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What is RAT malware and why is it so dangerous?



  A scary white rat on a black background
Chichinkin / Shutterstock

A Remote Access Trojan (RAT) is a type of malware used by hackers to monitor and control your computer or network. But how does a RAT work, why use it and how do you avoid it?

RATs give hackers remote access to your computer

If you ever had to call technical support for a PC, then you are probably familiar with the magic of remote access. With remote access enabled, authorized computers and servers can control everything that happens on your PC. You can open documents, download software, and even move the cursor on the screen in real time.

A RAT is a type of malware that is very similar to legitimate remote access programs. The main difference, of course, is that RATs are installed on a computer without the user's knowledge. Most legitimate remote access programs are created for technical support and file sharing, while RATs are used to spy, hijack, or destroy computers.

Like most malware, RATs hack legitimate-looking files. Hackers can attach a RAT to a document in an e-mail or in a large software package such as a video game. Ads and malicious websites may also contain RATs, but most browsers prevent automatic site downloads or notify you when a website is unsafe.

Unlike some malware and viruses, it can be difficult to determine when you downloaded a RAT. In general, a RAT will not slow down your computer, and hackers will not always shy away from you by deleting your files or moving your cursor across the screen. In some cases, users become infected by a RAT for years without noticing something wrong. But why are RATs so secretive? And how are they useful to hackers?

RATs work best when they go unnoticed

Most computer viruses are designed for a single purpose. Keyloggers automatically record everything you type, ransomware restricts access to your computer or files until you pay a fee, and adware stores dubious advertisements for your computer.

RATs, however, are something special. They give hackers complete and anonymous control over infected computers. As you can imagine, a hacker can do practically anything with a RAT, as long as his target does not smell any RAT.

  A Covert Hacker in Front of His Computer
Maxim Apryatin / Shutterstock

In In most cases, RATs like spyware are used. A money hungry (or downright scary) hacker can use a RAT to get keystrokes and files from an infected computer. These keystrokes and files may include bank details, passwords, confidential photos, or private conversations. In addition, hackers can use RATs to discreetly activate a computer's webcam or microphone. The idea of ​​being spied on by an anonymous nerd is quite annoying, but compared to what some hackers do with RATs, this is a slight insult.

Since RATs give hackers administrative access to infected computers, they can freely change them or download files on a whim. That is, a hacker with RAT can erase your hard drive, download illegal content from the Internet through your computer, or place additional malware on your computer. Hackers can also remotely control your computer to do embarrassing or illegal acts online on your behalf, or use your home network as a proxy server to commit crimes anonymously.

A hacker can also use a RAT to take control of a home network and create a botnet. Essentially, a botnet allows a hacker to use your computer resources for extremely nerdy (and often illegal) tasks such as DDOS attacks, bitcoin mining, file-hosting, and torrenting. Sometimes this technique is used by hacker groups for cybercrime and cyber warfare. A botnet made up of thousands of computers can produce a lot of bitcoin or shut down large networks (or even a whole country) through DDOS attacks.

Do not worry; RATs are easy to avoid

If you want to avoid RATs, do not download files from sources you can not trust. You should not open email attachments from strangers (or potential employers), download games or software from funky sites, or download torrent files unless they are from a trusted source. Keep your browser and operating system up-to-date with security patches.

  Businessman wearing a mask on a computer
Elnur / Shutterstock

Of course, you should also activate your antivirus software. Windows Defender is included in your PC (and, frankly, it's a great antivirus software). However, if you need additional security, you can download a commercially available antivirus software such as Kaspersky or Malwarebytes.

RELATED: What is the best antivirus for Windows 10? (Is Windows Defender good enough?)

Use Anti-Virus to find and root out RATs

The likelihood that your computer will not be infected by a RAT is overwhelmingly likely. If you have not noticed any strange activity on your computer or your identity has recently been stolen, you are probably safe. Nevertheless, it does not hurt to check your computer for RATs over and over again.

Because most hackers use familiar RATs (rather than developing their own), antivirus software is the best (and simplest). How to find and remove RATs from your computer. Kaspersky or Malwarebytes have an extensive, ever-growing database of RATs, so you do not have to worry about your antivirus software being out of date or half-finished.

If you run antivirus programs, you may still be able to format your computer if you are still paranoid about having a RAT on your PC. This is a drastic measure, but with a 100% success rate – except for exotic, highly specialized malware that can be built into your computer's UEFI firmware. New RATs that can not be detected by antivirus software take a long time to create. They are usually reserved for large corporations, celebrities, government officials and millionaires. If antivirus software does not find RATs, you probably have no RATs.

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