What is Threat Modeling? How It Works

Threat Modeling

Threat modeling is a structured approach that aims to identify security needs, identify potential vulnerabilities and security threats, quantify threat and vulnerability and prioritize remediation options.

 

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What is threat modeling?

Threat modeling is a way to identify the threat agents that could cause damage to an application or computer system. To see the extent of damage they can do, it adopts the viewpoint of malicious hackers. Organizations conduct threat modeling by analyzing the software architecture and business context. This allows for a deeper understanding of the system and uncovers important aspects. Organizations usually conduct threat modeling at the design stage of a new application. This helps developers discover vulnerabilities and understand the security implications of their code and configuration decisions. In four steps, threat modeling is done by developers.

  • Diagram. How are we building it?
  • Identify threats. What can go wrong?
  • Protect against threats.
  • Validate. Did we take action on each step?

Threat modeling has many advantages

If done correctly, threat modeling can give a clear line-of-sight across a software project and help justify security efforts. Threat modeling allows organizations to identify security threats and make informed decisions about how to deal with them. Without it, decision-makers might act rashly on the basis of little or no supporting evidence.

A well-documented threat modeling gives assurances that can be used to explain and defend the security position of an application or computer system. If the development organization is serious about security threat modeling is the best way to accomplish the following:

  • Detect problems early on in the software development cycle ( SDLC) – before coding starts.
  • You may be able to spot design flaws that are not obvious by code reviews and traditional testing methods.
  • You might be open to new ways of attacking that you didn’t know about.
  • Help target testing and code review to maximize testing budgets.
  • Identify security needs
  • Prevent costly recoding after deployment by addressing problems prior to software release.
  • Consider security issues that are unique to your application as threats, beyond the usual attacks.
  • Frameworks are important for your applications.
  • To deduce the components that attackers will be targeting, highlight assets, threat agents, controls, and controls.
  • The system architecture can be used to model the location of potential attackers and their motivations.

Threat modeling misconceptions

Threat modeling can be misunderstood as a security process. Many people think threat modeling is a design-stage activity. Others see it as an option that code review or penetration test can replace. Some others believe the process is too complex. These misconceptions can be dispelled by the following:

Code reviews and penetration testing are not a substitute for threat modeling. However, security assessment (e.g. threat modeling) is more effective at revealing design flaws.

It’s important to perform a threat model following deployment. Monitoring weaknesses allows for quicker and more effective remediation. You can’t be sure that all threats are being addressed if you don’t understand the application’s potential dangers.

Threat modeling doesn’t have to be difficult. Unfortunately, many developers find it intimidating. It can appear daunting at first glance. However, if you break up the tasks into workable steps, performing a threat model on a simple web application–or even a complex architecture–becomes systematic. It is important to begin with the best practices.

 

The best practices for threat modeling

Threat modeling’s most important application is to promote security understanding among the entire team. This is the first step towards making security everyone’s responsibility. Threat modeling is conceptually simple. These are the five best practices for creating and updating a threat modeling model.

1. The scope and depth of analysis should be agreed upon with stakeholders. Each development team should then determine the depth of analysis required to threat model the software.

2. Get a visual understanding of your threat modeling.

3. To model the attack potential, identify software assets, security controls and threat agents. Then, draw their locations and create a security model (see Figure 1). After you have created a model of the system, you can use methods such as STRIDE to identify potential problems (i.e. the threats).

4. Identify threats

Is there a way for a threat agent to reach an asset and not need to go through a control?

Can a threat agent overthrow this security system?

What can a threat agent do in order to defeat this control?

5. Make a traceability matrix that identifies missing or weak security controls and track their control paths. It’s possible to attack the software asset if you can reach it without passing through security controls. Consider whether the control would stop a threat agent, or if they would have ways to bypass it.

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