Attack Surface Management Explained

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Digital transformation has the potential to unlock new opportunities. This also means that as a business, it increases your reliance on technology. As a result, your enterprise is exposed to all manner of cybersecurity vulnerabilities that malicious actors can exploit. Yet technology is inevitable for modern enterprises. 

According to a cybersecurity report by Check Point Research, the year 2022 alone saw a 38% increase in global cybersecurity attacks. The situation was particularly worse in the US, which saw a 52% increase in attacks. Most of the attacks targeted businesses and corporate networks.

With this ever growing cyber threat landscape, it is critical, as a business, to invest in closing the gaps in your systems. This is where attack surface management (ASM) comes into play. 

Let’s look at what Attack Surface Management (ASM) is, how it works, and how to deploy it to defend against cyberattacks. 

What is an attack surface?

In cybersecurity, the attack surface refers to all the possible points of entry or vulnerability that an attacker can exploit to gain unauthorized access, steal data, or cause damage. These points of entry can include hardware devices, software applications, network connections, and even human factors like weak passwords or persons falling victim to social engineering tactics.

The larger the attack surface, the more potential vulnerabilities a system has, and the easier it is for attackers to find and exploit weaknesses. 

The attack surface of a typical organization can include the following:

  • Devices, including laptops, mobile phones, workstations, and smart printers. These can be exploited by hackers, allowing them to gain access to your network and data.
  • Digital access points, including network servers, switches, websites, mobile apps, code, system access points, cloud storage, email applications, databases, and file storage systems. These access points may contain vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Some, for example, emails, can also be used as a delivery mechanism for malicious programs by cyber criminals. Check out this useful resource on email attacks
  • People – employees are a popular attack surface that can be compromised – knowingly or unknowingly, leading to data breaches. According to a 2022 Data Breach report by Verizon, the human element accounted for over 82% of cyberattacks.

What is attack surface management?

Attack surface management (ASM) is the process of identifying, tracking, and reducing the attack surface as defined above. It involves identifying all the possible vulnerabilities, prioritizing them based on their potential impact, and implementing measures to mitigate or eliminate them.

The main goal is to reduce the likelihood of successful cyberattacks by keeping an eye on the number of possible entry points that attackers can exploit.

How does attack surface management work?

Attack surface management uses several processes to identify attack surfaces and mitigate their risk. However, there are three major aspects of ASM. 

Below is a look at them:

1. Discovery

It’s impossible to successfully manage an attack surface when you don’t know what assets exist. The majority of enterprises have so many unknown assets, including workplace IoT and Shadow IT.

This stage is therefore essential to understanding the scope of the attack surface and prioritizing vulnerabilities for remediation.

To achieve this, you can use a variety of methods, including conducting an inventory of all the assets in the network, reviewing network configurations and policies, and mapping out network topology.

Your IT teams will use a combination of ASM tools to continuously scan for any hardware, software, cloud-based, and physical assets that might act as entry points for attacks. This helps you determine where to focus your cybersecurity solutions.

For example, they might start by conducting an inventory of all the hardware devices and software applications in the network, including workstations, servers, routers, and firewalls. They can then review network configurations and policies to identify any misconfigurations that could potentially expose the organization to cyber threats. This could include open ports, weak passwords, or legacy systems. They can also map out the network topology to identify all the connections and relationships between the different devices and applications in the network.

Discovery is also effective in identifying hidden or forgotten attack surfaces. These entry points can pose a significant threat to your organization, as criminals can use them without your knowledge. According to anAttack Surface Management report published on Randori, about 70% of organizations have been attacked via unknown, unmanaged, or poorly managed digital assets.

A fundamental benefit of this stage is that it makes it possible to develop a context. By this we mean that it's possible to get nuances such as who owns what device and where they use it, status of use, and the relationship with other assets. This in-depth level of understanding is what provides a basis for accurate scoring

Further Reading:

2. Scoring

Once you identify the composition of the attack surface, the next step is to analyze them and identify potential threats. Next, you should score them based on their vulnerability and the damage they can pose if compromised.

Scoring based on the risk posed allows the security teams to prioritize threat response, mitigation, and corrective measures to the most critical assets.

Feel free to customize these steps to suit your environment.  

  1. Identify threats: This may include vulnerabilities in your software and systems, misconfigurations, unsecured data, or physical security weaknesses.
  2. Evaluate the likelihood: Once you have identified potential threats, the next step is to evaluate the likelihood of each one occurring. This involves considering factors such as the likelihood of an attacker exploiting a vulnerability, the frequency of attacks targeting similar organizations, etc..
  3. Evaluate the impact: After evaluating the likelihood of each threat, the next step is to evaluate its potential impact. You want to consider factors such as the financial cost of a successful attack, the reputational damage, and the impact on business operations.
  4. Assign a score: Based on the likelihood and impact of each threat, assign a score or rating to each one. This score will help you prioritize your efforts and resources to address the most significant risks first.

Also Read: What is CVSS Score?

3. Remediation

This is where you get to take action to mitigate potential security threats and reduce the organization's overall attack surface.

The most critical aspect in the remediation stage is prioritization. This simply means deciding which risks to address first, based on the potential impact on the business. Prioritization is important because resources such as time, budget, and personnel are often limited. So there is always a chance that even the high impact threats you scored can demand more than your resources can manage. Therefore, it is necessary to focus on the most critical risks first to maximize the effectiveness of the remediation effort.

We have previously discussed remediation at length. Please read this remediation guide if you would like to get a 360 degree of what it entails. 

