Threat analysis is a cybersecurity strategy that aims to assess an organization’s security protocols, processes and procedures to identify threats, vulnerabilities, and even gather knowledge of a potential attack before they happen.
By studying various threats staged against one’s organization in detail, security teams can gain a better understanding of the level of sophistication of threats staged against the organization, the exploitation strategies, and identify areas in the organization’s security posture that may be vulnerable to these threats.
Threat analysis is categorized as a reactive strategy in IT cybersecurity since the organization is assessing threats in real-time as they are staged against their security perimeter. Even though this strategy relies on attacks being staged against the organization, when done properly, this strategy can greatly reduce the scope of damages sustained in an unforeseen cyber-attack.
Types of Threats Found in a Threat Analysis
A successful threat analysis strategy can uncover various types of threats within an organization. Some of the categorization of threats is as follows:
- Accidental Threats
Whether it’s a misconfiguration of a security process, or an accident that leaves an organization exposed, one of today’s leading causes of cyberattacks, is unfortunately an exploitation facilitated through human error. By performing a threat analysis, organizations can identify and remediate accidental errors before bad actors have the chance to exploit them.
- Intentional Threats
The threat that every organization is worried about is the intentional threat. Intentional threats are those conducted by malicious entities to gain access and exploit sensitive data within an organization for profit.
- Internal Threats
One of the most worrisome threats is not actually what you’d expect. Often, organizations worry about external threats and build sophisticated security architectures to keep bad actors out, however, the real concern resides inside the security perimeter of the organization. Unfortunately, when an employee decides to act in a malicious way it can be catastrophic as they may have easier access to sensitive information.
In today’s ever-evolving world of cyber threats, staying one step ahead of malicious entities is critically important. And one of the best ways to stay ahead of these attackers is to understand their exploits in detail. Let’s look at three of the largest benefits to incorporating a threat analysis strategy.
- Continual Updates to Threat Modeling
One of the most important aspects to a healthy cybersecurity strategy is to build effective up-to-date threat models. Threat models are intended to give a comprehensive view of the current state of cyber threats. Of course, since today’s cyber threat landscape is evolving with such speed, threat models are also rapidly changing to keep up with these changes. That said, with every new technology or service that is introduced to the market comes a potential security risk or new attack surface that cyber criminals are looking to exploit.
- Reduce Attack Surface
When organizations invest in a strong threat analysis strategy, they benefit from a dramatic reduction in their attack surface. The reason for this is, though, threat analysis organizations will continually update their list of identified threats. This in turn, allows security teams to harden their respective security perimeter, thus leading to a reduced attack surface.
Further, DevOps team members can use this information to greatly mitigate threats and lower the overall risk profile.
- Up-to-Date Risk Profile
Continually assessing threats and categorizing these threats via an internal repository or risk management system, will in turn result in an up-to-date risk profile - a security attribute that greatly improves an organization’s security posture.
An up-to-date risk profile can be used to perform internal audits assessing security policies and procedures and help to continually improve an organization’s risk mitigation strategy. All of which act a tremendous value for organizations looking to improve their security posture.
Often a threat analysis is performed on a quarterly basis, however, frequency is often determined based on an organization's unique cybersecurity initiatives.
If an organization is in a high-risk industry such as government, financial, or healthcare, it’s often promoted to perform a threat analysis on a more frequent basis. As the frequency of these security protocols increase, it can be beneficial to employ a third-party service, in charge of running these operations so as not to tie up internal resources that could be diverted to other cybersecurity initiatives.
Performing a threat analysis can take many shapes and forms depending on the unique security requirements outlined by the organization, however, there are four common steps to performing a threat analysis that are found in nearly every threat analysis.
Four common steps found in most threat analysis strategies:
- Define Scope of Threat Assessment
A successful threat assessment begins with defining scope. Defining the scope of the threat assessment lays the foundation for success by outlining goals, what’s to be covered in the threat assessment, and what’s required to perform a successful threat assessment. This stage of the pre-planning should provide a clear roadmap for what a successful threat analysis looks like and what’s involved at every stage.
- Build Processes and Procedures Needed to Perform Threat Assessment
If the scope has been properly outlined, defining goals, what’s to be covered and what’s required to meet these analysis goals, the processes and procedures should easily fall into place. As the scope outlines a roadmap, the processes and procedures fortify the approach with tangible tools, processes, and procedures to perform the threat analysis.
- Define a Rating System for Threats
Defining a rating system for threats identified in a threat analysis can help communicate the severity of threats, risks, and vulnerabilities to all key stakeholders in an approachable and easy-to-understand format. Further, by defining a rating system, one that's agreed upon across an organization and follows strict rating parameters can help an organization categorize, report and monitor threats long after the threat analysis is performed.
- Perform Threat Analysis
Lastly, once the scope, processes and procedures and rating system are in place, it’s time to perform the threat analysis. Here, organizations can leverage the expertise of internal security teams or personnel to perform the threat analysis or employ a third-party to facilitate the threat analysis.
Both threat analysis and risk analysis are an integral component of a strong cybersecurity strategy. Like threat analysis, risk analysis aims to uncover risks and security concerns facing an organization. The difference is, risk analysis digs deeper into root processes and systems to uncover a security problem, whereas threat analysis is identifying threats based on security concerns as they happen in real time.
Risk assessment, in turn, covers a more comprehensive set of services, application, policies and procedures internally that influence the vulnerability of an organization. For example, risk analysis may look under the hood of security tools to ensure it is working properly, (taking a more proactive approach compared to threat analysis) rather than waiting to assess an attack staged against the security tool.
VMware is dedicated to helping organizations overcome gaps in their threat analysis initiatives by offering a suite of tailored services designed to help keep your organization safe. The VMware Threat Analysis Unit protects customers through innovation and world-class research, helping organizations stay one step ahead of cyber threats. Learn more about our VMware Threat Analysis Unit.