Now Available - Forrester Report: The Total Economic Impact™ Of The CyCognito Platform
See Your Attack Surface The Way Attackers Do
External attack surface management (EASM) refers to the process of identifying, analyzing, and mitigating the vulnerabilities and risks associated with an organization's external-facing digital assets, such as websites, applications, and network infrastructure. It involves monitoring and securing the exposed attack surface to prevent breaches and unauthorized access by threat actors.
While organizations often define “attack surface” too narrowly, attackers do not make that mistake. Attackers simply want access to your data, applications and networks whether on-premises or in cloud, subsidiary, third-party, or partner environments.
The best way to protect your organization, therefore, is to see, understand and manage all of the ways an attacker might get in to your organization.
Security professionals want to discover and protect their attack surface and see that as a top priority, but they also report that their organizations aren't defining “attack surface” the way attackers do. In our study with ESG, security professionals reported that when defining their organization’s attack surface:
You cannot protect your attack surface without visibility to all of your attacker-exposed external assets wherever they are. Organizations must look at their attack surface the way attackers do - from the outside in, and adopt an external attack surface management perspective
Attackers are looking for the path of least resistance into your organization: the easiest way in, with the least amount of effort, to your highest value digital assets.
To stay ahead, you have to think like an attacker too. Attackers have proven over and over that their way works. They survey and test your attack surface nearly continuously until they find a path that provides little resistance. Organizations need to do the same, and perform reconnaissance across the entire IT ecosystem, using an external attack surface point of view.
External attack surface management and attack surface protection require that organizations continuously discover and assess risk of such attacks across their entire attack surface and prioritize and remediate those risks. Short of that, organizations leave themselves vulnerable to attackers who have proven that approach works.
See How CyCognito Redefines Attack Surface Management
5 Key Elements for External Attack Surface Management and Protection
The first step for external attack surface management is to find all the business and IT relationships your organization has including acquired companies, joint ventures, and cloud assets that are strongly related to your company.
From there, you'll want to discover the externally-exposed IT assets of those entities and identify additional connections between assets that are not clearly or traditionally related. These are the kinds of externally identifiable connections that, when discovered by attackers, provide an easy path into your data and cloud infrastructure.
Once you’ve discovered the assets in your IT ecosystem, it’s time to assess those for exposures.
Attackers just need one opportunity, be it from: misconfigured assets; network architecture flaws; data exposures, authentication and encryption weaknesses; or other risks including common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs). You too must detect these across your external attack surface using multiple security testing techniques, and then correlate the results to identify the attack vectors bad actors can use.
Prioritizing risks in the external attack surface makes it possible to know where to focus first.
Without prioritization, it is nearly impossible to manage the volume of security issues and alerts organizations face. Importantly, prioritization must incorporate business context: which assets and sensitive data belong to what departments or subsidiaries within your organization, as well as the business processes associated with the assets.
Remediation is critical for attack surface protection, so operationalizing remediation is a crucial element of effective threat intelligence and external attack surface management.
Typically IT operations teams -- not security teams -- are tasked with remediation. To accelerate remediation workflows, security teams should provide detailed and actionable evidence along with remediation guidance for every identified risk. That enables operations teams to remediate with little-to-no additional investigation.
Executing the previous elements continuously is the only way to stay ahead of the ever-changing IT and threat environment.
The organization keeps building, changing, and adding to the IT ecosystem and attackers never stop. External attack surface and vulnerability management must be equally continuous to discover, test and eliminate risk from the changing attack surface.
Download this report to learn how leveraging automation through modern EASM technology can help bridge the gap between attackers and defenders making it possible for defenders to improve their security and risk posture.
External Attack Surface Management (EASM) is a cybersecurity practice that focuses on identifying, analyzing, and securing an organization's external attack surface. It involves a comprehensive approach to identifying risk on organization's externally-exposed assets, including websites, applications, servers, cloud services, and network infrastructure.
