Execution Guardrails

Adversaries may use execution guardrails to constrain execution or actions based on adversary supplied and environment specific conditions that are expected to be present on the target. Guardrails ensure that a payload only executes against an intended target and reduces collateral damage from an adversary’s campaign.[1] Values an adversary can provide about a target system or environment to use as guardrails may include specific network share names, attached physical devices, files, joined Active Directory (AD) domains, and local/external IP addresses.[2]

Guardrails can be used to prevent exposure of capabilities in environments that are not intended to be compromised or operated within. This use of guardrails is distinct from typical Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion. While use of Virtualization/Sandbox Evasion may involve checking for known sandbox values and continuing with execution only if there is no match, the use of guardrails will involve checking for an expected target-specific value and only continuing with execution if there is such a match.

ID: T1480
Sub-techniques:  T1480.001
Tactic: Defense Evasion
Platforms: Linux, Windows, macOS
Permissions Required: User
Defense Bypassed: Anti-virus, Host forensic analysis, Signature-based detection, Static file analysis
Contributors: Nick Carr, Mandiant
Version: 1.1
Created: 31 January 2019
Last Modified: 09 June 2021

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
S0504 Anchor

Anchor can terminate itself if specific execution flags are not present.[3]

S0570 BitPaymer

BitPaymer compares file names and paths to a list of excluded names and directory names during encryption.[4]

S0635 BoomBox

BoomBox can check its current working directory and for the presence of a specific file and terminate if specific values are not found.[5]

S0634 EnvyScout

EnvyScout can call window.location.pathname to ensure that embedded files are being executed from the C: drive, and will terminate if they are not.[5]

S0637 NativeZone

NativeZone can check for the presence of KM.EkeyAlmaz1C.dll and will halt execution unless it is in the same directory as the rest of the malware's components.[5][6]

S0603 Stuxnet

Stuxnet checks for specific operating systems on 32-bit machines, Registry keys, and dates for vulnerabilities, and will exit execution if the values are not met.[7]


SUNSPOT only replaces SolarWinds Orion source code if the MD5 checksums of both the original source code file and backdoored replacement source code match hardcoded values.[8]

S0678 Torisma

Torisma is only delivered to a compromised host if the victim's IP address is on an allow-list.[9]

S0636 VaporRage

VaporRage has the ability to check for the presence of a specific DLL and terminate if it is not found.[5]


ID Mitigation Description
M1055 Do Not Mitigate

Execution Guardrails likely should not be mitigated with preventative controls because it may protect unintended targets from being compromised. If targeted, efforts should be focused on preventing adversary tools from running earlier in the chain of activity and on identifying subsequent malicious behavior if compromised.


ID Data Source Data Component
DS0017 Command Command Execution
DS0009 Process Process Creation

Detecting the use of guardrails may be difficult depending on the implementation. Monitoring for suspicious processes being spawned that gather a variety of system information or perform other forms of Discovery, especially in a short period of time, may aid in detection.