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What is attack surface management and how does it work?

Read our blog to discover what attack surface management is, why it’s important in cybersecurity & why organizations need our OOC platform.

attack surface management

Hackers will use any attack vector they can to infiltrate your system. They’ll even try several points simultaneously – some more vital than others. But how can you ensure you tackle all threats effectively? You’ll need to get your priorities in order. The first task on your to-do list: to find an attack surface management platform that meets your organization’s needs.

This blog will cover:

  • What is attack surface management? 
  • Types of attack surface management 
  • How does attack surface management work?
  • Why is attack surface management important?
  • Attack surface management best practices
  • Incident response and attack surface management
  • Challenges of attack surface management
  • How can organizations overcome these challenges?
  • Attack surface management future trends
  • CovertSwarm’s attack surface management platform

What is attack surface management?

Attack Surface Management (ASM) refers to the practice of identifying, assessing, and managing an organization’s digital attack surface. The attack surface encompasses all the points, both known and unknown, where an attacker could potentially exploit vulnerabilities to compromise an organization’s security. It involves monitoring and reducing this attack surface to close the cyber risk gap.

However, attack surface management is not to be confused with attack surface monitoring. Although they both relate to an organization’s digital attack surface, they differ in scope and focus.

The former focuses on the entire lifecycle of identifying, assessing, and managing an organization’s attack surface while emphasizing proactive risk reduction. The latter encompasses real time monitoring and alerting for potential threats within the existing attack surface, offering continuous visibility and a swift response time.

Overall, attack surface management plays a pivotal role in risk reduction. It identifies vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and potential attack vectors, enabling organizations to prioritize and mitigate these risks proactively.

 As you minimize the window of opportunity for cyber threats, you reduce the likelihood of successful attacks and enhance an organization’s security posture.  

Types of attack surface management

Organizations vary in size and structure. Therefore, different types of attack surface management are designed to address specific cybersecurity challenges. For instance:

External attack surface management

External attack surface management is primarily concerned with public-facing components of an organization. This encompasses assets like web servers, external-facing applications, domain names, DNS records, SSL certificates, and third-party services integrated with the external network.

The primary objective of external attack surface management is to mitigate the risk posed by external cyber threats. It discovers vulnerabilities, ensures secure configurations, and continually monitors for unauthorized changes or emerging threats. External attack surface management is essential for protecting public-facing assets, securing customer data, and upholding the organization’s reputation.

Internal attack surface management 

Internal attack surface management focuses on an organization’s internal assets that may not be directly accessible from the public internet but are integral to overall security. This includes internal servers, databases, employee workstations, IoT devices, and configurations of the internal network.

The primary goal of internal attack surface management is to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and potential insider threats within the internal network. This approach safeguards sensitive data, prevents lateral movement by potential attackers, and maintains the integrity of internal systems and data.

Cloud attack surface management

Cloud attack surface management is tailored to assets and services hosted within cloud environments like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform (GCP). It encompasses cloud instances, containers, serverless functions, cloud storage, API gateways, and cloud security configurations.

The aim of cloud attack surface management is to ensure that cloud resources are configured securely, following best practices, and that vulnerabilities or misconfigurations are promptly addressed. It helps organizations reduce the risk of cloud-based threats and data breaches, thereby protecting their infrastructure and sensitive information.

How does attack surface management work?

Attack surface management works by systematically identifying, analyzing, and managing an organization’s attack surface to enhance cybersecurity.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how ASM typically operates:

  1. Discovery: identifying all assets, systems, applications, and network components within an organization’s environment, including those that may not be well-documented or easily visible.
  2. Asset profiling: creating detailed profiles for each asset, including information on vulnerabilities, configurations, and potential attack vectors.
  3. Risk assessment: evaluating the security risks associated with each asset and prioritizing them based on severity and potential impact.
  4. Vulnerability management: continuously scanning and assessing assets for vulnerabilities, then remediating or mitigating these vulnerabilities to reduce risk.
  5. Configuration management: ensuring that all assets are configured securely and following best practices to minimize potential weaknesses.
  6. Monitoring: regularly monitoring the attack surface for changes, new assets, or emerging threats, and responding to them promptly.
  7. Reporting: providing stakeholders with clear and actionable insights into the organization’s attack surface, vulnerabilities, and risk posture.

