Security and Privacy Principles

Every organization is different. However, when you are faced with the challenge to create a new (IT) product or service having good principles requirements before you start helps. Always.

We have simplified this complex but crucial step needed in every project. In this chapter you find lists of:

  • Security principles and

  • Privacy principles

We encourage reuse! We also encourage you to add principles or correct these principles. In time we are aiming to create a collection of the best e.g. 100 principles for security and privacy that can be used when creating a specific solution architecture. A good reference architecture should save you time when creating a solution architecture, so use or reuse these principles from this architecture. In this way you have more time to focus on the specific context related problems. In essence the use or reuse of good security and privacy principles prevent you from making crucial design and implementation mistakes in your use case.

What are principles?

Principles are statements of direction that govern selections and implementations. That is, principles provide a foundation for decision making.

Principles are used within business design and successful IT projects.


A principle is a qualitative statement of intent that should be met by the architecture.

Security architecture principles are used to translate selected alternatives into basic ideas, standards, and guidelines for simplifying and organizing the construction, operation, and evolution of systems.

It is important to draw an early differentiation between standards, requirements, and principles.

  • Standards are “musts”; that is, they require compliance.

  • Requirements articulate specific needs that must be met by a specific solution.

  • Principles, on the other hand, are more general and serve as a framework for making choices by providing guidance about the preferred outcome of a decision in a given context.

As such, the purpose of our collected principles is to support decision making with regard to security and privacy design within all organizations.

The following criteria can be used to determine the quality of a principles:

  • Understandable: Every stakeholder involved should be able to understand the meaning, purpose and implications of a principle.

  • Consistent with other defined (or selected) principles.

  • Aimed to the goal.

  • Usable.

Principles guide architects, consultants and designers with decision making. Within business design and architecture, you find many people with strong opinions with what a good and usable principle is or is not. Discussion is always good to get a better understanding of each other mental maps. However, discussions on what a good security principle is should be target on what you can do with principles. How principles help you and your company? Can principles help you doing projects faster and better? Can principles prevent your company architecture and software systems becoming the next IT over complexity landscape?

Having security and privacy principles are a crucial foundation as they establish the basis for a set of rules and behaviours for any organization.

Security principles are statements of direction that govern selections and implementations. Security principles provide a foundation for decision making and are crucial to have for any new design.


Principles or requirements?

The exact difference between what a principle is and what a requirement is, is a long running debate. Long running debates does not make your organization more secure. It is time consuming and in the end no one is right. So do not fall in the trap of such a semantic discussion.

Security and privacy principles have the following characteristics:

  • Principles are general rules and guidelines.

  • Principle are often a qualitative statement of intent that should be met by the architecture.

  • Principles are guidance to help making decisions with the help of rules.

Your security and privacy design should be created based upon many design decisions. Using (approved) principles helps.

Security and privacy requirements tend to have the following characteristics:

  • Can be SMART ( ) formulated. So you can test if a requirement is implemented well.

  • A requirement is more context specific than a principle. E.g. your users can have different requirements on user-friendly and secure login than users of another company.

  • Requirements can be prioritized within a project, where principles are more directly shaping an architecture or design.

Principles can be regarded and treated as requirement, but due to the formulation requirements seldom can be directly used as generic principle.

Although the difference between security and privacy principles and requirements is most of the time hard to make, having requirements in addition to principles improves a privacy or security design.

This because using requirements leaves more room to discussion and prioritization with direct stakeholders.

What are requirements?

Many studies show that poor requirements are a prime cause of project failure or insufficiency. Tools that assist you with creating good security requirements or let you reuse security requirements are rare. But it is crucial for good security that you start with collecting principles and requirements before coding or buying software.

Within traditional waterfall methodologies a requirements document is created by a business analysts and subject matter experts who would spend significant time on creating requirements that are never complete. Developers are often faced with challenges deadlines and have little time to handle and implement all requirements correctly. In practice there is simply have no time to get familiar with the real meaning and purpose of all requirements and developers make guesses on the real goal of requirement statements.

In most projects today, a lapse of several months would either invalidate these requirements or miss the market window altogether. Internet speed and agility mean that projects must be quick to market and must evolve continuously to meet the changing needs and demands of their users.

Common Mistakes regarding security and privacy requirements

  • Basing a solution on complex or cutting edge technology and then discovering that it cannot easily be rolled into the ‘real world’.

