Continuous Threat Modeling

Threat modeling is a process that aims to identify, communicate, and ultimately understand different threats and mitigations within the network. The threat model is a structured “model” of the available info that might affect the application’s security. Essentially, a threat model represents a view of the app or network that focuses on its security. For the most part, the method of threat modeling can be helpful in applications, software, distributed systems, networks, IoT devices, and even business processes.

A typical threat model will include the following:

  • A description of the subject that’s being or will be modeled
  • General assumptions that should be either challenged or checked as the threat landscape shifts
  • A list of potential system threats
  • The list of actions that can be implemented for threat mitigation
  • A process that validates the model along with the threats and the verification of success of the actions that have been taken.

In essence, threat modeling represents the process of analyzing, capturing, and organizing all the information mentioned above. When we apply this all to software, threat modeling enables experts to make informed decisions regarding certain security risks in the application. Additionally to creating the actual model, threat modeling also allows the security experts to develop a list of security improvements that may make the application better in terms of concept, design, security, implementation, and overall requirements.

The Objectives

Threat modeling aims to improve the security of the given system or application by identifying specific threats and laying out the processes for the necessary countermeasures to mitigate or prevent these threats from happening.

Threat Modeling Benefits

As the threat landscape is constantly evolving, threat models also require constant tweaking and fine-tuning if an organization wishes to remain prepared for attack risks and data breaches. Hackers are constantly working on new methods to infiltrate systems and exploit vulnerabilities, and continuous threat modeling updates can help organizations defend themselves. As such, here are the most common benefits associated with continuous threat modeling:

Updating Risk Exposure Automatically

The evolving threat scene frequently introduces new surfaces for attacks, opening up additional risk areas in systems, applications, cloud-based and on-premises deployment systems, IoT technology, mobile networks, embedded networks, computing endpoints, and more. With continuous threat modeling, organizations can keep up-to-date with the latest threat possibilities. This way, the changes can all be monitored in real-time and help determine if any new attack surfaces arose, providing accurate and fresh information regarding risk exposure.

Always Updated Risk Profile

An accurate and regularly updated risk profile can highlight risk exposure and allows security experts to highlight threat sources. The info on the risk profile can serve as an excellent basis for security control audits and for implementing more secure coding principles. Perform target testing, and help establish an overall better risk mitigation approach. A risk profile can also come in handy in the case of mergers, acquisitions, and 3rd party reviews. The profile enables rapid critical risk info collection while at the same time delivering precision, consistency, and thoroughness.

Consistent Security Policies Across the Board and Reduced Attack Surfaces

Having a comprehensive threat data repository where the possible threats are correctly organized and classified by risks, mapped to security requirements with security code snippets that allow mitigation can go a long way in promoting better overall security consistency. This also manages to reduce the size of the potential attack surface across the organization’s entire system. However, in order to make to keep this data respiratory relevant, continuous threat modeling is necessary.

Mitigating All Risks Across the Enterprise’s System

Having an organized data inventory where every potential threat is highlighted and includes every IT environment component of an organization can enable security experts to quickly identify and try to mitigate the compromised areas that might have been impacted by any emerging threats or even internal initiatives. Additionally, constant threat modeling can also prove to be helpful in data center modeling that allows enterprises to deploy mitigating controls based on the necessary security requirements.

Aligning The Mitigation Strategy with the Budget

Threat mitigation often includes the need for code changes, functional and regression testing, security analysis, and even more additional costs in the case of proprietary solutions. Threat modeling may also be able to help calculate the mitigation costs, allowing organizations to align the mitigation efforts with budget allocation.

 Security Becomes Measurable

When an organization continuously practices threat modeling, it becomes able to measure the effectiveness of its security initiatives. By releasing vulnerability trends, analyzing the state of security and identifying the most critical possible entry points becomes easier. Also, vulnerability comparison documents can allow security experts to compare specific vulnerabilities between system initiatives or app releases.

Leveraging Threat Intelligence in Real-Time

A reliable and up-to-date threat model will also allow security experts to incorporate valuable attack information from reliable sources like the Web Hacking Incident Database (WHID) and the National Vulnerability Database (NVD). These repositories provide actual real-world information on how other organizations were infiltrated and affected by the attack, focusing primarily on the technical impact. Leveraging this data can give real-world reference points to security teams, who can then calculate the risks of potential attacks and threats more precisely.

Threat Modeling Challenges

While threat modeling is often considered a “must” for every organization and company that wants to keep being up-to-date regarding their security protocols, this methodology may also pose a few challenges for security teams and entire organizations alike. Below, we’ll discuss the most common ones.

Threat Modeling Oversaturation

There are several threat modeling processes security teams can use, which often causes confusion, especially if there’s no experienced security expert in a given team. This problem can make it often difficult to accurately judge several processes and select the most appropriate one for the organization’s defense priorities. Also, making the wrong choice can lead to inadequate investment, and it even might compromise mitigation capabilities. All this can lead to more threat exposure and exploitation risks. Also, there are cases where security teams struggle with validating the threat model. Often, they fail to mitigate the threats effectively within the system, leaving the unaddressed and increasing the risk of infiltration.

Unrecognized Entry Points and Trust Boundaries

When an organization opts for cloud service providers, it has to face the fact that there will be several unrecognized entry points. These can be publicly-exposed APIs, services, management planes, and more. What this means is that there are several entry points that may be accessed via the internet, like API gateways that allow bad actors to cross-account invoke. For instance, Lambda functions can be invoked by Invoke IAM permissions and S3 buckets enabling attackers to inject malicious events directly into the SQS event queue.

Scaled-up Applications

Threat modeling is a lot more straightforward in the case of monolithic apps, where there’s only a little reliance and dependency on external entities. Or when the computing ecosystem is available in a consumable view. The problem is that today’s apps are complex, monolithic systems that are scaled, often cloud-migrated, and often, the application team is responsible for managing the fill-stack. This is a total departure from older deployment models in which IT teams managed the app’s physical servers and the entire networking infrastructure. The threat model should account for the added responsibilities pertaining to the infrastructure, the scope changes, expanded topologies, and other associated risks, which are often rather challenging.

Difficulty With Threat Breakdown and Actual Risk Prediction

High-level threats can be complicated to determine, along with breaking them down into sub-threats to mitigate them efficiently. Also, trying to identify the failure conditions that may lead to these actual threats may also prove to be rather tricky. Still, having this valuable insight is imperative for a deeper understanding of the likelihood of critical threats, not to mention that the valuable insights can also improve risk mitigation efficiency. Comprehensive threat models support risk mitigation and give security experts the proper techniques and framework to carry out extensive security tests so they can accurately predict possible attack scenarios.

The Bottom Line 

As hackers are constantly evolving, using more intricate infiltration methods, they discover more and more vulnerabilities on application layers. Continuous threat modeling aims to provide an efficient and effective way for lowering compromise probabilities within an organization’s security posture, and in most cases, continuous modeling can provide the necessary insight and data to create an effective security strategy consisting of potent mitigation and prevention protocols.

At the same time, threat modeling allows organizations to measure their security and create a complete security portfolio that can help security teams make the right decisions when infiltration is imminent.

On the flip side, threat modeling still poses a few challenges which can create false positives for threat risk detection and remediation. However, continuous and automated threat modeling can be a cornerstone in organizational cybersecurity as it is still one of the most effective ways of analyzing and mitigating vulnerabilities.