Tackling the Security Challenge

150m accounts have been impacted by a data breach at flipboard earlier this year(1), Security company Checkpoint reported a flaw in the gaming platform Fortnite(2), which would have allowed an attacker to take control to any of the 200m user accounts, in April Upgard – another Security firm – reported data of approximately 540m facebook accounts being publicly accessible through 3rd party apps. The list could be continued.

Which CISO or CIO would want to read his company’s name in such a statement. But how to prevent? How to touch ground in an industry that is booming and becoming more and more intransparent? As Cybersecurity is one of the hottest topics in recent years, the number of solutions promising to deliver the holy grail grows day by day, funding is available more than ever.
„Security is not an issue here anymore. We are setting up a Security Operations Center (SOC)“, one of our customers told me recently. „This will secure everything, so we are done from management side!“

„Err, really?!“, well, it is a great idea to assign a dedicated responsibility for security, but assuming that a SOC will immediately secure the enterprise might be a dangerous misunderstanding! For sure it is a relevant aspect and will take an important role in protecting the company. But it will not be capable – unless explicitly conceptualised – to cope with all matters related to the security sphere. This sphere is much wider.

Cybersecurity is hot!

Sophos – a UK security solution provider – got bought recently with a 35 multiple on free cash flow. Our analysis of 100 Security Startups shows more than 8.3 bn USD Venture Capital being raised in this segment throughout the last ten years, with an average of 28m USD per company (Median 9m).

To help setting the scene it will be required to have a more holistic view of the security sphere. We seek to provide guidance on what and where to address by whom to achieve a sound security setup. To achieve this, it will be essential to assess several dimensions in parallel. Unfortunately our mind is not designed to cope with such a complexity at once. That is why our brain has established the unique capability of abstraction, which allows to tailor a task into smaller pieces. To help our customers, we were researching for some abstraction giving better orientation, but we were not able to find a suitable model, which allows to cope with the subject „security“ in a reliable and practical manner. That’s why we propose the following, two dimensional approach, which combines a static view with a time perspective to identify the complete setup.

We were researching for some abstraction To help our customers gaining better orientation, but we were not able to find a suitable model, which allows to cope with the subject „security“ in a reliable and practical manner. That’s why we propose the following, two dimensional approach, which combines a static view with a time perspective to identify the complete setup.

The "Surface" dimension

The subject to an attack shall be the first dimension to look at. If we do not know, what to protect, it will be difficult to get a grip on a sound protection. Please note: We are seeking a model for orientation in the security tech area, not setting up a particular security concept. In this abstract case, we may not choose a threat based approach because it would lead us nowhere. We suggest the following aspects:
Why do we suggest aspects? Well, software in general is assembled form different layers. But modern software engineering as well as the embedded world are not always following a structured layered approach. Thus talking about layers and therefor implicating a stack might lead to wrong assumptions. To prevent such misassumptions, we decided to call the differentiator „aspect“. It has more the connotation of looking at the same object, but from a different angle.

A bit of security or partial security is no security!

Especially in IoT-scenarios, it all starts with some hardware. In a device case, the hardware might be exposed publicly or, at least, will not only reside in a protected data centre environment. This is what we call the Device aspect. Events like the discovery of Meltdown (7, 8, 9) shows, that even hardware may have flaws that might be misused by a malicious attackers. Especially due to the massively growing spread of IoT, devices increase the attack surface of every organisation using or applying them.

Recently (summer 2019) Fraunhofer SIT researchers found in almost all VoIP telephones available on the market opportunities to remotely take control of the device and misuse this base for further malicious activities (10).

Further on the device will be somehow connected, either over the air or by a network cable or power cord to some kind of network allowing it to „call home”. The existence of such a media and the physical connectivity as well as the signalling shall be covered with the Physical and Data flow aspect. Here, as with all communication, the confidentiality as well as the authentication of the communication could be threatened.

Through this medium, the communication packets will be routed. The older readers might remember the OSI -model (5), and that is correct: Our Network Aspect addresses the packet routing and addressing, comparable to OSI Layer 3. But you will recognise that will not stick with the OSI-definition for long.

Next aspect to address is Transportation, as in OSI Level 4, where a communication will be assembled from the package streams. We stay with this differentiation as protection mechanisms differ between these layers.

