Attack Surface Management

Attack Surface Management: Importance, Types, and Solution

Cybersecurity is rapidly becoming a critical concern for organizations around the world. 

With the rise in remote working, digital transformation, and cloud as well as SaaS adoption, the attack surfaces in most organizations are growing at a breakneck speed, making it increasingly difficult to define, let alone defend!

Because of this, virtually any cyber asset in an organization’s environment can now be used as an entry point for a cyber attack. 

This is why it is now imperative for organizations to improve their attack surface visibility across all their cyber assets and manage it more effectively through a comprehensive solution like CAASM.

For the uninitiated, CAASM is an acronym for Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management. It allows you to gain complete & comprehensive visibility across the entire attack surface of your organization’s network.

But, in order to leverage CAASM to its full potential, you need to first understand everything about attack surface management.

In this post, we’ve explained everything there is to know about attack surface management, including its definition, importance, types, and solution.

But before we get to that, let’s briefly understand what an attack surface means.

What is Attack Surface?

Attack surface means all of the attack vectors vulnerable to hackers

The attack surface refers to all attack vectors that hackers can exploit to gain unauthorized access and manipulate an organization’s IT infrastructure. 

In other words, the attack surface of an organization is generally made of up four different types of cyber assets including:

  • On-Premise Assets – These are on-site assets like devices, servers, and other hardware equipment.
  • Cloud Assets – These include cloud servers, SaaS applications, cloud storage & databases, and any other assets that leverage cloud technology.
  • Unknown Assets – These assets are often referred to as “shadow assets” and usually include any kind of assets that are not under attack surface security monitoring but are part of an organization’s IT infrastructure.
  • Rogue Assets – These are malicious assets that hackers target to exploit an organization’s network, gain unauthorized access, and steal company data.
  • Vendors – Vendors are assets that your organization has purchased from an external vendor or partner. 

Note that your organization’s attack surface will grow as you add new devices, users, and assets to its network. 

This is why it’s critical to continuously monitor and evaluate all cyber assets present in your organization’s environment to discover, identify, and remediate vulnerabilities before they are exploited by hackers.

And this is where the attack surface management enters the scene.

What is Attack Surface Management?

Attack surface management is a cybersecurity process that involves continuous discovery, identification, classification, prioritization, and monitoring of all cyber assets in an organization’s IT infrastructure. 

Attack Surface Management is a cybersecurity process to effecitvely monitor all cyber assets.

Using ASM, organizations can mimic the mindset as well as the toolset of hackers and improve attack surface visibility across all potential entry points and strengthen the security posture of their network.

In simple words, ASM can easily identify vulnerabilities and assess risks based on the opportunities they would give to the hackers if exploited successfully. 

Types of Attack Surface Management

There are two main types of attack surface management.

There are two types of attack surface management - Internal and External.

Internal Attack Surface Management

As the name suggests, internal attack surface management is a process of managing activities of cyber assets that are only reachable within the organization. 

It focuses on improving the attack surface security posture of an organization’s internal assets by discovering & remediating vulnerabilities to reduce the overall attack surface.

This, in turn, helps to prevent hackers from discovering and exploiting weak attack vectors in an organization’s network.

External Attack Surface Management

External attack surface management focuses mostly on managing internet-facing assets such as web applications, outside vendors, and remote users in an organization’s network. 

It narrows down every single attack vector that is vulnerable by systematically discovering, identifying, sorting, and allocating a risk score and then remediating the threat altogether. 

The goal of external attack surface management is to mitigate risks from external sources and prevent cyberattacks through regular penetration testing, incident response planning, and threat remediation.

Why is Attack Surface Management Important?

Now that you know what attack surface management is and its types, it’s time to talk about why it is important for every organization to implement it.

Attack surface management is important to migitate cyber risk by protecting sensitive data and maintain customer’s trust

Reducing Risk

Attack surface management helps organizations map all their cyber assets to identify and address potential threats before they can be exploited by hackers. 

By leveraging ASM, organizations can continuously monitor their networks and environment for vulnerabilities and gain visibility into attack surface security gaps that are critical and need to be addressed.

This visibility enables organizations to respond to all threats and vulnerabilities proactively rather than wait for a breach or incident to occur before taking any action.

Complying with Regulatory Requirements

In many industries, there are certain regulatory requirements related to cybersecurity like PCI DSS, NIS, NIS2, DORA, and so on that must be complied with.

Attack surface management helps organizations comply with the applicable regulatory requirements by making sure that all systems are secure. 

Organizations are even free to use automated tools or manual processes to assess their regulatory compliance status on a continuous basis with the help of attack surface management.

Protecting Sensitive Data

Another reason to adopt attack surface management is that it helps organizations to protect sensitive data by discovering potential threats associated with its storage as well as transmission.

For instance, if a system of an organization contains confidential information about its customers but does not have appropriate authentication measures in place, hackers could easily gain unauthorized access to this information.

But by implementing appropriate authentication measures through ASM, organizations mitigate the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive customer information and prevent any chances of a cyberattack.

Besides, protecting customers’ personal and sensitive data is also a regulatory requirement. GDPR, for example, imposes businesses to keep their customers’ data safe if they’re EU citizens or residents.

Maintain Customers’ Trust

Customers only conduct business with organizations that protect their personal or company information. In fact, customers will only continue doing business with your organization in the future if they feel confident that their information is safe and protected by your organization.

This is why it is essential for organizations to maintain their customers’ trust and protect their data from theft or misuse. 

And in this case, attack surface management can help to protect the sensitive and personal data of your customers from any threats or vulnerabilities by mitigating the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access.

Protect Organization’s Reputation

Last but not least, attack surface management can play a vital role in protecting the reputation of your organization.

