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Security Requirements

Chapter 4. Security Requirements


You will know that your tent is secure; you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing.

 Job 5:24 (NIV)

Before you can determine if a program is secure, you need to determine exactly what its security requirements are. Thankfully, there's an international standard for identifying and defining security requirements that is useful for many such circumstances: the Common Criteria [CC 1999], standardized as ISO/IEC 15408:1999. The CC is the culmination of decades of work to identify information technology security requirements. There are other schemes for defining security requirements and evaluating products to see if products meet the requirements, such as NIST FIPS-140 for cryptographic equipment, but these other schemes are generally focused on a specialized area and won't be considered further here.

This chapter briefly describes the Common Criteria (CC) and how to use its concepts to help you informally identify security requirements and talk with others about security requirements using standard terminology. The language of the CC is more precise, but it's also more formal and harder to understand; hopefully the text in this section will help you "get the jist".

Note that, in some circumstances, software cannot be used unless it has undergone a CC evaluation by an accredited laboratory. This includes certain kinds of uses in the U.S. Department of Defense (as specified by NSTISSP Number 11, which requires that before some products can be used they must be evaluated or enter evaluation), and in the future such a requirement may also include some kinds of uses for software in the U.S. federal government. This section doesn't provide enough information if you plan to actually go through a CC evaluation by an accredited laboratory. If you plan to go through a formal evaluation, you need to read the real CC, examine various websites to really understand the basics of the CC, and eventually contract a lab accredited to do a CC evaluation.

4.1. Common Criteria Introduction

First, some general information about the CC will help understand how to apply its concepts. The CC's official name is "The Common Criteria for Information Technology Security Evaluation", though it's normally just called the Common Criteria. The CC document has three parts: the introduction (that describes the CC overall), security functional requirements (that lists various kinds of security functions that products might want to include), and security assurance requirements (that lists various methods of assuring that a product is secure). There is also a related document, the "Common Evaluation Methodology" (CEM), that guides evaluators how to apply the CC when doing formal evaluations (in particular, it amplifies what the CC means in certain cases).

Although the CC is International Standard ISO/IEC 15408:1999, it is outrageously expensive to order the CC from ISO. Hopefully someday ISO will follow the lead of other standards organizations such as the IETF and the W3C, which freely redistribute standards. Not surprisingly, IETF and W3C standards are followed more often than many ISO standards, in part because ISO's fees for standards simply make them inaccessible to most developers. (I don't mind authors being paid for their work, but ISO doesn't fund most of the standards development work - indeed, many of the developers of ISO documents are volunteers - so ISO's indefensible fees only line their own pockets and don't actually aid the authors or users at all.) Thankfully, the CC developers anticipated this problem and have made sure that the CC's technical content is freely available to all; you can download the CC's technical content from Even those doing formal evaluation processes usually use these editions of the CC, and not the ISO versions; there's simply no good reason to pay ISO for them.

Although it can be used in other ways, the CC is typically used to create two kinds of documents, a ``Protection Profile'' (PP) or a ``Security Target'' (ST). A ``protection profile'' (PP) is a document created by group of users (for example, a consumer group or large organization) that identifies the desired security properties of a product. Basically, a PP is a list of user security requirements, described in a very specific way defined by the CC. If you're building a product similar to other existing products, it's quite possible that there are one or more PPs that define what some users believe are necessary for that kind of product (e.g., an operating system or firewall). A ``security target'' (ST) is a document that identifies what a product actually does, or a subset of it, that is security-relevant. An ST doesn't need to meet the requirements of any particular PP, but an ST could meet the requirements of one or more PPs.

