What is an attack surface ?
An attack surface refers to all the points, interfaces, and avenues through which an attacker can try to enter or extract information from a system, network, or application. It represents the sum total of vulnerabilities and entry points that could potentially be exploited by a threat actor or hacker to carry out a cyber attack.
- Software: Includes applications, operating systems, and software dependencies. Vulnerabilities within software, whether known or unknown, create opportunities for exploitation.
- Network Interfaces: Encompasses network devices, ports, protocols, and services. Open ports or poorly configured network interfaces can be entry points for attackers.
- Web Applications: Websites, web services, and web-based platforms. Vulnerabilities in web applications can be targeted to gain unauthorized access or compromise sensitive data.
- Hardware Devices: Physical devices connected to a network, such as IoT devices, servers, routers, and other hardware components, can introduce vulnerabilities if not adequately secured.
- Endpoints: Refers to devices (computers, smartphones, tablets) that connect to a network. Each endpoint presents a potential entry point for attackers if not properly protected.
- Human Factors: Human users are often targeted through social engineering, phishing attacks, or other methods. Human error or negligence can also contribute to the attack surface.
- Third-Party Services or Integrations: Dependencies on external services or integrations may introduce vulnerabilities if those services lack proper security measures.
- Cloud Infrastructure: Components of cloud-based systems, including configurations, access controls, and data storage, contribute to the attack surface if improperly configured or secured.
What is Attack Surface Management?
Attack surface management (ASM) refers to the continuous process of identifying, assessing, and managing the various points (or surfaces) where an organization's systems, applications, networks, and assets are vulnerable to potential cyber threats and attacks. The attack surface encompasses all the entry points, vulnerabilities, and potential weak spots that threat actors could exploit to gain unauthorized access or compromise systems.
1. Asset discovery
Asset discovery automatically and continuously scans for and identifies internet-facing hardware, software, and cloud assets that could act as entry points for a hacker or cybercriminal trying to attack an organization. These assets can include
- Known assets—all IT infrastructure and resources the organization is aware of and actively managing—routers, servers, company-issued or privately-owned devices (PCs, laptops, mobile devices), IoT devices, user directories, applications deployed on premises and in the cloud, web sites, and proprietary databases.
- Unknown assets—Unknown digital assets are the opposite: Devices, systems and applications that an organization and its security teams are unaware of and have not authorized in the network. These can include shadow IT, unauthorized devices, ransomware or unmanaged applications. Unknown assets pose a significant risk to an organization's security as they can provide potential weaknesses in cybersecurity.
- Vendor assets—assets the organization doesn’t own, but that are part of the organization's IT infrastructure or digital supply chain. These include software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, APIs, public cloud assets, or third-party services used within the organization’s web site.
- Rogue assets—assets created or stolen by threat actors to target the company. This can include a phishing website impersonating a company’s brand, or sensitive data stolen as part of a data breach being shared on the dark web.
2. Risk Assessment and Prioritization:
After identifying vulnerabilities, the next step is to assess the risks associated with each vulnerability. This involves evaluating the potential impact and likelihood of exploitation. Prioritization is crucial to focus efforts on addressing the most critical vulnerabilities that pose the highest risk to the organization.
3. Remediation Planning and Implementation:
Developing strategies and action plans to mitigate or eliminate identified vulnerabilities. This may involve applying security patches, making configuration changes, updating software versions, or implementing other security measures to reduce the attack surface.
4. Continuous Monitoring and Adaptation:
ASM is an ongoing and iterative process. Continuous monitoring involves regular scans, assessments, and updates to adapt to evolving threats and changes in the organization's IT environment. It ensures that the attack surface remains minimized and vulnerabilities are promptly addressed.
The Significance Of Attack Surface Management
- Reducing Vulnerabilities: ASM actively identifies and mitigates vulnerabilities within an organization's digital landscape. By cataloging and assessing various entry points, ASM helps in fortifying weak spots before attackers exploit them.
- Comprehensive Visibility: ASM offers a comprehensive view of an organization's attack surface, providing insights into potential risks and points of vulnerability. It helps in understanding and managing the scope of potential threats.
- Proactive Security: ASM enables organizations to take proactive measures, allowing them to stay ahead of cyber threats. By continuously monitoring and managing the attack surface, it minimizes the risk of successful cyber attacks.
- Data-Driven Decision Making: ASM tools provide actionable insights and data to support informed decision-making. This allows organizations to prioritize vulnerabilities and allocate resources effectively for remediation efforts.
How Threat Modeling Strengthens Protection
Attack surface management protects against cyberattacks by providing organizations with comprehensive views of their internal and external attack surface, including all entry points, vulnerabilities and potential attack vectors. This allows organizations to identify and address security weaknesses before attackers can exploit them. Attack surface management includes several core functions, including asset discovery, vulnerability assessment, threat modeling and risk management:
Identifying Threats Early
Threat modeling is a proactive approach that helps in identifying potential threats and attack vectors early in the development or system design stage. It allows teams to anticipate and address vulnerabilities before they are exploited.
By systematically analyzing potential threats and vulnerabilities, threat modeling assists in evaluating and mitigating risks effectively. It helps in making informed decisions to strengthen security measures.
Threat modeling follows a structured methodology, guiding teams through a systematic analysis of assets, potential threats, and the impact of vulnerabilities. This ensures a comprehensive understanding of security risks.
Attack Surface Management and Threat Modeling together form a robust defense mechanism against cyber threats. ASM minimizes vulnerabilities, while threat modeling empowers organizations to proactively anticipate and mitigate risks. By embracing these strategies, organizations bolster their cybersecurity posture, ensuring a more resilient defense against evolving threats in today's digital landscape.