The MRXCLS.SYS Malware Loader

A practically necessary feature of malware is that it is not content just to run once when picked up by the hapless user but must arrange that it will run again even after the machine is restarted. Of course, not all programs that want to get run automatically at startup are malware. All sorts of legitimate reasons exist for an application to want, or even need, that at least some part of itself should run without depending on the user to do something explicit about it. Windows has correspondingly all sorts of configurable settings for specifying that this or that module should be loaded more or less early in the system’s initialisation.

These settings are of course much abused. We have probably all been frustrated by software, even from reputable manufacturers, that does not obviously by nature require an automatic startup but just presumes the user should always want this program to be running. Some of these programs at least provide user-interface support for opting out, but many don’t, and all are subjects of concern. I expect that a large part of the everyday administrative concern of any careful user is to know what software has run automatically, and why.

As an aside in this context, I must express my surprise that for all Microsoft’s talk of attending to security in Windows there seems to be no systematic documentation by Microsoft of all the ways that Windows provides for software to load automatically. Without going so far as to say Microsoft ought long ago to have provided a system accessory or administrative tool that not only lists all the relevant settings but tracks changes to them, I would have thought it beyond dispute that all the settings ought at least be documented and collected. Yet as late as 2010, a setting that has been in Windows since the mid-90s and which I documented in 2005 as Run Program at Startup as Taskman is documented only obscurely by Microsoft, and incorrectly to boot.1 It all seems a bit slack, but perhaps that’s someone’s business opportunity.

It surely is an opportunity for the writers of malware. For them, knowledge of getting software loaded automatically, preferably without being obvious about it, must be valuable. It won’t be as much prized as knowledge of vulnerabilities that allow malware to get executing in the first place or to execute with extra privilege, but it is perhaps the next in line, given its importance to the malware’s sustained activity on infected computers. Though installing code to run automatically can be as easy as setting one registry value, other ways are more complex and even exotic, perhaps enough so that as malware development gets ever better organised, the writing of code to get other code loaded automatically may become a specialisation.


Some sign of this specialisation is discernable, if only as a possibility, in the Stuxnet worm that has recently made headlines. Among the many components of Stuxnet is a kernel-mode driver whose sole value to Stuxnet is to arrange that the worm will get to execute after Windows is restarted, should the circumstances it wants recur. The driver I mean—Stuxnet has two kernel-mode drivers—is installed as “mrxcls.sys”. The worm itself is an encrypted DLL installed as “oem7A.PNF”. The decrypted DLL contains the driver, lightly disguised, as one of its resources (number 201). The driver executes automatically when Windows is restarted, watches what programs get run, and injects the worm into each execution of the Windows program “services.exe” (which is sure to run on all Windows machines) and of two other programs “S7tgtopx.exe” and “CCProjectMgr.exe” (which are expected only on machines that are the worm’s ultimate targets).

Several analyses of Stuxnet note that the MRXCLS driver differs significantly from other Stuxnet components in obvious indicators of how and when the components were built. If various time stamps are to believed, the MRXCLS driver from a Stuxnet that was circulating in mid-2010 was built on 2nd January 2009 and signed on 26th January 2010 when the other driver, “mrxnet.sys” from resource 242, was both built and signed. It is no surprise if signing had to wait for the availability of a stolen certificate, but why would MRXCLS not have been revised during the year and rebuilt when signing? It could be, of course, that MRXCLS was long finished and needed no change, but there’s another possibility which nobody seems yet to have raised. It may be not so much that the Stuxnet writers didn’t rebuild the MRXCLS driver but that they wouldn’t or couldn’t. This driver, and perhaps some other components too, may have been developed independently of Stuxnet. It’s even possible that the Stuxnet writers don’t have the MRXCLS source code.

