The Digitalist Team
January 31, 2024

Evaluation Assurance Level: How To Choose The Right Level of Security For Your Product

5

min reading time

In the cybersecurity landscape, the Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL) is a critical factor in determining the security posture of a product. The EAL chosen for a product can significantly impact its security measures, evaluation processes, and user trust. This article delves into the importance of selecting the right EAL and the consequences of misjudgment and provides a step-by-step guide to aid in this crucial decision-making process.

 

EAL is a crucial metric for evaluating the depth and rigor of security assessments. Source: Freepik

 

The Common Criteria (CC) framework is a robust structure for evaluating and certifying security features in IT products. At its core is the Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL), a crucial metric evaluating the depth and rigor of security assessments.

 

To attain a specific EAL, adherence to assurance requirements, covering design documentation, analysis, and testing is vital. EALs range from one to seven, offering varying assurance levels, with the highest ensuring consistent implementation of primary security features. While assurance requirements are always the same if an EAL is chosen, the functional requirements may differ among different TOEs. It is worth mentioning that there is also room for augmenting the assurance requirements and it is also possible to create custom ones if needed.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Evaluation Assurance Level

The Evaluation Assurance Level assigned to a product directly correlates with the depth of security requirements and evaluation methodologies applied during the certification process. Choosing the right EAL may have a significant impact not only on the product's regulatory compliance but also on general market perception and user trust.

Higher EALs and Rigorous Testing

Products aiming for higher Evaluation Assurance Levels undergo more rigorous testing and assurance procedures, potentially creating more secure products. This heightened level of scrutiny can be particularly crucial in industries where security is of utmost importance, such as finance, healthcare, or defense.

Impact on User Trust

User trust is a pivotal aspect influenced by the chosen Evaluation Assurance Level. Products with higher Evaluation Assurance Levels are often perceived as more trustworthy, as they have undergone more extensive security evaluations. This trust factor can be a significant selling point, especially in markets where data security is a top priority.

Regulatory Compliance

In certain industries, compliance with specific Evaluation Assurance Levels may be mandated by regulations.

 

Using a product with an appropriate EAL-level Common Criteria (CC) certificate can ensure compliance and mitigate potential legal issues. Organizations must align their products with the regulatory landscape to avoid penalties and maintain the integrity of their security practices.

Market Perception

The EAL of a product can significantly impact its market perception. A software product boasting a high Evaluation Assurance Level certificate, such as EAL4+, might be considered superior in terms of security, potentially giving it a competitive edge. Understanding and leveraging this market perception can be vital for a product's success in a competitive environment.

Choosing an EAL too low or too high may lead to significant financial loss. Source: Freepik

Consequences of Overestimating or Underestimating the Necessary EAL

Choosing an Evaluation Assurance Level too low or too high may lead to significant financial loss and cause security measures to be insufficient.

Unnecessary Costs and Delays

Choosing an Evaluation Assurance Level that exceeds the actual security needs of a product can lead to unnecessary costs and delays.

 

Achieving a high EAL is a resource-intensive process that may not yield additional benefits if a lower level would have sufficed. Organizations must carefully weigh the benefits against the costs associated with pursuing a higher EAL.

Insufficient Security Measures

Conversely, selecting an Evaluation Assurance Level that is too low may result in insufficient security measures. This leaves the product vulnerable to potential threats, leading to security breaches, loss of user trust, and damage to the company's reputation. Striking the right balance is crucial to avoid these pitfalls.

Balancing Security Needs, Cost, Time, and Risks

Choosing the appropriate Evaluation Assurance Level requires balancing security needs, cost implications, time constraints, and potential risks. Thoroughly understanding the product, its use cases and the threats it may face is essential to making an informed decision that aligns with the organization's overall strategy.

 

Different products have varying security needs based on their purpose, features, and potential risks. Source: Freepik

Factors to Consider When Choosing

To choose the right EAL for a product, it is crucial to consider some key factors before making the decision:

Nature of the Product and Its Use Cases

Understanding the intricacies of the product is essential when choosing the right Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL). Consider the nature of the product, its functionalities, and the specific use cases it is intended for.

 

Different products have varying security needs based on their purpose, features, and the potential risks associated with their usage. For instance, a financial application handling sensitive transactions may require a higher EAL than a general-purpose productivity tool. By delving into the specifics of the product and its use cases, you can align the EAL with the unique security demands of the system.

