What is Attack Surface Management?

What is Attack Surface Management

Attack surface management allows security teams to view their digital attack surfaces from an adversary’s point of view, providing an outside-in perspective that significantly improves resilience against cyber threats by eliminating misconfigurations, data exposures, or vulnerabilities that threaten it.

ASM helps identify on-premises and cloud assets that could facilitate cyberattacks, classifies them by risk level and prioritize remediation efforts, then continuously monitors these assets’ vulnerability statuses.

What is Attack Surface Management ?

Attack surface management refers to the process of discovering, monitoring, evaluating and prioritizing security gaps that attackers could exploit to penetrate an organization. It includes processes for quickly detecting new gaps that emerge. An effective attack surface management program must include real-time visibility systems which automate discovery and testing capabilities; along with tools designed for spotting, testing, remediating and continuously validating cyber risks.

An organization’s attack surface is always evolving and expanding, from shadow IT, remote work capabilities, IoT devices and cloud, SaaS and mobile solutions to shadow IT, remote work capabilities and IoT devices – rapidly broadening their corporate perimeter and creating vulnerabilities which threat actors use to exploit to acquire sensitive data such as account login credentials, personal details and intellectual property.

Comprehensive attack surface management solutions provide real-time visibility of your IT infrastructure, including both internal and external assets that could be targeted by attackers. While traditional vulnerability assessment tools only consider known vulnerabilities, attack surface management takes an holistic view of the IT landscape by identifying assets from an outsider perspective; including public-facing services or supplier infrastructure assets.

What Is an Attack Surface?

An attack surface refers to all vulnerabilities within a network, hardware, or software environment that could enable attackers to gain unauthorized access to your data or launch cyberattacks against it. This could include anything from an isolated rogue asset created by attackers all the way up to your organization’s internal networks, externally facing web servers, IoT/mobile devices and third-party managed services as well as cloud resources as well as their supply chains – potentially opening it all up for cyber attacks from within or without.

Physical attack surfaces can be breached through malicious employees (a form of cyber threat), social engineering ploys and employee negligence such as writing passwords on sticky notes or using easily available items to disclose logins. Such attacks may include extracting sensitive data, exposing databases containing such data or inspecting source code on devices to gain entry.

Modern attack surface management solutions help companies uncover, track and protect assets targeted by hackers to reduce digital exposure. While traditional security assessment tools focus on identifying known vulnerabilities from referenced databases, attack surface management solutions also identify externally facing assets with associated risks including IoT devices and mobile phones, web servers, third-party managed services as well as your supply chain ecosystem.

Why Is Attack Surface Management Important?

Modern organizations face an expanding attack surface due to the widespread adoption of cloud and SaaS applications, remote work arrangements and IoT devices used for data collection. All these assets present potential security vulnerabilities within an organization’s infrastructure which may be exploited through misconfigurations, zero day vulnerabilities and sensitive data exposure risks.

To manage these risks efficiently and mitigate them promptly, it’s essential that organizations employ continuous risk evaluation and remediation via an attack surface management program. Such programs must offer comprehensive visibility of all attack surfaces with systems in place that detect attacks quickly before they happen and processes designed to prioritize and address cyber risks quickly.

Effective ASM solutions also provide contextual information, such as business context and ownership of assets being analyzed, to assist security teams in prioritizing remediation efforts and avoiding technical debt accumulation. This holistic approach to risk detection and response serves as a great competitive differentiator.

How Does Attack Surface Management works?

An attack surface management solution allows security teams to gain insight into which external assets attackers can see, while simultaneously continuously monitoring those assets for exposure and vulnerability. The goal is to reduce an organization’s attack surface while prioritizing remediation efforts while providing actionable threat ratings to nontechnical stakeholders, senior leadership, and potential customers.

Black-Box Reconnaissance

Leading ASM solutions like Randori employ an adversarial perspective to automatically identify shadow IT assets, orphaned APIs and servers, IoT devices, cloud footprints, rogue data leaked onto the dark web, as well as potentially hazardous externally facing infrastructure elements that pose risk. Once identified, users can assess these assets against commercial, open source, and proprietary threat intelligence sources to generate real-time risk ratings of these assets.