Although MRXCLS may presently be distributed only with Stuxnet, its code knows absolutely nothing about anything else in Stuxnet. That could just be good modularisation, but there’s more. First, it is written in a very distinctive C++ style (in which global variables are avoided by wrapping them into constructors for classes with static data members) that I have not noticed in any other Stuxnet component, including the other kernel-mode driver. Second, unlike Stuxnet’s other kernel-mode driver which clearly has been developed specially for Stuxnet, MRXCLS is fully a retail build, with no debug directory (and thus no pathname for a PDB file).2 Third, MRXCLS is conspicuously free of the particular light disguise (a word-wise XOR with 0xAE12) that many other Stuxnet components, though not the other kernel-mode driver, use for at least some strings. Most significantly, MRXCLS is written with far, far more generality than Stuxnet finds any use for. Once installed, MRXCLS is a self-standing kernel-mode loader of essentially arbitrary user-mode malware specified in configuration data. Any malware that installs MRXCLS can name any number of processes whose execution MRXCLS is to watch for, and can name for each such process any number of DLLs that MRXCLS is to load into that process’s address space and execute ahead of the process’s main executable.

That’s powerful stuff. Though this work is not at all sophisticated for a kernel-mode driver, that it is done in a kernel-mode driver is of itself enough difficulty for many programmers, even ones who might otherwise be thought among the most capable. Many a manager has learnt the hard way that kernel-mode programming is not for everyone, and I imagine that many a malware writer who wants the power of a kernel-mode malware loader would be pleased to have it ready-to-wear from a kernel-mode specialist. I certainly don’t say that MRXCLS breaks new ground in specialisation of malware development—I don’t inspect enough malware to know one way or the other—but I do say that those who talk of Stuxnet as one project developed on a previously unseen scale ought to consider that this much of it, at least, may have come off-the-shelf.

Kernel-Mode Loading

Of course, getting malware installed as a kernel-mode driver is not easy. It requires administrative privilege to create the relevant (well documented) registry keys and values, which are anyway in parts of the registry that will be watched by any competent anti-virus software. There is also the complication of kernel-mode code signing policy. Although 32-bit Windows does not insist on a digital signature for every kernel-mode driver, it does at least note the absence. Still, if what’s wanted is to get malware injected into other processes as early as possible in the execution of those other processes, then a kernel-mode driver would be hard to improve on as the solution and whatever alternatives exist would surely come with similar problems for installation.

Although MRXCLS is a kernel-mode driver, it’s not as if there’s a device to drive. This is true of many kernel-mode drivers, though most in practice do at least filter the system’s communications with drivers that do control devices. As a kernel-mode driver, MRXCLS has barely any presence at all. Once initialised, it maintains just two ways it can be called. One is a named device object that exists solely to support a Device I/O Control interface through which user-mode code, including the loaded malware, can access the kernel’s ZwProtectVirtualMemory routine, notably to ask that read-only memory be made writeable. The other foothold this driver keeps in the system is a routine that the driver registers through the PsSetLoadImageNotifyRoutine function and which is thereafter called by the kernel whenever any executable image is mapped into memory, whether for kernel-mode or user-mode execution.

The driver’s interest, of course, is in user-mode execution. The driver watches for two stages in the loading of a new process. When the main executable for the process is loaded, the driver checks its configuration data to see if this process is a target and, if so, prepares what to inject. The driver completes the kernel-mode part of the injection when it sees KERNEL32.DLL get loaded for the process. The greater part of the injection is done in user mode, by code that is contained in the driver but which the driver copies into the process’s user-mode address space. This user-mode hook gets to execute because the driver patches the process’s main executable at its entry point. Thus, after the process’s DLLs have been loaded and initialised but before the process’s main executable gets to run its intended code, the user-mode hook adds whatever extra DLLs have been specified as the malware for the process. For each, the user-mode hook calls the DLL’s own entry point as if for process attachment and then calls a post-initialisation function that the DLL can export. Arguments to this function provide the DLL with a few facilities that are surely useful for malware. Most notable is a handle to the driver’s device object, which lets the DLL play with memory protection without having to call user-mode functions that anti-virus software may think to monitor. When all the injected DLLs in the process are done with their initialisations, the user-mode hook undoes its patch and runs the main executable as if there had been no diversion to infect it.

