If you’ve ever had to call tech support for a PC, then you’re probably familiar with the magic of remote access. When remote access is enabled, authorized computers and servers can control everything that happens on your PC. They can open documents, download software, and even move the cursor around your screen in real time.
A RAT is a type of malware that’s very similar to legitimate remote access programs. The main difference, of course, is that RATs are installed on a computer without a user’s knowledge. Most legitimate remote access programs are made for tech support and file sharing purposes, while RATs are made for spying on, hijacking, or destroying computers.
Like most malware, RATs piggyback on legitimate-looking files. Hackers can attach a RAT to a document in an email, or within a large software package, like a video game. Advertisements and nefarious webpages can also contain RATs, but most browsers prevent automatic downloads from websites or notify you when a site is unsafe.
Unlike some malware and viruses, it can be difficult to tell when you’ve downloaded a RAT. Generally speaking, a RAT won’t slow down your computer, and hackers won’t always give themselves away by deleting your files or rolling your cursor around the screen. In some cases, users are infected by a RAT for years without noticing anything wrong. But why are RATs so secretive? And how are they useful to hackers?