Section C.5. I Don t Want You Smelling My Fish

C.5. I Don't Want You Smelling My Fish

At the time the United States was assembling the TCSEC into the Orange Book, many other nations did the same. Europe put together its ITSEC program. The Canadians developed the Canadian Trusted Computer Product Evaluation Criteria (CTCPEC) guidelines. Each project had similar goals and several differences.

With all the computers and networks in a country being responsible for an increasing part of the security, or at least the economic well being, of that country, it is only natural that each country has its own national interests at heart when it develops its security evaluation programs and capabilities.

It is a little like buying fresh seafood. Each of us has pet procedures for picking piscatorial products. (Find a good supplier, avoid fish that smell, look for clear eyes and bright pink or red gills, and well-defined fins.) The individual who has no idea what he is looking for is the most likely to be sold flounder that is past its prime. However, with networking equipment and computers, it is more than a dinner party that is being threatened. The nation that can keep itself free of intruding eavesdroppers, capacity-robbing viruses, infrastructure-damaging threats, and terrorists' activities, is so much ahead on the world stage. And to insure that, each nation needs to develop and administer its own methods of ensuring secure computing.

And yet we do all have to play together. Equipment is cheaper for all if it is manufactured for a world, rather than for a national, market. Operating system software is more likely to run universally if there is a commonality to the platforms on which it plays. Working together simplifies standardization and provides a uniform landscape. Even bad artifacts of the Internet age, such as phishing, spam, and online scams are easier to prosecute if both the victim and the attacker live in countries with computer crime laws. It's that much more difficult if the attack is launched from a country that does not acknowledge illicit computer activity as a criminal act.

The Common Criteria is an attempt to take the best of many methods and provide the world with a single method of determining a product's security and protection levels. The project began as a joint effort between the United States (TCSEC), Europe (ITSEC), and Canada (CTCPEC). It has continued to develop into an international equipment certification system that can serve many nations at the same time. Common Criteria also frees governments from direct involvement, because a Common Criteria testing laboratory may in fact be a commercial entity that is certified for testing.

Common Criteria recognizes that equipment intended for different uses can be subjected to different tests, unlike the Orange Book, which tended to view everything from its attitude of security and defense potential. The Common Criteria process is now part of an international standard known as ISO 15408 (Common Criteria). The web site for the consortium is

C.5.1. Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Levels (EALs)

The evaluation assurance level defines the thoroughness of the testing to be done on a product. The protection profile (PP) states the need for a security solution and the rationale for the testing. Protection profiles are meant to be reusable so that every sponsor does not need to reinvent the wheel for each new product to be evaluated. If, for instance, a profile exists that defines the nature of "medium strength robustness" for security algorithms, a developer who has developed a new algorithm can submit it for Common Criteria evaluation according to that profile, if it is relevant and will give an adequate test. A protection profile should include the intended evaluation assurance level for the product to be tested.

The next requirement is to provide the definition of the security target, which is a fancy way of explaining how a product is intended to operate, in what environment it is to operate, and what components should be subjected to testing. The product to be tested is called the target of evaluation.

Next, the functionality requirements and the assurance requirements are spelled out, followed by the actual evaluation. Presumably, the product will meet the requirements of the EAL specified in the protection profile.

The EAL is actually a measure of how much rigor, or the depth of the science, is involved in the test. There are seven possible levels that can result from a successful evaluation. One, EAL0 indicates failure. The various EALs and their relationship to the corresponding Orange Book ratings are displayed in Table C-1.

Table C-1. Common Criteria to Orange Book Harmony

EAL Level

Description of the Level

Orange Book Level (TCSEC)


Inadequate assurance



Functionally tested



Structurally tested



Methodically tested and checked



Methodically designed, tested, and reviewed



Semiformally designed and tested



Semiformally verified design and tested



Formally verified design and tested


Returning to the analogy of selecting your own fish, the result of this standards activity is that, instead of subjecting equipment to its own evaluation process, the U.S. government has transferred equipment verification duties to signatories of the Common Criteria agreements. This is by virtue of what is called the Common Criteria Recognition Arrangement (CCRA). Within the CCRA only evaluations up to the trust level called EAL 4 are mutually recognized, however some European countries that were formerly part of the ITSEC agreement may recognize higher EALs as well.

Evaluations at EAL5 and above tend to involve the security requirements of the host nation's government and likely will be performed by those nations' own national laboratories. In other words, for small items, Common Criteria works well. For important stuff, the job is still done in-house.

Common Criteria documentation and further information can be accessed at this web site:

Does ISO 15408 Certification Mean a Product Is Always Secure?

Interestingly, the closer an item moves toward being a commodity, the more flexible its security issues can be. Let's consider a common PC operating system, such as Linux or some version of Microsoft Windows. It happens that Windows 2000 is ISO 15408-certified, but regular security patches to address security vulnerabilities are still published by Microsoft for Windows 2000.

This seeming contradiction is possible, in fact necessary, because of the broad potential use for such products. As an adaptation to the process of getting an ISO 15408 certification, a vendor is allowed to stipulate certain assumptions about the operating environment. In addition, the strength of the threats to be faced in that environment can be stated in advance. Finally, the manufacture can state what configuration of the product is to be evaluated.

As a result, this kind of broadly deployed, multiple use product can be ISO 15408 certified, but should be considered only secure in the assumed, specified circumstances of the test, also known as the evaluated configuration.

Computer Security Basics
Computer Security Basics
ISBN: 0596006691
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 121

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