As summaries go, that pretty much covers what the driver does. To defend against it, you would want to know more (and you might hope that I, who do not have an anti-virus product to sell, find sufficient resources to continue this article). But if your aim is just to use the driver, then even the preceding summary is more than you need. Imagine yourself as the writer of user-mode malware looking to this driver as a tool for getting your malware loaded. What you would want is directions for use. A necessary condition for my hypothesis is that directions can be given for configuring this driver to inject an arbitrary malware DLL into an arbitrary process, without having to understand more than a summary of how the driver does this magic.


The driver seems to have two distinct levels of configurability. One is under the control of its writers, when they rebuild the driver without changing its code. The other lets the driver’s users control what malware the driver will load from which files into which processes.

Compile-Time Configuration

Since I have only the one sample, I am of course only inferring an intention on the part of the driver’s writers to vary their product, let alone that they mean to do so through the particular mechanisms I identify. Still, in a driver that does nothing about obfuscating its code, it sticks out plainly enough that one block of data is encrypted. What is provided in that block is:

The MRXCLS writers would surely have known that the driver could avoid depending on two of these: the registry key in which the driver is installed is anyway just what the kernel passes to the driver’s DriverEntry function at initialisation; and since the client malware is given a handle to the open device object, the name of that device object really doesn’t matter. So, although some of the properties in this encrypted data are likely just to help during the driver’s development and testing, I surmise that some of the point to this compile-time configuration is that the MRXCLS writers have at least anticipated exercising a little control over their driver’s distribution. What the MRXCLS writers presumably don’t want is that malware writers who got hold of an MRXCLS binary could rename it to whatever they wanted, install it in whatever registry key they wanted, and use it for whatever malware they wanted. Instead, they have made it that anyone who wants to install the driver in a registry location of their own must get a new build (and encryption key) from the driver’s writers.3

For the remainder of this article, I take as understood the compile-time configuration from the MRXCLS distributed with Stuxnet. The registry key and value and the encryption key for the configuration data are all given shortly. The maximum file size is 3MB, but no file is given as a fallback should configuration data not be readable from the registry. The driver aborts its initialisation if Windows is in Safe Mode or if kernel-mode debugging is enabled. Processes that would ordinarily be targets for injection are left alone if they are being debugged. Where any discussion below touches on any of these features, remember that the behaviour is subject to this compile-time configuration.

Run-Time Configurability

For the driver to act as a general-purpose malware loader, its writers must provide their client with a way to specify which DLLs to inject into which processes. The client supplies this configuration through a single registry value:

Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\MRxCls
Value: Data

The data for this value is expected to have been encrypted using 0xAE240682 as the key. (I present the algorithm later.)

When decrypted, a simple checksum of all the bytes in the Data data must produce zero. The data is read from the registry just the once but is parsed afresh each time the driver learns of the loading of the main executable for any process that isn’t being debugged. What the driver expects to see is:

Anything beyond this is irrelevant to the driver, except for being included in the checksum that establishes the plausibility of decryption. A useful (and efficient) continuation would be a single byte that balances the checksum of all the preceding bytes.

The variable-sized record that follows the leading zero has the form of a dword whose value is the size in bytes of data that follows in the record. This data is itself a complex record. Note however that it typically will never be parsed. The driver looks inside this data only if an injection record directs the driver to load a file which the driver then finds it cannot do.

Injection Records

The injection records each name a process and a DLL that is to be injected into that process. The driver parses them all, continuing even after errors. It seems explicitly intended, then, that a process may be matched against any number of injection records. The corresponding DLLs will be injected in the reverse order of their injection records, but whether this particular order is intended or is merely a convenience in the programming is not clear.

