Business and Threat Assessments

To support a cyber security strategy it is necessary to conduct a business assessment and evaluation of the organisation’s current state. The breadth and depth of this assessment will again be in proportion to the proposed scope and vision of the strategy. The criteria for an assessment should again reflect the scope but in general the assessment should aim to cover:

  • Geography and locations
  • Business services and operations
  • Organisational structure
  • Legal or regulatory requirements per geography
  • Current business strategies per geography
  • Current risk and threats
  • Current security capabilities
  • Current architecture
  • Current service management and supplier management

The list above is not exhaustive and there may be other specific areas that are beneficial to the strategy but the list above should cover enough to gain a good understanding of the current or AsIs position. The assessment is basically the beginning of the necessary gap analysis required to qualify the strategy, transformation and determine its success. There are a number of different ways to conduct a business assessment and enable the gaps to be identified. These include diagrammatic means such as building block diagrams and use case models or through spreadsheet matrices.

Once the business assessment has been completed and sufficient information has been gathered to form a good understanding of the organisation and its scope of operations, an assessment of the likely threat to these finding can begin. Your security operations should have a security incident classification within the organisation incident management domain which can be used to define threats. This classification or taxonomy of threat types should be used to help produce an initial threat assessment based upon a breakdown of what a threat means and how it manifests. There are a number of useful threat classification model available including those from:

The type of information that is also required if it can be obtained is the following:

  • Security incident reports
  • Assets targeted
  • Geography
  • Impact on business/services
  • Root cause conclusions
  • Repeated incident types
  • Organisation vulnerabilities

A Threat Assessment is built up with the following activities and output:

  1. Define threat types facing organisation and order by severity
  2. Define threat profile for each threat type – including threat actor, motive, FOI or target asset
  3. Define threat scenarios to challenge the organisation and its vulnerabilities

Once you have completed the business and threat assessment and the have an understanding of the current state and operations within the organisation, its vulnerabilities and threats you can conduct a risk assessment. Your risk assessment should follow your organisation risk method or select FAIR or OCTAVE as a means to determine the risk “appetite” or tolerance towards the threat. This tolerance and assessment will influence further assessment types, gap analysis and areas for transformation.

Cyber Security Strategy Business Threat Assessment
Cyber Security Strategy Business & Threat Assessment

Applying evidence of threat to support architecture design and change

As with the evidence of risk, threat evidence is also subjective and therefore requires a similar development through methods, analysis and qualification. So what do we mean by threat and how does threat manifest itself. I like the definition of threat by NIST Federal Information and Information Systems:

Any circumstance or event with the potential to adversely impact organizational operations (including mission, functions, image, or reputation), organizational assets, or individuals through an information system via unauthorized access, destruction, disclosure, modification of information, and/or denial of service. Also, the potential for a threat-source to successfully exploit a particular information system vulnerability.

So evidence is required to understand what is the potential of the threat or threats to an organisation and to understand the business impact. It will be evident from investigations and understanding the root cause of incidents as well as any reports form logs, rule or signature based security technology that attacks are happening but understanding who and why is a lot harder to determine.

There are a long list of threat actors who pose a threat, some more sophisticated and more capable than others but they are all a risk. Each threat actor will have a particular motive and target, whether that is financial, espionage or sabotage and use different methods and approaches to reach their goal.  The table below covers the common threat actors and background to their activities.


Hobbyist Predominantly lower skilled individuals motivated by curiosity, fun or peer groups.
Corporate Espionage Some organisations may use hacking methods or employ others to attempt to steal Intellectual Property or information to gain competitive market advantage
Investigative Journalist Journalists with a remit to investigate will use less scrupulous means to obtain privileged information.
Malware authors Malware authors may provide malware to other threat actors or attempt to release malware into an organisation to steal information or disrupt a service for other gains.
Privileged Users – Internal, Suppliers (e.g. developers, service provider) Individuals with the privilege of being an authorised user may exploit this position to commit fraud, steal Intellectual Property or cause damage.
BlackHat (hacker) / Criminal Gangs Lone or small groups of experienced hackers may seek to gain illicit access for self gain or to forward stolen information to others. They are seen to possess higher levels of both skills and motivation than hobbyists.

There are two key types of threat; a general threat where any compromise and exploitation of an asset will be of value to a threat actor to either maintain a backdoor for use a a future stage or to sell the access to another threat actor; the second and most important is the specific threat where a threat actor has a particular motivation.

Apart from a privileged user, it is difficult to identify the specific threat actor and their motivations, that can only be speculated at as the evidence and information is built up. So it is easier to align threat actors types to particular critical assets within the organisation as a means to develop threat evidence. For example, personal credit card data or research into a new drug may be of interest to different threat actors and as such will have different patterns of evidence that there is or is not a threat to these assets.

If we refer back to the Evidence model the focus begins with Evidence Development and the Hypothesis. The Evidence Development will help determine the right approach to go about gathering the information and data to form the evidence to support any hypothesis. Evidence of a threat my be suspicious activity, failed attempts to compromise a network or the discovery of malware. These events may be unrelated however they may begin to support the arguments and assertions that a threat is real and an attack likely. It may require many months of gathering the right information and evidence to result in the recommendations to make changes to architecture. The threats will remain as long as the assets are of interest to threat actors and they will change their methods and approaches as well as remain persistent.