4 Key Reasons Why CISOs Need Threat Modeling

A recent article by CSO magazine highlights key findings from CISOs (Chief Information Security Officers) on how threat modeling helps eliminate blind spots and more complex threat scenarios in their application risk profile. It also provided detail as to how various stakeholders benefit from a threat modeling process that not only identifies vulnerabilities, but also profiles the attackers who are most likely to exploit them. Learn reasons why CISOs need threat modeling.

At MyAppSecurity, we firmly believe a proactive, enterprise-wide threat modeling process provides many important benefits to organizations. In short, threat modeling systems, devices, or software during the design phase allows security to be built-in upfront, which not only minimizes risk exposure, but also reduces the overall cost to develop and maintain secure applications.

At a high level, threat modeling should:

  • Determine where potential threats exist in your application and system architecture and rank them by risk, in order to prioritize mitigation efforts and,
  • Characterize an attacker’s profile in terms of skill set, motivation, and the resources that would permit an attack to be carried out.

CISOs are responsible for implementing organization-wide IT security strategy and measures not only to comply with regulatory requirements, but to minimize the risk and negative impact of a possible breach resulting in brand damage, revenue loss, and potentially costly fines.

Keeping up with the ever-changing threat landscape adds another layer of complexity. CISOs have to continually assess the most effective way to apply relevant security controls to mitigate both existing and new threats that surface, and they also need to calculate the costs associated with mitigation, in order to align and prioritize mitigation efforts to match budget allocations.

Most information security programs are focused on establishing security requirements and then enforcing policy through post-production vulnerability assessments, code reviews and penetration tests. Because this process is performed post-production, attackers have in many cases already exploited vulnerabilities. This is one key reason why over the past few years the practice of building security into applications and infrastructure from the ground up has been rapidly gaining momentum.

Threat modeling is a cornerstone of this process and when adopted and deployed effectively, allows organizations to define and proactively enforce overall security policy and strategy, in a consistent, repeatable way. In addition, a systematic threat-modeling program produces metrics that reflect the current status of your application security posture, as well as providing trends that allow you to measure and assess ongoing progress, allowing you to adjust your strategy accordingly.

An effective enterprise-wide threat modeling process allows organizations to:

  • Validate appropriate security controls are in place
  • Adhere to privacy and data protection compliance and regulations
  • Risk/rank threats in order to prioritize mitigation
  • Measure risk exposure across its application portfolio
  • Provide statistics and analytics to continually improve security policy
  • Enable security and development teams to optimally manage risk
  • Track threat management progress through reports, dashboards, and checklists

4 Key Reasons CISOs Benefit from Threat Modeling

Reason 1: Reduce Costs of Fixing Production Vulnerabilities

Threat modeling identifies vulnerabilities and potential threats early on in the application design phase, not only mitigating the risk of attacks, but also reducing the high cost of fixing vulnerabilities found in production. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) estimates that code fixes performed after code is released can result in 30 times the cost of fixes performed during the design phase.

The NIST study below showed the cost of fixing vulnerabilities is highest after an application has been deployed. In addition to the higher costs associated with fixing code later on in the application life cycle, it also significantly impacts user productivity.

NIST - Benefits of Threat Modeling

Moreover, adhering to the many industry compliance requirements related to data protection can be achieved much easier during the design phase, as opposed to performing “last-minute fire drills” in an effort to satisfy audits.

Reason 2: Drive Consistent Standards to Enforce Security Policy Enterprise-Wide

An efficient threat modeling process will automatically generate a list of security requirements, along with abuse cases and test cases that can be used by developers and QA teams to build security into the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). While threat modeling is essential to any development methodology, it is especially useful in an Agile environment where new features are continually introduced during “short sprints.” Having the ability to easily apply re-usable, pre-approved, security requirements makes it possible to promote consistency and thoroughness organization-wide, even when changes are made frequently during the development cycle.

Deploying a scalable, repeatable, collaborative threat modeling process enterprise-wide enforces adoption of security policy objectives in the design and development of systems and software.  This helps organizations adhere to industry recognized best practices and to meet regulatory and compliance objectives, by implementing relevant security controls upfront.

Reason 3: Prioritize Risk Mitigation by Tapping into Real-time Threat Intelligence

Threat modeling provides a framework to accurately predict where threats exist and determine which ones can cause the most damage to your organization, in terms of business and technical impact. One of the best ways to gauge the potential impact of a breach is to rely on statistical analysis of real-world attacks, where specific threats have been carried out in your industry vertical.

This information is available through well-known industry sources that document breaches and provide relevant data such as the specific vulnerability that was exploited and the overall cost to an organization. Harnessing this intelligence as part of the threat modeling process is invaluable as a way to effectively prioritize your mitigation strategy and align these efforts with budgets.

Reason 4: Minimize Risk Exposure

Whereas automated scanners are capable of identifying certain types of risk, they are unable to detect the presence of more complex vulnerabilities, which can be accomplished by performing detailed threat modeling. In addition, scanners are primarily used to identify vulnerabilities after applications have been moved to production, which opens up a window of opportunity for attackers to exploit those vulnerabilities, before they are fixed.

A threat model provides a baseline to determine where risk exposure exists, including potential threats that are more complex, and will pinpoint which assets are at the highest risk, and what security controls should be applied to mitigate that risk.

Threat modeling not only presents a current view of the risk posture across your application portfolio, but also provides trending to highlight areas of risk exposure that need attention, helping determine how to best allocate resources. Threat models, including current risk posture and historical analytics, coupled with real-time threat intelligence, provide a foundation upon which effective budgetary decisions can be made. Now, you can take action based upon objective data that aligns application security risk and risk-mitigation with business priorities, communicate the basis of those decisions to senior executives and board members, and secure the resources you need to manage risk, potential costs, and brand damage.

Conclusion

Adopting a scalable, repeatable, and collaborative threat modeling process that integrates with existing workflows provides an effective platform to optimally manage application risk. In addition, threat modeling integrates security into the software development process, not only reducing the time and costs associated with developing secure applications up front, but also minimizing overall risk exposure.

Learn more why CISOs Need Threat Modeling and about ThreatModeler™

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