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Microsoft offers guidance to IT in pinpointing sneaky malware

New tool and documentation helps IT managers dig out malware buried within the OS.

Microsoft is planning to release a tool that helps IT administrators first pinpoint malware burrowed in operating systems and then gives prescriptive guidance on how to rid their systems of the problems.

The Malware Removal Starter Kit, which uses Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) and an anti-malware tool to scan computers offline, will be available for free by the end of the month.

The kit contains documents that provide guidance about the types of malware that exist, advice on how to combat malware attacks and how to create an incident response plan. In addition, it identifies which computer problems could be a malware infection.

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Once the PC is booted using Windows PE, a lightweight operating system, IT administrators can use the free anti-malware tools outlined in the guide to scan for and remove the malware. The administrators can then use Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool -- or any other third-party tools -- for the threat scan and removal.

"Sometimes, even with anti-malware programs, computers don't get updated or the wrong attachment gets opened, and then the network or the machine is infected. With the new malware that can hide in operating system files, it has become much more difficult to find these threats," said Jim Stuart, a product manager with Microsoft's security and compliance unit.

Stuart said it's easier to detect threats in an offline operating system than it is on an operating system that is running.

Although the Malware Removal Starter Kit and Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool are free to everyone, Windows PE is free only to Enterprise and Software Assurance licensed users of Windows XP and Windows Vista. The company also has its Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, which scans networks for missing updates and security configurations, but that tool doesn't find or address malware.

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