  • Not prioritizing the User Requirements, for example ‘must have’, ‘should have’, ‘could have’ and ‘would have,’ known as the MoSCoW principle.

  • Not enough consultation with real users and practitioners.

  • Solving the ‘problem’ before you know what it is.

  • Lacking a clear understanding and making assumptions rather than asking.

Requirements gathering is an essential part of any project and project management. Understanding fully what a project delivers is critical to its success. This may sound like common sense, but surprisingly it’s an area that is often given far too little attention.

Many projects start with the barest headline list of requirements, only to find later the customers’ needs have not been properly understood.

Since security and is always in the end risk based we recommend that you prioritise your chosen requirements. We advise to use the de-facto standard: the acronym MoSCoW.

This stands for:

  • M – MUST: have this.

  • S – SHOULD: have this if at all possible.

  • C – COULD: have this if it does not affect anything else.

  • W - WON’T: have this not now, but would like this in the future.

Requirements marked as “Won’t” are potentially as important as the “Must” category. Classifying something as “Won’t” acknowledges that it is important, but can be left for a future release. In fact a great deal of time might be spent in trying to produce a good “Won’t” list. This has three important advantages:

  1. Stakeholders/Users do not have to fight to get something onto a requirements list.

  2. Thinking about what is required later affects a good focus on what is needed now.

  3. The designers seeing the future trend can produce solutions that can accommodate these requirements in a future release.

Reuse of requirements provides a number of benefits, including the following:

  1. Motivation for selection of components: Requirements guide the selection of optimal components for reuse. When requirements are transferred between development efforts, the rationale behind the original component selection decision is made available to the system designer.

  2. Context for reuse decisions: Requirements trace back to information gathered from domain experts and system users. Requirement-based reuse decisions are set in the context of domain processes or specific implementation needs.

  3. Parametric constraints: Requirements come in many forms, including parametric constraints (i.e. the system delivered must run at speed x) as well as general guidelines (e.g. the system’s interface should be user friendly) and domain tasks and processes. Parametric constraints allow a static evaluation to narrow the field of available components.

An example security requirements list:

For this reference architecture we started collecting security and privacy resources with common requirements and regulations. In our experience all good (security) architectures and designs have many similar requirements. So reuse common requirements, it saves times and improves the quality.

Reuse requirements

Security requirements can often be reused. Many organisations have a default list of security and privacy requirements. Every project within an e.g. health care or logistic organisation meets the same context. So reuse of requirements is often possible between different projects.

You can argue if requirements for security and privacy should be stated as ‘functional’ requirements or as non-functional requirements. In practice since security and privacy is a complex area end-users and stakeholders have a hard time to formulate good requirements. So help your business stakeholders.

You can help by organizing a requirement session to discuss the which requirements should be incorporated into the design. And since risks are eventually business risks every requirements should be explained using consequences for business risks regarding the MoSCoW prioritization.

OWASP has a (very large) collection of common security requirements. These can be found in the OWASP Application Security Verification Standard (ASVS) Project. More information can be found here:

Reuse of security requirements has several benefits:

  • Opportunity for common security measurements: Security requirements have potential for reuse in other projects. This because security requirements are often called non functional requirements (NFR’s). NFRs are quality requirements and often not explicitly asked for by business or users. Many systems and projects face similar security threats and dealing with them in a standardized way can have benefits. E.g. it is often better to have one good and fully managed backup and restore system instead of several types that must be controlled and managed.

  • Reduced cost: Each time a requirement is reused, it offsets another requirement that does not have to be written. Reuse reduces the effort needed to produce requirements specifications for later projects. Writing requirements that can be reused is a time investment in future productivity.

  • Improved quality: A requirement that has been written specifically for reuse will have been given thorough attention and inspected for quality. Reusing published requirements thus results in fewer defects due to poorly written requirements.

  • Consistency: Reusing requirements forces stakeholders to think at the same level of abstraction, in the same terms, and independently of system design in different contexts. Using the same requirement for multiple projects grants a certain level of consistency across a product line or an entire organization.

  • Speed: Specifying security and privacy requirements is specialized work. Availability of experts engineers and analysis is often problematic. So reuse lessens the need for security expertise at the requirements stage. E.g. only experts can be involved for a review instead of writing the requirements.

  • Quality: Good requirements can be reused for more than one project. Especially within the same organization, since the context for some organisational processes is comparable. Improving requirements is easier than creating good requirements from scratch. Also learning points from audits and incidents can be incorporated into existing requirements if needed so the whole security process improves.