Rootkit Checkers

A rootkit is a piece of software or a grouping of software that attempts to exploit one or more vulnerabilities with the goal of enabling an attacker to gain elevated privileges or perform any other type of attack against the target. Frequently, rootkits are used by less skilled attackers who use the software built by another attacker but don't really understand the underlying exploit; they're just interested in the results.

Many rootkits not only run the initial exploit to give the attacker root privileges but also attempt to mask or hide the fact that an attack has been launched. They do this by deleting log files or certain entries from log files, planting trojan-horse versions of programs, and employing other means. There is also nothing stopping an attacker from chaining rootkits together for multiple levels of deception and possible exploit.

Like network-centric attacks, rootkits frequently have signatures or leave other traces that identify them. These traces and signatures might be the aforementioned removal of log files, the presence of one or more processes, or other changes to the system that are specific to the rootkit software or the exploit.

Also as with network-centric attacks, there is software to search for the signatures and traces of rootkits as well. One such application is Chkrootkit.

Running Chkrootkit

Before you can run Chkrootkit, you need to get it. Chkrootkit can be downloaded from After it's downloaded, Chkrootkit needs to be unarchived and compiled:

 tar -zxvf chkrootkit.tar.gz cd chkrootkit-<NNNN> make sense 

Yes, that does say make sense in the code example. Although Chkrootkit is a shell script, there is some additional functionality gained by compiling the code. Compiling is not required, but because it's quick and adds some additional levels of checking, I'd recommend doing so. Specifically, compiling Chkrootkit will enable these additional checks:

  • ifpromisc

  • chklastlog

  • chkwtmp

  • check_wtmpx

  • chkproc

  • chkdirs

  • strings

Of all the tools used in this book, Chkrootkit is probably the easiest to use. To run Chkrootkit, from within the chkrootkit source directory you simply type this:

 ./chkrootkit | less 

You aren't required to pipe the output to less but there is a copious amount of output. So if you actually want to read the output, you'll probably need to pipe it somewhereunless, of course, you have a huge scrollback buffer.

Because running Chkrootkit produces a lot of output, it is wise to pipe the output to more or less, depending on your preference. Alternatively, you could redirect the output to a file:

 ./chkrootkit > output.txt 

Chkrootkit will output a number of lines informing you what it is currently checking for along with the ultimate status of the check. The output will look similar to this:

 Checking `amd'... not found Checking `basename'... not infected Checking `biff'... not infected Checking `chfn'... not infected Checking `chsh'... not infected Searching for ShitC Worm... nothing found Searching for Omega Worm... nothing found Searching for Sadmind/IIS Worm... nothing found Searching for MonKit... nothing found Searching for Showtee... nothing found 

As you can see from the output sample, it doesn't appear that any trojaned files or rootkits were detected. An infected file or detection of a rootkit will look similar to the following:

 Checking `bindshell'... INFECTED (PORTS:  1524 31337) 

Even though the output from Chkrootkit seems to indicate that the computer is infected with bindshell, Chkrootkit does sometimes produce false positives. However, if you see the INFECTED output from Chkrootkit, it's in your best interest to assume that Chkrootkit reported correctly and take steps to mitigate the damage.

A false positive occurs when a tool detects and reports a problem when in fact there is no problem. The underlying cause for false positives varies depending on the nature of the software reporting the occurrence. False positives are not as bad as false negatives. A false negative occurs when there really is a problem but the problem is not reported by tools that should find the problem.

False positives and negatives are not limited to computing. Imagine the case in which a person goes to a doctor and gets an ultrasound scan. Based on the scan results, the doctor reports that the person has cancer. However, on further examination it appears that the initial report was incorrect. This is an example of a false positive. Although additional tests were unnecessarily performed based on the false positive, it is still much better than having a false negative, with the cancer going unnoticed and untreated.

Because Chkrootkit reports using tools on the computer, it may report a false negative. There are ways around this problem as described later in this section.

What If Chkrootkit Says the Computer Is Infected?

If Chkrootkit says your computer is infected, the first thing you should do is tell yourself to remain calm. Although you should not assume so, there is a chance that Chkrootkit is reporting a false positive. If Chkrootkit reports an infection, you should immediately take steps to mitigate any further damage.

The preceding chapter of the book looked at incident response. Therefore, it would be redundant to cover that same material in this chapter. However, as with all tools of this nature, false positives come with the territory. It's in your best interest to take the notice seriously, but it might also be wise to try to determine whether Chkrootkit has reported a false positive.

Chkrootkit uses various means to find rootkits. Many times Chkrootkit looks for a certain signature in a file based on a known trojaned version of the file. Other times Chkrootkit looks for ports that are open that have been known to be the result of a rootkit or other attack. This was the case for the report of infection highlighted earlier in this section. Chkrootkit reported that it believed that the computer was infected with the bindshell rootkit. It based this finding on two ports that it found open, 1524 and 31337. In reality, these ports were open because of another security tool, Portsentry, that listens on those ports in hopes of catching other infected hosts. I used the program lsof with the -i option to determine the exact program that was listening on those ports.

