Recently I was trying to figure out how to start additional services in Windows safe mode. I had a user whose laptop kept crashing at login, I had a quick look and several theories came to mind but uptime was important, so as a temporary workaround I set it up in safe mode with networking.
A few days later the user calls and wants to be able to print in safe mode. I look into it, do some searching, but the prevailing wisdom seemed to be that it wasn’t doable. This sounded like an MCP party line to me so I decide to explore the registry. Eventually I find the
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control key which has sub-keys of Minimal and Network. Minimal being safe mode, Network being safe mode with networking. It seems to be a whitelist of services, drivers and drive groups that are allowed to start or load.
Therefore it is possible to start additional services and load additional drivers in safe mode – just add a key for the service or driver short name, then a string for type. The below entry (if in a .reg file) would allow the Print Spooler to start in safe mode with networking.
If you want a list of all drivers, driver groups and services starting in normal mode and their corresponding short names check
I’d caution against whitelisting too much as it kind of defeats the purpose of safe mode, though in certain situations as a quick hack it can useful. It may also be something worth checking the next time you’re dealing with a particularly nasty malware infection. I haven’t seen anything which exploits it yet, but I imagine something does.