What Is Attack Surface Management?

Attack Surface Management (ASM) is a proactive approach that continuously discovers, inventories, classifies, and monitors an organisation’s IT infrastructure.

Unlike traditional asset management, ASM examines the system from an attacker’s viewpoint to secure all exposed IT assets, including those within the organisation, accessible via the internet, and within supplier networks.

Businesses can benefit from ASM by reducing their attack surface and addressing vulnerabilities more effectively. By maintaining real-time analysis and focusing on potential attack vectors, ASM helps protect digital assets and prevent security breaches.


What Is An Attack Surface?


The attack surface encompasses all possible points, or vectors, where an unauthorised user can access a system and extract data. A smaller attack surface is easier to protect, making it crucial for organisations to constantly monitor and minimise these points to reduce the risk of cyberattacks. The attack surface is divided into digital and physical categories.


The Digital Attack Surface

The digital attack surface includes all hardware and software connected to an organisation’s network. This covers applications, code, ports, servers, and websites, as well as shadow IT, where unauthorised applications or devices are used without IT approval.


The Physical Attack Surface

The physical attack surface comprises endpoint devices such as desktop computers, hard drives, laptops, mobile phones, and USB drives. Threats include discarded hardware with sensitive data, written passwords, and physical break-ins. Organisations can protect this surface through access control, surveillance, and disaster recovery policies.


What Are Attack Vectors?


Attack vectors are the methods cyber criminals use to breach systems. They are distinct from the attack surface but are closely related. Critical attack vectors include:

Phishing: Phishing is a form of deceptive communication that trick victims into giving up information.
Malware: Malware is malicious software that compromises devices and networks.
Compromised Passwords: Weak or reused passwords that can be easily exploited.
Encryption Issues: Poor encryption practices that expose sensitive data.
Unpatched Software: Vulnerabilities in systems that haven’t been updated.


Common Vulnerabilities Within The Attack Surface


Vulnerabilities within an attack surface can lead to data breaches. These include weak passwords, lack of email security, open ports, unpatched software, and weak web-based protocols. Each represents an opportunity for attackers to exploit and access sensitive information.

Minimising the attack surface and addressing vulnerabilities are essential to protect an organisation’s digital and physical assets. Continuous monitoring and updating security measures can significantly reduce the risk of cyber threats.


What Is Attack Surface Management?


Attack Surface Management (ASM) is a proactive cybersecurity approach that involves continuously discovering, inventorying, classifying, and monitoring an organisation’s IT infrastructure.

Unlike traditional asset management, ASM examines the system from an attacker’s perspective, aiming to secure all exposed IT assets, including those within the organisation, those accessible via the internet, and those within supplier networks.

ASM covers secure and insecure assets, known and unknown assets, shadow IT (unauthorised applications or devices), active and inactive assets, managed and unmanaged devices, hardware and software, SaaS, cloud resources, IoT devices, and vendor-managed assets.


Why Do Businesses Need Attack Surface Management?


The attack surface of any organisation is extensive and constantly evolving, particularly with the rise of remote work and cloud computing. This makes securing the attack surface critical, yet challenging, as assets and their associated risks change frequently.

Hackers use automated tools to scan for vulnerabilities, making it imperative for security teams to have complete visibility and continuous monitoring of all potential entry points.

By implementing ASM, businesses can identify high-risk areas for vulnerability testing, detect changes and new attack vectors, determine which users can access specific parts of the system, and decrease targeted cyberattacks.


How Does Attack Surface Management Work?


Attack Surface Management involves a structured approach of discovering assets, analysing vulnerabilities, prioritising risks, and implementing remediation to enhance an organisation’s overall security posture.


1. Asset Discovery

Asset discovery involves identifying all IT assets that an organisation uses. This includes mapping digital, physical, and external assets, shared networks, and social media entry points.

It also encompasses unknown assets, such as unauthorised software and hardware, personal devices used for business, and orphaned assets that are no longer in use but haven’t been discarded.

This step provides real-time visibility into devices, networks, and systems. Modern ASM solutions automate asset discovery to maintain an up-to-date inventory.


2. Vulnerability Analysis

Once assets are identified, the next step is creating an inventory and categorising them. Key information includes asset ownership, IP addresses, usage purpose, connections, and installed software.

This data helps assess the cyber risks associated with each asset. Continuous monitoring and testing keep this inventory current. Vulnerability analysis then identifies potential weaknesses, such as open network ports, misconfigurations, missing patches, exposed passwords, and coding errors.

Understanding these vulnerabilities helps determine the types of attacks that could exploit them, like DDoS or phishing.


3. Risk Prioritisation

After identifying vulnerabilities, the next step is prioritising them for remediation. Not all vulnerabilities carry the same risk or urgency, so it’s crucial to address the most critical ones first.

