Last Updated on 14 February 2023 by Alastair Digby
As cyber threats continue to evolve, organizations face an increasingly complex landscape of risks. Attack surface reduction has emerged as a critical strategy for security and IT leaders seeking to minimize their organization’s exposure to potential attacks.
By narrowing the attack surface, organizations can reduce the number of potential vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. This can help prevent successful cyberattacks, limit the potential impact of any successful attacks, and ultimately improve an organization’s overall security posture.
If insufficient security measures and access controls are present attackers are ready to attempt to gain unauthorized access to extract sensitive data. Cyber attacks are increasing in sophistication and complexity using new techniques to circumvent security measures.
Once a cybercriminal detects attack vectors that allow them to exploit a system’s vulnerabilities this poses a significant security risk that could lead to a damaging data breach.
In this article, we’ll explore the concept of attack surface reduction, why it’s important, and some strategies that organizations can use to implement it effectively. Whether you’re an IT manager or a CISO, understanding the basics of attack surface reduction is a vital component of any comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.
What is an attack surface?
The attack surface is the totality of all possible security exposures (attack vectors) that a malicious hacker could use as an entry point to infiltrate a system or network. They are hyper-dimensional and ever-evolving and notoriously challenging to supervise for several reasons:
- Network perimeters have dissolved as organizations adopt new technologies such as cloud services and mobile devices
- Both internal and external threat actors are more sophisticated than ever, continuously inventing new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in systems or people
- The number of attack vectors has skyrocketed as the number of connected devices continues to grow exponentially
What are attack vectors?
Attack vectors are the individual exposures or vulnerabilities that make up the external attack surface, providing pathways for cybercriminals to penetrate a system, steal information, or disrupt service. They have been an issue since the beginning of computing, although they have evolved over time. The first attacks were often due to simple oversights, like not putting a lock on a cabinet full of paper records. As software became more complex, so did the attack vectors. Common perpetrators include:
- Weak or compromised login credentials
- Poor encryption
- Social engineering scams
- Brute force
- Man-in-the-Middle attack
- SQL injections
- Outdated software or monitoring systems
In a successful attack, a threat actor could use a vector to circumvent firewalls to access sensitive information and inject malware for example. Annually, security incidents like this cost $400 billion.
The primary motivator of cyberattacks is monetary gain, but this isn’t always the case. Attack vectors are often discussed in terms of the CIA triad: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. A successful attack achieves the desired result by violating at least one of the three.
What is attack surface reduction?
An organizations applications and infrastructure constantly grow and evolve, both is size and complexity. Attackers are increasingly using sophisticated methods to find and exploit an organizations weaknesses. A focused attack surface reduction strategy aims to implement a range of techniques from implementing Zero-Trust policies, segment networks, reduce complexity, provide cyber security training for employees and using tools to identify and detect vulnerabilities.
Why is attack surface reduction important?
Your organization’s attack surface comprises all the opportunities a attacker could use to compromise devices or networks. Attack surface reduction, therefore, leaves attackers with limited opportunities to launch attacks.
Identifying, tracking, and managing assets and vulnerabilities have become a universal concern for organizations across the globe. Ultimately, you can’t remediate, security flaws that you aren’t aware of.
When it comes to defending against new threats, an intuitive security program is needed.
How to reduce your risk posture with attack surface management
Attack Surface Management (ASM) is a vital tool in an organization’s security armoury. It provides continuous security monitoring and management of your attack surface and the vulnerabilities that contain, transmit, or process your data – crucial for attack surface reduction.
ASM cleverly equips security teams with a scalable approach to map, track, understand and analyze their threat landscape – enabling them to think like an attacker.
With Attack Surface Management, discover:
What components your attack surface is made up of
The first step of attack surface reduction is having a comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date knowledge of your attack surface. Automated asset discovery provide an accurate asset inventory offering a birds-eye view of your changing digital environment.
Where your attack vectors are located
The second step of attack surface reduction is finding and analyzing your vulnerabilities. Automated monitoring (Vulnerability Discovery) flags security flaws as soon as they appear, allowing you to focus on real – rather than perceived – risk. Removing unnecessary components, functions, and services will also help reduce your threat landscape.
How to mitigate threats with these insights and improve your security posture
Granular security insights grant you the ability to make more informed decisions with a deeper understanding of your overall risk posture and cyber hygiene. Inevitably, security strategies become futile if you aren’t aware of your real vulnerabilities.
Attack surface reduction is an essential component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. By reducing the number of potential attack vectors, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of successful cyberattacks, minimize the potential impact of any successful attacks, and ultimately improve their overall security posture.
Implementing attack surface reduction strategies requires a concerted effort by IT and security leaders, who must work collaboratively to identify and prioritize potential risks, assess the effectiveness of existing controls, and implement new controls as needed.
While it may require some effort, the benefits of a reduced attack surface are clear: a more secure and resilient organization that can better withstand the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. So, take the necessary steps to reduce your organization’s attack surface and stay ahead of the ever-present and ever-changing cyber threats.