But then we step away from OSI and define a Communications aspect, which represents the session oriented communication using a transportation, e.g. a particular REST call over HTTP/S, a FTP/S session or the DNS resolution. This covers all network stack typical responsibilities and thus is much wider scoped than the typical OSI layer 5.

PLEASE NOTE: We are still in discussions, whether to distinguish between Firmware and Hardware as separate aspects. That firmware is a valid attack vector has been shown by SIT or BSI (14). From a technical point of view, this definitely makes sense. From the pragmatic position of a user, most likely both will appear black box-like as pre-integrated solutions and will require the same kind of analysis and treatment. That’s why we currently decided to keep the model simple and put them in one box. However, as a provider of such devices, it will make sense to differentiate this further. We are open for your thoughts. Drop us a mail to discussions @ eacg.de or get in touch!

Getting higher in the stack clarifies why it does not make sense anymore talking in layers. The next levels may vary depending on the approach used. Whether a bare metal hypervisor, e.g. Xen, is used or a level 2 hypervisor like VMware Workstation or VirtualBox on top of an operating system, makes a difference. However, in both cases it will be relevant to secure both worlds. So we suggested to introduce the two aspects Operating System and Abstraction.

All data is transferred to be processed by applications. The applications themselves are a major aspect as well. Authentication of users and their authorisation typically is handled here. So we have added a Software aspect.

Behind the application we find users, which make another perspective worth looking at. According to many studies, an overwhelming portion of incidents is caused by insiders. Whether by intent (very small portion) or accidentally, using too lax permissions, weak passwords, stale accounts left open or helpful cause the majority of breaches to happen(11,12). When designing security, the Organisational aspect should not be missing.

From a security perspective, it must be clear, that each of the aspects bears a risk of specific attacks. Thus your security concept will be required to monitor, protect and identify incidents for all of the perspectives.

Finally there are not only the cases of processing and communicating. We already touched this aspect with the device: Wherever data is stored, there is the opportunity of data access. Whether in memory or on disc. Persisting data opens the opportunity to copy, delete, manipulate or encrypt data. So adding the Persistence aspect adds the „data at rest“ perspective to the potential attack surface.

Putting all this together the security battle ground takes its shape. Following diagram outlines the dimension and gives examples for each aspect.

The "Lifecycle" dimension

This might seem fairly complex. But not enough! Security is not a matter for a specific point in time. It will be relevant and changing over the complete lifecycle of an application, solution or product. When looking at the lifecycle of an application, steps such like DESIGN, DEVELOP, TEST, DEPLOY and RUN are common and do not require much of explanation. To include packaged software the second step shall be extended with the „customise“ action.

A bit more exotic might be the retirement step (RETIRE). Despite a growing acceptance that even software solutions are ageing and thus will need replacements a sound retirement planning is rarely seen (13). However, from a security aspect we highly recommend not to forget about it.

Finally the RUN phase is of particular interest to us, as most of attacks will happen while systems are in this phase. So we suggest to differentiate the RUN phase according the incident lifecycle into the following subphrases:
This phase represents the default when entering the run stage. Systems are operational and will be protected. Several services and tools are dedicated to protect the running systems.

    Probably the most critical aspect of all is incident detection. Distinguishing the Controlling activity to collect some financial Excels across the company from a malicious attempt to steal financial data and alert only in the latter case is one of the most challenging aspects. Monitoring systems, identifying fraudulent oder malicious activity and triggering the next step is a key step in security.
    Whenever something is happening or has happened, the systems need to be isolated and examined thoroughly to identify the attack, probably intensions or even originator of the incident. It is crucial to learn about what has happened, why it has been possible and what has been targeted to protect from further attempts.
    Depending on the impact of the incident, probably impacted data needs to be restored or infected systems need to be replaced with sober ones to ensure business continuity. Whatever is required to return to operational state comes in this step.

Altogether these thoughts lead to the phases shown in the following diagram:

The “Security Matrix”

Combining the asset dimension as y-axis with the time dimension as x-axis, our now proposed Security Matrix appears. The matrix gives orientation to plan, arrange and prioritize all your security efforts. Make sure you have an answer for each of the fields or decide not care or cover explicitly. You may identify and derive KPIs per matrix field and you can be sure, you will ramp up a sound security management.

