nazarijo (Jose Nazario) writes "A group of people out there, let's call them 'elite hacker d00ds,' are
able to skillfully craft Windows rootkits that evade almost any known detection
system. Some people want to know how this is done, be they aspiring
elite hackers, security professionals who have to try and find these
rootkits, or just interested parties. If you're one of them, Grog Hoglund
and James Butler's new book, Rootkits: Subverting the Windows
Kernel is for you. It's focused like a laser on how to defeat
detection at various levels in the Windows OS once you're in." Read on for the rest of Nazario's review.
Some may wonder if Hoglund and Butler are being irresponsible by writing a book that shows you how to bypass detection. If you look closely, however, you'll see that all of the methods they outline are detectable by current rootkit revealing mechanisms. And they also show you how to detect many new rootkits in the process. I consider this book to be a responsible contribution to the community, professionals and amateurs alike, in the finest tradition full disclosure.
The book is organized into three major sections, even if it's note explicitly marked as such. The first section serves as an introduction to the topic and some of the high level concepts you'll need to know about Windows, control mechanisms, and where you can introduce your code. The second part is a highly technical tour of the techniques used to hook your rootkit in and hide it, And the third section is really one chapter covering detection of rootkits.
The first few chapters, which serve to introduce the topic, get technical right away. Chapter 2, for example, shows you some basic mechanisms for hooking in your rootkit. If you're getting lost at this point, you'll want to probably augment your reading with a Win32 internals book. The resources listed by the authors, though, are great. By this point you can also see that the writing is clear and the examples contribute perfectly to the topic. Hardware hooking basics are covered in chapter 3, which should give you some indication of the book's pace (quick!).
By the time you get to chapter 4 and discussing how to hook into both userland and the kernel, you're getting at some very valuable material. Although the book focuses on kernel hooking, a brief description of userland hooking is provided. Chapter 5 covers runtime patching, a black art that's not well known. This is almost worth the full price of admission, but the material gets even better.
In chapters 6-9 you get into some serious deep voodoo and dark arts. In these chapters you'll learn the basics of direct kernel object manipulation, layered device drivers (which can save you a lot of work), hardware manipulation, and network handling. All of these are techniques used by rootkit authors to varying degrees and effect, so you should become familiar with them. The code examples are clear and functional, and you'll learn enough to write a basic rootkit in only about 150 pages. Simple keyboard sniffers and covert channels are described in the code examples. Useful stuff.
I can't say I found many errors or nits in the book. There's some problems at times getting the code formatting just right, and what appear to be a few stray characters here and there, but nothing too obvious to me. Then again, I'm not a Windows kernel programmer, so I don't feel qualified to comment on the correctness of the code.
In the finest tradition of using a blog and dynamic website to assist your readers, the authors have set up rootkit.com, which nicely supplements their book. Most of the resources they mention in the book are available here, as well as a great array of contributors and evolving techniques. Without the book the site is still useful, but together they're a great combination. Too many books lose their value once you read them, and some books stay with you because you're having difficulty understanding the authors. Rootkits will stay near you while you develop your skills because it's a lot of material in a small space, and although it's very clearly written, there is a deep amount of material to digest. You'll be working with this one for a while.
My only major wish for this book is for it to have covered detection more significantly. One chapter covers how to detect rootkits, and although you may be able to look for some specific telltale signs of rootkits depending on how they were introduced, a more complete coverage of this approach would have made the book even more worthwhile.
Rootkits is an invaluable contribution in the wider understanding of advanced attack and hacker techniques. Previously, much of this material was known to only a handful of people, and assembling your own knowledge base was difficult. Hoglund and Butler write clearly, use great code examples, and deliver an excellent book on a high technical and specialized topic. If you're interested in learning how to write your own rootkit or detect someone else's rootkit on your system, you should definitely start with this book.
You can purchase Rootkits: Subverting the Windows Kernel from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.