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Security professionals have all heard, read, and in some instances, directly felt the impact of insecure or vulnerable applications. What’s interesting is that for many years, the issue of writing more secure code has been discussed, written about, and built into the fabric of audit requirements.
This series will provide an in-depth look at issues that impact application security, providing an overview of challenges that organizations face when creating and implementing processes to ensure application security.
A significant challenge that the industry faces today is the gap in the educational curriculum – whether at the university or technical school level – for students seeking Computer Science degrees.
So how do we deal with the challenges within the realm of Application Security: where do organizations begin?
A Risk Assessment methodology is used to identify applications that must undergo consistent and regular vulnerability assessments. The OWASP Top Ten, SANS Top 25, CWE and CAPEC are commonly used and accepted standards that are utilized to help identify and rate known vulnerabilities and vulnerability types. Remediation timelines provide a risk perspective to detect known vulnerabilities and give the organization a tangible metric to estimate the amount of time that it will take to correct these weaknesses.
Regardless of the tool or method used to identify the vulnerabilities, a standard vulnerability assessment report is critical to consistent communication and tracking. In addition to the reporting process, it is important to have an exception and governance process in place so that application teams can ask for an extension on remediation timelines.
To help organizations understand what is required to apply an evaluation and assessment program within the Development area, a six step approach is used to bring an understanding of the controls required to seamlessly integrate security into the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC).
Figure 3 is a high-level view of an example of the controls to integrate within the key areas of the SDLC. Ensuring application security is that straightforward – the real challenge, however, is bridging the gap between IT Security, Business, and the Development organizations.
The implementation and adoption of Threat Modeling as a normal activity within development processes can be difficult for development and architectural staff. A general understanding of the threat model process is crucial to taking the next step to plan and create a comprehensive plan for Threat Modeling. Application High-level Overview – While having the Requirements Document along with the Functional Specifications document will be extremely beneficial, it is not necessary to gain an understanding of the application from a high-level perspective. Break-down Application – This is a deeper dive into the application from the high-level overview. Identify Attack Surfaces and Threats – With an understanding of the roles, boundaries, dependent components, and technologies involved in our application, attack surfaces and threats to those surfaces can be identified.
Remediation and Test Plans – The final activity is taking all of the information within the Threat Model and providing a report to the Application Team with a rating of the vulnerabilities, remediation recommendations, and test scripts that can be used to ensure the threats have been mitigated. To show how straightforward it is to create an informative and useful Threat Model, the Acme Store is going to develop a website that will be used for customers to place orders and for vendors to manage the products that they sell.
Creating a Threat Model is a clear-cut task that provides a wealth of information about the security posture of the application, types of threats that the application can encounter, and a list of items to test against to ensure the application is as safe and secure as possible before release. Mark is also an Associate Professor and teaches computer science and cyber security courses at University of Maryland University College and is currently working with the university to develop a first-of-its kind Application Security course. InfoSec institute respects your privacy and will never use your personal information for anything other than to notify you of your requested course pricing. Practice for certification success with the Skillset library of over 100,000 practice test questions. By submitting your email address, you agree to receive emails regarding relevant topic offers from TechTarget and its partners. As cloud computing usage continues to grow, threat modeling a cloud infrastructure has become a necessary practice to protecting your business. Download this member-only e-guide to begin fortifying your cloud security from threats lurking in the shadows.
This approach involves the design of the system and can be illustrated using software architecture diagrams such as data-flow diagrams (DFD), use case diagrams, or component diagrams. This method is commonly used to threat model networks and systems and has been adopted as the de-facto standard for threat modeling.
Using this approach to threat modeling, attack trees, attack graphs, or displaying patterns by which an asset can be attacked are generated.
This approach helps identify multi-step attacks and paths by which an attacker can reach an asset.  Based on risk analysis, these paths can then be weighted and prioritized accordingly.
An attacker-centric approach to threat modeling requires profiling an attacker’s characteristics, skill-set, and motivation to exploit vulnerabilities, and then using those profiles to understand the type of attacker who would be most likely to execute specific types of exploits, and implement a mitigation strategy accordingly.
