The State of External Attack Surface Management

Cybersecurity adores fancy words and buzz…, and you’re in for another joy – ASM, DRP, EASM, CAASM.

This blog post provides additional information on the state of external attack surface management, and it’s related tools and technologies.

Why the External Attack Surface Management is so essential for many organizations? Here is the State of the External Attack Surface.

As we know, External Attack Surface Management (EASM) is a proactive approach to identifying and reducing the exposure of an organization’s digital assets to cyber threats. EASM involves continuously monitoring and mapping the external-facing assets of an organization, such as domains, IP addresses, web applications, cloud services, and IoT devices, and assessing their security posture and vulnerabilities.

EASM is becoming more critical as organizations expand their digital footprint and face more sophisticated and targeted attacks from cybercriminals, nation-state actors, and hacktivists. EASM helps organizations discover unknown or forgotten assets, prioritize their remediation efforts, and prevent data breaches and compliance violations.

EASM is not a one-time activity but a continuous process that requires collaboration between different teams and stakeholders. EASM also involves using advanced tools and techniques, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, threat intelligence, and automation, to cope with the dynamic and complex nature of the external attack surface.

EASM is a critical component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that can help organizations to protect their reputation, customer trust, and bottom line.

The areas of an Attack Surface

An attack surface is the number of all possible points where an unauthorized user can access a system and extract data. The smaller the attack surface, the easier it is to protect. Security experts divide the attack surface into three sub-surfaces:

The Digital Attack Surface includes all the hardware and software that connect to an organization’s network, such as applications, code, ports, servers, and websites. It also provides shadow IT, which refers to unauthorized applications or devices users use.

The Physical Attack Surface consists of all endpoint devices that an attacker can access, such as desktop computers, hard drives, laptops, mobile phones, and USB drives. It also includes discarded hardware that contains user data and login credentials, written passwords, and physical break-ins.

The Social Engineering Attack Surface involves human users who can be tricked or manipulated into giving up valuable information or access. For example, phishing attacks use fake emails or websites to lure users into clicking malicious links or attachments.

Organizations must constantly monitor and minimize their attack surface to identify and block potential threats as quickly as possible. They also must implement and test security policies and procedures to protect their systems and data from cyberattacks.

The 5 Steps of an Attack Surface Management Strategy

Attack surface management (ASM) is a proactive approach to cybersecurity that helps organizations identify and reduce their exposure to cyber threats. ASM involves continuously discovering, analyzing, prioritizing, and remediating vulnerabilities and risks across all IT assets, both internal and external, from the perspective of an attacker.

Here are the five steps of an effective ASM strategy:

  • Discover – Use automated tools and ethical hacking techniques to scan your network and find all your IT assets, including unknown, unmanaged, or rogue ones.
  • Analyze – Assess the security posture of each asset and identify any vulnerabilities, misconfiguration, or exposures that hackers could exploit.
  • Prioritize – Rank the assets and vulnerabilities based on their criticality, impact, and likelihood of exploitation, and align them with your business objectives and risk appetite.
  • Remediate – Implement appropriate actions to fix or mitigate the vulnerabilities and risks, such as patching, updating, hardening, or isolating the assets.
  • Monitor – Continuously track and verify the status of your assets and vulnerabilities, and update your ASM strategy as your attack surface evolves over time.

These steps can improve your visibility and control over your attack surface, reduce attack vectors and enhance your overall security posture.

ASM is comprehensive and applies several activities, including vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, red teaming, configuration management, threat modeling, and continuous monitoring. It requires a multidisciplinary approach involving IT professionals, security experts, and risk management teams.

Tools and Technologies

Digital Risk Protection Services (DRPs) help organizations monitor and mitigate the risks of their online exposure. DRPs can scan the web for data leaks, brand impersonation, phishing attempts, fake reviews, and other threats that can harm the reputation and security of a business. By using DRPs, organizations can proactively protect their digital assets and respond quickly to any incidents that may arise.

A DRPS aims to:

  • Facilitate the achievement of business outcomes.
  • Protect all external-facing boundaries of a business’s ecosystem.
  • Facilitate unmitigated access to all digital technology.

Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management (CAASM) is a new technology that helps IT and security teams monitor and secure their cyber assets. Cyber assets are the hardware, software, and data stored across the network. They can be vulnerable to cyber attacks if not properly managed and protected.

CAASM solutions scan the network and discover all the cyber assets, including those outside the traditional perimeter, such as cloud, mobile, and IoT devices. They also classify the assets and identify vulnerabilities, such as outdated software, misconfigurations, and weak passwords. By doing so, CAASM solutions provide a unified view of the cyber asset inventory and the attack surface.

CAASM solutions also prioritize the most critical threats and suggest remediation actions to reduce the risk of breaches. They enable IT and security teams to automate and streamline their asset management and security processes, improving efficiency and compliance.

External Attack Surface Management (EASM) is a proactive approach to securing your online assets and reducing cyberattack exposure. EASM helps you discover, monitor, and prioritize vulnerabilities and misconfigurations in your internet-facing resources, such as cloud services, web applications, and third-party dependencies. By using EASM, you can gain a comprehensive and accurate view of your external attack surface, identify unknown and unmanaged resources, and remediate the most critical issues before they are exploited by adversaries. EASM can also help you comply with regulatory requirements and industry standards for cybersecurity.

A high-level comparison and use cases for DRP, ESAM, and CAASM.

Digital Risk Protection Services Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management External Attack Surface Management
Definition Services that help organizations identify, monitor, and mitigate digital risks to their brand, assets, and customers across the digital landscape. Processes and tools are used to identify, track, and manage the attack surface of an organization’s digital assets, including networks, systems, applications, and devices. Techniques and tools employed to identify and manage an organization’s external attack surface, including publicly accessible systems, assets, and vulnerabilities.
Scope Focused on monitoring and protecting an organization’s digital presence, brand reputation, customer data, and online assets. Concentrated on understanding and managing an organization’s digital assets and vulnerabilities, including internal and external systems. Concentrated on identifying and managing the publicly exposed systems and assets that are potential entry points for attackers.
Key Features Brand monitoring, threat intelligence, social media monitoring, data leak detection, online fraud detection, and dark web monitoring. Asset discovery, vulnerability assessment, patch management, configuration, and penetration testing. Attack surface mapping, asset enumeration, vulnerability scanning, open-source intelligence (OSINT), reconnaissance, and threat intelligence.
Benefits Protects against brand impersonation, data leaks, online fraud, and reputational damage. Identifies and mitigates vulnerabilities in an organization’s digital assets, reducing the attack surface. Helps to identify and close security gaps in publicly exposed systems, reducing the risk of external attacks.
Focus Broad focus on digital risk protection and safeguarding an organization’s online presence and brand reputation. Focuses on managing and securing the internal assets and systems of an organization. Focuses on the publicly accessible systems and assets that can be targeted by external attackers.
Use Cases Protecting brand reputation, detecting online threats, preventing breaches, and securing customer data. Identifying network, system, application, and device vulnerabilities and managing patching and configuration. Identifying and mitigating risks associated with publicly exposed systems, reducing the attack surface.

Source: Gartner.

Offensive Security and Defender EASM Strategy

By incorporating offensive security techniques into attack surface management, organizations can proactively identify and address security weaknesses before malicious actors exploit them. Here are a few ways offensive security can be beneficial in external attack surface management:

  • Vulnerability Assessment: Offensive security activities, such as vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, can help identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in external systems. By conducting comprehensive assessments, organizations can gain insights into potential entry points and prioritize remediation efforts.
  • Reducing Exploitable Gaps: Offensive security measures can help identify exploitable gaps in an organization’s external defenses. By simulating real-world attacks, ethical hackers can attempt to exploit vulnerabilities and provide detailed reports on the findings. This allows organizations to understand the impact of potential attacks and take proactive measures to address them.
  • Security Awareness and Training: Offensive security exercises can raise security awareness among employees and stakeholders. By experiencing simulated attacks, individuals can understand the potential risks and adopt security best practices. This helps create a culture of security within the organization and reduces the likelihood of successful external attacks.
  • Security Controls Validation: Offensive security assessments help evaluate the effectiveness of existing security controls. Organizations can identify weaknesses by bypassing these controls and refining their defense mechanisms accordingly. This ensures that security controls are correctly configured and adequately protected against external threats.
  • Incident Response Planning: Offensive security activities can assist in planning and preparedness. By simulating attacks, organizations can test their incident response capabilities, identify gaps, and refine their response procedures. This enables a more effective and coordinated response in the event of an actual attack.

