Threats and Threat Vectors

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A threat is any circumstance or event that can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of data or a system. If you’re planning on taking the Security+ exam, you should have a good understanding of threats and threat vectors.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. Your organization’s security policy states that administrators should follow the principle of least privilege. Which of the following tools can ensure that administrators are following the policy?

A. User rights and permissions review

B. Risk assessment

C. Vulnerability assessment

D. Threat assessment

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation is available at the end of this post.

Comparing Threats and Threat Vectors

A threat is a potential danger. Within the realm of CompTIA Security+, a threat is any circumstance or event that can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of data or a system. A threat vector (also called an attack vector) refers to the method used to activate the threat and can originate from three primary sources: external (outsiders), internal (insiders), and the supply chain (suppliers).

Types of Threats

Threats come in different forms, including the following:

  • Natural threats. This could include hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, landslides, electrical storms, and other similar events. On a less drastic scale, a natural threat could also mean hardware failure.
  • Malicious human threats. Attackers regularly launch different types of attacks, including network attacks, system attacks, and the release of malware.
  • Accidental human threats. Users can accidentally delete or corrupt data, or accidentally access data that they shouldn’t be able to access. Even administrators can unintentionally cause system outages. The common cause is by a well-meaning administrator making a configuration change to fix one problem but inadvertently causing another one.
  • Environmental threats. This includes long-term power failure, which could lead to chemical spills, pollution, or other possible threats to the environment.

Different locations have different threats. When evaluating threats, it’s important to consider the likelihood of the threat. For example, I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and while we’re concerned about the natural threat of hurricanes during the hurricane season, we aren’t very concerned about earthquakes. My sister is a business continuity expert and she lives in San Francisco and works in Silicon Valley. She helps companies prepare for risks associated with earthquakes there, but she spends very little time or energy considering the risk of a hurricane hitting San Francisco.

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Malicious Insider Threat

A malicious insider is anyone who has legitimate access to an organization’s internal resources, but exploits this access for personal gain or damage against the organization. This person’s actions can compromise confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the organization’s assets.

Malicious insiders have a diverse set of motivations. For example, some malicious insiders are driven by greed and simply want to enhance their finances, while others want to exact revenge on the organization. They may steal files that include valuable data, install or run malicious scripts, redirect funds to their personal accounts, or take any of countless other actions.

Threats

Most employees are overwhelmingly honest, but a single malicious insider can launch a successful attack and cause significant damage to the company. Because of this, most organizations implement basic controls to prevent potential problems.

For example, Chapter 2 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide discusses the principle of least privilege. This principle ensures that employees have only the rights and permissions to perform their assigned tasks and functions, and limits the potential damage they can cause if they become malicious insiders. Chapter 11 discusses other policies, such as job rotation, separation of duties, and mandatory vacations.

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Threat Assessments

Threat assessments help an organization identify and categorize threats. They attempt to predict the threats against a system or application along with the likelihood a threat vector will activate the threat. Threat assessments also attempt to identify the potential impact from these threats. Once the organization identifies and prioritizes threats, it identifies security controls to protect against the most serious threats.

Organizations have limited resources, so it’s not possible to protect against all threats. However, threat assessments improve the security posture of any system or application by ensuring that the resources aren’t squandered on low-priority threats.


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Q. Your organization’s security policy states that administrators should follow the principle of least privilege. Which of the following tools can ensure that administrators are following the policy?

A. User rights and permissions review

B. Risk assessment

C. Vulnerability assessment

D. Threat assessment

Answer is A. A user rights and permissions review verifies users have the permissions they need for their job, and no more, which verifies the principle of least privilege is being followed.

Risk, vulnerability, and threat assessments assess current risks, and they might verify the principle of least privilege is being followed, but they do much more.

See Chapter 8 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information on identifying risk.

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