Each injection record begins with a 10h-byte header:

Offset Size Description
0x00 dword irrelevant
0x04 word ordinal of DLL export for post-initialisation
0x06 byte 0x01 bit set: DLL is encrypted
0x02 bit set: inject DLL as memory image
0x08 dword encryption key for decrypting DLL
0x0C dword selector for default injection material if error reading DLL, else zero

This header is followed immediately by two variable-sized records. Each is a dword whose value is the number of bytes of data that follow in the record.

Data for the first record names the process. The driver merely assumes that this data is a null-terminated Unicode string. If the (case-insensitive) full pathname for the process that is being loaded ends with what’s in this first record, then the process is to be injected with the DLL that is named by the second record. The driver does not check that a match is just of the filename in the process’s full pathname, but whether this by design or oversight is not clear.

The second record names a DLL that the driver is to inject into the process. Again, the driver merely assumes that the data in this record is a null-terminated Unicode string. Exactly how this string names the injected material depends on the bit flags at offset 0x06 in the header.

If the 0x02 flag is clear, then when the driver intercepts the process’s initialisation, its user-mode hook is to load the named DLL into the process simply by calling LoadLibrary. The string given in this second record must in this case be suitable for passing to LoadLibrary. The effect in this simple case is much as if the process’s main executable actually had been coded to load the named DLL. The detraction for malware is that defenders against malware surely have LoadLibrary very high on their list of functions to monitor.

More sophistication is obtained if the 0x02 flag is set. The driver is then to read the DLL as a file, keeping the contents as source data from which the user-mode hook will prepare an executable image in the process’s address space. In this case, the string in this second record must be suitable for the kernel-mode ZwOpenFile function. If, additionally, the 0x01 flag is set, then the named file is encrypted using the key from offset 0x08 in the header. Note that the 0x01 flag is ignored unless the 0x02 flag is also set.

Default Records

If the 0x02 flag is set but the driver finds that it cannot read the indicated file, then a non-zero dword at offset 0x0C in the header tells the driver that alternative material to inject into the process may be available not in a file but in elsewhere in the Data data. As noted above, the variable-sized record that follows the leading zero is a dword that gives the size in bytes of data that follows. This data has the form:

Each default record is in turn

Quite how useful this provision can be in practice is not clear. It is anyway not used by Stuxnet (whose configuration data supports it only to the extent of specifying that the number of default records is zero). Especially curious is that the default data precedes the injection records but becomes meaningful only after an injection record somehow goes wrong. Could it be retained for some sort of backwards compatibility? Was this driver, with earlier code, in circulation before its discovery in Stuxnet?

Encryption Algorithm

The driver has just the one encryption algorithm, for which it has as many as three uses:

for the compile-time configuration, in driver’s own data section key is 0, from driver’s code
for the run-time configuration, in the Data registry value key is 0xAE240682, from compile-time configuration
optionally for any DLL image that the driver is to inject key is specified in run-time configuration

Though the first of these is the driver’s own business, any client malware that uses the driver must know the algorithm for the second use, i.e., to tell the driver which processes to infect with which DLLs, and can beneficially know the algorithm for the third use, i.e., to disguise the content of those DLLs. Note that although the algorithm provides for a 32-bit key, only the low 8 bits are significant:

    int x;
    int y;

