Unmanaged attack surfaces are increasingly becoming a pathway for threat actors to gain access to systems, making effective attack surface management (ASM) more critical than ever before.
According to research from Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), more than half of businesses surveyed (52 percent) say that security operations are more difficult today than they were two years ago. The top reasons respondents indicated for increased challenges include an evolving threat landscape and a changing attack surface.
Given the sophistication of threats today, a comprehensive attack surface management strategy can help proactively identify gaps and vulnerabilities while strengthening security controls.
Let’s start by breaking down what an attack surface is.
What is an Attack Surface?
An attack surface is an accumulation of all the different points of entry on the internet that a threat actor could exploit to access your external-facing assets, such as hardware, software, and cloud assets.
An enterprise attack surface may include digital attack surfaces, such as:
- Application attack surface
- Internet of Things (IoT) attack surface
- Kubernetes attack surface
- Network attack surface
- Software attack surface
- Cloud attack surface
Other types of enterprise attack surfaces include human attack surfaces and physical attack surfaces.
In our connected environment, a company’s total number of attack surfaces and overall digital footprint continues to expand, which puts external-facing assets at risk for exposures and vulnerabilities.
Cloud storage adoption and hybrid work environments that rely on cloud solutions are some of the top reasons for expanded attack surfaces. Another factor is that an uptick in mergers and acquisitions can lead to acquiring assets that may be unknown, resulting in unmanaged attack surfaces.
How Are Attack Vectors and Attack Surfaces Related?
Attack vectors and attack surfaces are related because attack surfaces comprise all of the attack vectors, which include any method a threat actor can use to gain unauthorized access to an environment. Examples of attack vectors include ransomware, malware, phishing, internal threats, misconfiguration, and compromised credentials, among many others – vectors can also exist as a combination of these examples listed.
As attack vectors become more complex, security teams need to identify and implement new, more effective solutions to secure attack surfaces and stay ahead of sophisticated threat actors.
Monitoring and protecting against evolving attack vectors becomes more critical as an attack surface grows. For the purpose of this article, we’re focusing on how to effectively manage external attack surfaces since this is a common challenge many businesses face. The external attack surface remains a priority for remediation because it presents a higher risk due to its exposure to the internet.
What is Attack Surface Management?
Many businesses struggle to keep up with their ever-evolving attack surface. The good news is that ASM vendors equip internal teams with data-driven decisions to methodically tackle remediation efforts.
Attack surface management provides continuous observability and risk assessment of your organization’s entire attack surface. When coupled effectively with continuous penetration testing, attack surface management helps companies improve their attack surface visibility, asset inventory, and understanding of their critical exposures.
More specifically, external attack surface management (EASM) is the process of identifying and managing your organization’s attack surface, specifically from the outside-in view. The goal is to identify external assets that attackers could potentially leverage and discover exposures before malicious actors do.
Attack Surface Management Use-Cases
Through the attack surface, adversaries can exploit exposures to identify vulnerabilities that will give them access to your organization. If threat actors are successful, then outcomes will vary depending on the attack surface and other factors—but they will undoubtedly be negative.
Common outcomes include:
- Deployment of malware on your network for the purposes of ransomware, or worse, killware.
- Extraction of employee data such as social security numbers, healthcare data, and personal contact information.
Effective asset management and change control processes are challenging, and even the most well-intentioned companies often see this as an area for improvement. The right attack surface management solution should include a combination of three core pillars: human expertise, continuous penetration testing, and prioritized exposures based on risk.
Common reasons to invest in attack surface management include:
- Continuous observability and risk management
- Identification of external gaps in visibility
- Discovery of known and unknown assets and Shadow IT
- Risk-based vulnerability prioritization
- Assessment of M&A and subsidiary risk
Manage Growing Attack Surfaces with NetSPI
NetSPI’s Attack Surface Management (ASM) platform helps security teams quickly discover and address vulnerabilities across growing attack surfaces before adversaries do.
Four of the top five leading global cloud providers trust NetSPI for continuous threat and exposure management, leveraging our team, technology, and comprehensive methodology to detect known, unknown, and potentially vulnerable public-facing assets.
Learn more about NetSPI’s attack surface management solutions or request a demo. Also check out our free Attack Surface Management Tool to search more than 800 million public records for potential attack surface exposures.