Attack Surface Management (ASM) is a critical aspect of cybersecurity that focuses on identifying, monitoring, and minimizing the various access points, or "attack surfaces," through which cybercriminals can infiltrate an organization's network and systems. By proactively managing and reducing the attack surface, businesses can enhance their security posture, lower the risk of data breaches, and protect valuable assets.

what is attack surface management

Attack Surface Management Definition

ASM offers a unique approach to cybersecurity by adopting the perspective of a hacker as opposed to that of a defender. This method involves the identification of potential targets and the assessment of risks based on the opportunities they present to malicious attackers. To effectively carry out ASM, organizations often employ "ethical hackers" who possess a deep understanding of cybercriminal behavior and are adept at replicating their actions.

Ethical hackers leverage the same techniques and resources as cybercriminals, allowing them to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses that traditional security measures might overlook. By adopting a hacker's mindset, ASM provides a more comprehensive view of an organization's security posture, revealing potential entry points and areas of risk that could be exploited by malicious actors.

Why is Attack Surface Management Becoming a Trend

Organizations are increasingly embracing Attack Surface Management (ASM) as it offers a proactive, adaptable, and comprehensive approach to cybersecurity in today's rapidly evolving digital landscape. 

The swift adoption of cloud technologies, digital transformation, and remote work, partly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, has made the average company's digital footprint more distributed and dynamic. ASM's continuous workflow and hacker's perspective enable organizations to maintain a proactive security posture in the face of a constantly changing attack surface.

Among the advantages, Attack Surface Management (ASM) provides:

  • Comprehensive Security Assessment
  • Early Detection of Vulnerabilities
  • Vulnerability prioritization
  • Mitigation of Third-Party Risks
  • Compliance and Regulation

Adaptability to the Dynamic Digital Environment

One of the primary advantages of ASM is the greater visibility and real-time insights it provides. Traditional security measures often struggle to keep pace with the rapidly evolving attack surface. ASM solutions offer real-time visibility into emerging vulnerabilities and attack vectors, allowing organizations to stay one step ahead of potential threats and proactively address security concerns.

Greater Visibility and Real-time Insights

ASM solutions not only identify and assess vulnerabilities but also provide greater context by integrating information from traditional risk assessment and vulnerability management tools. By integrating with threat detection and response technologies such as SIEM, EDR, and XDR, ASM enhances threat mitigation and accelerates threat response across the organization.

Enhanced Context and Integration with Existing Tools

With organizations increasingly relying on third-party providers and partners, managing the risks introduced by these connections is crucial. ASM helps identify and manage these risks by assessing the security posture of third-party connections and implementing appropriate controls to protect the organization's assets.

Focus on the Human Element

Cybersecurity is not just about technology; the human element plays a crucial role in an organization's security posture. ASM addresses social engineering attack surfaces, such as insider threats and phishing scams, by incorporating employee training and awareness programs, reducing the risk of human error, and strengthening overall security.

Meeting Compliance and Regulatory Requirements

Additionally, with growing regulatory requirements for data protection and privacy, organizations must maintain a strong cybersecurity posture to avoid penalties and reputational damage. ASM helps organizations proactively identify and address vulnerabilities, demonstrating a commitment to security best practices and meeting regulatory standards.

How does ASM work?

attack surface management process

ASM works by adopting a hacker's perspective, enabling security teams to understand and address potential weaknesses and entry points that malicious actors could exploit. The process typically involves the following steps:

Asset Discovery

ASM begins with identifying all assets within an organization's network, including external or internet-facing IT assets, internal systems, third-party connections, cloud services, and even employee devices. This comprehensive inventory helps organizations understand their entire attack surface and ensures that no asset goes unnoticed.

These assets can include a wide range of components, such as:

Known assets: These are all IT infrastructure and resources the organization is aware of and actively managing. Examples include routers, servers, company-issued or privately-owned devices (PCs, laptops, mobile devices), IoT devices, user directories, applications deployed on-premises and in the cloud, websites, and proprietary databases.

Unknown assets: These are 'uninventoried' assets using network resources without the IT or security team's knowledge. Shadow IT, which consists of hardware or software deployed on the network without official administrative approval and/or oversight, is the most common type of unknown asset. 

Examples include a free font downloaded to a user's computer, personal websites, or cloud applications used via the organization's network, and unmanaged personal mobile devices used to access company information. Orphaned IT, such as old software, websites, and devices no longer in use that have not been properly retired, is another common unknown asset.

Discover unauthorized SaaS usage in your organization.

Third-party or vendor assets: These are assets that the organization doesn't own but are part of the organization's IT infrastructure or digital supply chain. Examples include software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, APIs, public cloud assets, or third-party services used within the organization's website.

Subsidiary assets: These encompass any known, unknown, or third-party assets belonging to networks of an organization's subsidiary companies. Following a merger or acquisition, these assets may not immediately come to the attention of the IT and security teams of the parent organization.

Malicious or rogue assets: These are assets created or stolen by threat actors to target the company. Examples 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.

Vulnerability Assessment

Once all assets have been identified, ASM involves evaluating them for potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses. This process includes analyzing software configurations, hardware components, network connections, and even potential human-related vulnerabilities such as social engineering risks. By assessing each asset for vulnerabilities, security teams can gain a clearer understanding of the organization's overall security posture.

Risk Prioritization

After identifying vulnerabilities, ASM prioritizes them based on the potential impact and likelihood of exploitation. This step allows security teams to focus their efforts on addressing the most critical vulnerabilities first, ensuring that resources are allocated effectively to improve the organization's security posture.

Continuous Monitoring

ASM emphasizes the importance of continuous monitoring to stay ahead of emerging threats and vulnerabilities. As the attack surface evolves with the addition of new assets, software updates, and changes in the threat landscape, ASM solutions monitor the organization's environment in real-time to detect new vulnerabilities and risks as they arise.

Remediation and Mitigation

With vulnerabilities identified and prioritized, ASM guides organizations in addressing these risks through remediation or mitigation strategies. Remediation involves fixing the vulnerability, such as applying patches, updating software, or reconfiguring systems, while mitigation focuses on reducing the potential impact of a vulnerability, for example, through network segmentation or access controls.

Integration with Security Tools

ASM solutions can integrate with existing security tools and technologies, such as security information and event management (SIEM), endpoint detection and response (EDR), and extended detection and response (XDR) systems. This integration allows for a more streamlined and effective threat detection, mitigation, and response process across the organization.

Reporting and Compliance

ASM helps organizations maintain and demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements and industry standards by providing detailed reports on the organization's security posture, vulnerabilities, and remediation efforts. These reports can be shared with stakeholders, regulators, and auditors as needed.

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