Some ASM tools also comb popular code repositories like GitHub and GitLab for credentials or sensitive data that has been left exposed, while other tools evaluate threat ratings for every asset based on business value, impact, existing security controls, remediation status and other criteria for real-time risk prioritization.

How to engage in attack surface management?

Effective attack surface management begins by identifying all on-premises and cloud assets that could facilitate cyberattacks. This requires using technology that provides a holistic view of both networks and environments, prioritizing what needs to be fixed first, integrating with existing workflows, and automatically validating remediation efforts.

As part of ongoing attack surface testing, you should regularly assess for new vulnerabilities, misconfigurations and other risk factors that threaten to destabilize the business. A modern attack surface management solution will continuously review assets 24/7 in order to detect and eliminate risks before adversaries can use them against your organization.

Finally, to reduce your attack surface you should utilize security best practices and tools such as microsegmentation to divide the network into logical units that each have their own policies and controls – this will contain threats if they gain entry and prevent them from spreading laterally across other parts of the network. It also reduces alert fatigue leading to reduced productivity and effectiveness for security teams.

How can the attack surface be limited?

While modern corporate technology architecture provides many benefits and flexibility for an organization, enabling remote work inevitably expands their attack surface. Each office may contain different IT environments with distinct assets connected via network connectivity; and every employee brings various devices containing company data – some belonging to them personally and some belonging to the organization – into work every day.

Each component could offer cybercriminals an entryway into your network, making it critical that each component be evaluated periodically. This requires considering who has access to what assets, the nature and flow of data coming into and out of them, any security codes protecting those routes as well as other factors like changes to password usage policies.

Review all external-facing digital assets, such as those located in subsidiary networks or third-party services. Changes to software environments – such as adding new features or changing how a system handles encryption/secrets – also increase attack surfaces and could necessitate vulnerability assessments to provide a comprehensive view and prioritization. A good vulnerability assessment solution can provide such support by offering an all-encompassing view while prioritization options.

Attack Surface vs. Attack Vector

Attack surfaces represent the totality of ways a cybercriminal could enter your organization, while attack vectors refer to specific methods of breaching assets and extracting sensitive data such as login credentials or personally identifiable information (PII).

All devices connected to the internet, both hardware and software, comprise your digital attack surface. This includes servers, remote work tools and IoT devices – even those without direct internet access may still be vulnerable through misconfigurations and data exposures.

Physical attack surfaces refers to any devices that a criminal could gain access to physically, such as carelessly discarded hardware or user passwords written on paper. They also include threats such as ransomware attacks and data breaches caused by stolen devices that don’t come encrypted with security protections.

To minimize your attack surface, it is necessary to continuously monitor both digital and physical assets, closing unnecessary ports while securing those left open and testing for new vulnerabilities on a regular basis with intelligent prioritization – this is where attack surface management tools come in.

8 Steps to Improve Attack Surface Management

Attack Surface Management (ASM) involves the identification and monitoring of all internal and external internet-connected assets for vulnerabilities and risks, from known digital assets such as emails to uncharted assets discovered during research or unexpected activity, before integrating those assets with an organization’s cybersecurity policy, practices, or access controls.

An effective attack surface management program requires organizations to take several steps, including: instituting zero trust access, providing security awareness training for both IT and non-IT employees and ensuring all staff possess appropriate cybersecurity knowledge and capabilities.

1. Identify All Technology Assets

ASM tools utilize an automated and continuous discovery process to identify all internet-facing assets. This inventory includes both known assets such as IT and OT infrastructure as well as unknown assets like shadow IT, unpatched devices, misconfigured servers and remote services like Citrix or RDP. In addition, ASM tools also detect external assets used by businesses like third-party software, cloud workloads and IoT devices; helping security teams eliminate blind spots and reduce risks.

Inventorying assets is essential to managing cyber threats and controlling attack surfaces effectively. Without an exhaustive and accurate asset inventory, enterprises become vulnerable to attacks that exploit vulnerabilities or gaps in security policies and can lead to devastating results for any enterprise.