    #define ROUNDS 5


    MRXCLS_CIPHER (int Key)
        x = Key ^ 0xD4114896;
        y = Key ^ 0xA36ECD00;

    void Encrypt (char *Buffer, unsigned int Size)
        for (int j = 0; j < ROUNDS; j ++) {
            unsigned int i;
            for (i = 1; i < Size; i ++) {
                Buffer [i] += Buffer [i - 1];
            for (i = 0; i < Size / 2; i ++) {
                Buffer [i] ^= Buffer [(Size + 1) / 2 + i];
            for (i = 0; i < Size; i ++) {
                Buffer [i] ^= (char) x * i + y * j;

    void Decrypt (char *Buffer, unsigned int Size)
        for (int j = ROUNDS - 1; j >= 0; j --) {
            unsigned int i;
            for (i = 0; i < Size; i ++) {
                Buffer [i] ^= (char) x * i + y * j;
            for (i = 0; i < Size / 2; i ++) {
                Buffer [i] ^= Buffer [(Size + 1) / 2 + i];
            for (i = Size - 1; i >= 1; i --) {
                Buffer [i] -= Buffer [i - 1];

    static void Encrypt (char *Buffer, unsigned int Size, int Key)
        MRXCLS_CIPHER cipher (Key);
        cipher.Encrypt (Buffer, Size);

    static void Decrypt (char *Buffer, unsigned int Size, int Key)
        MRXCLS_CIPHER cipher (Key);
        cipher.Decrypt (Buffer, Size);

Of course, the driver has code just for decrypting, not encrypting, but the source code as actually used when building the driver will be very similar to what’s shown above (though possibly with the static member functions outside the class). Indeed, if the preceding class definition is included in a program that calls the static member function named above as Decrypt, and presents arbitrary arguments, then the driver’s binary code for this function is exactly reproduced by the compiler from Visual Studio 2005 (i.e., version 8.0, as indicated in the driver’s PE header) when run with the /Oxs and /GL optimisations.4

The main Stuxnet DLL has code both for encrypting and decrypting, but its encoding of the algorithm is slightly different:

The algorithm is also used where the main Stuxnet DLL is hidden in the “.stub” section of a wrapper DLL. The decryption there stands between the two others: it uses unsigned arithmetic and the number of members isn’t knowable because the compiler has optimised away the class (as it can since there’s only the one use and the key, which incidentally is zero for this use, can be treated as constant).

The close similarity of these various encodings suggests, if not proves, that the Stuxnet DLLs learn the driver’s algorithm through a header file, yet the differences are more than would be expected if the header was intended for modules that are developed together. There are ways to account for these differences, with more or less contrivance, but the easiest explanation may be that the header that describes the driver to the Stuxnet DLL is not the header with which the driver actually was built.5


Another point on which the driver may usefully be described programmatically for its client malware is with the support that the driver provides for the injected DLLs. The driver does not merely map the DLL into the target process’s address space. It also executes the DLL. This is in two steps. So that the DLL may be arbitrary, its entry point for initialisation will have the form of a DllMain function which the driver expects has been written to execute under all the restrictions that apply to a DllMain function in the ordinary loading and initialisation of any DLL. To help the DLL start some execution without these restrictions, the driver provides that the DLL exports a function which the driver will call after the DLL has initialised. The ordinal of this export is specified in the injection record. The driver does not explicitly anticipate that the DLL will not want this call, but if the client sets zero as the ordinal, then the driver will not find an exported function to call.

Given that a function is specified for post-initialisation, the driver provides it with three arguments, but in a way that allows the injected DLL to ignore them (as does the Stuxnet DLL). The only imposition on the DLL is that the exported function must have a C-language calling convention that leaves the arguments on the stack. Most notably, it can have any __cdecl declaration or it can be __stdcall with no arguments. This means the DLL can have been developed with essentially no thought to being loaded specifically by this driver. However, for a DLL that can be coded with awareness of being loaded by this driver, the post-initialisation function gets some useful support.

That said, the support is not as clean as it might be. The first two arguments are pointers to structures that support the user-mode hook. Some members seem to be usable only with access to other data that the user-mode hook does not pass to the injected DLL. Others provide access to routines that could help the injected DLL with its own examination of executable images. For instance, one finds which image, if any, contains a given address in memory. It must be assumed that these routines are intended to be used by some injected DLLs, else why bother to pass these two arguments. Indeed, some of these routines are not used by the user-mode hook: either they are redundant, perhaps remaining from an earlier version, or they are meant explicitly for the injected DLL to use. Presumably, the writers of the injected DLL have the use of a header file that defines the structures and routines, or at least enough of them for using what’s intended.

