The scenario is: you know you are infected, because you’ve identified a process associate with a malware, but you can’t figure out how that given process is getting launched. A variation of this is: you kill the process, remove the executable but it reappears after a given amount of time / after reboot / etc.
A great tool to help you identify the source of the problems is Process Monitor (or Procmon for short) from Microsoft (formerly Sysinternals). It records all kind of actions related to the registry, filesystem and network with detailed information about the source of the call (process, stacktrace, etc). It can also perform this logging during bootup (which is useful, since malware can launch before you get to the desktop). Here is a short tutorial on how to use it:
The scenario is:
malware.bat in you system32 directory with the following content:
@echo off echo Boo! pause > NUL
It is being launched by
launcher.bat, which is started because of an entry in the registry and has the following contents:
@echo off call c:\WINDOWS\system32\malware.bat
Pretend that you don’t know this and want to find out how the “malware” gets started. So fire up Procmon and check “Enable Boot Logging”. You can also uncheck “Resolve Network Addresses”, because we are not interested in them currently and it speeds up things a little bit.
Now restart your computer and observe that the “malware” is launched. Now start Procmon again, and it will ask you if (and where) you want to save the capture file from this reboot:
After you saved the file, you can search in it and locate references to our “malware”. When you’ve located a reference, you can see the properties of the process when it executed the particular command. In our case it is cmd.exe running the “launcher”:
However, this was the easy part. The hard part is interpreting the results :-). A process can “touch” a file for many reasons. Don’t immediately assume that just because one process is related to the malware, it too is instantly malicious. For example, all programs registered in the “Run” and similar registry key are started by explorer.exe, which isn’t malware ;-). An other reason why a clean process could launch malicious files is because they’ve loaded a DLL related to the malware. Check the stack tab. Conversely, just because the name / icon looks familiar, don’t assume that it’s innocent. Check that it is in the right path (an old trick is to put executable in the system directory with the same names as the ones in system32). If possible, check that the digital certificate is valid (malware can for example modify the code in executables to launch itself – which invalidates the certificates). When in doubt, second check. Sites like VirusTotal can give you a good indicator on the “maliciousness” of the file. Also, you can submit your files to sandboxes like ThreatExpert or CWSandbox, and see how it behaves. This can give you and indication about other files you might need to take a look at.
Good luck and stay secure!