Threat Modeling and Risk Assessment

Threat modeling is the first step in any security solution. It's a way to start making sense of the vulnerability landscape. What are the real threats against the system? If you don't know that, how do you know what kind of countermeasures to employ?

Threat modeling is hard to do, and a skill that only comes with experience. It involves thinking about a system and imagining the vast vulnerability landscape. Just how can you attack this system? I find that true hackers are masterful at this kind of thing, which is probably why they're drawn to computers in the first place. Hackers enjoy thinking about systems and their limitations: how they fail, when they fail, what happens when they fail. They delight in making systems do things they weren't intended to. It's the same whether the hacker is modifying the engine in his car to work how he wants it to and not how the manufacturer wants it to, or whether he is poking at an Internet firewall to see if he can “own” the computer it is running on.

I find that the best security analysts are people who go through life finding the limitations of systems; they can't help it. They can't walk into a polling place without thinking about the security measures and figuring out ways that they can vote twice. They can't use a telephone calling card without thinking about the possible antifraud mechanisms and how to get around them. These people don't necessarily act on these thoughts—just because they found ...

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