It is important to note that offensive security activities should always be conducted ethically and with proper authorization. Engaging qualified and experienced professionals, such as certified ethical hackers, is crucial to ensure that security assessments are controlled and responsible.

In conclusion, offensive security as part of the external attack surface management provides organizations with valuable insights into their security posture, helps identify vulnerabilities, and enables proactive measures to protect against external threats. By incorporating offensive security practices, organizations can enhance their overall security posture and reduce the risk of successful external attacks.

Defender EASM Mindset

Adopting a proper mindset regarding EASM can help organizations manage their attack surface effectively and reduce the risk of external threats. Here are some critical aspects of the mentality for EASM:

  • Proactive Approach: EASM requires a proactive rather than reactive mindset. Instead of waiting for a security breach or incident to occur, organizations should take a proactive stance by continuously monitoring and assessing their external attack surface for vulnerabilities and risks. Regularly scan and test systems, applications, and network infrastructure to identify potential weaknesses before exploiting them.
  • Comprehensive Understanding: Develop a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s external attack surface. This includes identifying all publicly accessible systems, networks, applications, and assets that adversaries may target. Maintain an up-to-date inventory of your organization’s external-facing assets and regularly review and update it as new systems or assets are added or decommissioned.
  • Risk-Based Approach: Prioritize efforts based on risk. Not all vulnerabilities or weaknesses pose the same level of risk to your organization. Develop a risk-based approach to EASM, focusing on vulnerabilities that are most likely to be exploited and have the highest potential impact. Allocate resources and prioritize mitigation efforts accordingly.
  • Collaboration and Communication: Foster a culture of collaboration and communication within the organization. EASM requires coordination across different teams, including IT, security, operations, and development. Encourage sharing information and insights, ensuring relevant stakeholders are involved in the EASM process. Establish effective channels for reporting and addressing vulnerabilities or suspicious activities.
  • Continuous Monitoring: Implement continuous monitoring practices to ensure the external attack surface is constantly monitored for changes, vulnerabilities, or emerging threats. Regularly review logs, analyze network traffic, and conduct penetration testing to promptly identify and address potential weaknesses. Leverage automated tools and technologies to assist in monitoring and alerting.
  • Regular Patching and Updates: Maintain a rigorous patch management process for all external-facing systems and applications. Regularly apply security patches, updates, and configurations to mitigate known vulnerabilities. Stay informed about security advisories and alerts related to the software and hardware used in your organization.
  • Employee Awareness and Training: Educate and train employees about the importance of EASM and their role in maintaining a secure external attack surface. Foster a security-conscious culture where employees are aware of potential risks and are encouraged to report any suspicious activities or vulnerabilities.
  • Third-Party Risk Management: Assess the security posture of third-party vendors and partners with access to your external attack surface. Establish clear security requirements and standards for third parties and regularly evaluate their compliance. Ensure that contracts and agreements with third parties include provisions for EASM and security responsibilities.
  • Incident Response Readiness: Be prepared to respond to security incidents arising from external threats. Develop an incident response plan that outlines the steps to be taken in the event of an attack or breach. Regularly test and update the plan, and conduct drills and simulations to ensure that relevant personnel are familiar with their roles and responsibilities during a security incident.
  • Continuous Improvement: EASM is an ongoing process that requires continuous improvement. Regularly review and refine your EASM strategies and tactics to adapt to the evolving threat landscape. Stay updated on the latest security threats, attack techniques, and industry best practices.

By adopting this mindset and integrating EASM practices into the organization’s cybersecurity framework, businesses can effectively manage their external attack surface and reduce the likelihood and impact of successful external attacks.

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