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What is Attack Surface Management?

  • Bhumika Dutta
  • Nov 25, 2021
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There is an abundance of data in the world today and most of the data is stored digitally. It has become quite critical for companies to protect their digital footprint and increase their security. 


As enterprises rapidly change business and security operations to fit decentralized settings, the growing frequency of remote workforces, new devices, and external apps creates a plethora of new chances for attackers to exploit access points unknown to the company. 


According to firecompass, shadow IT assets or cloud vulnerabilities established without the knowledge of the IT security staff account for 30% of corporate breaches. This is due to a failure to do an attack surface analysis. If the assessment is not done correctly, the organization may leave loose ends open for cybercriminals to attack.


In this article, we will discuss attack surfaces and their management to understand why it is critical to do attack surface mapping, reduction, and management to eliminate unknown risks.


(You can also read: A Guide to Security Analytics)



Attack surface


An attack surface is any hardware, software, SaaS, or cloud assets that may be accessed through the Internet and process or store your data. Essentially, it is the total of all potential security risk exposures. 


An attacker can conduct an attack by gaining access to various locations, components, and layers (including hardware/software) of the target system and exploiting one or more flaws. To put it another way, the attack surface is the total of all "attackable touch-points" or security risk exposures on the network.


As written by this article by UpGuard, some of the attack surfaces are:


  1. Known assets: Assets such as any company website, servers, and the dependencies that operate on them have been cataloged and controlled.


  1. Unknown assets: Unknown assets are shadowed IT or orphaned IT infrastructure that was set up outside the scope of the security team, such as neglected development or marketing websites.


  1. Rogue assets: Malicious infrastructures created by threat actors, such as malware, typo squatted domains, or a website or mobile app impersonating the domain.


  1. Vendors: Third-party and fourth-party suppliers provide considerable third-party and fourth-party risks, respectively. Even minor suppliers may cause major data breaches.


To reduce attack surfaces, companies may reduce the amount of code running or entry points available, but it does not ensure security controls. 


If an attacker discovers an opening or weakness in the remaining Internet-facing assets before the company, they can still cause harm by installing malware and extortion or creating data breaches. Many tools provide real-time attack surface analysis. Companies can use these tools for vulnerability management.



How to identify Unknown Assets?


It is very difficult to identify unknown assets as these are the assets that cannot be seen but can be a cause of big harm to the company. This blog written by coal fire states that to identify unknown assets, one must understand their environment. 


As new risks arise regularly, the ASM platform focuses the digital footprint by providing a prioritized view of all external-facing assets. Security teams can make educated strategic decisions that highlight the most serious risks to the company by analyzing their organization's risk posture.


Importance of Attack Surface Management:


We have discussed various types of attack surfaces till now. But it is also essential to learn its importance. It aids in the prevention and mitigation of hazards resulting from:


  • Assets from legacy, IoT, and shadow IT

  • Phishing and data breaches are examples of human errors and omissions.

  • Software that is vulnerable and out-of-date

  • The open-source software that is unknown (OSS)

  • Attacks against your industry on a large scale

  • Cyber assaults on your company that are specifically aimed at businesses

  • Infringement against intellectual property

  • IT inherited as a result of mergers and acquisitions

  • Assets handled by the vendor


(Suggested reading: What are Encrypting Viruses?)



Process of Attack Surface Management:


There are a few steps involved in attack surface management. The process of Attack surface management is discussed below:


  1. Discovery of Digital Assets:


There are vast quantities of digital assets in every organization, and the majority of them might be owned or controlled by the organization as well as third-party providers such as cloud providers, IaaS and SaaS, business partners, suppliers, or external contractors. 


The identification of all Internet-facing digital assets that hold or handle a company's sensitive data, such as PII, PHI, and trade secrets, is the first stage of any attack surface control system.


Following the completion of asset discovery, IT asset inventory should begin. 


This section of the exercise entails dispatching and tagging assets based on their kind, technical traits, and attributes, business criticality, compliance needs, or owner. It is critical to have someone or a team in charge of frequent asset maintenance, upgrades, and protection.



  1. Risk Scoring and Security ratings:


Without meaningful risk grading and security ratings, managing the attack surface would be difficult. Many businesses have hundreds, if not millions, of changing digital assets. 


It can be difficult to identify what security vulnerabilities each asset has and whether they are exposing information that could result in data breaches, data leaks, or other cyber assaults without security rating software.


It can be difficult to identify what security vulnerabilities each asset has and whether they are exposing information that could result in data breaches, data leaks, or other cyber assaults without security rating software. 


This is why digital assets must be continually identified, scanned, and evaluated to determine which risks must be minimized and prioritized.


(Must read: Best data security practices)



  1. Security Monitoring:


One of the most critical components of an attack management solution is continuous security monitoring. Misconfiguration and vulnerability management are more challenging than ever before, thanks to the growing use of open-source software, SaaS, IaaS, and outsourcing.


Any decent attack surface management software will monitor all assets 24 hours a day, seven days a week for newly identified security vulnerabilities, flaws, misconfiguration, and compliance concerns. 


The Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) is used for security monitoring. This is a published standard created to capture the primary features of a vulnerability and provide a numerical score between 0 and 10 to represent its severity.


(Must catch: Information Security vs Cyber Security)



  1. Incident Monitoring:


It is critical to recognize that the new threat landscape includes harmful or rogue assets deployed by cybercriminals, rivals, or just neglected assets in addition to legal IT assets.


This might include spear-phishing websites, email spoofing, OPSEC failures on social networking platforms such as LinkedIn, ransomware, cyber squatted or typo squatted domain names, or a slew of other cyber dangers.


Sensitive data, personally identifiable information, protected health information, biometrics, psychographics, passwords, and trade secrets are increasingly being exposed to the dark web as a result of prior data breaches or ongoing data dumps.




Many of today's data leaks and hacks are the result of simple security flaws rather than complex exploits. Users and organizations may keep sensitive data organized, protected, and secure against theft and outside assaults by using proper cyber hygiene practices and measures.


Understanding existing exposures is the first step toward reducing your attack surface. Having a thorough approach for detecting, monitoring, and controlling your attack surface assists businesses in avoiding the most prevalent cybersecurity dangers that enterprises face today.


This article is an introductory blog of Attack Surface Management where we learn about various attack surfaces of any business, the process, and the importance of attack surface management.

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