Malware deleting TrustedInstaller.exe, therefore crippling Windows

My sister’s computer is was infected with a bunch of stubborn malware. Even after cleaning the offending files, a lot of things won’t wouldn’t work.

Windows Update, run sfc /scannow, or DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image fails with unknown reasons, which I found it somehow related to “Windows Module Installer” service not running.

I saw something weird in services.msc: “Windows Module Installer” doesn’t exist, but I know the underlying name is “TrustedIntaller” and noticed a service named as such is there, but it cannot be started, nor there are any descriptive information.

So I searched registry for “TrustedInstaller” and got to its entry. I noticed these two:

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\services\TrustedInstaller]
"DisplayName"="@%SystemRoot%\\servicing\\TrustedInstaller.exe,-100"
"Description"="@%SystemRoot%\\servicing\\TrustedInstaller.exe,-101"

It means the meaningful names and descriptions I saw on services.msc are generated by calling the underlying  service executable file with switches. I checked my “C:\Windows\servicing” and found that “TrustedInstaller.exe” is not there at all! Of course you cannot start a service where the file does not exist at the promised path (ImagePath).

I searched the hard drive and found only one instance of the file stored somewhere (like C:\Windows\winsxs\x86_microsoft-windows-trustedinstaller_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_90e389a7ae7a4b6c) and I tried to move the file to “C:\Windows\servicing”. However the ownership and permissions to write to “C:\Windows\servicing” goes to “TrustedInstaller” account, not “Administrator”, so I took the ownership, gave Administrator full rights, then move the file over.

Everything worked after that! Just the mere trick of deleting TrustedInstaller.exe is enough to make the user miserable trying to clean the system up! “sfc /scannow” or the like requires TrustedInstaller/WIM to be working in the first place, so you cannot use it to repair TrustedInstaller/WIM problems.

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