Sunday, April 29, 2012

Malware Myths

Undetectable rootkits, irremovable malware, firmware bootkits surviving multiple drive wipes, I read about all these subjects on a regular basis and I will dedicate this blog post to these so-called malware myths in the hope that it may help you getting a better idea of what is possible (and most importantly what is not possible) when it comes to malware.

First of all, undetectable malware doesn't exist. Simply put, if we can't find it it means only we don't search well enough. As no piece of malicious software can exist on air only, it will have a stored component somewhere (this can range from code in a patched file to a sophisticated encrypted file system). While this stored component can be very hard to detect (after all a harddisk is a large place to hide stuff), it is not impossible and in worst case a wipe of the drive will always remove it, no matter how sophisticated. If malware returns afterwards it is time to check out removable/backup media or the network/router a computer connects to.

Firmware malware
Firmware is typically a small piece of software coded directly into a device (for example a video card or DVD writer) necessary for the device to function correctly. This code is highly device-dependent, different manufacturers and different models all require specific firmware. For that reason a firmware infection is not only highly unlikely but also very impractical for a malware writer. Someone who wants to create a successful infection not only needs to make sure the malware stays on the system (by making it harder to detect and delete), but also that it is distributed on a large scale. Deploying a firmware rootkit on a large scale is close to impossible as you'd have to write a lot of different versions for different hardware models.

BIOS malware
This form of malware certainly exists and infects the BIOS firmware. The malicious code can be removed by flashing the BIOS or resetting the BIOS. However, I have never seen such an infection in the wild. Furthermore, while the BIOS firmware is a pretty good place to hide, the only BIOS rootkit out there (mebromi) has plenty of signs and can easily be identified on an infected computer. As already explained above the real problem consists of the various firmware versions there are. Mebromi targets Award BIOS only, which makes distribution difficult. Combine that with the fact that it is easy to spot due to other components of the infection (see article) and you have to reach the conclusion that, although it is a very advanced piece of malware and may be tricky to remove (in worst case you need to open up your computer and reset the BIOS manually by removing the CMOS battery), it will not be more difficult to diagnose this infection is on board than an average MBR rootkit.

RAM resident malware
I can be short about this one: malware surviving in RAM during a power-off is technically impossible. Yes, a malicious loaded driver could in theory still be retrieved from RAM using a so-called cold boot attack, but from there to a rootkit that launches from within RAM is a long way to go. Due to the way RAM is designed it is physically impossible to store the launch code for a rootkit there.

Finally, not every weird symptom is automatically caused by malware. If you suspect suspicious network activity or see suspicious files and processes be sure to research them. Look up the IP addresses you see as well as associated port numbers, search for information on files and don't believe everything you read on the internet. You'll find that about every file on your computer is listed somewhere as infected. It is very important to determine how trustworthy a site is that offers information on files.
An infection usually comes with clear symptoms: redirects, pop ups, fake messages, extreme slowness and so on. "Weird behavior" is not enough to conclude that your computer is infected, specially not after one or more reformats/reinstalls.

"I still don't believe you and I want to know how to reformat and reinstall my computer in such a way that all possible malware is gone."

  1. Make sure your computer is not on a network and power it off. Reset your router and reformat all removable storage devices you have (including mp3 players, cameras).
  2. Clear CMOS
  3. Delete all partitions on your hard disk(s) and reformat using DBAN.
  4. Turn your computer off after deleting the partition(s) and reformatting the disk(s) for about 5 minutes.
  5. Turn your computer on and reinstall using a legal Windows CD/DVD. Alternatively use a free linux OS which will not get infected at all.


  1. Of note: DBAN's multipass overwrite is no more secure than a single pass writing pseudorandom data to the disk. See here:

  2. "I still don't believe you" ;)

  3. In that case, enjoy the reformat, and I'll see you online within a few days! :D

  4. Nice man Keep it up
    actually i found this video maybe you like it
    Topic:- Undetectable Rootkit