McAfee: Massive increase in rootkit use

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The number of malicious programs employing stealth technology to make them virtually undetectable by PCs is rapidly increasing, giving rise to more sophisticated Windows-based attacks, according to new research conducted by McAfee AVERT Labs.

Use of rootkits has jumped 600 percent in three years, according to part one of a white paper entitled "Rootkits: The Growing Threat" that the anti-virus giant released this month. Websites - including blogs - have contributed to the technology's rise because hackers use the open-source space to trade research information, including rootkit code.

Rootkit complexity also is on the rise, with component files growing by more than 400 percent in the past six years, the white paper said. The number of component files in a software package often measures complexity.

"Clearly, we are seeing that stealth technologies, and rootkits specifically, are increasing at an alarming rate," said Stuart McClure, senior vice president of global threats at McAfee. "This trend in evolution is creating hardier and even more virulent strains of malware that will continue to threat businesses and consumers alike."

The whitepaper said specifically that rootkits are an effective way of compromising a PC.

"Renaming an infected file so that it appears to be a legitimate system or user file is one of the simplest, yet most effective (approaches)," the white paper said.

Hackers continue to mostly target the Windows landscape, the white paper said. The number of Windows-based stealth components has increased 2,300 percent from 2001 to last year, while the number of Linux-based techniques has dropped to a negligible amount.

"Malware authors find the Windows platform an attractive target not only because of its massive installed base but also because of the exciting technical challenge it presents with its many undocumented application programming interfaces (APIs)," according to the white paper.

McAfee predicted rootkit use may continue to grow at a yearly rate of at least 650 percent, and even more complex techniques likely will be introduced.

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