A Remote Access Trojan (RAT) is a type of malware that provides the attacker with full remote control over your system. When a RAT reaches your computer, it allows the hacker to easily access your local files, secure login authorization, and other sensitive information, or use that connection to download viruses you could unintentionally pass on to others.

According to our cybersecurity glossary,

Remote Access Trojans (RATs) use the victim’s access permissions and infect computers to give cyberattackers unlimited access to the data on the PC. Cybercriminals can use RATs to exfiltrate confidential information. RATs include backdoors into the computer system and can enlist the PC into a botnet, while also spreading to other devices. Current RATs can bypass strong authentication and can access sensitive applications, which are later used to exfiltrate information to cybercriminal-controlled servers and websites.

How Does A Remote Access Trojan Work?

Similar to other forms of malware, Remote Access Trojans are usually attached to what appear to be legitimate files, such as emails or pre-installed software. However, it has recently been observed that these dangerous threat actors are quickly changing operating techniques when their methods are discovered and publicly exposed (see the case of ObliqueRAT).

Nevertheless, what really makes a RAT particularly dangerous is the fact that it can imitate trustworthy remote access apps. You won’t know it’s there once they have been installed as it doesn’t appear in a list of active programs or running processes. Why? Because it’s more advantageous for hackers to keep out of the limelight and avoid being caught. If you’re not taking proper security measures, it’s possible you could have a Remote Access Trojan on your computer for a long period without it being detected.

Differently from keylogging, a type of virus that records the keystrokes on a user’s keyboard without the victim realizing it, or ransomware, which encrypts all the data on a PC or mobile device, blocking the data owner’s access to it until a ransom is paid, Remote Access Trojans give attackers complete administrative control over the infected system, as long as they remain unobserved.

As you can imagine, this type of activity can result in delicate situations. For example, if a RAT is paired with a keylogger, it can easily gain login information for financial and personal accounts. To make matters worse, they can stealthily activate a computer’s camera or microphone, and even access private photos and documents, or use your home network as a proxy server, to commit crimes anonymously.

Who’s Targeted?

Creating Remote Access Trojans capable of avoiding detection is a meticulous process, which means it’s often more profitable for hackers to use them against larger targets like governments, corporations, and financial institutions. But they don’t stop here. The administrative access Remote Access Trojans provide means cybercriminals can wipe hard drives, download illegal and classified information, or even passing themselves off as somebody else on the Internet.

These actions can lead to geopolitical implications. If attackers succeed in installing Remote Access Trojans say in power stations, traffic control systems, or telephone networks, they can gain powerful control over them and even take down communities, cities, and nations. In this regard, we remember the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, when Russia used a coordinated campaign of physical and cyber warfare to seize territory from the neighboring Republic of Georgia.

Conducted by an army of patriotic citizen hackers, the cyber campaign consisted of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and website defacements that were similar in nature but different in method to what had occurred in Estonia the year prior. In total, fifty-four news, government, and financial websites were defaced or denied, with the average denial of service lasting two hours and fifteen minutes and the longest-lasting six hours. Thirty-five percent of Georgia’s Internet networks suffered decreased functionality during the attacks, with the highest levels of online activity coinciding with the Russian invasion of South Ossetia on August 8, 9, and 10. Even the National Bank of Georgia had to suspend all electronic services from August 8–19.

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How to Protect Yourself from RAT Software

#1. Never download something from unreliable sources

It may sound simple or obvious, but it’s the most effective way to avoid your system being infected with a Remote Access Trojan. Don’t open email attachments from people you don’t know (or even from people you do know if the message seems off or suspicious in some way), or from untrustworthy websites. Additionally, always make sure your browsers and operating systems are patched and updated.

#2. Keep your antivirus software up to date

Home and small business networks can often benefit from antivirus software like our Heimdal™ Threat Prevention. If you didn’t know about our product, Heimdal™ Threat Prevention is built to protect its customers from attacks like malware and ransomware traditional antivirus can’t detect. It can block different malware infection sources such as malicious email attachments, infected links you may receive in your email, infected web pages or malicious web apps that appear legitimate at first, but aimed at spreading ransomware. However, please keep in mind that antivirus software will not do much good if you are actively downloading files and installing programs you shouldn’t.

#3. Use intrusion detection systems

This is the most efficient option for larger organizations. The intrusion detection system can be either host-based (HIDSs) or network-based (NIDSs). While HIDS is installed on a specific device and monitors log files and application data for signs of malicious activity, NIDS tracks network traffic in real-time seeking suspicious behavior. Used together, the two create a security information and event management system (SIEM), that can help block software intrusions that have slipped past firewalls, antivirus software, and other security solutions.

Wrapping It Up…

The damage Remote Access Trojans are capable of causing is directly proportional to the cleverness of the attacker behind them. RATs are never good news, therefore it is of utmost importance to protect your systems against them.

What you should know is that our Heimdal™ Threat Prevention solution is compatible with any antivirus product available on the market that will block threats at their root. An anti-malware solution isn’t meant to replace your antivirus product, but complement it, so you can benefit from multiple layers of protection to better fight against malware and ransomware. With both software products installed, more security gaps are closed and you can enhance online safety.

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