Why is attack surface management important?

Attack surface management forms an essential part of maintaining a strong security posture. It helps with:

  • Risk reduction: ASM identifies vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and potential attack vectors within an organization’s attack surface. By addressing issues proactively, it reduces the risk of cyberattacks and security breaches.
  • Enhanced security posture: ASM helps maintain a strong security posture by ensuring assets are configured securely, patches are applied promptly, and security policies are followed.
  • Threat visibility: continuous monitoring provided by ASM offers real-time visibility into changes and emerging threats, enabling organizations to respond quickly. 
  • Compliance: ASM helps organizations comply with regulatory frameworks and industry standards by maintaining a secure attack surface.
  • Resource efficiency: ASM allows organizations to allocate resources effectively by prioritizing the mitigation of critical vulnerabilities and security risks.
  • Brand protection: by reducing the attack surface, it safeguards an organization’s reputation and customer trust. 
  • Insider threat detection: ASM helps detect and prevent insider threats by monitoring for unauthorized changes or suspicious activities. 
  • Cloud security: with the rise of cloud computing, cloud ASM is essential for securing cloud-hosted assets and ensuring compliance. 

Attack surface management best practices

If you want to reduce as many cybersecurity risks as possible, here are some best attack surface management practices you should follow:

  • Regular asset discovery: continuously scan and identify all assets within your organization’s attack surface, including those that may have been overlooked.
  • Vulnerability assessment: conduct thorough vulnerability assessments to identify and prioritize security weaknesses.
  • Configuration management: ensure all assets are configured securely, following industry best practices and security standards.
  • Patch management: implement a robust patch management process to promptly address software vulnerabilities.
  • Access control: enforce the principle of least privilege (PoLP) to restrict user and system access to only what is necessary for their roles.
  • Network segmentation: segment networks to isolate critical assets, limiting lateral movement in case of a breach.
  • Incident response plan: develop and regularly test an incident response plan to efficiently address security incidents when they occur.
  • Third-party risk assessment: assess the security of third-party vendors and service providers to ensure they do not introduce vulnerabilities into your ecosystem.
  • Employee training: provide security awareness training to employees to help them recognize and respond to potential threats.
  • Monitor and audit: continuously monitor and audit your attack surface for changes and anomalies. 
  • Remove unnecessary services and applications: declutter your IT environment by decommissioning services, applications, or software components that are no longer needed. 

Incident response and attack surface management

Attack surface management plays an important part in incident response by detecting vulnerabilities proactively and responding to emerging threats swiftly. When attacks target exposed surfaces, real-time visibility allows for rapid detection and immediate response.

As such, it enhances an organization’s ability to contain and mitigate security incidents effectively. By reducing the attack surface through secure configurations and timely patching, attack surface management also minimizes the potential impact of attacks, contributing significantly to incident response preparedness and success.

Challenges of attack surface management

While your cybersecurity measures may be highly efficient and comprehensive, you may still encounter some attack surface management challenges, such as:

  • Complexity: with organizations using a multitude of assets and services, identifying and monitoring the complete attack surface can be complex and time-consuming.
  • Scalability: as organizations grow, so does their attack surface. ASM tools must scale efficiently to accommodate these changes.
  • Dynamic environments: cloud computing, IoT, and DevOps practices introduce rapid changes to the attack surface, making real-time monitoring and response critical.
  • Visibility gaps: certain assets and configurations may be challenging to discover, leaving blind spots in the attack surface.
  • Resource allocation: prioritizing vulnerabilities and addressing the most critical ones within limited resources can be a challenge. 
  • Integration: attack surface management tools must integrate seamlessly with existing security solutions to provide a holistic view of the attack surface.
  • Security fatigue: a high volume of alerts can overwhelm security teams, making it difficult to distinguish genuine threats from false positives.
  • Compliance: meeting regulatory requirements for attack surface monitoring and vulnerability management can be complex and resource intensive.
  • Data protection: protecting sensitive data collected during ASM, such as asset configurations, requires robust security measures.
  • Employee training: ensuring that security teams have the skills and knowledge to effectively utilize ASM tools and respond to emerging threats is essential.

