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Limitations of Traditional Approaches

Traditional risk analysis output is difficult to apply directly to modern software design. For example, in the quantitative risk analysis equation described in the previous section, even assuming a high level of confidence in the ability to predict the dollar loss for a given event and having performed Monte Carlo distribution analysis of prior events to derive a statistically sound probability distribution for future events, there’s still a large gap between the raw dollar figure of an ALE and a detailed software security mitigation definition.

Another, more worrying, concern is that traditional risk analysis techniques do not necessarily provide an easy guide (not to mention an exhaustive list) of all potential vulnerabilities and threats to be concerned about at a component/environment level. This is where a large knowledge base and lots of experience is invaluable. (See Chapter 11 for more on software security knowledge.)

The thorny knowledge problem arises in part because modern applications, including Web Services applications, are designed to span multiple boundaries of trust. Vulnerability of, and risk to, any given component varies with the platform that the component exists on (e.g., C# applications on Windows .NET Server versus J2EE applications on Tomcat/Apache/Linux) and with the environment it exists in (secure production network versus client network versus Internet DMZ). However, few of the traditional approaches adequately address the contextual variability of risk given changes in the core environment. This becomes a fatal flaw when considering highly distributed applications, Service Oriented Architectures, or Web Services.

In modern frameworks, such as .NET and J2EE, security methods exist at almost every layer of the OSI model, yet too many applications today rely on a “reactive protection” infrastructure (e.g., firewalls, SSL) that provides protection below layer four only. This is too often summed up in the claim “We are secure because we use SSL and implement firewalls,” leaving open all sorts of questions such as those engendered by port 80 attacks, SQL injection, class spoofing, and method overwriting (to name a handful).

One answer to this problem is to begin to look at software risk analysis on a component-by-component, tier-by-tier, environment-by-environment level and apply the principles of measuring threats, risks, vulnerabilities, and impacts at all of these levels.

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