For decades, the world has strived for simplification through digitization. In this ongoing pursuit, things have, ironically, become complicated. While countless technologies, applications, and tools are available to help enterprises streamline their work, digitization has increased complexity for many businesses; most notably, expanding their attack surfaces.
As the number of connected devices and online services skyrocket, the task of identifying all these assets and managing each of their potential vulnerabilities has become one of the most significant security challenges enterprises face.
Digital attack surface management is high-priority for enterprise leaders protecting their operations and brand. In this post, learn what security policies and best practices support a robust attack surface management strategy and how to implement the right controls for better surface visibility.
What Attack Surfaces Are Enterprises Facing?
Enterprises face a multitude of digital attack surfaces in today’s interconnected and digitized landscape. With all businesses relying on interconnected systems, cyber threats have significantly broadened the potential avenues for both opportunistic and calculated attacks.
The digital attack surface refers to the sum total of all the potential entry points or vulnerabilities within an organization’s digital infrastructure that can be targeted by a threat actor. It encompasses the various interconnected systems, devices, networks, and software applications that can be exploited to gain unauthorized access, disrupt operations, or compromise sensitive data.
The attack surface expands as organizations adopt new technologies, such as IoT devices, cloud services, and remote work environments, which introduce even more potential weaknesses. Understanding and managing the digital attack surface is a critical task for implementing effective cybersecurity measures in the long run.
To help understand the digital attack surface, it is helpful to break it down into a number of discrete categories that represent entry points for threat actors:
Hackers and cybercriminals leverage coding or implementation mistakes in third-party applications, operating systems, and other software or firmware to infiltrate networks. Exploiting vulnerabilities allows them to obtain unauthorized access to user directories or spread their malware.
Weak Credentials & Passwords
The use of easily guessable passwords or credentials that can be cracked through brute-force attacks heightens the vulnerability of administrative or privileged user accounts. Posing an increased risk of cybercriminals compromising networks, weak credentials enable threat actors to steal sensitive information, disseminate malware, and cause harm to critical infrastructure.
System & Network Misconfiguration
Inadequately configured network ports, channels, wireless access points, firewalls, or protocols all act as potential gateways for hackers. In adversary-in-the-middle (AiTM) attacks, for example, threat actors exploit weak encryption protocols used in message-passing channels, enabling unauthorized interception of communications between systems.
Web applications, web servers, and other resources exposed to the public internet run the risk of possessing inherent vulnerabilities that attackers can target. These kinds of risks are considered ‘low hanging fruit’ for hackers who can inject malicious code into unprotected APIs, leading to improper disclosure or potential destruction of sensitive information stored in associated databases.
Shared Directories & Databases
Threat actors often exploit shared databases and directories across interconnected systems and devices, working to obtain unauthorized access to valuable resources or launching ransomware attacks. Once inside, they may extract sensitive information, such as personally identifiable information (PII), financial records, or intellectual property.
Shadow or Rogue IT
Shadow IT (aka Rogue IT) refers to the use of unauthorized software, applications, or services within an organization without the knowledge or approval of the IT department. Employees may adopt technology solutions outside their organization’s official IT infrastructure, which can create security risks, compliance issues, and a lack of centralized control and visibility.
How to Stay Ahead | Understanding Shifts in Digital Attack Surfaces
As businesses scale and develop, their digital footprints and inherent risks quickly expand in tandem. Many have embarked on digital transformation efforts, IoT strategies, hybrid work plans, and cloud adoption, but often, cybersecurity becomes an afterthought in such expansion efforts.
This is where digital attack surface management comes in. Managing attack surfaces allows enterprises to proactively identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities. By conducting thorough assessments of their systems, networks, and applications, businesses can identify weak points and take necessary steps to fortify their defenses. This includes patching software vulnerabilities, implementing robust access controls, and configuring firewalls and intrusion detection systems effectively.
Also to consider is that the digital attack surface landscape is continually evolving, driven by technological developments and changes in how organizations operate. To get ahead in an ever-shifting landscape, enterprise leaders are focusing on actively discovering, assessing, and addressing the exposure of their internet-facing assets. Proactively managing attack surfaces also minimizes the potential impact of cyberattacks.
In the event of a breach, organizations with a well-managed attack surface are better equipped to contain and mitigate the damage. They have established incident response plans, backups, and disaster recovery strategies in place to get the organization quickly past downtime and data loss, preventing long-term reputational damage.
Identify the Scope of the Risks | Get to Know Your Attack Surfaces
Businesses can enhance their understanding of their digital attack surfaces and make informed decisions to mitigate those risks effectively. Regular assessments, comprehensive visibility, and continuous monitoring are essential for staying ahead of evolving threats and maintaining a robust security posture.
In an initial assessment, enterprise leaders and security teams can perform the following to start building a comprehensive scope of the high-risk areas in their systems:
- Complete a comprehensive asset inventory – Maintain an updated inventory of all systems, applications, devices, and services connected to the network. This includes both on-premises and cloud-based assets. Regularly audit and review the inventory to identify any gaps or missing components.
