"There are rabbit holes I want to go down that I'm not allowed to go down": An Investigation of Security Expert Threat Modeling Practices for Medical Devices


Ronald Thompson, Madline McLaughlin, Carson Powers, and Daniel Votipka, Tufts University


Threat modeling is considered an essential first step for "secure by design" development. Significant prior work and industry efforts have created novel methods for this type of threat modeling, and evaluated them in various simulated settings. Because threat modeling is context-specific, we focused on medical device security experts as regulators require it, and "secure by design" medical devices are seen as a critical step to securing healthcare. We conducted 12 semi-structured interviews with medical device security experts, having participants brainstorm threats and mitigations for two medical devices. We saw these experts do not sequentially work through a list of threats or mitigations according to the rigorous processes described in existing methods and, instead, regularly switch strategies. Our work consists of three major contributions. The first is a two-part process model that describes how security experts 1) determine threats and mitigations for a particular component and 2) move between components. Second, we observed participants leveraging use cases, a strategy not addressed in prior work for threat modeling. Third, we found that integrating safety into threat modeling is critical, albeit unclear. We also provide recommendations for future work.

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