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question about whether malware can hide itself from scans even in safe mode


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#1 rp88

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Posted 24 August 2014 - 05:48 PM

simple question, is it technically possible for malware to hide itself such that even in windows safe mode it is not detectable by scanners? 


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#2 TsVk!

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Posted 24 August 2014 - 05:55 PM

Simple answer...

 

Yes, many malware instances can only be identified manually, by the right person who knows what they are looking for.



#3 quietman7

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Posted 24 August 2014 - 06:49 PM

Safe Mode is a troubleshooting mode designed to start Windows with minimal drivers and running processes to diagnose problems with your computer. This means some of the programs that normally start when Windows starts will not run.

Why use safe mode? The Windows operating system protects files when they are being accessed by an application or a program. Malware writers create programs that can insert itself and hide in these protected areas when the files are being used. Using safe mode reduces the number of modules requesting files to only essentials which make your computer functional. This in turn reduces the number of hiding places for malware, making it easier to find and delete the offending files when performing scans with anti-virus and anti-malware tools. In many cases, performing your scans in safe mode speeds up the scanning process. Scanning in safe mode was a recommended course of action years ago before malware writers began to employ more sophisticated techniques to counter removal efforts in that mode.

Why not use safe mode? Some security tools like anti-rootkit scanners (ARKs) and programs with anti-rootkit technology use special drivers which are required for the scanning and removal process. These tools are designed to work in normal mode because the drivers will not load in safe mode which lessens the scan's effectiveness. Other security tools are optimized to run from normal mode where they are most effective. For example, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is designed to be at full power when malware is running so safe mode is not necessary when using it. In fact, Malwarebytes loses some effectiveness for detection and removal when used in safe mode. For optimal removal, normal mode is recommended so it does not limit the abilities of Malwarebytes.

Scanning in safe mode prevents some types of malware from running so it may be missed during the detection process. If the malware is not related to a running process (i.e. malicious .dll) it probably will not make a difference performing a scan in normal or safe mode. A hidden piece of malware such as a rootkit which protects other malicious files and registry keys from deletion may not be detected in either mode without the use of special tools. Additionally, if the scanner you're using does not include definitions for the malware, then they may not detect or remove it regardless of what mode is used. If you're dealing with zero-day malware it's unlikely the anti-virus is going to detect anything. Also keep in mind that there are various types of malware infections which target the safeboot keyset so booting into safe mode is not always possible.
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#4 rp88

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Posted 24 August 2014 - 07:14 PM

thanks for such a detailed answer.


Back on this site, for a while anyway, been so busy the last year.

My systems:2 laptops, intel i3 processors, windows 8.1 installed on the hard-drive and linux mint 17.3 MATE installed to USB

#5 quietman7

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Posted 24 August 2014 - 08:14 PM

You're welcome on behalf of the Bleeping Computer community.
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