As businesses scale, the number of employees, assets, and platforms continuously expand, giving adversaries many pathways to gain entry to networks and environments. To mitigate risks as the world becomes increasingly connected, prioritizing attack surface reduction is critical.

Attack surface management (ASM) results in attack surface reduction because it identifies unknown or vulnerable parts of an attack surface allowing security teams to address these risks. Attack surface reduction, when aligned with business needs, decreases opportunities for threat actors to find and exploit an unmanaged or weak asset while enabling the business to grow securely. 

Gain a Shared Understanding of Assets versus Exposures 

According to Forrester, attack surface management is defined as, “the process of continuously discovering, identifying, inventorying, and assessing the exposures of an entity’s IT asset estate.” Recognizing the difference between assets and exposures is an important part of ASM security.

Assets include IP addresses, domains, ASNs, and cloud accounts. When assets are unmanaged or unknown, they are a more susceptible target and at a higher risk for vulnerabilities.  

Exposures are risks that exist on assets and can also pose a cybersecurity risk for organizations. Exposures include open ports, SSL certificates, and vulnerabilities. 

The Difference Between Known versus Unknown Assets  

As businesses grow and adapt to change, their attack surface grows as well. Without proper asset tracking, this can increase the number of unknown external assets. 

Understanding the difference between known versus unknown assets, also sometimes referred to as managed versus unmanaged assets, can improve attack surface reduction. Known assets include IP addresses, domains, cloud accounts, ASNs, and other assets that the IT security team is aware of and actively manages. 

On the other hand, unknown assets include those that are unauthorized or unmanaged by the IT department, and thus can pose a significant risk to the business. Some challenges related to unknown assets include:  

  1. Shadow IT: Access to or use of technology, hardware, or software that is outside an organization’s security governance processes and unknown by the IT department—known as shadow IT—can lead to vulnerabilities and exposures. Examples of shadow IT include sharing work files to personal drives, email addresses, or cloud storage accounts.  
  2. Misconfigurations: Security teams are unable to accurately detect misconfigurations and other weaknesses present in unknown assets, which increases the risk of breaches and other attacks.  
  3. Ineffective scan coverage: When assets are unknown, organizations can’t effectively prioritize scan results to detect and remediate vulnerabilities.  

3 Tactics to Support Attack Surface Reduction with ASM Security 

1. Prioritize attack surface mapping  

Attack surface mapping is part of any strong ASM security strategy and refers to identifying all assets and the total scope of an organization’s attack surface, as well as potential exposures, and a plan to prioritize and remediate risks. Mapping involves continuous attack surface discovery, which inventories all existing attack surfaces including both known and unknown assets.

With a full understanding of the total attack surface scope, an organization can perform an attack surface assessment, which scans known business domains and IP addresses to identify threats and vulnerabilities. The key to effective attack surface assessments is pairing data analysis with expert human evaluation to ensure alerts are prioritized based on the overall risk to an organization.  

2. Continuously manage attack surfaces 

With traditional approaches to cybersecurity, many organizations complete manual penetration testing once or a few times a year to keep up with compliance regulations. However, new external assets can come into ownership overnight, and threat actors are increasingly sophisticated in their methods of attack, meaning an annual pentest, while valuable, isn’t enough to protect against emerging threats.  

Instead, ASM security that includes continuous monitoring and evaluation keeps attack surface sprawl in check and helps organizations avoid giving adversaries the opportunity to find new attack surfaces and risky exposures. Assessing and managing your attack surface, including new cloud assets, on a consistent basis using a combination of external network penetration testing and an attack surface management platform, can help your team stay ahead of the latest threats. 

3. Deactivate unused assets or attack surfaces 

Unused assets unnecessarily expand attack surface sprawl, increasing the number of assets that can fall victim to vulnerabilities. Examples of unused assets may include infrastructure that was scheduled for decommission but never was decommissions, untracked asset remnants from mergers and acquisitions, and assets that are no longer actively used for example.

To achieve attack surface reduction, partner closely with a cybersecurity team or attack surface management vendor to evaluate assets or attack surfaces that can be deactivated.  

Improve ASM Security with NetSPI’s Free Attack Surface Management Tool  

Comprehensive ASM security can help your business identify and manage attack surfaces to improve attack surface reduction. To ensure your ASM security is as effective as possible, leverage an attack surface management platform like NetSPI, which pairs human expertise with advanced software and data analysis. This helps your business prioritize the results of attack surface management analysis for the highest level of protection and best ROI on cybersecurity investments. 

Test drive NetSPI’s free attack surface management tool to detect and protect both known and unknown assets. After all, you can’t manage assets you don’t know about. Test NetSPI’s ASM tool for free!