A Handy Guide to Understanding Attack Surface Management

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Enterprise security environment has become increasingly sophisticated and complex, especially after transitioning to cloud environments. Publicly exposed Internet infrastructure has exponentially expanded the potential attack surface, creating numerous entry points, such as insecure API endpoints, misconfigurations, and third-party integrations.

Third-party actors can exploit these obvious ‘blind spot’ problems. Unfortunately, according to the recent ESG research report, only 9% of organizations confirmed they actively monitor the entire attack surface. The report further says that only 29% of organizations actively monitor between 75% and 89% of their attack surface. This means a considerable proportion monitors an even smaller fraction.

The good news is attack surface management can help address these problems, minimizing vulnerabilities. 

This blog aims to help CISOs understand all facets of attack surface management and how it can help CISOs plug the weak spots that increase the organization’s attack surface area.  

 

What Is An Attack Surface? 

attack surface

Put simply, an attack surface is the total number of potential entry points in the IT networks and computer systems, which malicious actors can exploit to gain unauthorized access to the system. 

Therefore, it is essential to identify and manage various assets, such as known, unknown, rogue, and third-party vendor assets, for effective attack surface management. Additionally, organizations should invest resources to continuously discover, track, and monitor their assets to detect vulnerabilities and implement security controls to minimize the potential attack surface. The different types of assets are shown in the table given below: 

Type of Assets Definition Examples 
Known AssetsKnown assets are the components that are properly documented, and security teams are fully aware of. Known assets include the most obvious assets, such as: ServersWorkstationsNetwork devicesApplicationsDatabases Several other IT assets 
Unknown AssetsThis type of IT assets are present in the IT environment, but they are not so well known and documented.Shadow IT Unauthorized devicesUnapproved applications Unacknowledged IT resources
Rogue Assets As the name implies, these are unauthorized devices or systems present in the environment without appropriate oversight. Malware Unauthorized devices Unauthorized users 
*Third Party Vendor Risks Third-party vendors assets are used to deliver services, such as cloud services, software solutions, or several types of outsourced IT solutions. SaaS applicationsAPIsPublicly exposed public cloud assets

* If third-party vendors don’t follow due diligence and standard security best practices, they can introduce vulnerabilities.  

What is Attack Surface Management?  

Attack surface management (ASM) as a methodical process encompassing continuous discovery of known, unknown and third-party assets including inventory, classification, prioritization, and security monitoring of external digital assets that contain, transmit, or process sensitive data.  

According to Forrester Research, it includes tools or functionalities that continually scan for, discover, and enumerate internet-facing assets, establish the unique fingerprints of discovered assets, and identify exposures on both known and unknown assets.

ASM approach follows the same approach and methods that threat actors employ. In fact, this is mostly performed by ‘ethical hackers’ who can mimic their actions.   

Why Attack Surface Management Matters  

Maintaining visibility of Internet-facing assets is essential, as these externally exposed systems act as an initial entry point for attackers to intrude into a network. These externally exposed assets are an enticing target for adversaries, who excel at the task of locating unknown, externally exposed assets across organizations of all types.

Their task has become easier with the increasing size of organizations. This has vastly expanded an organization’s attack surface. Here are the following key reasons for effective ASM:   

  • Better risk evaluation: Attack Surface Management (ASM), when integrated with predictive risk analytics, enables better risk evaluation, contextualization, and prioritization of vulnerabilities for remedial action.
  • Enhances security posture: Fortifies an organization’s overall security posture by mitigating external attack vectors effectively.
  • Optimizes resource allocation: With a clear idea of attack surface, CISOs can allocate resources based on priority and risk severity.   
  • Minimizes operational costs: Proactively managing the attack surface reduces the likelihood of data breaches. Thus, it minimizes the chances of financial losses associated with such incidents, downtimes.  
  • Improved regulatory compliance: Proactively managing attack surface is critical to meeting regulatory compliance across many industries, such as BFSI, healthcare. ASM assists organizations in adhering to the compliance requirements of GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and others, strengthening their security posture.

What ASM Can Do For Businesses? 

Here are some essential capabilities of Attack Surface Management:

  • Discover and maintain an inventory of all internet and non-internet-facing assets within an organization’s infrastructure.
  • Map and visualize the organization’s attack surface, which allows the identification of the potential entry points, vulnerabilities, and interconnections. 
  • Evaluate assets for known vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and other loopholes through vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, and other security testing methods.
  • Integrate with a threat intelligence engine to stay updated on the latest threats, attack vectors, and indicators of compromise (IoCs). 
  • Help prioritize and remediate the most critical risks, involving patching vulnerabilities, implementing access control mechanisms, and decommissioning obsolete assets.

