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What is a Remote Access Trojan and 4 ways to counter it

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A Remote Access Trojan (RAT) allows unauthorised, backdoor, remote access to a system. This malware is indistinguishable from remote access programs but performs sinister functions such as spying, surveillance and data gathering, without the knowledge of the user.

By using RAT, a hacker can also gain access to the system files, passwords, browser history, emails, among others. The RAT malware attaches itself to legitimate files such as videos or music. RATs are also present in some webpages and advertisements, but most of the times the web browser detects it and relays a warning.

Unlike most malware, RATs are challenging to detect. They won’t slow your computer and are primarily used for snooping. It can take years to notice a RAT infection on your computer. Their secretiveness is what makes them so dangerous a tool in this world where secret data gathering is gaining momentum. RATs can also set up a botnet, which is a collection of malware-infected systems

Some examples of RAT are Back Orifice, SubSeven, PoisonIvy, Beast Trojan, Blackshades and Darkcomet.

Also read: What is a Whaling Cyberattack? How is it different from Phishing?

How does a RAT malware work?

As explained earlier, RATs attach themselves to harmless-looking files. After the installation on the computer, the malware registers itself in windows registry and startup directories, so that booting the computer launches the malware.

RATs work by opening a port on the computer. A port in wireless computing is a communication endpoint and helps the computer in identifying specific processes or network service type. For example, the computer’s port 80 sends a connection request to the webserver and displays webpages. RATs use the same functions of the port but for establishing nefarious connections.

How to counter RATs?

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Although detecting RATs is difficult, users can apply the following methods to protect themselves.

Regularly updating anti-virus software and firewall

Firewall checks for the unauthorised data inflow to the system and block them. Antivirus software detects the malicious software that harms PC. A combination of both the firewall and antivirus can be a useful tool for protection from RATs.

Task Manager

An analysis of the programs running on the task manager might show the RAT program. A user can look for any unfamiliar process and can terminate it. If the user doesn’t understand a process, they can take help from Google.

Be vigilant while downloading a program

Harmless looking files are the prime carriers of RATs. A user must be attentive when downloading stuff from the internet. They must download from authenticated websites.

Checking the IP ports

RATs open a port on the computer. For the lists of ports click here. Turn off the internet connection and match the ports running on the computer from the list. A user can also take the help of various IP troubleshooting utilities such as Netstat.

Apart from the above, RATs are also detected from the list of installed programs. Suspicious programs must be deleted.  Also, if the internet connection is slow and everything is alright from the hardware point of view and connectivity, the hacker is trying to download information, and the user should quickly disconnect.

Privacy is the keyword in today’s cyber world, and it must be protected at all costs. Knowledge about RATs and how they function can help us protect our privacy as well as keep our data intact.

Also read: What is Formjacking, how it works and protective measures


Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: [email protected]