Modern ASM solutions use factors such as the complexity of remediation, the attacker’s priorities, ease of exploitation, and whether the asset has been previously exploited. These factors help calculate security and risk scores, guiding the order of remediation efforts.


4. Remediation

Finally, once risks are prioritised, remedial actions are implemented to fix the identified issues. A comprehensive ASM system facilitates the transfer of information to security operations teams, enabling timely and effective remediation.

With clear and essential information, addressing vulnerabilities becomes more manageable and efficient.


How Does Attack Surface Management Benefit Businesses?


ASM shifts the security focus from a defensive to an offensive mindset, allowing security teams to prioritise areas of the attack surface that are most vulnerable. This approach is more comprehensive than traditional methods like penetration testing, which often occur in controlled environments and may overlook emerging vulnerabilities.

Key benefits of ASM include continuous mapping and monitoring of the attack surface, quick identification and shutdown of shadow IT assets, orphaned applications, and exposed databases, and enhanced vulnerability management, covering weak passwords, outdated software, encryption issues, and misconfigurations.


How Can Businesses Reduce Their Attack Surface?


Businesses can reduce their attack surface by following these five steps, which help limit opportunities for cybercriminals amidst increasingly complex infrastructures.


Implement Zero-Trust Policies

Firstly, implementing zero-trust policies is crucial. This security model ensures that only authorised individuals have the appropriate level of access to necessary resources at the right time. By enforcing strict access controls, organisations can minimise entry points and strengthen their overall security.


Simplify Systems and Software

Secondly, eliminating unnecessary complexity is vital. Complex systems can lead to management errors and policy oversights, allowing cybercriminals to exploit these weaknesses. Organisations should disable unused software and devices and reduce the number of endpoints to simplify their networks. This minimises the attack surface available to hackers.


Regularly Scan For Vulnerabilities

Thirdly, regular vulnerability scans are essential. Conducting frequent network scans and analysis helps organisations quickly identify and address potential issues. Full visibility of the attack surface is necessary to prevent vulnerabilities in both cloud and on-premises networks and ensure that only authorised devices can access them.


Segment Networks

Fourthly, network segmentation is an effective strategy. By dividing the network into smaller segments using tools like firewalls and techniques like microsegmentation, organisations can create barriers that block attackers and reduce the overall attack surface.


Train Employees

Lastly, employee training is key. Employees are the first line of defence against cyberattacks. Regular cybersecurity awareness training helps them understand best practices and recognise signs of attacks, such as phishing emails and social engineering attempts.


Key Features of ASM Software Solutions


Automated Attack Surface Management (ASM) software is crucial for managing cybersecurity tasks efficiently. These solutions automate asset monitoring, discovery, inventory formulation, vulnerability identification, risk scoring, security ratings, and remediation.

A strong ASM software provides a comprehensive view of an organisation’s attack surface, including hybrid and multi-cloud environments like AWS, GCP, and Microsoft Azure. It generates AI-driven reports and insights into the organisation’s overall security posture, enhancing decision-making.

Additionally, ASM software tracks vulnerabilities in third-party or vendor-supplied software and offers insights into their security practices. It automates the discovery and monitoring of assets, including shadow IT, which may be overlooked.

Compliance monitoring is another essential feature, helping organisations adhere to data privacy and security regulations by identifying compliance issues and providing alerts for breaches. Furthermore, ASM solutions integrate with other security software, offering a holistic cybersecurity strategy.

Understanding these capabilities helps businesses choose the right ASM software to meet their specific needs.


The Difference Between ASM and Vulnerability Management


The goal of Attack Surface Management is to discover and map all of an organisation’s digital assets and services. By understanding how these assets interconnect, ASM helps minimise exposure to attacks, thus reducing the overall attack surface.

This approach is comprehensive, covering both hardware and software, and involves identifying both known and unknown assets to close potential attack paths.

Vulnerability management, on the other hand, is more focused. It uses automated tools to identify, prioritise, and remediate known vulnerabilities in specific applications or network services. This process usually involves updating or patching software to fix identified issues.


ASM and Vulnerability Management As Complementary Approaches

While ASM is about understanding and securing the entire infrastructure, vulnerability management targets specific vulnerabilities within it. Both approaches should be used together to enhance an organisation’s overall security. ASM works to minimise and harden the attack surface, while vulnerability management addresses and decreases specific vulnerabilities.

In conclusion, Attack Surface Management is essential for modern cybersecurity, offering a comprehensive and automated way to manage and decrease risks. By maintaining real-time analysis and focusing on potential attack vectors, ASM helps prevent security breaches and ensures the protection of digital assets. This enables businesses to stay ahead of attackers and protect their operations.