Hello again. It’s Rafal Sosnowski from Microsoft Dubai Security PFE Team and today I will be explaining what is the ELAM driver.
ELAM – Early Launch Anti-Malware is a piece of code that is loaded in the pre-boot environment and is responsible for verification of other drivers before they are loaded into memory. ELAM driver is being called by the Kernel and it reports the status of the driver images: if they are safe or unsafe to load. ELAM driver has been introduced in Windows 8 and is not dependent on UEFI nor BIOS implementation.
The early launch AM drivers are started soon after the NTOS kernel starts. For each subsequent boot driver, the AM driver receives a callback from the Kernel Plug and Play manager to determine whether the boot driver should be initialized. The AM driver evaluates the boot driver and must return good, bad, or unknown status of the driver. Based on the returned classification and defined policy, the PnP manager decides whether to initialize the boot driver.
ELAM driver can return status of the boot driver as good, bad, or unknown. This image evaluation is based on the malware signature data stored under: HKLMELAM<VendorName>. This registry hive is loaded by the winload.exe process at the same time as ELAM driver
Within the key, the vendor will keep blacklists and/or whitelists of the drivers’ images and virus signatures. So far, ELAM cannot detect malware based on the heuristics or malware that has ability to polymorph so it relies on the image hashes and virus signatures.
Each ISV is responsible for updating and verifying its malware signature data for its ELAM driver. When the AM driver is initialized, it should verify the integrity of the malware signature data by validating a digital signature.
The ELAM hive is unloaded after its use by Early Launch Antimalware for performance reasons. If a user mode Antivirus service wants to update the signature data, it should mount the hive file from the c:WindowsSystem32configELAM. The storage and retrieval format of these data BLOBs is left up to the Antivirus Vendor, but the signature data must be signed so that the AM driver can verify the integrity of the data.
When the status of the drivers is returned (good, bad, unknown), system will decide whether load particular driver or not, based on the policy stored in:
This Policy can be defined manually or via GPO under:
Computer Configuration Administrative Templates System Early Launch Antimalware Boot-Start Driver Initialization Policy
If the policy is not configured or disabled the boot drivers determined to be Good, Unknown or Bad but Critical are initialized and the drivers determined to be Bad are skipped.
Driver is marked as critical if internal routine of ELAM driver determines that blocking this particular driver would cause system to halt / bluescreen.
An image is treated as unknown when an error is returned from the initialize image callback or when the signature data doesn’t exist in the registry.
After classification of drivers has been finished and malicious drivers were blocked, the ELAM driver will unload. Anti-Malware engine should be started prior to the early launch AM driver being unloaded. This means that the runtime AM engine should be a boot driver that is verified by the early launch AM driver not a user mode process.
Default Windows ELAM driver:
By default, ELAM driver is provided by Windows Defender and is registered as WdBoot.sys driver. You can find it in %systemroot%system32drivers folder.
3rdparty ELAM drivers:
Microsoft requires that Early Launch Antimalware vendors be members of the Microsoft Virus Initiative (MVI). This membership ensures that the vendors are active antimalware community participants with a positive industry reputation and participate in antimalware initiatives.
For example, if we install Symantec Antivirus, it will register its own ELAM drive called SymELAM.sys:
If you want to register your own ELAM driver for testing purposes, use command:
sc create Elam-Test binpath=%windir%system32driversTEST-ELAM.sys type=kernel start=boot error=critical group=Early-Launch
ELAM driver signing:
Every ELAM driver has to be signed by Microsoft Code-signing certificate. This certificate has to have special EKU (Extended Key Usage) indicating Early Launch Anti-Malware driver. If the ELAM driver is not signed with such certificate it will fail to load.
Winload checks the signatures of all boot drivers as they are loaded into memory. On 64-bit platforms all boot drivers must have valid signatures, their certificates must chain to a trusted root CA, and their certificates must contain the Codesigning enhanced key usage (EKU) extension. Signing is not required on 32-bit platforms. ELAM drivers are special in that they must be signed by Microsoft, and their signing certificates must also contain a special EKU indicating that it is an ELAM Driver (OID: 18.104.22.168.4.1.322.214.171.124). This is true for both 32-bit and 64-bit platforms.
Backup Driver Installation
To provide a recovery mechanism in the event that the ELAM driver is inadvertently corrupted, the ELAM installer also installs a copy of the driver in a backup location. This will allow WinRE to retrieve the clean copy and recover the installation.
The installer reads the backup file location from the BackupPath key stored in
Like Secure Boot, ELAM driver can be disabled by the owner of the platform. User can restart the machine and put it into Advanced Restart mode. Just restart your PC using combination of “Shift + Power > Restart” or execute:
Shutdown /r /o /t 0
and follow the menu path: Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > start up Settings > Restart
On next screen you can choose Disable early launch anti-malware protection:
This has been implemented to remediate situations where ELAM blocks some important driver which prevent machine from botting. In this case you can disable ELAM, remove problematic driver and boot your PC normally. The next time you reboot your computer, Early Launch Anti-Malware Protection will automatically start again and continue protecting your computer. To remove the ELAM driver permanently you would have to unregister it from the system.
So to summarize: ELAM has antimalware capabilities and can block drivers from being loaded into memory before they are initialized. ELAM is part of the Microsoft Trusted Boot standard and can mark your drivers with status: good, bad or unknown and then allow or prevent from loading. ELAM can be disabled by the user that has physical access to the computer.