Multi-Dimensions of Threat Discovery

Duration: Single lecture, stand-alone unit

Learning Objectives

1. At the end of this unit: Given the description of a system, students should be able to identify likely direct and indirect stakeholders in the system.

2. At the end of this unit: Given the description of a system, students should be able to argue how a compromised system might negatively impact direct or indirect stakeholders.

3. At the end of this unit: Given the description of a system, students should be able to identify at least 3 security threats that are relevant to the system.


1. System Description

Present a system to students for analysis. Just describe the system - no security analysis at this point. If students are working on a particular class project (or if developers are working on a particular product), then this project can be a natural fit. The web site also provides some example systems and links to videos presenting those systems.

Break Into Groups

2. Break into groups

Have the students break into groups of three of four.

3. Look over the cards

Have the student groups familiarize themselves with the card dimensions and the general format of the cards. Students should read at least one card in each dimension in its entirety. (This step could be done the before class, as an out-of-class task.)

Threat Surfacing Activity

4. Identify Direct and Indirect Stakeholders (5 min)

Have the students sort the cards within each dimension in order of relevance to the system being analyzed.

5. Identify Human Impacts (7 min)

Using cards in the Human Impact dimension, groups should identify ways that the system could potentially be used or abused to negatively impact direct and indirect stakeholders.

6. Threat Surfacing Task: Multi-Dimension Combinations (10-15 min)

Groups should spend time exploring potential threats to the system, where a threat is defined as a potential action from an adversary. Groups should consider a series of threats by (randomly or purposefully) selecting sets of cards; these sets should contain cards from at least two different dimensions (e.g., Adversary's Motivations and Adversary's Resources, or Adversary's Resources and Adversary's Methods).

Groups should discuss which 3 threats to the system are the most relevant to the system.

Students should understand that there is no "right" nor "wrong" ordering. Students may interpret "relevance" differently - for example, realism of attack attempt vs. likelihood of attack success vs. effect of successful attack. The important thing here is to be able to explore and articulate what makes the different threats more or less relevant.

Report Back

If desired, the report-back can instead take place in stages. For example, after identifying the stakeholders, the students could present the stakeholders before identifying human impacts.

7. Stakeholders

Pick one or two groups, and have them present their identified stakeholders.

8. Human Impacts

Pick one or two groups, and have them present the human impacts that they identified might be impacted by system compromise.

9. Threats

Pick two or three groups, and have them present threats that they identified to the system.

10. Security and Privacy Risks

Facilitate a discussion about the security and privacy risks with the chosen technology.

11. Reflection

Facilitate a discussion about what students learned from this process. Were any of the issues they identified surprising to them?


If applicable, close by watching or reading related work that explores relevant security threats to the system that students explored.


You may consider also incorporating one of the add-on activities listed on the web site.