malware. A specific type of virus, it can be used to infiltrate your computer with worms, Trojans and malware. That's because it opens up 'root' access to your computer, allowing attackers to access anything they might want from within your system. 

In theory, it's possible to have a harmless RootKit virus but this almost never happens. Oftentimes, they're highly dangerous for the security of your computer. 

How Does the RootKit Virus Work?

As a form of virus, the RootKit virus works in a number of different ways. At heart, it's a stealth type of malware, working secretly in the background to allow hackers and virus makers access to your computer. 

Their purpose is to hide software and any traces left behind on your operating system, so that the user never knows they're even there. They can lie dormant for a long time or they can be regularly accessed by a nefarious source keen to interfere with your computer. 

There are different types of RootKit viruses. These include Application RootKits that work to replace the files of an application you use; Kernel RootKits which add to or replace the core system files; BootKits which change how your operating system starts up by modifying the boot sector; and Memory RootKits which operate via the system memory in a bid to remain undetectable.

Because of their secretive nature, it's very important that you delete the threat quickly so that the problem doesn't escalate and get worse.

How Do I Know I Have the RootKit Virus?

Due to how sneaky and stealthy RootKit viruses are, it can be tricky to spot them. Occasionally, you might notice that your system is slower than usual or crashing more often, but a good RootKit user will make sure that this rarely happens.

Other times, you might see unusual activity on your computer or excessive processor usage that you can't explain. This requires you to keep a close eye on what you're doing though. 

The best way to know if you've been infected with a RootKit virus is to run regular antivirus software scans or use malware detection tools to spot any potential issues before they get worse. These are the only foolproof ways of spotting a RootKit virus before it damages your computer. 

How Did I Get the RootKit Virus?

Like many forms of viruses, the RootKit Virus can sneak onto your computer very easily.

One of the key ways in which you can be infected is by downloading software from dubious sources. The software installs alongside a RootKit virus so you don't even realize you've been infected. Alternatively, it's possible to download it via clicking on pop-up ads and downloading the files offered there. 

It's also possible to receive one via an email attachment or dubious link sent to you via an email or message. 

Generally, users are tricked into downloading a RootKit virus by thinking something is safe when it's not.

How Do I Get Rid of the RootKit Virus?

The most effective way to get rid of the RootKit virus is to use antivirus software, as well as a malware removal app. 

Antivirus software can take many hours to complete the process, depending on the speed of your computer, but it also offers you the best methods in which to remove the malicious files. 

It's also worth installing a malware removal tool which helps detect malware like a RootKit virus and delete it before it causes any problems. Each of these tools also helps you detect if the RootKit has installed any other viruses or malware to work alongside it. 

Like antivirus software, malware scanning can take several hours depending on the size of your computer's hard drive, as well as its speed. 

You can also use System Restore to return to an earlier point on your computer before you picked up the RootKit virus. Be sure to pick a time period where you know you definitely didn't already have the virus on your computer. 

Given the nefarious nature of RootKit viruses, if you want to be sure that you've deleted it successfully, it can be worth considering a complete reformat of your computer. 

It won't guarantee the removal of a RootKit virus that's infected your boot record, but it should work well against other forms of RootKits. 

It can take a long time to reformat and requires a certain amount of knowledge when it comes to setting your computer up. Don't rush into the decision and try all other methods first. 

How Can I Avoid Getting the RootKit Virus Again?

There are a few crucial ways in which you can lower your chances of being re-infected with a RootKit virus (or receiving any other virus). There are also specific tips that relate directly to RootKit viruses.

  • Update your antivirus software and malware protection. Keep your antivirus software and malware protection up to date. New virus definitions are released regularly and these keep your PC informed on what to look for with new virus and malware based threats. 
  • Update your operating system. Keep your operating system up to date so that any security issues are fixed quickly, and it's harder for a RootKit to infect your computer. 
  • Be wary of new programs. It's important to know the source of the programs and apps you've downloaded. Less reputable sites can include Trojans and RootKits among the files you want. 
  • Stick to well known websites. RootKit viruses can also infect your computer through the suspicious websites you might browse. Clicking on the 'wrong' link can lead to you downloading a RootKit or other virus. Be careful on websites such as torrenting sites.