Attack surface is an important concept in cybersecurity. The larger an organization’s attack surface is, the greater its cybersecurity risks – and therefore, controlling the size of your attack surface becomes critical to successful cybersecurity risk management.

So how can you reduce the size of your attack surface and protect your organization from cyberattacks and data breaches? It all starts with attack surface management (ASM).

Attack surface management is a continuous cybersecurity approach to monitor all digital assets that are vulnerable to attack. With ASM tools, you can inventory, classify, and prioritize these assets to protect your organization from cyberattacks.

This article explores the importance of ASM and explains some ASM best practices. These tips will help you shore up your enterprise defenses and secure your systems and data.

What Is an Attack Surface?

Your organization’s attack surface consists of all the possible points or “attack vectors” that can allow threat actors to:

  • Attack your organization with a well-placed cyberattack;
  • Intrude into business-critical systems;
  • Access, modify, compromise, or steal data.

For most organizations, the attack surface has two elements: digital and physical.

Digital Attack Surface

The digital attack surface includes all digital assets, both hardware and software, that connect to the enterprise network, such as:

  • System access points
  • Applications
  • Code
  • Ports
  • Servers
  • Websites

It also includes “shadow IT,” which refers to applications or IT assets used by employees that the IT department has not explicitly approved. These assets are often insecure, and therefore more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

In general, the digital attack surface consists of all external vulnerabilities that a bad actor can access and exploit through the internet.

Physical Attack Surface

The physical attack surface includes all access points into your hardware that attackers or hackers can physically access, such as:

  • Desktops
  • Laptops
  • Hard drives
  • Mobile devices
  • USB devices

These devices may be present on-premises and inside the enterprise security perimeter, or they may connect to the enterprise network remotely.

This attack surface consists of:

  • Any discarded hardware containing user data and login credentials;
  • Access points that are vulnerable to malicious or careless insider threats;
  • Physical break-ins or other types of unauthorized access;
  • Users writing or sharing passwords;
  • Employees sharing data outside the organization.

What Are Attack Vectors?

In general, all of the following are common attack vectors that cyber criminals leverage to attack organizations, compromise networks, and steal sensitive data.

Known Assets

All the IT assets you know about are potential attack vectors, including:

  • Devices
  • Other hardware
  • Applications and software
  • Data

Unknown Assets

These include both shadow IT assets and any orphaned or forgotten assets, such as old websites, outdated applications, user accounts that should have been deleted but never were, or unused software.

Rogue Assets

Malware, ransomware, fake/cybersquatted/typosquatted domains, spear-phishing websites, and rogue wireless devices can all disrupt your operations, steal data, and even permanently damage your IT infrastructure.

Third Parties

Third-party vendors, suppliers, contractors, and freelancers (and the fourth parties connected to them) are all threat vectors that expand your attack surface and introduce risk into your enterprise ecosystem.

What Is Attack Surface Management?

Attack surface management minimizes the attack surface area to reduce the number of potential entry points for attackers. That consequently reduces the risk of a security breach.

An ASM solution provides continuous visibility into your digital footprint and allows you to identify, protect, and manage your attack surface. With this solution, you can:

  • Create and manage an IT asset inventory;
  • Prioritize assets and asset vectors based on business criticality or vulnerability to attack;
  • Find and prioritize the vulnerabilities that increase the risk of attack;
  • Assign risk scores and security ratings to each asset based on its security issues;
  • Validate your security posture with continuous security monitoring;
  • Oversee and manage remediation and mitigation efforts.

With actionable threat intelligence, dashboards, and a risk-based ASM approach, you can protect your assets and minimize the possibility of attacks.

Why Is Attack Surface Management Important?

As your enterprise IT ecosystem grows and new threats emerge, your attack surface also grows in size. To prevent cyberattacks, you need to manage your expanding attack surface. Otherwise, attackers might target a piece of your attack surface that you didn’t know about, and gain entry to your IT systems and data that way.

ASM is crucial and provides numerous benefits.

Understand Your Attack Surface

ASM reveals a comprehensive and prioritized view of threat vectors, shows your risk posture, and highlights the most critical threats so you can make informed security decisions to protect the organization.

Control the Attack Surface

Your attack surface consists of known, unknown, and rogue threat vectors. Third and fourth parties also increase the risk of attack. ASM solutions continually monitor your perimeter, so you can minimize vulnerabilities and implement security controls to guard against threats.

Support Your Security Team

As the attack surface and threat landscape expand, security teams often struggle to protect the enterprise from an attack. An ASM solution can take some of the burden off your security personnel so they can focus on critical threats and enhance protection.

Discover Shadow IT Assets

An ASM solution with policy-driven rules and prioritization workflows can identify the shadow IT assets that increase security risks. Many external attackers attack the Internet-exposed software rather than IP addresses or ports, so it’s crucial to discover these assets early.

Perform Threat Assessments and Risk-Based Prioritization

Perform threat assessments to identify the most vulnerable assets and perform real-time risk-based prioritization to identify and protect your most risky targets.

Best Practices for Attack Surface Management

Here are some proven strategies for effective attack surface management.

Implement Strong Security Measures

Firewalls, antivirus software, password policies, endpoint detection and response (EDR), and intrusion detection/prevention systems (IDS/IPS) can reduce the size of your attack surface and keep many attackers out.

Specialized ASM tools are also helpful, especially if they offer:

  • Continuous attack surface management;
  • Automated asset discovery;
  • Black-box reconnaissance of external assets;
  • Shadow IT discovery;
  • Risk-based threat prioritization;
  • Integrations with SIEM (security information and event management), SOAR (security orchestration, automation, and response), asset management, and other enterprise systems.

Update All Systems and Software

By updating your systems, software (including open-source software), and data, you can reduce the risk of many malware attacks that exploit known vulnerabilities.

Perform regular security audits

A routine audit of systems, vulnerability management, and penetration testing can reveal potential cybersecurity risks and prevent security breaches.

Restrict Access to Devices and Data

Robust access management can reduce the size of your attack surface. Make sure to:

  • Implement the principle of least privilege (PoLP) to restrict access based on what a user needs to do their job only;
  • Restrict access to sensitive data;
  • Minimize the number of privileged accounts;
  • Regularly audit all user accounts.

Manage Your Attack Surface with ZenGRC

Attack surface management starts with attack surface visibility. ZenGRC provides enhanced visibility into your attack surface and risk posture. Get a holistic view of organizational risk, detect threats in real-time and act quickly to reduce cyber exposure.

ZenGRC‘s governance, risk management, and compliance software is intuitive and simple to use. It streamlines evidence management, workflows, and reporting.

Workflow management features offer easy tracking, automated reminders, and audit trails. The ZenConnect feature enables integration with popular tools, such as Jira, ServiceNow, and Slack, ensuring seamless adoption within your enterprise.

Insightful reporting and dashboards provide visibility to gaps and high-risk areas. By better understanding your risk landscape, you can take action to protect your business from cyberattacks, avoid costly data breaches, and monitor the security posture of your vendors.

ZenGRC is designed to help you manage InfoSec risk with more actionable insights and less noise. Schedule a demo to see ZenGRC in action.

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