To remain safe from cybersecurity threats, you must develop a comprehensive understanding of how these threats might unfold and eliminate as many exploitable risks as possible. One way to do so is to model cybersecurity threat scenarios. So, what is threat modeling, and how does it work? Read our blog for a guide to cybersecurity threat modeling.
What is Threat Modeling? Your Guide to Mitigating Security Risks
Threats to your organization’s cybersecurity can come in all shapes and forms. But, with a well-constructed cybersecurity threat model, you will be well-positioned to defend against them.
To answer the question, “what is threat modeling?” this blog will cover:
- An overview of cybersecurity threat modeling
- Examples of threat modeling methods
- Threat modeling best practices
Beyond improving your cyberdefenses, cybersecurity threat modeling will help your organization maintain a robust security posture, especially with the guidance of a threat and vulnerability management partner.
What is Cybersecurity Threat Modeling?
Cybersecurity threat modeling involves using systematic and structured processes to identify potential threats to an organization’s cybersecurity. Although these processes are structured, they are not meant to be rigid. Considering the unique diversity and complexity of cybersecurity threats, threat models enable security teams to understand how these threats function within specific environments. For instance, the types of cybersecurity threats a small organization may face will likely be different than those targeted toward larger organizations.
Also, threat impact varies by industry.
Industries that handle highly sensitive data (e.g., healthcare, retail, and financial services) may be at a higher risk of being targeted by cybercriminals than those handling less sensitive data.
Threat modeling accounts for all these nuances and ensures that your organization develops the most appropriate threat defenses to remain protected from cybersecurity threats.
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What is the Purpose of Threat Modeling?
The primary purpose of any threat model is to identify potential threats to an organization’s security posture before they can materialize into high-impact threats that compromise data sensitivity, integrity, and availability.
But threats are consistently evolving, meaning the processes deployed to conduct threat discovery and management must adapt to the current or anticipated threat landscape.
Without a reliable threat analysis model, your organization may be ineffective at threat management—increasing the risks of cyberattacks and data breaches. Cybersecurity threat modeling equips your security team with up-to-date threat intelligence, insights, and best practices to identify threats early in their lifecycle, mitigate them from fully developing, and minimize their impact across your organization.
Examples of Cybersecurity Threat Models
Exploring common examples of cybersecurity threat models can help answer the question: what is threat modeling? But first, let’s define how these cybersecurity threat models operate.
Developing a threat model typically involves:
- Understanding how assets function within an IT infrastructure
- Identifying the unique threats faced by the asset or infrastructure
- Determining potential threat mitigation measures
- Ranking threat impact across individual assets or the collective data environment
Critically, developing or optimizing any threat model should involve gathering information on changes to the IT environment targeted by threats and understanding how these changes impact its security.
You may be wondering: which threat modeling methods can my organization rely on to achieve robust threat management? Let’s explore common examples of cybersecurity threat models:
Data Flow Diagramming for Network Threats
Threat modeling is critical to securing networks, especially those that receive vast amounts of external traffic. Cybercriminals often target networks within sensitive data environments because they are prone to vulnerabilities at access points such as firewalls.
Your organization can develop network threat models with the help of network diagrams, which provide accurate representations of data movement within and outside of your networks.
Based on these representations, you will be well-positioned to model threats related to:
- Web application vulnerabilities such as SQL injection
- Manipulation of access controls via elevation of privileges
- Dormant access control credentials
- Broken or poorly configured firewalls
- Low-level encryption below minimum industry standards
By mapping out data flow within your IT infrastructure and defining the vulnerabilities at each access point, you will have greater insight into potential threats and catch them early in their development. Also, network threat modeling often works best with data flow diagrams, which provide greater visibility across your entire IT infrastructure.
Building an Attack Tree
Another way to model threats is to create attack trees based on internal or external intelligence-gathering activities. Attack trees help define the various attack vectors possible within your infrastructure, regardless of asset type.
For instance, your organization can develop an attack tree that models how viruses can attack various endpoints (e.g., mobile devices, desktops, workstations) or other organization-wide assets. Based on this attack tree, your security team can pinpoint which assets cybercriminals are likely to target or which vulnerabilities are most attractive to perpetrators.
Assessment of Data Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability (CIA)
For organizations that handle large amounts of sensitive data, conducting an evaluation of highly sensitive data categories can guide threat modeling efforts. The CIA threat model focuses on defining data security needs based on three factors: confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
Not all data your organization collects, stores, or processes are considered sensitive, meaning you must prioritize resources appropriately to protect the most sensitive data adequately.
For instance, data subject to the EU GDPR requirements may be at higher risk for privacy threats whereas data subject to HIPAA might be more prone to confidentiality threats. Identifying the data environments at risk of being compromised by threats will help model threat scenarios and guide threat mitigation resource allocation.
Threat Models Derived From Regulatory Frameworks
You can also implement threat models based on the guidelines provided by regulatory bodies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Specifically, NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-154 contains a set of processes to guide organizations in implementing best practices for modeling threats. These guidelines will help you:
- Define systems and data prone to threats
- Identify potential attack vectors
- List threat countermeasures and security controls
- Evaluate the effectiveness of a threat model
The benefit of complying with the NIST’s guidelines for threat modeling, risk assessment, and risk management is that these guidelines are designed to meet the minimum security standards, regardless of your industry. As such, you will still be able to develop a reliable cybersecurity threat modeling infrastructure—even with minimal prior experience in threat analysis models.
Best Practices for Threat Modeling
Threat modeling is essential to keeping your security posture up-to-date.
Impractical threat models will minimize the effectiveness of your organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure, especially if they are not developed in collaboration with relevant stakeholders across your organization. Most importantly, your organization must remain adaptable to optimizing threat models as threats evolve.
Whereas frameworks like those issued by the NIST can help you develop reliable cybersecurity threat models, you must remain up-to-date with the unique security needs within your specific industry. The best way to optimize threat modeling and scale it up to meet your organization’s needs, in the short and long term, is to partner with an experienced threat and vulnerability management specialist.
Build Robust Threat Models with RSI Security
As you build out your cybersecurity infrastructure, your organization will likely keep asking: what is threat modeling, and how can it help improve our security posture? Partnering with a threat and vulnerability management services provider like RSI Security will help you stay up-to-date with current risks and mitigate threats in real-time.
Contact RSI Security today to learn more and get started!