Threat Modeling

Threat Modeling

Updated October 2020

There is no “one size fits all” approach to protecting yourself and your loved ones from online abuse. That’s why it’s important to consider what is important to you, and what you’re willing to do, if confronted with threats and harassment online.

This threat assessment, adapted from the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self Defense Guide, will guide you through a series of questions. Answering them will help you think about what steps are best for you to take next.

  • Ensure your immediate physical safety.

  • Have a friend or ally go through the process with you, if possible.

  • Have a sheet of paper and a writing utensil, and/or a device on which you can type your responses to the questions below.

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Consider your intangible assets. Who/what do you want to protect?
--Write down any assets from the list below and/or others, in order of priority

  • Yourself, your spouse, children, family, friends, colleagues
  • Personal privacy
  • Personal control over identity
  • Access to free flow of information
  • Separation of online personas
  • Integrity and trust you or organization has built

"I rarely post family members or friends on my social media accounts. This was difficult in the beginning because I didn’t tell them I was receiving threats. Some people were upset that I rejected their tags or didn’t post photos of us together...I had to decide that it was more important to protect them than to keep my secret. I also avoid giving any clues as to where they live or work."

— Alicia A. Wallace, writing about how she reduces her loved ones' exposure

Then consider your tangible assets. What do you want to protect?
--Write down any assets from the list below and/or others, in order of priority

  • Physical assets like car, laptop, phone
  • Photographs or video - on phone, laptop, in the cloud
  • Private documents, like financial statements and client reports
  • Online accounts
  • Contact lists of sources, partners, clients
  • Communication with editors, activists, and/or colleagues
  • Time-sensitive research and data
  • Draft documents and articles, sometimes involving collaborators

Who do you want to protect it from?
--List these individuals next to listed assets

  • Abusive partner or ex-partner
  • Criminals (burglars)
  • Cybercriminals (hackers)
  • Online abusers (trolls)
  • Other abusers (in the workplace, at home, etc)
  • Government agencies
  • Individuals looking to discredit you (partner’s ex-spouse, online adversary, etc)
  • Individuals looking to get access to information you have (other writers, etc)
  • Roommates or guests in your home

Determine how likely it is that you will need to protect the assets you listed
Consider and write down:

  • Severity of threat to assets you listed (high, moderate, low)
  • Capabilities of adversaries (highly capable of carrying out threat, etc)
  • Trustworthiness of individuals (highly trustworthy, less trustworthy, etc)

Determine how bad the consequences will be if you fail
Answer the following questions to determine consequences:

  • Do you have any intangible assets that are at risk? At home? At work?
  • Do you have any tangible assets that are irreplaceable?
  • Do you have time and/or money to replace assets?
  • Do you have insurance to cover stolen goods?
  • Do you have protection and/or support from your employer in the face of threat?

What are you willing to do to prevent or reduce these consequences?
Consider: Amount of money you are willing to spend on the following:

  • Physical security (lock, security box, security system, safes, etc.)
  • Digital security (subscriptions to info-scrubbing services, etc.)
  • Emotional and mental health (counseling sessions, yoga classes, etc.)
  • Legal (hiring a lawyer, getting consultations, going to court, etc.)

Consider: Amount of time you are willing to spend on the following:

  • Physical security (installing locks or security systems, etc.)
  • Digital security (installing password managers, 2FA, etc.)
  • Emotional and mental health (attending counseling, break from internet)

Consider: Risks you are willing to take with the following:

  • Your health/wellbeing (mental, physical, emotional)
  • Your relationships (partner, parents, friends/acquaintances)
  • Physical possessions (laptop, car, phone)
  • Employment
  • Clients
  • Other forms of credibility (audience/readers, company reputation)

What are the outcomes you want, based on measures you are willing to take?
May include: Security of digital devices and passwords, job security, physical safety, legal recourse against online abuser(s)


If you have been harassed online, start by identifying the type of harassment you are facing

To help determine who is threatening you and/or your assets, answer these questions:

  • Would anyone want to stop you in your activities? If so, who?
  • Does anyone want to know what you do? If so, who?
  • Have you had any reasons to worry about your online activities or your devices?

To assess specific, active risks, answer the following questions:

  • What is the specific text/content of abuse (threat made in email, etc)?
  • What is the volume of the abuse (multiple messages, tweets, emails)?
  • What is/are the sources of the abuse? (Twitter account, email account)?
  • What is the timeline of the abuse? (How long has it lasted, is it ongoing, etc?)