In addition to your own orientation, you may use the matrix to ask providers to assign themselves to the cells they cover. In our model we have a detailed functional overview for each of the cells that could and that should be covered. Comparing this matrix with your demand, will guide you through the marketing blabla and help to focus on the real differentiating aspects.

You are seeking further orientation in the security area? or you want to get a professional meaning about your current security initiatives?

Applying the "Security Matrix"

While the matrix just derived outlines a holistic view we want to emphasise that it should not be your preferred goal to complete the matrix immediately in all fields. The matrix shall give orientation so that you make your decision on what to address and with what priority. There will be different factors influencing your decisions. Also the decisions might be different depending on the real threat situation. Feel free to create a different matrix for each business unit or subsidiary. But ensure, to adjust your decisions to your business needs and technical capabilities.

Finally there won’t be a complete security, but it should be your decision, what to leave out!

The following matrix draws a set of buzzwords from the security arena into the matrix. as described above, you could ask each vendor to line out his offering in the matrix, helping you to understand in which area they might help you.

  • AST: Application Security Testing
  • AuthN, AuthZ: Authentication and Autorisation Concept and Procedures
  • CI/CD: Continuous Integration / Deployment
  • DAST: Dynamic Application Security Testing
  • DoSP: Denial of Service Protection
  • DRP: Desaster Recovery Plan
  • DRT: Desaster Recovery Test
  • EPP: Endpoint Protection
  • IAM: Identity & Access Management
  • IDS: Intrusion Detection System
  • IRM: Incident response management
  • L2TP: Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol
  • RM: Risk Management
  • SAST: Static Application Security Testing
  • SCA: Software Composition Analysis
  • SIEM: Security Incident Event Monitoring
  • SOAR: Security Orchestration, Automation and Response
  • TA: Threat Analysis and Risk Evaluation
  • TIP: Threat Intelligence Provider
  • TPM: Trusted Platform Module
  • VPN: Virtual Private Network
  • VSS: Video Analytics Systems


  1. https://about.flipboard.com/support-information-incident-May-2019/, visited Nov 6th, 2019
  2. https://research.checkpoint.com/hacking-fortnite/, visited Nov 7th, 2019
    https://www.upguard.com/breaches/facebook-user-data-leak, visited Nov 6th, 2019
  3. find the standard at ISO IEC OSI Standard 7498, https://standards.iso.org/ittf/PubliclyAvailableStandards/s020269_ISO_IEC_7498-1_1994(E).zip or a quick introduction at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OSI_model
  4. Andrew L. Russell, IEEE Spectrum, OSI - The Internet That Wasn’t, https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/cyberspace/osi-the-internet-that-wasnt, visited Nov 1st, 2019
  5. Arm Processor Security Update https://developer.arm.com/support/arm-security-updates/speculative-processor-vulnerability, visited Nov 7th, 2019
  6. IBM PSIRT Blog, https://www.ibm.com/blogs/psirt/potential-impact-processors-power-family/, visited Nov. 7th, 2019
  7. Intel Security Centre, https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/architecture-and-technology/facts-about-side-channel-analysis-and-intel-products.html, visited Nov, 7th 2019
  8. Danger over the phone - https://www.sit.fraunhofer.de/en/news-events/latest/press-releases/details/news-article/show/gefahr-uebers-telefon/, visited Sept, 15th 2019
  9. „The global state of Information security“ by PWC et al, https://www.pwc.com/sg/en/publications/assets/gsiss-2018.pdf, p. 11, Fig 9, visited Apr 16th, 2019
  10. „2018 Cost of Data Breach“by IBM (https://www.ibm.com/downloads/cas/861MNWN2) shows 24% of all breaches are human based
    An analysis of 20 articles on application (lifecycle) management in the HMD Wirtschaftsinformatik between 2011 and 2017 did not show any article paying explicit respect to the retirement step, while all outline the growing maintenance expense due to changing requirements, see https://dl.gi.de/discover?rpp=10&etal=0&query=application+lifecycle
  11. BSI Lagebericht 2019, Fallbeispiel S.24, „Vorinstallierte Schadsoftware“ (https://www.bsi.bund.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/BSI/Publikationen/Lageberichte/Lagebericht2019.pdf)