How Threat Modeling Adds Value to a Penetration Test

Read this article to understand the benefits of threat modeling for penetration testing and how Software Secured integrates threat modeling.

Omkar Hiremath
3 min read

Data is the new currency! Conspicuously, its weight and importance are the reason and motivation for hackers to breach the security of a system. But lucky for us, we have several approaches to strengthen our defences. We’ll be discussing 2 such approaches in this article - threat modeling and penetration testing, and then discuss the benefits of threat modeling for penetration testing.

Threat modeling helps us identify potential threats while penetration testing imitates a cyber attack to help us discern weak points in a system. When we bring them both together, it enables organizations to better understand their risk posture and ultimately strengthen their overall security posture.

The highlight of this article is understanding how threat modeling adds value to penetration testing and how Software Secured does threat modeling. But before we get to that, let’s understand threat modeling and penetration testing better.

What is threat modeling?

Threat modeling is a distinctive proactive process of detecting and identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities that put a system and its elements at risk. It involves analyzing the system or application from the perspective of an attacker and identifying potential weaknesses in its design, implementation, or operation that could be exploited to compromise its security.

Threat modeling typically involves the following steps:

  • Identifying the system or application to be analyzed
  • Creating a data flow diagram to understand how data flows through the system or application
  • Identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities at each step in the data flow diagram
  • Prioritizing the identified threats and vulnerabilities based on their severity and likelihood of occurrence
  • Developing mitigation strategies to address the most critical threats and vulnerabilities

Threat modeling can be incorporated into the design, development, and testing phases. Using threat modeling at the initial stages of the project comparatively exhibits a higher rate of mitigating threats.

What is penetration testing?

Penetration testing is a cybersecurity technique that simulates a cyber attack to evaluate any vulnerabilities that could be exploited. The idea of a simulation is to understand the mindset and course of action of cybercriminals and put into perspective the steps to be taken to protect against attacks.

There are 5 stages in the process of penetration testing:

  1. Planning and Scoping: Defining the scope of the test, assets to be tested, and testing methodology.
  2. Reconnaissance: Gathering information about the target system or application.
  3. Vulnerability identification: Identifying potential vulnerabilities using automated tools and manual testing techniques.
  4. Exploitation: Attempting to exploit the identified vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access.
  5. Post-exploitation: Maintaining access and escalating privileges to demonstrate the impact of the identified vulnerabilities.
  6. Reporting: Documenting the findings of the penetration test, including identified vulnerabilities and recommended mitigation strategies.

Threat modeling typically fits in early in the penetration testing process, ideally during the scoping and planning phase. This is because threat modeling can help identify and prioritize potential threats and attacks that the penetration test should focus on. To understand better, let's delve a little deeper into the benefits of threat modeling for penetration testing.

How does threat modeling add value to a penetration test?

The infiltration of a system or an application can cause serious damage, entailing severe repercussions with huge losses. The conjunction of using threat modeling to a penetration test will combine the forces of both security practices. While penetration testing at an organizational level communicates that it is taking up the necessary measures to ensure the safety of its data, the addition of a threat model will only magnify the strength.

The detection of initial threats and potential attack points paves the way for a penetration test. Threat modeling can add value to a penetration test in several ways:

  • It can help penetration testers identify the most critical areas to test by prioritizing potential threats and vulnerabilities based on their severity and likelihood of occurrence.
  • Threat modeling can help penetration testers gain a better understanding of the system or application being tested by analyzing it from an attacker's perspective.
  • It can help identify potential vulnerabilities and attack vectors that may have been missed during the initial scoping and planning stages of the penetration test.
  • By identifying the most critical threats and vulnerabilities, threat modeling can help organizations prioritize their remediation efforts to address the most significant risks first.
  • Threat modeling is a proactive approach to security that can help organizations identify and address potential security risks before they can be exploited by attackers.
  • It forces both the penetration testing team and the organization to think about all kinds of threats and vulnerabilities that may be present in the system or application.
  • Threat modeling can help identify blind spots in the testing process and reveal social engineering or other threat possibilities that aren’t necessarily tied to the scope of the penetration test.
  • A proper threat modeling session can help organizations understand the business risks in more quantitative terms. It also gives organizations a better idea of their assets and the risks associated with them. This improves the overall outcome of security testing.

Incorporating threat modeling into the penetration testing process can add significant value to both the penetration testing team and the organization. Now that we’ve understood the benefits of threat modeling for penetration testing, let’s understand how Software Secured does threat modeling.

How software secured integrates threat modeling

At Software Secured, we believe that threat modeling is an essential part of any effective security testing methodology. Software Secured has a tried and tested approach to threat modeling that we use to help our clients better understand their security risks.

Our approach to threat modeling is based on three main components that we build alongside the client: assets, threat actors, and connections and data flow.


The first step in our threat modeling process is to identify and categorize the client's assets. These could include web applications, databases, servers, and any other systems or components that are critical to the client's business operations.

Threat Actors

The next step is to identify all potential threat actors, both external attackers and some internal ones like employees, clients, marketing tools, and third-party libraries. We also explore the concept of island hopping in detail.

Connections and Data Flow

Finally, we map out the connections and data flow between the various assets and threat actors. This is important information that helps us identify all possible attack vectors. Understanding the moving parts allows attackers to go beyond what static analysis/vulnerability scanners can do. An effective model is built on this kind of "insider" information.

Once we have a clear picture of the client's assets, threat actors, connections, and data flow, we use STRIDE (or other threat models) to categorize potential threats. By using threat models, we can categorize potential threats and prioritize what to test and how to test.

Threat modeling helps us to focus our testing efforts on the most critical areas of the client's system or application. By identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities, we can develop effective strategies to manage or mitigate these risks. By building a comprehensive threat model alongside our clients, we can help them better understand their security risks and develop effective strategies to manage them.


Threat modeling is a valuable exercise that can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of a penetration test. The amalgamation of threat modeling and penetration testing is analogous to two mighty heroes combining forces to defeat the villain in the climax of an excellent comic book. Isn’t it just wonderful when two heroes finally come together?!

While a pentest is typically limited in scope and focused on specific applications, threat modeling can be more focused or company-wide, covering all risks, including social engineering. By identifying potential threats and risks to a system, threat modeling helps both the organization and the pentester gain a deeper understanding of the security posture and potential attack scenarios. In an era where attackers are getting more creative and skillful, we need to get all the big guns out, and threat modeling for penetration testing could be one of your biggest guns!

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Omkar Hiremath

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