How can organizations overcome these challenges?

So, how can organizations overcome these strategies? We recommend you implement the following strategies: 

  • Automation: embrace automated ASM solutions to streamline discovery, reduce human error, and make it easier to keep up with dynamic environments. 
  • Continuous training: provide ongoing training to ensure they’re up to date with best practices. 
  • Asset inventory: regularly catalog assets and configurations to minimize visibility gaps.
  • Scalable solutions: choose attack surface management tools that will easily scale with the organization’s growth. 
  • Advanced analytics: leverage advanced analytics and machine learning to analyze ASM data and identify emerging threats and trends.
  • Collaboration: foster cross-functional collaboration between IT, security, and development teams to streamline the remediation of vulnerabilities. 
  • Regular audits: conduct periodic audits to ensure your attack surface management aligns with evolving security needs and industry best practices.
  • Risk-based approach: prioritize efforts based on risk assessments, focusing on critical assets and configurations.

Attack surface management future trends

Attack surface management tools will continue to evolve to adapt to the changing digital landscape. Here are just a few trends you can expect to see: 

Integration with threat intelligence platforms

Attack surface management is integrating with threat intelligence platforms to provide a more contextual and proactive view of the attack surface. This integration helps organizations align attack surface management efforts with emerging threats, prioritize vulnerabilities based on real-time threat data, and enhance incident response capabilities.

Role of AI and machine learning

AI and machine learning are set to play a pivotal role in attack surface management by automating the analysis of vast datasets and identifying patterns indicative of potential vulnerabilities or threats. These technologies will enable attack surface management tools to predict emerging attack vectors and recommend proactive measures, significantly enhancing efficiency and effectiveness. 

Evolution of attack surface management techniques

Attack surface management techniques will become more versatile, supporting comprehensive coverage of hybrid environments that include on-premises, cloud, and IoT assets. Additionally, they will become more context-aware by considering business-criticality and asset dependencies in vulnerability prioritization.

Real-time attack surface monitoring

The demand for real-time attack surface monitoring will rise. Attack surface management solutions will focus on providing continuous, dynamic visibility into the attack surface. The real-time alerts will allow organizations to respond rapidly to emerging threats and vulnerabilities.

Enhanced reporting and visualization

Future attack surface management tools will offer more advanced reporting and visualization capabilities. This will enable security teams and decision-makers to gain actionable insights more easily, which, in turn, will help inform decisions and demonstrate the value of attack surface management efforts to stakeholders.

CovertSwarm’s attack surface management platform

Outpacing cyber threats begins with adopting an attack surface management platform specifically built for the reality of modern cybersecurity. That’s exactly what our Offensive Operation Center aims to deliver. How? We offer:

  • Automated attack surface reconnaissance
  • Attack surface change monitoring and alerting
  • Dark web domain monitoring
  • Breached credential discovery and alerting
  • Asset discovery
  • Direct integration with dedicated ethical hackers
  • Slack and Jira integration
  • Rolling 30 day contract with 10% annual discount offer

Still asking yourself why it’s an indispensable tool in any cybersecurity arsenal?

With our platform, you can monitor threats in real-time and direct a dedicated team of ethical hackers to any suspected weak areas of your business.

Or if you’d prefer, let them roam free and compromise you just like a real attacker would. You’re in control. 

Final thoughts

As organizations grow, their attack surface evolves alongside it, and it can be difficult to keep up. If you want to outpace modern hackers and minimize your attack surface, you’ll need a platform that monitors, alerts, and eliminates all potential threats before they have the chance to materialize.

Want to subscribe to peace of mind? Experience the only attack surface management platform built by ethical hackers – the Offensive Operation Center. Access the OOC from anywhere, at any time, and gain a complete picture of your constantly evolving attack surface. If you have any further questions about attack surface management, contact the Swarm today.