Involving Engineers Early in the TARA Process

Empowering Engineering Teams: Enhancing Threat Analysis and Risk Assessments

Minha Mir and Atefeh Asayesh

Vehicle Security Operations (VSO - TARA)

In the automotive industry, Threat Analysis and Risk Assessments (TARA) are essential for ensuring vehicle safety and cybersecurity. Despite this, many automotive engineers lack the exposure to TARA methodologies and key standards such as ISO/SAE 21434, leading to gaps in safety and security practices. The very individuals responsible for designing and maintaining these systems—are brought into the TARA process too late. This often leads to insights that are less integrated with the actual design and operational realities of the system, potentially resulting in overlooked vulnerabilities or inefficiencies in mitigation strategies. To tackle this issue, it is imperative to involve engineers early in the TARA process. This article explores the benefits of such involvement, and practical steps to integrate engineers from the outset. 

Let's Explore The Benefits For the Cybersecurity Team

Enhanced Understanding of System Architecture

Engineers possess deep knowledge of the system’s architecture. Leveraging their technical expertise can significantly contribute to a more accurate identification of vulnerabilities and threat vectors. 

Encouraging Accountability and Ownership

When the engineering team is involved early on in the process they are more likely to take responsibility for quality of the work being performed and collective responsibility for the security outcomes. This sense of ownership can lead to increased dedication and commitment to improving the quality of the TARA work products. It also fosters a proactive approach to address risks that arise from the findings, as engineers feel directly accountable for the safety and integrity of the system.

Improved Quality of the TARA

The TARA team relies heavily on the item definition for accuracy when performing threat analysis. The quality of the TARA improves significantly with the inclusion of engineers early in the process. Their technical insights ensure that the assessment is not only thorough but also aligned with the latest technological standards and practices. Engineers can provide detailed technical perspectives that enhance the accuracy of threat modeling, vulnerability identification, and risk assessments. The result? A top-notch TARA that’s both technically robust and wide-ranging.

Time Saving

Time—it’s like good chocolate, always seems to disappear too quickly. One of the biggest challenges for the TARA team? Those snail-paced turnaround times. You know, when you reach out to the engineering teams and get the silent treatment. Involving the engineering team early in the Threat Analysis and Risk Assessment (TARA) process can save a lot of time. When engineers are part of the initial stages, they can quickly identify and fix discrepancies, reducing the need for back-and-forth communication later on. This early involvement minimizes delays, cuts down on rework, and streamlines the entire process, making it faster and more efficient.

Cost Efficiency

Addressing security issues in the early phases of system development or assessment is generally less expensive than making modifications after further development or deployment.

It’s a bit like dental care: ignore it, and you’ll end up paying a lot more for a full root canal later!

By integrating security measures from the outset, costly redesigns can be avoided, leading to substantial cost savings over the lifecycle of the item. 

Strengthen Team Collaboration

The TARA team needs to help cultivate an atmosphere that prioritizes teamwork. When engineers are integrated into projects from the beginning, the synergy between them and cybersecurity professionals significantly improves. This early collaboration fosters mutual respect and deepens understanding among team members, leading to a unified team dynamic. Working closely together, engineers and security teams can exchange insights and expertise, enhancing decision-making, driving innovation, and forging a unified strategy for cybersecurity management.

But How do We Get There?

Education and Cross Department Workshops

To enhance the synergy between engineering and cybersecurity teams and improve the TARA process, focused initiatives on education and cross-departmental collaboration are essential.

Here’s how we can implement these strategies effectively:

1. Exposure to TARA Methodologies and Key Standards

Educating engineers about TARA methodologies and key standards, such as ISO/SAE 21434, is crucial. This exposure aligns their technical skills with cybersecurity requirements and enriches their understanding of how their work impacts overall security measures. Familiarity with these standards ensures that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same objectives.

2. Showcasing Previous TARAs

Many engineers may not be aware of the TARAs that their company has previously completed. By presenting these past projects, engineers can see real examples of how TARAs are executed and their outcomes. This not only helps them understand the process better but also highlights the practical implications and importance of their contributions.