To combat this threat, security teams must regularly scan, assess, and evaluate their systems; prioritize patching and configuration management; foster security awareness training among employees; and create a culture of security awareness among all. Attackers look for any gaps to exploit in networks to cause disruption or extract money or information – recent ransomware attacks demonstrate these risks of not properly managing these gaps.

2. Vulnerabilities and Risks

Attack surface management involves the identification and mapping of assets both internal, on-premises, and external to an organization, to help evaluate and prioritize risks. Unlike legacy security hygiene solutions, attack surface management goes beyond simply discovering all assets; it identifies unknown, rogue, or external assets which might otherwise go undetected by security protocols.

Identification of Digital and Physical Attack Surfaces. Detection of digital attack surfaces such as applications, ports, servers and websites as well as unauthorized system access points is the primary function of vulnerability testing tools such as Penetrant Testing Lab’s Vulnerability Scanner; vulnerabilities left by default security settings, unpatched software updates or misconfigurations may also exist in physical attack surfaces such as USB ports, unsecure hard drives or improperly discarded hardware with passwords and login credentials that contain passwords may also be discovered here.

Once teams identify both digital and physical assets, they can continuously monitor them to detect threats before cybercriminals exploit them. A healthcare organization could utilize this technology to monitor equipment from MRI machines to administrative endpoints; for instance, any outdated firmware or unpatched software would be identified and patched immediately – this would prevent data breaches that threaten patient privacy while incurring costly regulatory fines, while also decreasing risks at financial institutions that handle sensitive customer information like credit card numbers and bank accounts.

3. Install Protective Controls

Once security teams identify vulnerabilities, they must implement effective mitigation measures to reduce the attack surface. This may involve multifactor authentication, patching vulnerable servers, reducing remote access points or adhering to principles of least privilege among others.

An ongoing assessment of your attack surface is also crucial, as new devices join your network and user roles change. A robust CAM tool will automatically collect digital footprint information and map it against threat landscape, providing security teams with a powerful way of rapidly detecting new risks and taking necessary actions quickly.

Attack surface management (ASM) can be particularly important for organizations that work with sensitive information, like healthcare providers and financial institutions. Hospitals using attack surface management to monitor everything from MRI machines to administrative endpoints using ASM can identify vulnerabilities like outdated firmware that cybercriminals exploit to avoid breaches that lead to large fines or harm their reputation; similarly financial institutions can use ASM to detect new threats like unpatched software as soon as they arise.

4. Security Awareness Training

Security teams must work with employees to reduce their attack surface, which includes providing educational courses on recognizing cyber threats and adhering to security policies even while working remotely. Furthermore, working alongside managers helps shift office culture while keeping staff focused on their roles within the security ecosystem.

Employees must understand that their role in cybersecurity ecosystem is essential to productivity; however, they should not feel threatened or overwhelmed by their responsibility of safeguarding the organization. Employees should receive training which raises awareness without creating anxiety or fear among staff members.

IT teams must ensure all known assets are identified and actively managed to reduce the attack surface, through constant discovery, classification and prioritization as well as rapid remediation and monitoring. Furthermore, regular reviews should take place to review user permissions and remove unnecessary access points which will ultimately reduce digital attack surface. Where feasible automation of such processes would also be advantageous. Finally it is crucial that reliable performance baselines be established so the security team can understand where attacks are taking place faster while quickly identifying any vulnerabilities that might exist in systems.

5. Security Policies and Procedures

An inclusive security policy sets an exemplary goal that all staff should strive towards. Such policies must cover legal and regulatory concerns, organizational characteristics, contractual agreements, environmental considerations, user feedback and user requirements.

Human attack surfaces are increasing exponentially with the rapid proliferation of remote systems, IoT devices and random data storage solutions. Malicious actors leverage this burgeoning attack surface by exploiting default security settings, unpatched software vulnerabilities or other loopholes to gain entry to organizations’ networks and devices and take control.

