skip to main content

Title: Exe-Guard Project

The exe-Guard Project is an alliance between Dominion Virginia Power (DVP), Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), Dartmouth University, and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL). SEL is primary recipient on this project. The exe-Guard project was selected for award under DE-FOA-0000359 with CFDA number 81.122 to address Topic Area of Interest 4: Hardened platforms and Systems. The exe-Guard project developed an antivirus solution for control system embedded devices to prevent the execution of unauthorized code and maintain settings and configuration integrity. This project created a white list antivirus solution for control systems capable of running on embedded Linux® operating systems. White list antivirus methods allow only credible programs to run through the use of digital signatures and hash functions. Once a system’s secure state is baselined, white list antivirus software denies deviations from that state because of the installation of malicious code as this changes hash results. Black list antivirus software has been effective in traditional IT environments but has negative implications for control systems. Black list antivirus uses pattern matching and behavioral analysis to identify system threats while relying on regular updates to the signature file and recurrent system scanning. Black list antivirus is vulnerable to zero day exploits which have notmore » yet been incorporated into a signature file update. System scans hamper the performance of high availability applications, as revealed in NIST special publication 1058 which summarizes the impact of blacklist antivirus on control systems: Manual or “on-demand” scanning has a major effect on control processes in that they take CPU time needed by the control process (Sometimes close to 100% of CPU time). Minimizing the antivirus software throttle setting will reduce but not eliminate this effect. Signature updates can also take up to 100% of CPU time, but for a much shorter period than a typical manual scanning process. Control systems are vulnerable to performance losses if off-the-shelf blacklist antivirus solutions aren’t implemented with care. This investment in configuration in addition to constant decommissioning to perform manual signature file updates is unprecedented and impractical. Additionally, control systems are often disconnected or islanded from the network making the delivery of signature updates difficult. Exe-Guard project developed a white list antivirus solution that mitigated the above drawbacks and allows control systems to cost-effectively apply malware protection while maintaining high reliability. The application of security patches can also be minimized since white listing maintains constant defense against unauthorized code execution. Security patches can instead be applied in less frequent intervals where system decommissioning can be scheduled and planned for. Since control systems are less dynamic than IT environments, the feasibility of maintaining a secure baselined state is more practical. Because upgrades are performed in infrequent, calculated intervals, it allows a new security baseline to be established before the system is returned to service. Exe-Guard built on the efforts of SNL under the Code Seal project. SNL demonstrated prototype Trust Anchors on the project which are independent monitoring and control devices that can be integrated into untrustworthy components. The exe-Guard team started with the lessons learned under this project then designed commercial solution for white list malware protection. Malware is a real threat, even on islanded or un-networked installations, since operators can unintentionally install infected files, plug in infected mass storage devices, or infect a piece of equipment on the islanded local area network that can then spread to other connected equipment. Protection at the device level is one of the last layers of defense in a security-in-depth defense model before an asset becomes compromised. This project provided non-destructive intrusion, isolation and automated response solution, achieving a goal of the Department of Energy (DOE) Roadmap to Secure Control Systems. It also addressed CIP-007-R4 which requires asset owners to employ malicious software prevention tools on assets within the electronic security perimeter. In addition, the CIP-007-R3 requirement for security patch management is minimized because white listing narrows the impact of vulnerabilities and patch releases. The exe-Guard Project completed all tasks identified in the statement of project objective and identified additional tasks within scope that were performed and completed within the original budget. The cost share was met and all deliverables were successfully completed and submitted on time. Most importantly the technology developed and commercialized under this project has been adopted by the Energy sector and thousands of devices with exe-Guard technology integrated in them have now been deployed and are protecting our power systems today« less
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [3] ;  [4]
  1. Schweitzer Engineering Lab., Inc., Pullman, WA (United States)
  2. Dominion Virginia Power, Richmond, VA (United States)
  3. Sandia National Lab. (SNL-CA), Livermore, CA (United States)
  4. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Schweitzer Engineering Lab., Inc., Pullman, WA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Country of Publication:
United States