With more than 50 rootkits reported by Chkrootkit, you probably won't know the exact ramifications of being infected by a given rootkit. Further, there's a good chance that if one rootkit has been run, multiple rootkits have been run, making cleanup all that much more difficult. To begin the process of damage control, you can search the web for each individual rootkit to determine what actions it takes when it's run. However, realize that, by definition, after a rootkit has been run successfully, the attacker has root privileges on the computer and therefore may have done much greater damage to the system or may be in the process of doing so now!

Whenever Chkrootkit reports an infection, you should take it seriously and always assume the worst. Prudence suggests that you should immediately unplug the computer from the network and take steps to clean up from the rootkit. In reality, it's rarely that easy or cut-and-dried.

Limitations of Chkrootkit and Similar Tools

Chkrootkit is a powerful and incredibly helpful tool but it is not without limitations. These limitations aren't really specific to Chkrootkit but rather are a limitation of any tool that attempts to perform complex checks such as this. One such limitation, false positives, has already been discussed. Another limitation of Chkrootkit and other tools like it is that they rely, by default, on programs included with the Linux computer itself, programs that may have been compromised or altered to avoid detection by prying eyes such as those of Chkrootkit and related utilities.

Here's a list of programs that Chkrootkit uses; keep in mind that these programs may themselves in turn rely on libraries or other things on the Linux computer that also may be compromised:

  • awk

  • cut

  • echo

  • egrep

  • find

  • head

  • id

  • ls

  • netstat

  • ps

  • sed

  • strings

  • uname

Another limitation of tools such as Chkrootkit and shared by similar tools is that it can detect only rootkits that have been reported and for which it has been configured. Some unlucky soul has to be the first to have the rootkit run on her computer. If you happen to be that person, Chkrootkit won't help. Realize, though, that there is a fair chance that multiple rootkits will be run on the computer, which will make detection easier. I realize that this is small consolation.

Using Chkrootkit Securely

It's a good idea to use known-good sets of system binaries when using a tool such as Chkrootkit. Many rootkits replace vital system binaries such as /bin/ps with versions of their own. Therefore, if you try to use ps to find unknown processes, you may not be able to see them because the trojaned version of ps hides them.

Chkrootkit gives two methods for working around this problem. The first method involves using a known-good set of binaries, probably mounted from a CD-ROM. The second method involves physically mounting the possibly compromised hard drive into a different computer and then running the check from there. This second method is more appropriate for forensics after a successful attack rather than for investigating a possible attack.

Mounting a CD-ROM with known-good versions of binaries is a safe and easy method for performing a thorough examination using Chkrootkit. This method assumes that you have a CD-ROM with the correct binaries already on the disc. To run Chkrootkit with a CD-ROM copy of the binaries, first mount the CD. This is usually accomplished using the mount command, although sometimes it's mounted automatically. A common method for mounting the CD-ROM drive in most modern Linux distributions is shown here:

 mount -t iso9660 /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdrom 

Chkrootkit uses the -p option to define the location of the binaries it should use. Therefore, if the CD-ROM is mounted at /mnt/cdrom, you'd run Chkrootkit like so:

 ./chkrootkit -p /mnt/cdrom 

The other method for running Chkrootkit is to physically mount the possibly compromised hard drive into another computer and run Chkrootkit against the contents of that drive. This is accomplished by specifying an alternate "root" directory for Chkrootkit. Assume that the second drive is mounted at /mnt/drive2:

 ./chkrootkit -r /mnt/drive2 

When Should Chkrootkit Be Run?

Chkrootkit should be run whenever you'd like. There is no recommended schedule for Chkrootkit. I personally run it at irregular intervals for fun, but then again I'm just that type of guy. You should most definitely run Chkrootkit anytime you observe any suspicious activity on the computer or on other computers that may interact with or reside on the same network block as the computer in question. Whenever you run Chkrootkit, you should always hop out to the website,, to check for a new version of the tool. A new signature for a rootkit or additional functionality might have been added since the version you're using.

You can also run Chkrootkit nightly from cron. However, I wouldn't rely on such a report being entirely accurate, but it could provide an early warning of an anomaly that needs your attention. Running Chkrootkit from cron might look like this:

 0 4 * * * /path/to/chkrootkit 

The cron entry shown will run Chkrootkit every morning at 4:00 a.m. Root (the recipient of cron job output) will receive a report every morning detailing the run of Chkrootkit.

Linux Firewalls
Linux Firewalls: Attack Detection and Response with iptables, psad, and fwsnort
ISBN: 1593271417
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 163
Authors: Michael Rash

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