Security awareness training can help reduce human attack surfaces, but it cannot be relied upon as the sole solution. To be truly effective, an effective security policy framework and enforcement mechanisms must also be in place; these should include non-compliance penalties with visible enforcement mechanisms in place; those creating and implementing guidelines must involve all staff in developing them for maximum compliance and acceptance; lastly it’s essential that policy implementation tools scan devices regularly so as to detect misconfigurations, risks and vulnerabilities quickly.

6. Attack Surface Visibility

Once upon a time, networks had clear borders protected by firewalls; but with recent trends such as work-from-home employment, exploding cloud, SaaS and IoT adoption rates and corporate acquisitions it has become difficult for security teams to keep an accurate count of everything going on within a network. That is why attack surface management (ASM) framework should be utilized as a way of identifying and mitigating against cyber threats that threaten its most vulnerable areas.

ASM (Attacker Surface Mapping) refers to the ongoing discovery, inventorying and monitoring of all attacker-exposed IT assets in a network, including hardware, software, APIs, web applications and digital assets like CCTVs or alarms and fire suppression systems for physical locations.

An essential aspect of ASM is reducing your attack surface by eliminating unnecessary or unused IT assets, as well as simplifying complexity. This can be accomplished in various ways such as regular scanning or using zero-trust strategies; HR partnerships for creating strong password policies; new hire security training being comprehensively provided; as well as security teams being able to quickly monitor access revocation in case of insider attacks or threats from insider sources.

7. ASM Automation

Security landscapes change constantly and for your security team to keep pace, they must map your attack surface continuously – this includes discovering external assets, assessing them against threat intelligence feeds, and scoring overall external security posture.

Process also encompasses classification, prioritization, remediation and monitoring. Automated tools offer context for alerts so it becomes easier to prioritize and address vulnerabilities based on severity and likelihood of being exploited.

Leading ASM solutions also incorporate a human-first design, which enhances security teams’ abilities to respond swiftly to incidents by providing an interface more in line with human cognitive abilities. Trends are regularly displayed to show critical variable status over time – something difficult for digital readouts alone to display accurately – helping increase incident resolution rates and speed at which operators can resolve events. Tagging and reporting capabilities, export options and bi-directional API integration make ASM easy to incorporate into existing workflows.

8. Incorporate Compliance Management

With a comprehensive security platform, you can implement an attack surface management program. This process involves constantly assessing risk to detect vulnerabilities that have yet to be addressed.

An effective security system must identify, track and protect all on-premise and cloud assets whose vulnerabilities could make them susceptible to cyberattacks, including IoT devices, OT devices and third-party cloud environments, as well as users accessing corporate networks remotely from home or while traveling.

An effective Asset and Service Management (ASM) solution not only identifies on-premise assets, but it can also detect unknown, external components not addressed by your defenses. This can be accomplished using tools that simulate threat actor toolkits to find vulnerabilities within IT environments and then prioritizing remediation efforts accordingly.

Integrating compliance management into your ASM can reduce the size and impact of breaches while speeding up response times. One such solution is runZero, which automatically detects devices without an EDR agent, aren’t included in vulnerability scans or are out-of-compliance; then integrates with existing security technologies to notify you about these risky assets.

Best Practices for Attack Surface Management

An effective attack surface management process includes comprehensively mapping and contextualizing all assets that pose cyber risks to an organization, and prioritizing threats based on severity and impact as well as providing business context that drives remediation efforts. It should also facilitate and automate information transfers from teams that understand risks (typically security operations) to teams who carry out removal efforts (IT operations).

Digital attack surfaces include exposed ports, unauthorizable system access points and vulnerable software resulting from poor programming practices, default operating system settings or unpatched applications. Physical attack surfaces range from USB ports to unsecurely dumped hardware discarded on public spaces; for optimum effectiveness the attack surface must constantly be assessed for new threats.

One key way to limit an attack surface is through implementation of barriers, such as firewalls or microsegmentation strategies. Reassessing this attack surface regularly with a comprehensive scan and analysis should cover assets both on-premises, in the cloud, or with third-party vendors – thus providing maximum coverage of assets and vulnerabilities.

Sam is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.