Institute for Software Research
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Discoverying Decision-Making Patterns for
Security Novices and Experts

Hanan Hibshi, Travis Breaux, Maria Riaz*, Laurie Williams*

March 2015


Keywords: Security, requirements, patterns, analysis, decision-making, situation awareness

Security analysis requires some degree of knowledge to align threats to vulnerabilities in information technology. Despite the abundance of security requirements, the evidence suggests that security experts are not applying these checklists. Instead, they default to their background knowledge to identify security vulnerabilities. To better understand the different effects of security checklists, analysis and expertise, we conducted a series of interviews to capture and encode the decision-making process of security experts and novices during three security requirements analysis exercises. Participants were asked to analyze three kinds of artifacts: source code, data flow diagrams, and network diagrams, for vulnerabilities, and then to apply a requirements checklist to demonstrate their ability to mitigate vulnerabilities. We framed our study using Situation Awareness theory to elicit responses that were analyzed using coding theory and grounded analysis. Our results include decision-making patterns that characterize how analysts perceive, comprehend and project future threats, and how these patterns relate to selecting security mitigations. Based on this analysis, we discovered new theory to measure how security experts and novices apply attack models and how structured and unstructured analysis enables increasing security requirements coverage. We discuss suggestions of how our method could be adapted and applied to improve training and education instruments of security analysts.

33 pages

*Department of Computer Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

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