3. Organizing Collaborative Workshops

Hosting workshops that bring together engineers and cybersecurity teams is vital for fostering a collaborative environment. These sessions are designed to share knowledge and allow each team to gain insight into the other’s challenges and workflows. By understanding these aspects, team members can better appreciate each other’s roles, which leads to improved cooperation and more effective problem-solving.

Step by Step - Integrating Engineers into the TARA Process







    (If Available)



Establish the scope and objectives of the TARA, including all relevant stakeholders.

Involve engineers from the start in the scoping sessions to provide insights on technical limitations and possibilities.

TARA Questionnaire [1]


Item Definition

Gain a detailed understanding of the system architecture. Transfer relevant knowledge to the TARA Team

Engineers detail the system’s architecture, identifying all critical components and interfaces for a comprehensive assessment.

System Architecture Diagrams, Asset Registers, Function List, Documented Use Cases


Asset Identification

Once all item information is documented. Identify and catalog all critical assets within the system.

Engineers collaborate to detail system components, data, and functionalities deemed critical, leveraging technical schematics.

System Architecture Diagrams, Asset Catalogs


Damage Scenario Identification

Gain an understanding of the consequences 

Engineers collaborate to detail consequences and adverse outcomes



Impact Rating

Determine the potential impact of each identified damage scenario on the system.

Collaboratively assess and rate the consequences of threat scenarios on safety, privacy, and system operation.

Impact Category Breakdown and description, HARA, Consider ASIL Ratings


Threat Scenario Identification

Define potential threat scenarios that could exploit the identified assets.

Engineers and security teams brainstorm to map possible threats targeting key assets, considering various attack vectors.

Use Cases, Threat Models, Threat Scenario Documentation, Threat Catalogs


Attack Path Analysis

Analyze possible paths an attacker could take to exploit vulnerabilities in the system.

Engineers work with cybersecurity experts to map potential attack routes leading to vulnerability exploitation.

System Architecture Diagrams, Attack Path Diagrams, Vulnerability Reports


Attack Feasibility Rating

Evaluate the feasibility of each potential attack path.

Evaluate each attack path’s feasibility with input from engineers on technical constraints and security measures.

Feasibility Category Breakdown and Description


Risk Value Determination

Calculate the risk level for each scenario based on impact and attack feasibility.

Use a collaborative approach with engineers and risk analysts to apply a risk matrix for severity and likelihood assessment.

Risk Methodologies (e.g. HEAVENS)


Risk Treatment Decision

Decide on the appropriate risk treatment strategies for the determined risks.

Decide on risk treatment strategies through team meetings that include engineers, considering technical and security insights.

Risk Treatment Plans, Mitigation Strategies


Documentation and Review

Document the findings and review the entire assessment for completeness and accuracy.

Ensure that all technical inputs from engineers are accurately reflected and validated.

Completed TARA Report


[1] It will be beneficial for the Cybersecurity/TARA team to create a scoping questionnaire that will help define the scope with the engineers. 


In the fast-paced automotive industry, timely and effective Threat Analysis and Risk Assessments (TARA) are essential. However, engineers often remain somewhat detached from TARA activities, neither fully engaged nor completely on the sidelines. This disconnect can result in TARA insights that don’t align with real-world system design and operations, leading to overlooked vulnerabilities or inefficiencies. To bridge this gap, it’s crucial to involve engineers from the beginning of the TARA process.

To accomplish this, we need to implement targeted education and cross-departmental workshops. These initiatives will familiarize engineers with TARA methodologies and key standards like ISO/SAE 21434, while promoting collaboration between engineers and cybersecurity teams. This collaborative approach not only enhances security but also empowers the engineers responsible for designing and maintaining vehicles to play a proactive role in ensuring their safety.

Remember, integrating engineers early in the TARA process isn’t just about improving security measures; it’s about empowering those who design and maintain our vehicles to take proactive roles in safeguarding them. Let’s ensure our engineers are well-versed navigators, not just passengers, on the journey toward impeccable vehicle cybersecurity. 

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