The attacker-centric approach also uses tree diagrams.  Key elements of this approach include focusing on the specific goals of an attacker, the various considerations related to the system upon which the attack could be perpetrated, along with its software and assets, how the attack could be carried out, and finally, a means to detect or mitigate such an attack.
MyAppSecurity provides end to end software security risk management solutions in Web Application Security starting from the design to implementation phases of development. Called Seasponge, the instrument aims at allowing better visualization of the systems and the data flow between them, pinpointing potential security risks.
The tool is open source and has been released on GitHub, where feedback and suggestions are expected by the three students (Sarah MacDonald, Joel Kuntz, and Glavin Wiechert) that developed it.
Visualization of the relation between the components of a system can help determine potential security risks (such as security threats with different severity ratings) that could be eliminated before the project reaches the production stage. The combination should prove to be a worthy alternative to Microsoft’s SDL Threat Modeling Tool, which is designed for developers and is focused on software.
Seasponge could be regarded as a stepping stone towards reaching a better security state of a system, without having to go through documentation or user manuals. They say that the purpose of the tool is to raise awareness about threat modeling and convince more individuals about the importance of this part of project development.
However, the ultimate goal stated by the team is to replace Microsoft’s alternative completely, although this objective is currently still pretty difficult to achieve.
On the GitHub page of the application there is a live demo that can be used to check Seasponge’s potential and the scenarios it is suitable for.
Tangential question: what solution could be put in place to allow someone to use an insecure channel of communication to verify that a more secure channel had not been compromised? Threat modeling is an engineering technique that you can use to help identify threats, attacks, vulnerabilities, and countermeasures that may be relevant to your application. Threat modeling is an engineering technique that you can use to help identify threats, attacks, vulnerabilities, and countermeasures that might be relevant to your application. Threat modeling is performed to identify when and where more resources are required (or justified) to reduce risks.
Address and improve the quality of your engineering efforts by eliminating common vulnerabilities.

Threat modeling begins early in the architecture and design phase of the application life cycle.
As the life cycle progresses and your design and development evolve, you progressively add more detail to your threat model.
While you develop, increase the detail of your model as design and implementation decisions reveal new facts. Add information to the model as it becomes available to you, and keep identifying what you now know and what you need to know next. You add progressively more detail to your threat model as you move through your application development life cycle and discover more details about your application design.
Table 4.1 summarizes the threat modeling activity and shows the input and output for each step.
The patterns & practices threat modeling approach is optimized to help you identify vulnerabilities in your application. Understand application use cases and roles in order to identify threats and vulnerabilities that are specific to your application.
Leverage discovered threats and vulnerabilities to improve shared knowledge and understanding.
Use a pattern-based information model to identify the patterns of repeatable problems and solutions, and organize them into categories. Threat modeling is a structured activity for identifying and evaluating application threats and vulnerabilities.
Whether they originate from an internal, custom built application or a third party component or application, the vulnerabilities that an organization must deal with are challenging and, more importantly, have found a way to penetrate the traditional Castle Defense strategy by finding the weaknesses in our Castle Wall. This first installment will address general challenges in the world of application security and move to a discussion of how to implement threat modeling within developmental processes. This oversight continues to create confusion about who is responsible for securing the applications that developers are building. The majority of security engineers, operations, and managers migrate from the network or infrastructure side of the business.
The answers to the questions are straightforward when we use what we know about Risk Management and Risk Mitigation techniques and then apply them directly to Application Security. The three corners of the triangle represent the strategy an organization must take in order to achieve an Enterprise Risk Management program that includes application security.
This process involves the use of a data classification policy in conjunction with a business impact analysis in accordance with the business model.