Both PPs and STs can go through a formal evaluation. An evaluation of a PP simply ensures that the PP meets various documentation rules and sanity checks. An ST evaluation involves not just examining the ST document, but more importantly it involves evaluating an actual system (called the ``target of evaluation'', or TOE). The purpose of an ST evaluation is to ensure that, to the level of the assurance requirements specified by the ST, the actual product (the TOE) meets the ST's security functional requirements. Customers can then compare evaluated STs to PPs describing what they want. Through this comparison, consumers can determine if the products meet their requirements - and if not, where the limitations are.

To create a PP or ST, you go through a process of identifying the security environment, namely, your assumptions, threats, and relevant organizational security policies (if any). From the security environment, you derive the security objectives for the product or product type. Finally, the security requirements are selected so that they meet the objectives. There are two kinds of security requirements: functional requirements (what a product has to be able to do), and assurance requirements (measures to inspire confidence that the objectives have been met). Actually creating a PP or ST is often not a simple straight line as outlined here, but the final result needs to show a clear relationship so that no critical point is easily overlooked. Even if you don't plan to write an ST or PP, the ideas in the CC can still be helpful; the process of identifying the security environment, objectives, and requirements is still helpful in identifying what's really important.

The vast majority of the CC's text is used to define standardized functional requirements and assurance requirements. In essence, the majority of the CC is a ``chinese menu'' of possible security requirements that someone might want. PP authors pick from the various options to describe what they want, and ST authors pick from the options to describe what they provide.

Since many people might have difficulty identifying a reasonable set of assurance requirements, so pre-created sets of assurance requirements called ``evaluation assurance levels'' (EALs) have been defined, ranging from 1 to 7. EAL 2 is simply a standard shorthand for the set of assurance requirements defined for EAL 2. Products can add additional assurance measures, for example, they might choose EAL 2 plus some additional assurance measures (if the combination isn't enough to achieve a higher EAL level, such a combination would be called "EAL 2 plus"). There are mutual recognition agreements signed between many of the world's nations that will accept an evaluation done by an accredited laboratory in the other countries as long as all of the assurance measures taken were at the EAL 4 level or less.

If you want to actually write an ST or PP, there's an open source software program that can help you, called the ``CC Toolbox''. It can make sure that dependencies between requirements are met, suggest common requirements, and help you quickly develop a document, but it obviously can't do your thinking for you. The specification of exactly what information must be in a PP or ST are in CC part 1, annexes B and C respectively.

If you do decide to have your product (or PP) evaluated by an accredited laboratory, be prepared to spend money, spend time, and work throughout the process. In particular, evaluations require paying an accredited lab to do the evaluation, and higher levels of assurance become rapidly more expensive. Simply believing your product is secure isn't good enough; evaluators will require evidence to justify any claims made. Thus, evaluations require documentation, and usually the available documentation has to be improved or developed to meet CC requirements (especially at the higher assurance levels). Every claim has to be justified to some level of confidence, so the more claims made, the stronger the claims, and the more complicated the design, the more expensive an evaluation is. Obviously, when flaws are found, they will usually need to be fixed. Note that a laboratory is paid to evaluate a product and determine the truth. If the product doesn't meet its claims, then you basically have two choices: fix the product, or change (reduce) the claims.

It's important to discuss with customers what's desired before beginning a formal ST evaluation; an ST that includes functional or assurance requirements not truly needed by customers will be unnecessarily expensive to evaluate, and an ST that omits necessary requirements may not be acceptable to the customers (because that necessary piece won't have been evaluated). PPs identify such requirements, but make sure that the PP accurately reflects the customer's real requirements (perhaps the customer only wants a part of the functionality or assurance in the PP, or has a different environment in mind, or wants something else instead for the situations where your product will be used). Note that an ST need not include every security feature in a product; an ST only states what will be (or has been) evaluated. A product that has a higher EAL rating is not necessarily more secure than a similar product with a lower rating or no rating; the environment might be different, the evaluation may have saved money and time by not evaluating the other product at a higher level, or perhaps the evaluation missed something important. Evaluations are not proofs; they simply impose a defined minimum bar to gain confidence in the requirements or product.



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