attack surface assessment
"What is a digital attack surface? It is any point through which a cyber adversary can compromise a network."
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Digital Attack Surface Assessment

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For many business owners, convenience is necessary to enhance service delivery and productivity. Specifically, improved communication and work flexibility spur business growth. As a result, numerous companies have adopted digital technologies. For these purposes, digitized organizations will contribute to at least half of the global GDP by 2023. Besides, as of 2019, 70% of enterprises had implemented a digital transformation plan or were working on one.  However, increased reliance on technology has also attracted numerous security threats. Cybercriminals look to exploit the smallest flaws to steal data or maintain unauthorized network access. In addition, the more a company adopts digital innovations, the more the attack surface assessment. 

What is a digital attack surface? It is any point through which a cyber adversary can compromise a network. For example, hackers can intrude on a network by hacking laptops and smartphones connected to the network. Although digital infrastructures enable the adoption of modern business practices, they increase the risks of being attacked. For example, in some organizations, employees may use their devices for work. The devices may nevertheless be vulnerable to attacks exposing the company to data breaches.

The Digital Attack Surface is Growing

The digital attack surfaces of most businesses have expanded significantly in recent months. Needless to say, the growing attack surface is due to new work arrangements imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

RiskIQ noted an increase of 2,959,498 domain names since the pandemic began. Furthermore, the company also identified 13,222 third-party components running on corporate websites. These components are usually vulnerable to attacks.  

Additionally, digital assets inside the firewall increase daily thanks to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies. Digital infrastructure has extended from the corporate network to the internet and employee homes. Therefore, the scope and sheer breadth and depth of digital technologies requiring protection have become daunting for security teams. Thinking from a hacker’s perspective, the collection of exploitable IT assets represents the scope of an organization’s digital attack surface. 

Digital Attack Surface Assessment 

Digital attack surfaces consist of all components that can be accessed directly through the internet. They include email servers, mobile applications, and third-party services. In this regard, attackers target digital products with weak security to compromise a company. 

However, through digital surface assessment, enterprises can achieve strong cyber resiliency. Digital surface assessment is a proactive method that evaluates the weaknesses and strengths of security controls in IT assets. Essentially, digital attack surface assessment identifies security flaws and evaluates changes in all attack surfaces. Besides, digital attack surface provides a deeper understanding of security risks to digital assets and the best prevention practices.

Specifically, digital attack surface assessment is an efficient method for strengthening digital security. It is vital to preventing and mitigating security risks resulting from outdated software, human error, supply chain attacks, and targeted attacks. As such, an attack surface evaluation assists companies in answering the following fundamental questions:

  • What part of the company’s digital infrastructure is most vulnerable? What are the required cybersecurity controls to mitigate the security flaws?
  • When did or does the entire digital attack surface change?
  • Where should the organization implement defense-in-depth cybersecurity protection?
  • How can the organization reduce security risks to protect digital assets from breaches and attacks?
Attack Surface Visibility

Important Considerations for Effective Digital Attack Surface Assessment 

1.Asset Discovery

Asset discovery is one of the most vital processes in digital attack surface management. In this step, a company must discover all internet-facing digital assets that house corporate information. Asset discovery must include all company-owned digital technologies and those from third parties, including cloud services, suppliers, consultants, and business partners. Some of the digital assets an organization must map include:

  • Email servers
  • IoT devices and connected objects
  • SSL certificates and domain names
  • Network devices and cloud storage 
  • Web services, APIs, and web applications 
  • Mobile applications 

2. Digital Asset Classification and Inventory 

Once all digital assets become visible, the responsible team performs an IT asset inventory. The process involves classifying digital assets according to time and labeling them. Factors like compliance requirements, business criticality, and technical properties inform how to classify the assets. Moreover, a single person or team should be responsible for maintaining an updated inventory of digital assets. Dual or unclear responsibility may lead to the omission of some digital assets, which may cause cyber-attacks.

3. Security Ratings and Risk Scoring 

The primary role of digital attack surface management is to determine digital assets with the highest security risks and apply appropriate protection. Therefore, the assessment process can be burdensome without the risk scores of each asset. Using the digital asset inventory, a security team must perform a risk assessment on each asset. Risk assessment and management can identify the most vulnerable attack surfaces to enable prioritized mitigation. Additionally, correct risk scoring is vital for companies to sufficiently allocate the resources needed to mitigate vulnerable attack surfaces.

4. Continuous Monitoring of Digital Assets 

Now that the organization has identified and mitigated vulnerable attack surfaces, digital attack surface assessment does not stop there. Most identified vulnerabilities may be known to attackers, and monitoring ensures applied protection measures work correctly. More importantly, 24/7 monitoring of digital assets allows the detection of new vulnerabilities in real-time. With vendors competing to flood the market with their late digital innovations, new vulnerabilities emerge daily. Continuous monitoring in digital attack surface assessment ensures timely identification of security flaws that may cause an attack. Also, monitoring helps identify unacceptable user behaviors across all digital attack surfaces that may expose a company to data breaches.

5. Continuous Monitoring of Malicious Incidents and Assets 

The steps discussed above assess the digital attack surfaces of organizational assets and those operated by authorized third parties. However, it is more crucial to monitor malicious incidents and assets. Typically, cyber threats extend beyond the inventoried corporate assets since cybercriminals may deploy harmful or rouge assets. 

For example, malicious assets include fake social media accounts posing as company-operated accounts. Furthermore, increased phishing attacks have seen an uptick of phishing websites or malicious mobile apps disguised as legitimate applications. For attackers, malicious assets can enable them to steal sensitive information by exploiting multiple attack surfaces in a company network. Therefore, utilizing security tools like endpoint detection and response systems can help identify and block dangerous IT assets.

Benefits of Digital Attack Surface Assessment 

  • Prepare against existing and new threats: Cybersecurity threats evolve constantly. Hackers apply sophisticated methods to increase their data breach success rate. Regular digital attack surface assessments can enable companies to prepare in advance how to counter the threats.
  • Continuous security process: Proactive cybersecurity is the most effective approach. Rather than waiting for hackers to attack to mitigate vulnerable surfaces, ongoing security prevents the attacks from occurring. In addition, holistic digital attack surface assessment allows for a continuous cybersecurity approach. In any case, cyber criminals wait for the slightest security slip-up to execute an attack. 
  • Reduce the attack surface: Some organizations reduce their attack surfaces by minimizing their endpoints. However, even a single attack surface can cause a massive data breach if a company fails to identify and patch vulnerabilities. Reduced endpoints only do not guarantee the attack surface has been reduced. Instead, ongoing digital attack surface assessment is crucial to protecting critical systems and data. In addition, evaluating digital attack surfaces identifies the most appropriate controls for protecting against modern threats.

Getting Started with Cynergy 

With the Cynergy attack surface management platform, you can easily manage all digital attack surfaces. The platform lets you discover all deployed digital assets in real-time. These include assets deployed within the organization, employee leaked data, publicly exposed websites, subdomains, and cloud interfaces. Also, the attack surface management platform ensures the asset deployments are vulnerability-free through ongoing risk assessments. Based on the identified vulnerabilities, Cynergy develops an action plan that can be executed directly from the attack surface management platform.  

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