Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Risk Analysis

software development organization


The objective of a security program is to mitigate risks. Mitigating risks does not mean eliminating them; it means reducing them to an acceptable level. To make sure your security controls are effectively controlling the risks in your environment, you need to anticipate what kinds of incidents may occur. You also need to identify what you are trying to protect, and from whom. That’s where risk analysis, threat definition, and vulnerability analysis come in. What is being protected? What are the threats? And where are the weaknesses that may be exploited?

Threat Definition

Evaluating threats is an important part of risk analysis. By identifying threats, you can give your security strategy focus and reduce the chance of overlooking important areas of risk that might otherwise remain unprotected. Threats can take many forms, and in order to be successful, a security strategy must be comprehensive enough to manage the most significant threats.

How do you know you’re defending against the right threats?
For example, if an software development organization were to simply purchase and install a firewall (and do nothing else) without identifying and ranking the various threats to their most important assets, would they be secure? Probably not. These statistics are from Verizon’s 2010 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), the result of a collaboration between Verizon and the U.S. Secret Service. This is a breakdown of “threat agents,” which are defined in the report as “entities that cause or contribute to an incident.” 

This particular study illustrates the point that insider threats should be an important consideration in any security program. Many people that haven’t seen real-world security breaches don’t know this, so they focus exclusively on external threats.

There are numerous other studies that show different results, including later DBIR reports (because different environments experience different threats, and the threat landscape always changes) but they all point to the insider threat as a serious concern. Security professionals know that many real-world threats come from inside the organization, which is why just building a wall around your trusted interior is not good enough. Regardless of the breakdown for your particular organization, you need to make sure your security controls focus on the right threats. To avoid overlooking important threat sources, you need to consider all types of threats.

This consideration should take into account the following aspects of threats:
  • Threat vectors
  • Threat sources and targets
  • Types of attacks
  • Malicious mobile code
  • Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)
  • Manual attacks

Threat Vectors

A threat vector is a term used to describe where a threat originates and the path it takes to reach a target. An example of a threat vector is an e-mail message sent from outside the software development organization to an inside employee, containing an irresistible subject line along with an executable attachment that happens to be a Trojan program, which will compromise the recipient’s computer if opened.

A good way to identify potential threat vectors is to create a table containing a list of threats you are concerned about. It is important to understand threat vectors and consider them when designing security controls, to ensure that possible routes of attack for the various threats receive appropriate scrutiny. Understanding threat vectors is also important for explaining to others, such as management, how the protective mechanisms work and why they are important.

Risk Analysis

A risk analysis needs to be a part of every security effort. It should analyze and categorize the assets that need to be protected and the risks that need to be avoided, and it should facilitate the identification and prioritization of protective elements. It can also provide a means to measure the effectiveness of the overall security architecture, by tracking those risks and their associated mitigation over time to observe trends. How formal and extensive should your risk analysis be? That really depends on the needs of your organization and the audience for the information. In a larger, well structured environment, a more detailed risk analysis may be needed. 

A quantitative approach to risk analysis will take into account actual values—the estimated probability or likelihood of a problem occurring along with the actual cost of loss or compromise of the assets in question. One commonly used approach to assigning cost to risks is annualized loss expectancy (ALE). This is the cost of an undesired event—a single loss expectancy (SLE)—multiplied by the number of times you expect that event to occur in one year—the annualized rate of occurrence (ARO).

Annualized Loss (ALE) = Single Loss (SLE) * Annualized Rate (ARO).

But there are problems with the ALE approach. How can you assign ARO to every potential loss? For example, how many times a year will your car be involved in a fender bender? In reality, many years may go by in between accidents, but occasionally you may have two or three accidents in a single year. Thus, your ARO can be highly variable. Even defining SLE can be difficult. How much will a fender-bender cost? It could be anywhere from nothing to several thousand dollars. An analytical mind might be bothered by the variability and ambiguousness of the numbers. In fact, there is a lot of guesswork involved.
Because the results of an ALE analysis are hard to defend, prove, support, and demonstrate, this approach is tending to fall out of favor. However, the basic principle of identifying threats, vulnerabilities, and risks remains valid. 

A qualitative approach to risk analysis, which may suffice in smaller environments or those with limited resources, can be just as effective. In an software development company, You can identify your assets (for example, a web server, a database containing confidential information, workstation computers, and a network). You can identify the threats to those assets (malware, hack attacks, bugs and glitches, power outages, and so forth). And you can assign a severity level to help you prioritize your remediation. If the severity is high enough, you will probably want antivirus capability on the endpoints as well as on the network, a high-quality stateful firewall, a timely patching program that includes testing, and uninterrupted power supplies (UPSs).

Thus, a proper risk analysis should be carried out to mitigate the risk occurring in an organization. 

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