- Create detailed network maps and diagrams – These help security teams visualize the connectivity and interactions between different systems, devices, and networks. This is a key step in helping to identify potential entry points and vulnerabilities.
- Conduct a full vulnerability scan – Regular vulnerability scans and penetration tests help identify weaknesses and potential attack vectors within an infrastructure. These assessments should cover both internal and external assets, including web applications, network devices, and databases.
- Assess any third-party risks – Third-parties including vendors and partners need to be evaluated for their own security posture and policies. Potential risks are often introduced through external connections.
- Perform threat modeling – Threat modeling is a systematic approach to identifying and evaluating potential vulnerabilities in a system. Threat modeling helps organizations proactively identify and address potential security issues before they are exploited by facilitating informed decision-making, resource allocation, and risk management strategies.
Reduce the Risk | Implement Attack Surface Minimization Strategies
Building a strong and effective security stance against ranging cyber risks requires an ongoing and comprehensive approach where both internal and external attack surfaces are considered. Organizations can significantly reduce their digital attack surface risks by continuously evaluating and updating security measures to address emerging trends in cyber threats and vulnerabilities reported by the cyber defense community.
- Build an inventory that classifies all assets – Maintain a comprehensive inventory of all assets, including hardware, software, applications, and data. Classify assets based on their criticality and sensitivity to prioritize security efforts effectively.
- Proactively manage known vulnerabilities – Implement a robust vulnerability management program. This will involve regular scanning, assessing new software and applications, and a stringent patch management plan. Identify vulnerabilities, prioritize them based on severity, and promptly any new security updates.
- Segment the network – Implement network segmentation to create isolated zones within the infrastructure. This limits lateral movement for attackers and contains potential breaches, minimizing the impact on critical systems and sensitive data.
- Prioritize access controls and authentication protocols – Enforcing strong access controls, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), is the first step in preventing unauthorized access. Businesses can also minimize their identity attack surface by regularly reviewing user access privileges based on the principle of least privilege (PoLP).
- Implement continuous monitoring and logging capabilities – Implement robust monitoring and logging mechanisms to detect and respond to security events promptly. Continuously monitor systems, networks, and applications for signs of compromise or abnormal behavior.
- Protect data through encryption – Encrypt sensitive data at rest and in transit to protect it from unauthorized access. Implement encryption protocols and data loss prevention measures to safeguard critical information.
Prepare for the Long Term | Manage Digital Attack Surfaces
As new platforms, devices, and software emerge on the market, cybercriminals have fresh avenues to exploit vulnerabilities and target unsuspecting users. Evolving tactics and techniques feed new threats, so businesses managing their digital attack surfaces must also remain agile. Enterprise leadership and security teams can come together to intake incoming threat intelligence and translate them into new and updated security policies that will better safeguard the business.
The preventative best practices below make up the steps needed to build a long-term defense strategy against future threats, vulnerabilities, and attack surfaces:
- Invest in company-wide security awareness training – Conduct regular security awareness training for employees to educate them about potential threats, phishing scams, social engineering techniques, and safe computing practices. Encourage a culture of cybersecurity awareness and vigilance.
- Build an incident response plan (IRP) – Develop a comprehensive IRP to outline the steps to be taken in the event of a security incident. Under an attack, streamlined communication between teams is vital. The plan should include containment, removal, and recovery strategies to minimize the impact of an attack.
- Maintain ongoing security testing – Be sure to conduct regular security testing, including penetration testing and vulnerability assessments, to identify new or hidden weaknesses. Ongoing testing is also important in validating the effectiveness of security controls.
- Update the business’s risk profiles – Regularly assess the evolving risk landscape to identify emerging threats, vulnerabilities, and attack vectors. Stay updated on the latest security trends, industry best practices, and regulatory requirements to adjust security measures accordingly.
- Develop policies for managing third-party risks – Assess the security posture of third-party vendors and partners who have access to the enterprise’s systems or data. Establish clear security requirements, conduct regular audits or assessments, and monitor their compliance with security standards.
The world of cyber threats is always in a state of flux and threat actors will continue to develop their methods and tools, just like how enterprises continue to build and scale their businesses. Staying ahead of threat actors starts with meeting them on the attack surfaces that they operate on and putting in the right policies and security solutions to hinder them.
While no business is immune from cyber attacks, SentinelOne’s autonomous, AI-driven solutions can help deliver comprehensive security for those in search of protection across all of their attack surfaces. In a single cybersecurity platform, SentinelOne’s Singularity XDR, fuses together the data, access, control, and integration planes of its endpoint protection (EPP), endpoint detection and response (EDR), IoT security, cloud workload protection (CWPP), and identity threat detection and response (ITDR). With Singularity, organizations gain access to back-end data across the organization through a single solution, providing a cohesive view of their network and assets by adding a real time autonomous security layer across all enterprise assets.
Request a demo of Singularity XDR to start leveraging AI-powered prevention, detection, response, and threat hunting across user endpoints, containers, cloud workloads, and IoT devices. Need expert advice? Contact us today!