What Are the Key Components of an Attack Surface Management Strategy?

An effective attack surface management (ASM) program involves many components, that includes:  

  • Asset Discovery and Risk Prioritization

This involves classifying assets based on their risk profile while suggesting how to implement appropriate controls and remediation policies, considering the priorities of each asset. For example, run scans periodically to detect any new servers, workstations, or other connected devices.

  • Security Ratings

Not all security risks are the same. Security ratings provide an idea about the severity of various security risks. This empowers security teams to manage the attack surface actively.  

  • Network Segmentation

Segmenting the network into separate, controlled segments limits the potential spread of cybersecurity threats. This involves adopting a zero-trust security approach that ensures that even if an attacker intrudes on the surface, its lateral movement is restricted, limiting the damage.

  • Threat Intelligence Integration

Integrating threat intelligence with ASM strategy offers valuable insights into the evolving threat landscape and emerging attack vectors. This enables proactive risk mitigation while ensuring adequate security controls against emerging threats.

  • Continuous Monitoring

Continuous monitoring tracks changes across the attack surface, detecting new assets, vulnerabilities, or emerging threats. This enables proactive adjustments to security controls, while minimizing exposure to evolving threats.

  • Reporting And Remediation

After identifying risks, appropriate actions are taken to remediate vulnerabilities through patching, reconfiguring settings, or decommissioning insecure assets. Compensating controls and mitigation measures are implemented to reduce the attack surface. These efforts prioritize critical risks, enhancing the organization’s overall cybersecurity posture.

What Are Some Best Practices for Attack Surface Management? 

Effective attack surface management helps uncover potential vulnerabilities and gain a comprehensive knowledge of the security landscape. However, successful attack surface management depends on how well the plan is executed. 

McKinsey in its report on Transforming Cybersecurity, opines: 

“The idea that some assets are extraordinary—of critical importance to a company—must be at the heart of an effective strategy to protect against cyber threats. Because in an increasingly digitized world, protecting everything equally is not an option.” 

Security teams should adhere to the following best practices:

Best Practices Execution Strategy 
Properly map out the attack surface Prepare a list of digital assets which are exposed, atackers’ likely targets and protection need to plug the gap.  
Minimize vulnerabilities Bring assets offline wherever possible. 
Strengthen internal and external facing assets. 
Set up robust security practices Establish strong authentication protocol. 
Maintain continuous vulnerability scanning and patching. 
Find out and remove unknown and rogue assets.  
Implementation strong encryption wherever you can. 
Establish monitoring and testing protocols Implement continuous penetration testing.  
Understand compliance requirements Put policies and procedures in place to compliance standards, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, and NIST.  
Hire external ASM experts Hire security auditors to find out vulnerabilities would have gone otherwise gone unidentified . 

How SecureLayer7 Can Help 

An effective attack surface management includes continuous penetration testing. That’s where you can consider SecureLayer7 for next offering next-generation penetration testing and cybersecurity solutions. 

Here are some key reasons to select SecureLayer7 as a reliable ASM partner: 

  • SecureLayer7 helps customers spot high-risk business vulnerabilities such as authentication, authorization, and logic vulnerabilities that may result in data breaches.
  • Our PTaaS services include application testing, mobile app penetration testing, thick client penetration testing, source code analysis, smart contract audit, and cloud penetration testing.
  • We help businesses address cloud security concerns by securely maintaining their cloud infrastructure. Any cloud-based vulnerabilities in your AWS, Azure, and Kubernetes systems are swiftly detected and quarantined by the SL7s platform.
  • Our comprehensive approach to server hardening limits attacker entry points by preventing them from gaining access through unsecured ports. 
  • We provide full security service to your IoT ecosystem with lifecycle management, superficial testing, manual assessments, and endpoints to networks in the cloud. When deploying our systems, there will be fewer hindrances to IoT product delivery.
  • We are Gartner reviewed that speaks about the quality of our services.  

Conclusion 

In the era of the digitally connected world through cloud and IoT,  the attack surface has expanded exponentially, creating new vulnerabilities that challenges for CISOs. It is essential to understand that only visibility into exposed assets cannot prevent from being target. They need to build and implement a robust attack surface management strategy that continuously identifies, analyzes, and mitigates vulnerabilities. 

Looking for a partner to enhance your ASM efficiency strategy? SecureLayer7  experts can detect blindspots.  Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can help. 

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