Potential Risks and Threats Associated with the Product

A comprehensive risk assessment is a crucial step in the EAL selection process. Identify potential risks and threats that the product may face throughout its lifecycle. Stay vigilant, keep abreast of the dynamic threat landscape, and adapt security measures accordingly.

 

This proactive approach ensures that the chosen EAL meets the current security needs and anticipates and mitigates emerging risks. By understanding the potential threats, you can tailor security measures to provide robust protection against various cybersecurity challenges.

Regulatory Requirements and Industry Standards

Consideration of regulatory requirements and industry standards is crucial in the EAL decision-making process. Different industries or regions may have specific regulations dictating the minimum EAL for products, especially in sectors dealing with sensitive information such as finance, healthcare, or defense.

 

Aligning with these regulations is a legal necessity and a strategic move to enhance overall security. Adhering to industry standards and best practices ensures your product's security framework is in harmony with prevailing norms.

 

This instills confidence in users and positions your product as a benchmark for security excellence within the industry. A proactive stance toward regulatory compliance and industry standards is integral to building trust and credibility in the market.

The Product’s Target Market and User Expectations

Consider the expectations of the target market when selecting an Evaluation Assurance Level. A higher EAL can help build user trust, especially if security is a key selling point of the product.

 

For the inaugural Common Criteria (CC) assessment, it is beneficial to thoroughly examine the officially accessible certifications associated with analogous or competing products that have been previously issued.

 

This practice facilitates an informed decision regarding the appropriate Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL) for the intended assessment. It is important to note that when a specific EAL level is not explicitly chosen, the alternative remains to opt for a product-specific Protection Profile. The selection of such a profile inherently determines the corresponding EAL level.

 

The presence of a Protection Profile (PP) can determine the Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL), though it is not mandatory. Self-selected or prepared Security Assurance Requirements (SARs) can also be used, as exemplified in NIAP PPs where no specific EAL level is assigned.

 

For Demonstrable conformance, the Security Target (ST) may deviate toward requirements of equivalent strength. For Strict, deviations move in a stronger direction. In the case of Exact, deviations can occur in either direction.

 

Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to identify potential risks and threats. Source: Freepik

A Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing the Right EAL

The following step-by-step guide outlines a systematic process for selecting the right Evaluation Assurance Level:

1. Understand Your Product

Before delving into the EAL selection process, thoroughly understand the product, its functionalities, and potential vulnerabilities. This forms the foundation for a well-informed decision.

2. Identify Potential Risks and Threats

Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to identify potential risks and threats. This step is crucial for tailoring security measures to the specific challenges the product may encounter.

3. Understand the Evaluation Assurance Levels

Familiarize yourself with the Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Levels. Each level signifies a different degree of security rigor, and understanding these levels is essential for making informed decisions.

4. Consider Regulatory Requirements and Industry Standards

Be aware of any regulatory requirements applicable to your industry or region. Adhering to these regulations ensures compliance and avoids legal complications.

5. Evaluate the Cost and Time Implications

Assess the costs and time associated with achieving different EALs. Strive for a balance that meets security needs without unnecessarily burdening the organization.

6. Make an Informed Decision

Based on the gathered information, make a well-informed decision about your product's appropriate Evaluation Assurance Level. Consider the risk tolerance, market expectations, and regulatory requirements.

7. Implement and Test

Once the decision is made, implement the necessary security measures and undergo the evaluation process. Rigorous testing ensures the product meets the chosen Evaluation Assurance Level’s requirements.

8. Review and Update

Periodically review and update the security measures implemented. The cybersecurity landscape evolves, and staying proactive ensures the product remains resilient to emerging threats.

Summary

Selecting the right Evaluation Assurance Level is a critical aspect of product development. It directly influences the depth of security requirements, the evaluation methodology during the certification process, and the trust users place in the product.

 

A step-by-step process, from risk assessment to decision-making, can guide the selection of an appropriate Evaluation Assurance Level. However, it's essential to avoid common pitfalls such as overestimation or underestimation of the necessary EAL. Striking the right balance ensures the product meets security needs without unnecessary costs or vulnerabilities.

 

CCLab, an agile cybersecurity lab, delivers evaluation and consultation services for organizations pursuing Common Criteria Evaluation certifications. Utilizing agile methodologies during consultation and pre-evaluation stages empowers clients to overcome challenges, prevent unforeseen costs, and streamline the certification process.

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