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Security Design Principles

We define a security design principle as ‘A declarative statement made with the intention of guiding security design decisions in order to meet the goals of securing a component or system’.


Include Security in Design from the Start

The problem with system security is that it is easy to find flaws, but it is difficult to find all flaws. Thus, if post-development flaw discovery and remediation is chosen as the path to achieving a secure system, then it is difficult to make a statement regarding the completeness of the security mechanism. Similarly, security functions that are added to a pre-existing system require analysis to ensure that they will perform with the level of trustworthiness intended. This analysis will extend to all elements depending on or upon which the security addition depends, as well as all resources shared by the addition, e.g. global data. Furthermore, unless the system has already been rigorously developed, the security analysis is likely to become so complex that starting anew would be more effective. Generally, security redesign results in significant restructuring of existing systems. Again, at a certain point, it is prudent to apply the principles a priori rather than to attempt a retrofit.

Design principles need to be scoped and revisited during development since there can be potential conflicts between their system-specific interpretations. One principle can override or alter another principle. These conflicts might not be satisfied simultaneously, but depending on the goals of the system, one principle may be emphasized to a greater extent than the other.

Security Design Principles

1. Identify the Crown Jewels

Asset Clarification helps organizations secure assets (either data or resources) based on their level of sensitivity. It helps identify data that need a higher level of security and must be protected.


2. Understanding Attackers

With time, attackers are becoming smart and identifying new ways to attack businesses. Understand the motives behind their targeted attacks and what resources they might use to ensure a successful attack.  Read More >Threat Intelligence Preparation-RP-212  


3. Find the Weakest Link

Determine the weakest link in your security architecture that may be vulnerable to attacks. They can be devices, resources, or even humans. Identify them and ensure a strong cyber defense posture in your organization.  Read More > Proactive Weakest Link Discovery-RP-203


4. Understand the Architecture

Understand your security architecture and make security policies, methods, and models that suit your organization. Identify what security controls and safeguards you need for your security posture and align them with your objectives.  Read More > Know Your Architecture-RP-216


5. Minimize Attack Surface Area

Minimizing attack surface area means removing parts of your system or software that you find vulnerable or insecure. These are areas where your system is the most vulnerable to cyber-attacks.  Read More > Minimize Your Attack Surface-RP-215


6. Establish Secure Defaults

The principle of secure default refers to setting the default configuration of your system restrictive to enforce conservative security policies. It means that, by default, the configuration is at the most secure settings possible.


7. Assign the least privilege possible

The Principle of Least Privilege states that a subject should be given only those privileges needed for it to complete its task. If a subject does not need an access right, the subject should not have that right.


8. Focus on Defense in Depth

Defense in depth means making a strategy leveraging various security controls to protect organizations' assets. Focus on defense in depth so that if somehow defense is compromised, additional layers of security exist as a backup to stop threats.  Read More > Structured Layered Defense-RP-208


9. Fail Securely

The principle of failing securely refers to the need to secure systems by recognizing the fact that security may fail. Even if failed security grants access to the systems, sensitive parts of your system will remain inaccessible.


10. Zero Trust

Today many businesses depend on third-party service providers for additional functionality and effective operations. Security by design ensures no user or application is trusted by default.


11. Separation of Duties

The idea behind the principle of Separation of Duties comes from the principle of least privilege. However, it is more focused on not giving too much authority to a single person. A person having too many permissions can become a liability in system security. Therefore, users must be given limited duties, so they don’t fall apart and affect security operations.


12. Avoid Security by Obscurity

Security by Obscurity isn't an effective method as it focuses on hiding the details of security operations. It relies on the account's credentials remaining a secret. Users may gain access to those accounts over time. It is safer for companies to avoid this practice and implement effective security controls.


13. Keep Security Simple

As IT environments become more complex, the solution to secure them is simple security. Keep Information Security simple to ensure everyone in the organization understands it and less time and effort are used to implement security.


14. Fix Security Issues Correctly

This principle focuses on the need to address security issues thoroughly and accurately to determine the root cause of the problem. Developers and system engineers must fix security issues correctly to minimize their recurrence.


15. Audit Sensitive Events

Auditing sensitive events will help organizations identify intrusion attempts and to determine the best possible way to reduce those events in the future.

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