Why Attack Surface Discovery Tools Matter

Attack Surface Discovery Tools Matter

Last Updated on 20 February 2024 by Alastair Digby

To effectively protect themselves from major threats and minimize cyber risks, organisations must fully understand their digital assets and systems. These could be targeted by unauthorised users looking to exploit weaknesses. However, gaining comprehensive visibility into all potential entry points in an attack surface is a significant challenge in today’s dynamic and distributed IT environments.

It’s become essential for organisations to employ robust security measures that provide visibility into their attack surface. This is where attack surface discovery tools come into play. By adopting discovery tools they can better mitigate significant threats and reduce cyber risks.

What is Attack Surface Discovery?

Attack Surface Discovery is a fundamental process in security programs that involves identifying and managing all potential entry points in an organisation’s digital infrastructure. These points, known as the attack surface, include servers, web applications, databases, network devices, and cloud storage. As organisations grow and adopt new technologies, their attack surface becomes larger and more complex, offering more opportunities for potential breaches.

Attack surface discovery provides a comprehensive understanding of an organisation’s attack surface, and is a crucial first step in securing digital assets. It enables IT and security teams to identify vulnerabilities, prioritise risks, and implement effective security measures. In the face of evolving cybersecurity threats, Attack surface discovery has become an essential practice and is being widely adopted as part of proactive defence strategies.

The Challenges of Attack Surface Discovery

1. Scale and Complexity

Modern organisations operate complex digital infrastructures that span on-premise, cloud, and hybrid environments. The sheer scale and complexity make it impossible to manually track and manage all assets. Each asset, whether it’s a server, a database, a network device, or a user account, represents a potential entry point for attackers. The larger and more complex the infrastructure, the larger the attack surface, and the higher the risk.

2. Dynamic Perimeter

The traditional concept of a fixed network perimeter is obsolete. With remote work, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, and cloud services, the perimeter is now dynamic and constantly changing. Assets can be anywhere – on the corporate network, in the cloud, or on a remote worker’s home network. This dynamic nature of the perimeter makes it challenging to have a clear and up-to-date understanding of the attack surface.

3. Unknown Unknowns

Organisations often have unknown assets (forgotten servers, unauthorized shadow IT, etc.) or vulnerabilities. These unknowns present a significant risk as they can be exploited by attackers. Without a comprehensive and up-to-date inventory of assets, it’s impossible to ensure that all assets are properly secured.

The Solution: Attack Surface Discovery Tools

Attack surface discovery tools automate the process of identifying and cataloguing assets across an organisation’s digital environment. They address the challenges in the following ways:

1. Comprehensive Visibility

These tools provide a holistic view of the organisation’s attack surface. They identify and catalogue all assets, including servers, applications, databases, network devices, and even IoT devices. This comprehensive visibility allows IT and security teams to ensure that no asset is overlooked and that all assets are properly secured.

2. Continuous Monitoring

Attack surface discovery tools continuously monitor the digital environment. They detect when new assets are added, existing ones are modified, or when vulnerabilities are introduced. This continuous monitoring ensures that the organisation’s understanding of its attack surface is always up-to-date.

3. Risk Prioritization

By identifying all assets and their vulnerabilities, these tools help IT and security teams prioritise their efforts based on risk. They can focus on securing assets that are most critical and most vulnerable. This risk-based approach to security helps to make the most efficient use of resources and provides the best possible protection against attacks.

Automated Attack Surface Discovery Tools

For many years automation has played a significant role in removing manual processes to increase productivity alongside enable security teams to focus on more impactful defensive activities. This is particularly true for attack surface discovery, where manual processes are not only resource-intensive but also prone to errors and oversights.

The Need for Automation

The dynamic nature of today’s digital environments means that assets are constantly being added, removed, or modified. Keeping track of these changes manually is a daunting, if not impossible, task. An ESG survey indicates that manual methods for discovering the attack surface can require more than 80 hours to finish. This makes this manual process unsuitable and ineffective given the size and ever-changing nature of contemporary digital environments. Furthermore, the sheer volume of data that needs to be analysed can be overwhelming. Automation helps to address these challenges by providing speed, scalability, and consistency.

How Automation Works

Automated attack surface discovery tools use various techniques such as port scanning, network mapping, and vulnerability scanning to identify and catalogue assets. They can scan the entire digital environment, applications, cloud, and hybrid infrastructures, and identify everything from servers and databases to network devices.

These attack surface discovery tools continuously monitor the environment and automatically update the asset inventory as changes occur. They can also integrate with other security tools to provide a holistic view of the organisation’s security posture.

Benefits of Automation

Automating attack surface discovery offers several benefits:

  1. Efficiency: Automation significantly reduces the time and effort required to discover and catalogue assets.
  2. Accuracy: Automated tools can accurately identify and catalogue assets, reducing the risk of human error.
  3. Coverage: Automation ensures that all assets, including those that might be overlooked in manual processes, are discovered and catalogued.
  4. Timeliness: Automated tools provide real-time visibility into the attack surface, allowing for timely detection and remediation of vulnerabilities.


Attack surface discovery tools are not just nice to have but are essential in a modern cybersecurity program. They address key challenges faced by IT and Security teams and provide practical solutions to protect the organisation’s external perimeter. By providing comprehensive visibility, continuous monitoring, and risk prioritization, these tools empower IT and Security teams to defend their organisations more effectively. In the world of cybersecurity, knowledge is power, and Attack Surface Discovery Tools provide the knowledge that is needed to win the battle against cyber threats.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are attack surface discovery tools suitable for small businesses?

Yes, these tools can be tailored to suit the unique needs and scale of small businesses.

How do these attack surface discovery tools improve security measures?

Attack surface discovery tools employ advanced security technologies and aid in the implementation of strict security policies and procedures. This provides businesses with the necessary visibility into their attack surface, enabling them to better mitigate significant threats and reduce cyber risks.

Are manual methods for discovering the attack surface effective?

According to the ESG survey, manual methods can require more than 80 hours to finish, making them unsuitable and ineffective given the size and ever-changing nature of contemporary digital environments. This highlights the importance of automated attack surface discovery tools.