It is important to align remediation timelines with the accepted risk that the organization is willing to take in combination with the application release cycles. The report, at a minimum, should include an executive summary, evaluation criteria used, prioritization of vulnerabilities identified, summary, and a list of false positives (if any). The exception will then be used as a formal sign-off from the entire organization, by way of the Governance Board, in accepting the extended risk based on the stated reasons. If your organization has an active IT security department or program, many of the policies and procedures around Risk Assessment and Risk Mitigation are already in place. It’s also the strategy we use for Application Development by way of a Software Development Lifecycle. When producing the threat model, it is important to have an understanding of what security objectives, functions, and activities are being addressed to help define the parameters to focus on. Common threats related to authentication, authorization, input validation, data validation, session management, and cryptography are explored. Identify Vulnerabilities – The categories used to identified potential attack surfaces and threats in Step 4 are used to map the threats to the specific vulnerabilities which can be used to compromise the application and system. The tests are specialty tests that attempt to exploit the identified vulnerabilities and associated threats with the goal of compromising the application.
The remaining activities – Break-down Application, Identify Attack Surfaces and Threats, Identify Vulnerabilities, and Remediation and Test Plans – can all be completed using the Microsoft SDL tool. Figure 9 is an example of the Vulnerabilities of the Repudiation threat: using the Microsoft SDL tool, the list of known Threats on the Attack surfaces will automatically be generated from the diagram.
Additionally, all of this framework can be created without any prior knowledge of the application, and only requires a moderate level of detail about the application.
Wireman is the Application Security National Practice Lead at OpenSky, working in the IT Risk Management & Security practice. We have been training Information Security and IT Professionals since 1998 with a diverse lineup of relevant training courses. One is the implementation of security controls by architects that map to security requirements and policy and the other is to reflect all possible known attacks to components or assets in a threat model, with the goal of implementing countermeasures against those threats. Assets are classified according to data sensitivity and their intrinsic value to a potential attacker, in order to prioritize risk levels. The considerations would be to ensure that a database is being used at the backend, along with the means to enter database queries as input, and finally avoiding detection and prevention mechanisms. The main three characteristics at the base of the project are accessibility, aesthetics, and an intuitive user experience. There are many possible vulnerabilities, threats, and attacks, and it is unlikely that your application will encounter all of them. This is during the application lifetime including after the application is in production and is maintained by the operations team. A threat is an undesired event or potential occurrence, often best described as an effect that could damage or compromise an asset or objective.
A vulnerability is a weakness in some aspect or feature of a system that makes an attack possible. A countermeasure addresses a vulnerability to reduce the probability of attack or the impact of a threat. You should progressively refine your threat model by repeatedly performing steps 2 through 5. Clear objectives help you to focus the threat modeling activity and determine how much effort to spend on subsequent steps. Itemizing your application’s important characteristics and actors helps you to identify relevant threats during step 4. A detailed understanding of the mechanics of your application makes it easier for you to uncover more relevant and more detailed threats. Use details from steps 2 and 3 to identify threats relevant to your application scenario and context. Review the layers of your application to identify weaknesses in the context of your threats.

The key concepts on the next page represent best practices refined by industry security experts, Microsoft consultants, product support engineers, customers, and Microsoft partners. You should not be too concerned about missing details in any single iteration — instead focus on making each iteration productive. Boundaries help you identify what must not be allowed to happen, what can happen, and what must happen. You should know before you start what your threat model will look like when complete (good enough) and when you have spent the right amount of time on the activity.
You should start the threat modeling activity early in the architecture and design phase of your application life cycle, and then continually update and refine the model as you learn more about your design and implementation. As a result of breaches, some mighty and seemingly impenetrable fortresses have fallen victim to exposure of these vulnerabilities in the past 18 months.
This shift results in having a wealth of knowledge of components like firewalls, routers, IDS, IPS, anti-virus, and web servers, but little to no knowledge of how an application is developed. The business model includes factors such as financial importance, number of users, operational necessity, compliance and legal requirements – all important aspects of the Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan and Policy. The reports should be provided to all parties, including Business, Development, and IT Security, for review and comment.
The Governance Board can also keep metrics on the progress of remediation efforts and suggest improvements if a significant number of exceptions are being submitted and granted.
