Profiling of hackers presented at ESREL 2015

Yesterday my LR colleague Anders presented our work on aggressor profiling for use in security analysis at the European risk and reliability conference in Zürich. The approach attracted a lot of interest, also from people not working with security. One of the big challenges in integrating security assessments into existing risk management framework is how to work with the notion of probability or likelihood when considering infosec risks. Basically – we don’t know how to quality the probability of a given scenario in a reasonable manner – so how can we then risk assess it and treat it in a rational manner?

The approach presented looks exactly at this. A typical risk management process would involve risk identification, analysis and evaluation of consequences and likelihoods, planning of mitigation and follow-up/stakeholder involvement. We have found working with clients that people find identifying potential consequences of different scenarios much easier than identifying the credibility of scenarios. The approach to assessing credibilities is centered around two actors:

  1. Who is the victim of the crime?
  2. Who is the aggressor?

Given a certain victim with its financial standing, relationships to other organizations, geopolitical factors, etc., we can form an opinion about who would have any motivation to try and attack the asset. Possible categories of such attackers may be

  • Script kiddies
  • Hacktivists
  • Other corporations
  • Nation states
  • Terrorists
  • Rogue internals

Each of these stereotypes would have different traits and triggers shaping the credibility of an attack from them. This is related to motivation or intent, their resources and stamina, their skill sets and the cost-benefit ratio as seen from the bad guy perspective. Giving scores to these different traits and triggers can help establish the opinion of how credible a threat is.

An interesting effect in security is that the likelihood of a threat scenario is not necessarily decoupled from the consequence of the scenario; the motivation of the perpetrator may be reinforced by the potential gains of great damage. This should be kept in mind during considerations of intent and cost-benefit.

Forming structured opinions about this, allows us to sort threat scenarios not only according to consequences, but also according to credibility. That fits into standard risk management framworks. Somewhat simplified we can make a matrix to sort the different threat scenarios into “acceptable”, “should be looked at” and “unacceptable”.

One thought on “Profiling of hackers presented at ESREL 2015

  1. […] A key difficulty for infosec risk assessments is the risk ranking. There are several ways this has been approached, varying from using “complexity of attack vector” as an proxy for probability and generic ratings for impact, to context related impact assessments in operationally relevant categories such as revenue loss, legal and litigation consequences, or reputation loss. The probability dimension can also be treated using aggressor profiling techniques, which is recommended for sophisticated organizations with a good understanding of the threat landscape. You can read more about that technique in this blog post from 2015: […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s