The third argument is a handle to the \Device\MRxClsDvX device object through which the driver provides access to the kernel’s ZwProtectVirtualMemory routine. This device object is created during the driver’s initialisation but a handle is opened for each process that the driver identifies as a target for injection. (For reasons unknown to me, the driver actually opens the device object seven times, keeps the last handle as the one to pass to user mode, and closes the others.) The user-mode hook needs the handle so that it can undo the driver’s patching of code at the main executable’s entry point. But, again, if it’s not meant to be used by the injected DLL, then why pass it as an argument to the DLL’s post-initialisation function. Again, the writers of the injected DLL would have a header file that defines the I/O control code and the structure that is to passed to and from the device if the injected DLL wants to use this support for changing memory protection.


Imagine you’re the writer of a malware DLL that you want this driver to inject into some target process. You have your DLL, with a function exported for post-initialisation. You have your configuration data prepared and encrypted. How do you install the driver?

Here too the driver is designed for generality. Just about any way that any kernel-mode driver might be installed will do. The driver explicitly anticipates that it may be loaded too early to complete its initialisation immediately. Instead, by registering and, if necessary, repeatedly re-registering a callback with the IoRegisterDriverReinitialization function, the driver arranges that it doesn’t even attempt any substantial initialisation until it learns that the system is sufficiently well initialised to support file I/O. It assesses this experimentally, by testing whether it can yet open \SystemRoot\System32\hal.dll.

Of course, all kernel-mode drivers must be installed in the registry as services, but there is great variety in how they get loaded. As supplied with Stuxnet, the driver is given a name that suggests a driver that helps with network access—MRX is Microsoft’s abbreviation for mini-redirector—and it is installed in a way that makes a consistent picture of this, e.g., by specifying Network as the driver’s Group for the purpose of determining the latest stage of system initialisation by which the driver should be loaded.

Applicable Windows Versions

The driver’s PE header is marked as requiring at least Windows 2000, and the driver does indeed have code specially for Windows 2000. Indeed, it makes special cases of several Windows versions, and even of service packs, up to and including Windows Vista.

The driver knows, as anyone may, that the RtlGetVersion function is not a kernel export until Windows XP and that KeAreAllApcsEnabled is not until Windows Server 2003 SP1. It uses the latter to guard against its re-initialisation routine trying file I/O if APCs can’t be handled. More exotic version dependencies apply when the driver sets about looking for code sequences, whether in the kernel or in NTDLL.

The code to be found in the kernel is the internal routine ZwProtectVirtualMemory (an export in user mode but not in kernel mode), and is sought in all Windows versions. When running on version 5.0, the driver looks for the routine’s known code. In later versions, the driver finds the routine by looking for other code that may reliably be expected to use the routine. Specifically, the driver depends on finding a call to the exported function ZwAllocateVirtualMemory and then within a certain distance a push of 0x0104. One or another call after that, again within a limit, is hoped to have ZwProtectVirtualMemory as its target, which the driver accepts if the code there looks plausible.

Code and data inside NTDLL are needed only for Windows Vista and higher. The circumstances are that the user-mode hook is building an executable memory image, whether of the injected DLL or of itself (from either of two images embedded in the driver’s data), has applied relocations and resolved imports, including to load dependent libraries, and is to finish by adding the image to the inverted function table which NTDLL maintains for exception handling. This involves the user-mode hook in searching NTDLL for the internal routines RtlInsertInvertedFunctionTable and RtlRemoveInvertedFunctionTable, and for the table itself, known symbolically as LdrpInvertedFunctionTable. None of these exist in x86 builds of NTDLL before Windows Vista.