At this point, they should have been reviewed and modified as needed to include Application Security as part of the process. Creating a set of best practices for application security simply boils down to placing the necessary controls within the SDLC that allow for detection of vulnerabilities as early as possible before releasing the application to production. This essential collaboration will produce more secure applications and, ultimately, protect customers from compromised information and organizations from damage to their reputations and brands. The incomplete or missing documentation is a sign that the software development lifecycle processes are either not enforced or not understood, which is a far less common issue than not integrating security awareness as part of the development process.
A useful diagram in this activity that can be quickly created is an end-to-end deployment diagram that highlights servers, databases, and application boundaries, i.e.
Trust boundaries are determined by walking the flow from the outer perimeter and working inside.
In addition exception management, logging, and auditing can also be identified to ensure that any attacks that do occur can be captured, monitored, and used as evidence.
While it is tempting to try and test all identified vulnerabilities, it is important to prioritize the effort focusing on the more critical vulnerabilities within the scope of the key functional aspects of the application.To understand how all of the activities above tie into the Threat Model, Figure 6 provides a view of the inputs, outputs, and development processes that can benefit from the information learned from a Threat Model.
Figure 8 is a Data Flow Diagram of our Acme Store application that will also be the basis for our Threat Model. Additionally, as noted in Figure 9, a list of remediation and testing criteria can be easily formed based on the questions presented to ask about the threat.
For the last 12 years, Mark has worked in the Application Development space, primarily focusing on application security from a process and practice perspective within the DoD, Financial, and Health Care sectors.
Wireman worked in Iraq with the DoD as a Technical Advisor to the Multi-National Corp on matters relating to secure coding in secure and non-secure systems, SharePoint, Business Intelligence, and other systems. In the past 16 years, over 50,000 individuals have trusted InfoSec Institute for their professional development needs! Contact TechTarget at 275 Grove Street, Newton, MA.You also agree that your personal information may be transferred and processed in the United States, and that you have read and agree to the Terms of Use and the Privacy Policy.
Both the Microsoft SDL and Threat Analysis & Modeling (TAM) tools illustrate threat modeling by means of DFDs. Your security objectives are a key part of your business objectives and they are used to determine the extent of the threat modeling activity and where to spend the most effort. Vulnerabilities can exist at the network, host, or application level and include operational practices.
Use vulnerability categories to help you to focus on those areas where mistakes are most often made. Use threat modeling to shape your application design to meet your security objectives, to help weigh the security threat against other design concerns (such as performance) when making key engineering decisions, and to reduce the risk of security issues arising during development and operations.
However, it is also important that at this point the communication and collaboration has already been formed between Business, IT Security, and the Development Organization about the importance of and ROI in bringing Application Development into the realm of Risk Management. In either situation, one of the common misconceptions is that either the documentation is missing or that not having a security focus results in the inability to produce a Threat Model.
Typically this starts from the DMZ through the data access layer, identifying key devices that are used to protect the separation of layers.
It is important in this step to not only look at attack surfaces and threats from a boundary perspective, but also to look at threats throughout the data flow for the key functional aspects of the application.
It is important in this step to think like an attacker by asking how to compromise the application based on known threats. The dotted lines passed in the Requirements process and the subsequent documents are beneficial but not necessary to construct a Threat Model. This is an important time-saver and allows for more time to focus on remediation recommendations and establishing test scripts to ensure the surfaces are protected.
To your business, an asset might be the availability of information or the information itself, such as customer data.
The remainder of this discussion will refute these myths and will show why a Threat Model can be created at anytime, anywhere, and by anyone within the IT Organization. Then, a look at the flow of data from outer perimeter through the egress and ingress points of the application can be established, focusing in the key usage scenarios identified in the overview. As part of the Threat Modeling activities, an Access Control Matrix will be created, as well as a Threat Model Report that highlights the information learned from the activities above. The depth and breadth of the application is not important – it is ensuring coverage of the key scenarios and the alignment to the objectives that will provide for the most efficient coverage and identification of potential security issues. The significance of this diagram, however, stresses the importance that for the effort put in to creating a Threat Model, the benefit is realized threefold by impacting Development, Testing, and Post-Deployment activities, with the key end result of producing a quality and secure application. To an attacker, an asset could be the ability to misuse your application for unauthorized access to data or privileged operations.

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