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Example: "The hacker used a rootkit when attempting to gain root access to the computer."

A rootkit is not a collection of tree roots, as you might be picturing in your head. Instead, a rootkit is a group of software programs and files designed to gain unauthorized root access to a computer. Root access gives a user full administrative privileges, which includes installing software, running programs, and moving and deleting files. Additionally, rootkits often run scripts designed to hide the unauthorized activity. Therefore, hackers often use rootkits as the first step when attempting to compromise a computer system.

Since root access gives a user full control over a computer, a successful rootkit attack is considered a major security breach. Fortunately, most modern operating systems and applications include security features that prevent rootkit access. Still, it is smart to install at least one security utility, such as an antivirus or anti-spyware program, on your computer. This will help monitor your system for unusual activity and flag unauthorized access attempts.

Published: June 2, 2010

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Definition from the PC Glossary