So, Who Wrote This Thing?

Stuxnet’s development is widely assessed as having required a large and sophisticated team. I don’t disagree. There’s a lot there to study and I have no trouble believing it would have taken a team of programmers at least a few months to write, even given prior knowledge of new vulnerabilities to exploit. Indeed, date stamps in the executables (embedded in the main DLL’s resources) suggest a concentration of effort ending with most components getting their final builds between 26th January 2010 and 1st March. Yet some of the executables have dates from well before and look to have been developed independently of Stuxnet. The driver installed as MRXCLS.SYS certainly was not written specifically for Stuxnet. It may have existed, even in real-world circulation, under other names before Stuxnet. It surely will turn up under other names in time to come. Whoever wrote it certainly intended it for reuse.

One possibility is that the Stuxnet writers are not just a large and sophisticated team themselves but are part of an even larger organisation that invests enough in malware (or cyber-war) to have spent time developing components for general malware support. I’m thinking here that the organisation must be large enough that when Stuxnet was planned as one particular project, its writers knew that helpful supporting components were already available from elsewhere in the organisation (from an armoury, if you like). The organisation could be large enough and disciplined enough to have barriers about access to source code.

Alternatively, that the driver is well enough separated from the rest of Stuxnet that it can be used without having source code may just mean it was brought in (or bought in) from outside. That would be a bit frightening for what it tells (or confirms) of malware development as organised crime. I expect there have long been specialist writers of packers and obfuscators, often for legitimate reasons of protecting intellectual property but surely also with the deliberate intention of complicating the inspection of malware. Now there may be specialist writers of kernel-mode malware support. If malware writers now have enough sense of community (or market) to support specialists, are they getting ahead of the security industry? I admit I have a drum to bang here, but as pleased as I am to see that several computer security companies have each invested man-months to report on Stuxnet, I have to ask if it might be done faster and cheaper. Defenders are in some sense doomed to be always playing catch-up with attackers, but surely one way to be better prepared at defence is to cultivate reverse engineering as specialist work.

[1] See Taskman, which would have you “add this entry to the registry to specify an alternate task manager”. I have even received an email telling me that my documentation is wrong and referring me to Microsoft’s. That the world mostly takes for granted that Microsoft, or any other software manufacturer, is a reliable authority on its own software is perhaps understandable, but a consequence is that mistaken documentation can persist for years and be circulated as if verified sufficiently well to accuse others of error.

[2] To link a driver without the /debug switch, which you must if you don’t want the executable to record your PDB path for all to see, is historically difficult when building with the master makefile and BUILD utility from the Windows Driver Kit (WDK). It can nowadays be arranged as easily as defining LINKER_FORCE_NO_DBG_SECTION in the SOURCES file, though even this is undocumented. The only way I ever knew before the WDK for Windows 7 was to put into a file named MAKEFILE.INC one or more NMAKE statements that remove various forms of /debug switch from the LINKER_FLAGS macro, and then to define the undocumented macro USE_MAKEFILE_INC in the SOURCES file. The builders of this driver either went to some such trouble, or avoided the WDK’s build environments and tools.

[3] This assumes there is some sort of honour among malware writers. An alternative strategy for the potential client is to get hold of a copy in circulation for other malware, and patch in their own names (and encryption key). But if they can do that, they probably can write their own and were never truly in the market for a kernel-mode malware loader as specialist assistance.

[4] The casts to char are at best redundant. Some would call them errors, not of syntax but of programming, since their intended application is surely to the whole sum of products or to each term or to each factor, rather than just the first factor. Yet these casts do seem to be what the MRXCLS writers have coded. Remove them and the reproduction of binary code is close but no longer exact.

[5] For a real-world example of what I mean, think of WINTERNL.H from the Windows Software Development Kit (SDK). It accurately describes what it chooses to reveal about NTDLL, but it plainly isn’t used for building NTDLL.