4. Continuous monitoring

Attack surface management goes beyond identifying and analyzing the assets and remedying any potential threats. In other words the attack surface is not a fixed item. It's always growing as you keep adding more users, devices, partners, etc. As the surface grows, the risk also grows as a result of the new additions and also the configurations that follow. 

As a result, you must continuously monitor the attack surface. This makes it easy to identify and inventorize new assets that could be potential attack surfaces. Continuous monitoring also enables you to discover new vulnerabilities and update the risk score of your attack surfaces.

Why does your business need attack surface management?

Attack surface management can offer several benefits to your business. Below is a look at the top ones:

1. Real-time view of risks

ASM ensures that your organization is constantly alert and ready for any potential attack.

A 2021 case study published on Research Gate gives a clear example of how critical real-time visibility is. The study, which focuses on the 2017 Equifax data breach, details how the company lost the personal data of over 140 million Americans. Unfortunately, the breach went undetected for several days because the company was using a network monitoring application with an expired digital license!

2. ASM informs cybersecurity measures

Cybersecurity attacks are an expensive affair. According to an IMB report on data breaches, cyberattacks (where data is compromised) cost about $9.4 million on average. Therefore, being able to fend off these attacks is vital for any business, which is what attack surface management offers.

ASM identifies all the assets in your system and scores them in terms of risk potential and impact. This information makes it easy to decide on the most urgent cybersecurity actions. Without this information, you’ll likely invest in the wrong approaches.

3. Faster response times

Attack surface management might not prevent all attacks against your organization. However, the continuous monitoring and increased visibility it offers will allow you to respond faster to any attempts. 

This can help reduce the damages suffered by your organization. The IBM data breach report  we mentioned earlier highlights how beneficial fast responses can be — it found that among the surveyed companies, it’s possible for an organization to save an average of $1.12 million if they can manage to contain data breaches within 200 days or less.

4. Risk intelligence

Cyber-attack surfaces are constantly expanding and evolving. According to a 2022 study by Trend Micro, about 73% of global organizations were concerned about their expanding attack surfaces. Additionally, 43% of organizations felt their attack entry points were spiraling out of control. This exponential growth of attack surfaces should be a source of concern for your business, as it means exposure to more cyber threats.

To deter rising cyber threats, you must constantly make informed decisions about your business' cybersecurity infrastructure. However, you can only do this if you have sufficient intelligence about your organization's current attack surface, potential risks, and best practices to counter those risks. ASM makes it possible to get all this, helping you stay vigilant against the latest threats.

Attack surface management tools

This list of some of the best attack surface management solutions is arrived at by using the criteria:

  1. Capability to discover assets automatically
  2. Availability of prioritization features
  3. Capability to aid in remediation efforts
  4. High-quality customer support
  5. User-friendliness
  6. Capability to constantly monitor vulnerabilities on attack surfaces.

Based on this, here are some of the top 5 Attack Surface Management tools in the market. 

1. Detectify

Detectify specializes in managing the external attack surface and offers dedicated solutions for the following areas:

All these capabilities can be accessed through a centralized platform.

Detectify's ecosystem comprises a robust ethical hacking community called Crowdsource, which continuously uncovers vulnerabilities in widely-used technologies.

Also Read: What is Red Teaming in Cybersecurity?

2. JupiterOne

JupiterOne offers a cyber asset attack surface management (CAASM) service that assists organizations to efficiently map, analyze, and secure intricate cloud infrastructures.

Top solutions include cloud security posture management, incident response, vulnerability management, identity & access management, and compliance.  

The current target industries for JupiterOne includes Fintech, SaaS and Healthcare

3. ImmuniWeb Discovery

ImmuniWeb® Discovery is an ASM solution by Immuniweb. It utilizes Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and AI technologies to provide organizations with insights into their attack surface and exposure to Dark Web threats

According to Immuniweb, the solution is non-intrusive and production-safe, making it suitable for both continuous self-assessment and vendor risk scoring to guard against supply chain attacks.

All information is displayed on a single, customizable dashboard, making it easy to monitor and assess risks across the entire organization’s attack surface.

4. CybelAngel EASM

This is an external surface attack management (EASM) solution by CybelAngel.

It provides real-time monitoring of the entire digital footprint of an organization, including internet-facing assets, cloud assets, and third-party vendors.

CybelAngel EASM uses machine learning algorithms to identify unknown assets, vulnerable services, shadow IT, and supply chain exposures.

The platform also offers professional remediation services for comprehensive protection.

5. CyCognito

This ASM solution by CyCognito helps organizations discover, classify, and assess the security of all their digital assets. The platform provides continuous monitoring and assessment of the attack surface, including both known and unknown assets, to identify potential vulnerabilities.

By utilizing modern technology, CyCognito empowers organizations to gain insight into how attackers perceive their enterprise, identify the most vulnerable entry points, and mitigate associated risks in an efficient manner.

The platform uses a simple approach to attack surface management: Discover and test the attack surface,  prioritize threats, integrate with existing workflows, and trigger remediation whenever vulnerabilities are found.

Also Read: 

Conclusion

Attack surface management is essential for any business with digital assets. However, many organizations are not doing it right and often make costly mistakes. Some of these mistakes include failure to inventory assets, poor visibility of security risks, and lack of continuous monitoring. 

Your business can avoid these critical errors by deploying an attack surface management solution that continuously identifies and monitors your entire attack surface for potential threats. 

Finally, your ASM processes need to be constantly evolving. This is the only way to ensure that you can effectively prevent, mitigate, or respond to any new threats.

 
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