Attack Path evolution over time

In the previous post we talked about the difficulty of rating attack paths.

In this post, we re-use the same attack path, but looks on how tools and exploitation affects attack feasibility ratings over time.

Once a attack tool has been developed for a vulnerability, the Attack Feasibility Rating may dramatically change.

Side channel attacks is a field that have evolved quickly the last years, you can today buy a side-channel tool for <100$, freely available online with guidance on how to use these tools. This means that the Expertise drops and Equipment also gets easier/cheaper to acquire. Once the Identification of an attack path has been completed, Elapsed Time and even Knowledge of the TOE may decrease as well.

By looking at the picture below, we first see the current side-channel attack from the previous post with an attack rating of 18.

In our evolved scenario, the Expertise drops from Expert to Proficient, as we can make use of documentation and guidance available on the internet. Equipment goes from Bespoke to Specialised, as we can purchase such equipment on the internet. Such scenario is shown on the second line, where the attack potential goes down to 12 (High), resulting in an Attack Feasibility Rating of “High”.

Same attack path, showing evolution in attack rating

If we look at CVSS for the same attack, attack complexity on the evolved case changes (to low), but the Attack Feasibility Rating remains at “Very Low” (CVSS=0.9).

In summary, it means that we have 3 steps in difference between the evolved attack (High vs Very Low). For an organization this may cause issues both ways, either the organization over-spend money on cyber-security assurance, or the organization may end up with vulnerabilities in the field, that can be hard to mitigate in the field.

These two blog-posts demonstrates that there is a discrepancy between the methodologies, which needs to be taken into account. Maybe the ISO/SAE 21434 standardization group will refine this in upcoming revisions of the standards.

Cyber-security takes expertise and experience to understand and master.

The difficulty of rating attack paths

When doing the attack feasibility rating, as defined in ISO/SAE 21434, the options are to either use CVSS, Attack Potential, or Attack Vector. The CVSS and Attack Potential are both adopted for the automotive industry, and differs from what you might have seen in the past.

These three methods differs in the way they rate feasibility, where the resulting rating may differ substantially.

It’s clear and logically that from the standardization work, remote attacks are those attacks that have the main priority, as physical attacks are generally much more difficult to achieve. They are also not systemic in the same manner as a remote attack may be. However, impact on a physical attack may have large financial and reputational damage.

For physical attacks, from what we have seen in the past is that CVSS sometimes generate a lower feasibility rating, compared to attack potential.

Let’s estimate the following Attack Path: A side-channel attack, where an expert attacker needs 5 months to extract the firmware or keys from an ECU or TCU module, requiring specialised equipments.

Let’s now calculate the attack feasbility for both Attack Potential and CVSS:

Attack Potential:

  • Expert requiring 5 months of effort (Identification + Exploitation)
  • The attacker has easy access to target
  • Access to public documentation
  • Bespoke equipment
  • “AttackPotential:/TIME:4/EXPE:6/KNOW:0/OPPO:1/EQUI:7 = 18”
Attack Potential calculation

By using a simple excel-sheet, we can calculate the attack rating to 18, which is then translated to a “Medium” attack feasibility, as defined in Annex I of ISO/SAE 21434.


By using the same Attack Path, we estimate the Attack Feasibility using CVSS

  • Access Vector: Physical (P)
  • Attack Complexity: High (H)
  • Privileges Required: None (N)
  • User Interaction: None (N)
  • AUTO-CVSS:3.1/AV:P/AC:H/UI:N/PR:N = 0.5

As we see the table above, the CVSS score is 0.5, which is then translated to Attack Feasibility Rating of “Very Low”. Please note that that ISO/SAE 21434 CVSS scoring does not correspond to traditional CVSS.

For the same Attack Path, the Attack Feasibility Rating differes with 2 steps, where it is “Medium” for Attack Potential, and “Very Low” for CVSS.

The conclusion is that it is important to select the correct attack feasibility rating methodology for your attack paths.

Based on my own experience, I would say that the attack potential in this example is more accurate, especially for high-assurance assets, such as cryptographic keys.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • For high-impact assets or high-assurance items, a senior cyber-security expert should assist the teams to assess the attack feasibility
  • The security assessor should be aware of the limitations of CVSS for physical attacks