J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

Context Precision

Context Precision

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A Web application is not a component is not a desktop application is not a Web service. If I gave you an approach to threat model a Web application, you can probably stretch the rubber band to fit Web services too. You could probably even bend it to work for components or mobile applications. The problem is that type and scenario really do matter and can sharply influence your technique. If you generalize the technique, you produced generalized results. If you increase the context and precision, and factor that into your technique, you can deepen your impact.

For example, if I'm threat modeling a Web application and I know the deployment scenario, I can whittle my way through there. If I'm threat modeling a reusable component that may be used in a variety of situations, I would actually start with the top 3-5 likely deployment scenarios and play those out. This sounds obvious but I've seen folks try to model all the possible variations of a component in a single messy model, or I've seen them give up right away saying there's just too many. The irony is that a quick 3-5 little models, usually tell you very quickly what the dominant issues and themese are.

Categories for Context

Context-precision is simply a term I give to the concept of evaluating a given problem's context using a few categories that impact the approach:

  • Application Type: Web application, Web service, component/library, desktop application, mobile application
  • Deployment Scenario: Intranet, Extranet, Internet.
  • Project Type: In house IT, 3rd party, shrink-wrapped software …etc.
  • Life Cycle: RUP, MSF, XP, Wateffall, Agile, Spiral … etc.

Extend and refine the categories as you see fit.

For application type, you could focus on CRM or some other business vertical. I dumb it down to the architecturally significant set that I've seen have immediate impact on the activity. For example, while a Web application and Web service seem like you could just use the same pattern-based frame above for Web applications, I would argue you can create a better one optimized for Web services. For example, a Web service involves a proxy. Proxy is a great category to evaluate attacks, vulnerabilities, and countermeasures. For another example, take input validation. For a Web application, you're likely talking about the HTML stream. For a Web service, we're focused on XML validation.

One one extreme, you don't want to invent a new technique for every context. Instead, you want to pay attention to the context and ask whether or not the technique was actually designed for what you're doing. Could you further refine or optimize the technique for your product line or context? Asking these questions sets you down the path of improved software engineering.

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