As you might already know, a single cyberattack can have severe consequences for an organization, and not just financial losses or confidential data theft, but it can ruin its reputation with customers, investors, partners, and other key stakeholders.

This is because a successful cyberattack on a large organization instantly makes headlines in the news and online media which can tarnish the reputation, diminish brand image, and cause customers to lose confidence.

Attack surface management can help to prevent such incidents from happening by remediating all vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by hackers.

This, in turn, ensures that your organization’s reputation remains intact and your customers continue to trust and have faith in your products and services.

How Does ASM Protect Organizations from Cyber Attacks?

Attack surface management (ASM) helps in protecting organizations by watching out for all of the cyber assets, understanding context, prioritizing vulnerabilities and remediaing potential threats

As you have just learned, attack surface management puts organizations in a better position from a cybersecurity standpoint to strengthen weak attack surface areas and prevent cyberattacks.

But how exactly does ASM provide protection from cyberattacks to organizations? 

Turns out, there are several phases involved in attack surface management that help organizations to attain effective protection against cyberattacks.

Discovering Assets

In this initial phase, organizations leverage ASM to discover, identify, and map all cyber assets across both internal & external attack surfaces. 

Additionally, modern attack surface management solutions can even mimic the toolset leveraged by hackers to find potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses in your organization’s network.

This drastically enhances the overall visibility across the totality of the attack surface and ensures that all cyber assets have been mapped, which could have been used as a potential attack vector.

Continuous Testing

The attack surface continuously changes as new devices, assets, and users are added to the network. Because of this, it is imperative that your ASM solution can conduct continuous monitoring and testing of the attack surface.

An ideal attack surface management solution should be able to review and assess all assets 24/7 to prevent any attack surface security gaps, vulnerabilities, and threats while eliminating system misconfigurations and other similar risks. 

Understanding Context

As you may already know, any cyber asset can serve as an attack vector for a cyber attack but not all assets carry the same level of risk to an organization. 

A modern attack surface management solution can conduct a thorough analysis of the attack surface and provide relevant insights about exposed assets and their context within an organization’s network.

These insights include when, where, and how an exposed asset was used, who is the owner of the asset, its IP address, network connection points, and a few other factors that could potentially help in determining the seriousness of the risk posed to the organization.

Prioritizing Vulnerabilities

To protect your organization’s network against potential cyberattacks, discovering & mapping all cyber assets is not enough. Organizations must also have a way to prioritize which existing threats, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities to remediate first. 

This is where the attack surface management comes into the picture. An effective ASM solution should provide actionable risk scoring based on certain factors like how visible & exploitable a vulnerability is, how complex it is to fix it, and the history of exploitation.

Unlike traditional vulnerability management methods like penetration testing or red teaming whose security ratings can be subjective, attack surface management scoring is based on calculated criteria. 

In other words, ASM uses a preset system of data and parameters to determine the severity of vulnerabilities and prioritizes them accordingly.

Remediating Potential Threats

Based on the previous four phases of attack surface management, the IT & security teams of an organization will now be equipped with the necessary information to identify the highest severity risks and prioritize their remediation efforts. 

Since the remediation efforts are usually led by IT professionals, it is critical to make sure that this information is shared with each team member and that they’re all aligned on security operations.

Typically, the remediation process often involves applying the latest operating system patches, implementing a stronger encryption method, debugging application code, eliminating rogue assets, and so on.

End Note

As organizations are rapidly embracing a digital transformation agenda, it has become nearly impossible for them to obtain & maintain visibility of the growing attack surface using legacy solutions.

The adoption of cloud workloads, microservices, SaaS applications, and other digital solutions has amplified the complexity of an organization’s IT environment, making it challenging to detect cyber threats, let alone respond to them. 

To identify and remediate an evolving array of cyber threats and regain complete visibility over an organization’s attack surface, it is mandatory to continuously monitor, detect, identify, and prioritize vulnerabilities.

In this situation, Scrut’s CAASM solution can help you gain complete visibility of all your cyber assets, and empower your IT and security teams to identify & overcome all cybersecurity challenges.

FAQs

What is attack surface management?

Attack surface management is a process of constant discovery, monitoring, classification, prioritization, and remediation of weak attack vectors across an organization’s attack surface. To learn more about ASM, click here.

Why is attack surface management important?

Attack surface management is important because it protects organizations from cyber attacks that can cause financial loss, data leaks, and damage brand reputation. We have given detailed reasons why ASM is important here.

What are the types of attack surfaces?

There are three different types of attack surfaces in an organization’s network. These types include physical attack surface, digital attack surface, and social engineering attack surface.

What is external attack surface management?

External attack surface management is a cybersecurity process that helps to identify and manage the cyber threats posed by internet-facing assets within an organization’s IT environment.

What is the difference between attack surface vs attack vector?

An Attack vector is a potential entry point for hackers to gain unauthorized access to an organization’s network or specific asset. An attack surface, on the other hand, is referred to the total number of attack vectors that hackers can exploit to manipulate or steal data from an organization.

What is cyber asset attack surface management?

Cyber asset attack surface management is often referred to as CAASM and it’s an emerging technology solution that helps organizations solve cyber asset visibility and security challenges.

What is attack surface monitoring?

Attack surface monitoring is a cybersecurity approach that identifies and monitors all attack vectors that are observed by potential attackers. 

What increases attack surface?

The constant adoption of new devices, tools, SaaS applications, cloud storage, and other digital assets increases the attack surface of an organization.

What is used to reduce attack surfaces?

The attack surface reduction is generally done by making a real-time inventory of all cyber assets and classifying weak assets based on their vulnerability level and remediating threats before a hacker can exploit them.

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