What Are Remote Access Trojans? Don’t Let Hackers Control Your Computer

February 17, 2021 in Malware

You’ve heard the story before.

For years, ancient Greeks tried to infiltrate the coveted city of Troy. After a series of failed attempts, they feigned surrender and sent a giant wooden horse to their enemies. Troy opened its gates to accept the gift. Then, night fell—and soldiers emerged from within the hollow “peace offering” to take the Trojans by storm.

Fast forward more than 3,000 years, and cybercriminals are recreating the ancient tale using a modern weapon of their own: remote access trojans (RATs).

True to their name, RATs are a particularly sneaky type of malware designed to trick unsuspecting users. Once on a computer, they give cybercriminals complete, anonymous control—from anywhere in the world.

As the ancient Trojans would surely attest, you don’t want to be on the receiving end.

The dangers of remote access trojans

What are remote access trojans able to do, specifically? The short answer: a lot. Here are just a few ways that hackers can wreak havoc with remote access trojans:

  • Spying. Cybercriminals can use a RAT to hijack webcams, spy on targets, and collect blackmail.
  • Stealing. Hackers can use a keylogger to monitor typing and steal sensitive user data like passwords or credit card info.
  • Scheming. Cybercriminals can exploit your vulnerable state by downloading illegal content onto your computer.
  • Spreading. Once a RAT is on your computer, you’re not the only one in danger. While targeting you, hackers can use your device as a gateway to distribute malware to others.
  • Shutdowns. With only a few keystrokes, hackers can completely wipe your hard drive—deleting personal files and doing irreparable damage.

One of history’s biggest RATs

Now that we’ve answered the question “What are remote access trojans,” let’s look at a real RAT in action.

This one’s called Blackshades—and by 2014, it had infected more than 500,000 computers in over 100 countries.

One of those computers belonged to an American beauty queen named Cassidy Wolf: the 19-year-old victim of a sextortion case. In 2013, a 20-year-old hacker from California seized control of Cassidy’s webcam and took a series of compromising photographs. He then demanded that Cassidy send him more photos and videos, threatening to publish the existing photos if she didn’t comply.

This may sound like an elaborate movie plot. But remote access trojans are real-life dangers—commonly infiltrating computers through email attachments or add-ons to legitimate software.

According to the FBI, potential signs of a Blackshades or general RAT infection include:

  • Mouse cursor moving erratically with no input from the user
  • Web camera light unexpectedly turning on when not in use
  • Monitor turning off while in use
  • Compromised online account usernames and passwords
  • Unauthorized bank accounts logins or money transfers
  • Text-based chat window unexpectedly appearing on your computer’s desktop
  • Encrypted computer files followed by a ransom demand to unlock them

At the end of the day, strong cybersecurity may be all that stands between you and digital destruction.

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