2020 was a landmark year for cybersecurity events and data breaches.

In the first few months following the COVID-19 pandemic, malicious emails shot up by 600 percent. The number of cyberattacks using previously unseen malware or methods rose from 20 to 35 percent. Among organizations struck by a ransomware attack, 54 percent said that cybercriminals successfully encrypted their data.

Organizations everywhere should be aware of these worrying trends. As the scale and frequency of cyberattacks increases in 2021 and beyond, businesses also need to be more aware of their vulnerability to threats and threat actors.

This requires understanding, evaluating, limiting cyber exposure; and taking the proper steps to reinforce your attack surface against potential cyber threats.

What Is Cyber Exposure?

“Cyber exposure” refers to all the vulnerabilities and risks associated with an organization’s enterprise network, systems, and data.

Knowing your cyber exposure can help the organization better understand its security posture relative to cybercrime, data breaches, the dark web, and other threats. This knowledge can reveal critical information, such as:

  • Whether sensitive information such as passwords have been leaked;
  • If any critical information, such as business secrets or intellectual property is (or could be) sold on the dark web;
  • Whether systems or data are being targeted by threat actors for a phishing, malware, or ransomware attack.

Cyber exposure management is a holistic discipline to manage and measure the organization’s attack surface, so you can understand and reduce cyber risk. It enables security teams to identify, predict, and address cyber risks across the entire attack surface.

Cyber exposure management takes on many of the best practices and procedures from risk-based vulnerability management. It enables everyone in the organization, including security analysts, IT operations, and senior leadership, to understand where the organization stands with respect to cyber risk and what needs to be done to minimize or mitigate it.

To create a cyber exposure model, organizations need updated, relevant and detailed information about:

  • Vulnerabilities
  • Business context
  • Threat context

Key Domains of Cyber Exposure

To understand cyber exposure, organizations must look at multiple domains, each one increasing the company’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks. These attacks can lead to financial losses, data losses, reputational damage, or regulatory or compliance challenges.

The key domains of cyber exposure are:

  • Sensitive data disclosures on the Internet;
  • Data breaches, such as those from third-party vendors;
  • Black markets (such as the dark web) where intellectual property may be sold anonymously and for large sums;
  • Leaks of financial information, such as credit card numbers or transactional data;
  • Externally exposed credentials, such as passwords;
  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that may be used to steal identities or gain unauthorized access to enterprise assets;
  • Hackers and hacker groups that may be specifically targeting the organization due to its industry (healthcare, for example);
  • Internal breaches.

By understanding its position relative to each of these domains, the organization can identify its current risks and remediate them to reduce the chance of a potentially catastrophic cyber attack.

It can also make better and more informed decisions around cybersecurity investments, risk management, and risk mitigation; measure and compare key security metrics; and drive ongoing improvements to cybersecurity.

Evaluating Cyber Exposure for Your Business

Evaluating cyber exposure is critical to addressing and minimizing cyber risk. And evaluation starts with cybersecurity awareness, which in turn requires asking the right questions:

  • Where are our cyber exposure areas?
  • What is the risk of such exposures?
  • Which risks and vulnerabilities should we prioritize, based on these risks?
  • Can we reduce our exposure over time? If so, how?
  • What is our specific cyber risk exposure, compared to industry benchmarking or averages?

To evaluate cyber exposure, security teams must have visibility across the entire attack surface. This requires identifying and evaluating every possible area of cyber vulnerability and risk (that is, potential exposure points), including:

  • Endpoints and other devices;
  • Cloud services;
  • Operational technologies;
  • Web applications and Internet-connected services or devices;
  • Remote workers and devices.

Security teams must also:

  • Assess and track sensitive information;
  • Safety delete or dispose of information that’s no longer required;
  • Evaluate existing information security controls;
  • Monitor user access privileges;
  • Review systems event logs.

At the end of this assessment — which should be done regularly, not as a one-time-only exercise — organizations can better understand cyber exposure and the possible impact, including any potential losses.

4 Ways to Minimize Cyber Exposure

Deploy Reliable Cybersecurity Tools

Most organizations have to contend with numerous vulnerabilities that increase their risk of a cyber attack. These include:

  • Unpatched or poorly designed software;
  • Misconfigured cloud services;
  • Insecure endpoints;
  • Weak access controls;
  • Open ports;
  • Shadow IT.

To identify vulnerabilities across all these areas, reliable tools are essential. These tools should automatically and actively identify cyber exposure areas, and enable security teams to intelligently and quickly pinpoint areas of vulnerability, address risks, and prioritize remediation.

Quantify Risk with Cyber Exposure Scores

A Cyber Exposure Score (CES) is an objective measure of an organization’s cyber risk. It is automatically calculated by a software tool based on any discovered vulnerabilities and their attendant threats. The CES also takes into account other key factors, such as:

  • The probability that a threat actor may take advantage of the vulnerability;
  • Whether the affected asset is business-critical, and to what extent;
  • The potential impact of a successful attack.

By calculating their CES, security teams can understand and track cyber risks across all business units and benchmark them externally against other organizations in the industry. CES enables security leaders to improve their strategic investment decisions to address ongoing cyber risk in the medium and long term.

Set Up a Cyber Exposure Response Team

To mitigate cyber exposure effectively, organizations need the combined efforts of different people across the enterprise. This cross-functional cyber exposure-response team should comprise of professionals from:

  • IT, cybersecurity, and information security;
  • Legal;
  • Communications;
  • Sales and marketing;
  • HR;
  • CISOs and other senior leaders.

In addition, senior leaders should assure that these individuals work well to minimize the risk to the organization. Together, the cyber exposure-response team should:

  • Manage immediate threats;
  • Mitigate the effect of any data leaks or PII exposures;
  • Communicate the ramifications of a cyber event to relevant stakeholders;
  • Assuage employees’ concerns;
  • Work with vendors to help them determine their risk exposure, improve their security profiles, and remediate risks.

Continuously Monitor Threats

The best way for organizations to minimize cyber risks and prevent attacks is to monitor the attack surface continuously. That includes devices, user behaviors, and third-party vulnerabilities.

It’s also vital to differentiate vulnerabilities by their severity (low, medium, high, critical) to understand which issues pose the most significant risk versus those that don’t. This can improve vulnerability management and prioritization and also minimize the remediation burden on security teams.

Reduce Your Cyber Exposure With ZenGRC

Cyber threats are everywhere, so reducing cyber exposure should be a top priority for all organizations, including yours.

You can reduce your cyber exposure and stay protected from threat actors by increasing visibility into the attack surface. You can also assess risk tolerance, prioritize existing vulnerabilities, predict new vulnerabilities, and act quickly to address risk.

To meet all these critical objectives, you need a platform like ZenGRC.

Leverage this powerful, holistic platform in your security program to enhance your awareness of cyber threats, reveal information security risks, assess your security posture, and minimize your cyber exposure.

Learn more about ZenGRC by scheduling a demo today.