When a hacker attacks your computer, it is usually easy to notice the red flags. However, a remote access trojan (RAT) can be difficult to detect.
In this guide, you will learn what a remote access trojan is, how it works, and how to protect yourself against this malware.
What is a Remote Access Trojan?
A RAT is a type of malware that gives a cybercriminal remote access to your computer without your knowledge. This attack is silent because the attacker does not give himself away. This means that a hacker can have access to your computer for years without you noticing that something is wrong.
A remote access trojan is similar to legit programs used to share files and to provide tech support. The difference, however, is that hackers use RATs for malicious purposes.
A RAT attack begins when you download malicious software to your computer or download compromised torrent files.
The malware will then install itself on your computer and create a direct connection with a command-and-control (C&C) server by using your computer’s predefined open TCP port. The hacker owns this server and could connect your computer to more than one C&C server. This connection gives the attacker remote access to your computer.
Grab the Digital Privacy Toolkit
Get your FREE copy of the Digital Privacy Toolkit and discover the latest apps you can use to protect yourself against the expanding surveillance apparatus.
Why Are RATs Dangerous?
Once attackers gain remote access to your computer, they can do anything they like. They can remotely watch you via your webcam, record your private conversations, log keystrokes, obtain your identifying information such as name and identification number, obtain your bank account details, read your documents, use your computer to download illegal content, and use your Wi-Fi network to carry out criminal activities in your name.
Cybercriminals could use your bank details to steal your money or to shop on the dark web for illegal goods. Additionally, they could sell sensitive information and photos on the dark web.
With access to your computer and home network, attackers could also use a botnet for further attacks. A botnet enables them to use your computer resources for file hosting and torrenting. If your computer is just one of the thousands of hacked computers, they could use a botnet to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which could cause damage on a massive scale.
Examples of RAT Malware
Back Orifice and CrossRAT are some of the most well-known RATs out there.
The hacker group cult of the Dead Cow is behind the creation of Back Orifice. The RAT was released in 1998 and specifically targets Windows 95 and 98. The malware was designed to detect security issues in Windows operating systems. Hackers could use Back Orifice to acquire passwords and banking PINs or to modify files.
Spyware campaign Dark Caracal is behind CrossRAT, a RAT malware that was reported in 2018. The RAT contains a .jar file that modifies files, takes screenshots of your computer activity, and makes your system vulnerable to outside threats. CrossRAT infects computers running Windows, Linux, and OSX operating systems.
How to Spot a RAT
Spotting a RAT infection is difficult because it does not slow down your computer and does not appear on the list of running tasks or programs on your machine.
However, RAT malware will slow down your internet connection. Therefore, this is a sign that could prompt you to take action like scanning your computer using malware detection tools or an antivirus.
If you find that your files have been deleted or changed and you are sure that you did not do it, you might have a RAT.
Also, if a dark web monitoring service provider finds your identifying information on the dark web, it might have found its way there because a hacker accessed it through RAT malware.
Hackers sometimes add RAT malware to Windows startup directories enabling automatic execution when you launch your computer. To look for such a program, take these steps.
- Press the “Windows key” + “R”
- Type in msconfig.exe in the command box and hit enter. The system configuration window will appear on your screen
- Click the “Startup tab” and open the “Task manager”
- Look for any suspicious programs
If you find an odd program, research its legitimacy online. If it is RAT malware, you should install security software on your computer and run a complete scan to remove the infection. Once done, change your passwords and banking PINs and increase your overall security.
You can avoid a RAT malware infection by practicing the following safety measures:
- Only download software, games, and email attachments from trustworthy sources
- Use antivirus or antimalware software on your computer and update it regularly
- Update your web browsers, applications, and operating system regularly
- Check your list of installed programs frequently and uninstall any odd programs
- Do not click suspicious links shared to you via email or social media
- Unplug from the internet any computers you are not using
- Configure a firewall for your computer
- Restrict internet access to programs that do not necessarily need it
- Secure your Wi-Fi network
- Secure your email to keep out malicious messages and attachments
- Use multi-factor authentication to keep attackers from logging into your accounts once they get your login credentials
- Cover your webcam when you are not using it
- Constantly back up your data
- Encrypt sensitive data on your computer
Practicing just some of the above-mentioned safety measures will already greatly reduce the risk of getting hacked via a remote access trojan.