EASM aims to minimize vulnerabilities and potential entry points that threat actors can exploit to gain unauthorized access, compromise data, or disrupt services. By actively managing the external attack surface, organizations can reduce the risk of cyber attacks, data breaches, and reputational damage.
EASM encompasses various activities such as asset discovery, vulnerability assessment, threat intelligence monitoring, security controls implementation, and continuous monitoring to maintain a robust security posture and promptly respond to emerging threats.
Internal attack surface management focuses on the identification and mitigation of vulnerabilities within an organization's internal network and systems. It deals with securing assets and protecting against threats originating from within the organization's infrastructure. Examples include insider threats or malware introduced through internal systems.
In contrast, external attack surface management focuses on the vulnerabilities present in an organization's externally-exposed assets. It involves monitoring and securing the digital footprint accessible to the public, including websites, servers, APIs, and cloud services. The goal of EASM is to reduce risk from external threats, such as hackers, malicious actors, or automated bots attempting to exploit weaknesses in the external attack surface.
The three primary categories of attack surface threats are:
a) Physical Threats: Physical threats primarily involve human (physical) access to an organization's premises, facilities, or devices. Examples include unauthorized entry, theft of hardware, or tampering with physical infrastructure components.
b) Network Threats: Network threats target an organization's network infrastructure, including routers, switches, firewalls, and other network devices. They aim to exploit vulnerabilities in network configurations, protocols, or services to gain access, which enables lateral movement, data exfiltration, or disruption of network operations.
c) Software/Application Threats: Software threats involve exploitation of vulnerabilities in software applications, operating systems, or web services/APIs. They can include techniques like code injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection (SQLi), or leveraging unpatched vulnerabilities to gain access, steal data, or disrupt services.
External attack surface management is crucial for maintaining a robust cybersecurity posture. By proactively identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in the external attack surface, organizations can significantly reduce risk from data breaches, unauthorized access, and other cyber attacks. EASM identifies exposed sensitive information, which helps maintain customer trust, comply with industry regulations, and safeguard the overall reputation of the organization.
An external attack surface refers to the digital footprint of an organization that is visible and accessible to the public or external entities. It includes all externally exposed assets such as websites, web applications, servers, cloud services, APIs, and public-facing network infrastructure. The external attack surface represents the potential entry points or vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit to gain access, compromise data, or disrupt services.
An external attack refers to an attempted breach or compromise of an organization's systems, networks, or digital assets from outside sources. It involves malicious actors or hackers targeting the external attack surface to exploit vulnerabilities, gain unauthorized access, steal data, or disrupt services. External attacks can take various forms, including network-based attacks, application-level attacks, social engineering, or the exploitation of misconfigurations and unpatched vulnerabilities.
External attack surface management (EASM) typically involves a combination of automated tools and manual analysis. Automated tools scan the organization's external digital footprint, including websites, servers, and other exposed assets, to identify vulnerabilities and potential entry points for attackers. These tools may employ techniques such as port scanning, vulnerability scanning, web application security testing and review of open-source intelligence (OSINT).
Manual analysis may complements the automated tools by validating and interpreting the scan results. Security professionals review the findings, analyze the context, and assess the potential risks associated with the identified vulnerabilities. This analysis helps prioritize remediation efforts and determine the most effective strategies for securing the external attack surface.
Once vulnerabilities are identified, organizations can take actions such as applying patches, configuring security controls, strengthening access controls, and implementing other security measures to mitigate the risks. Regular scanning and monitoring of the external attack surface are crucial to stay ahead of emerging threats and ensure ongoing protection.
EASM may also involves proactive measures like threat intelligence gathering and analysis. By monitoring threat feeds, security blogs, and other sources, organizations can stay informed about new attack techniques, vulnerabilities, and threat actors targeting their industry. This information helps in adjusting security strategies and prioritizing efforts to address the most relevant threats.
Overall, EASM provides a systematic approach to safeguarding an organization's external attack surface by continuously identifying, analyzing, and addressing vulnerabilities and risks, thereby reducing the potential for successful cyber attacks.
Examples of EASM tools and techniques include:
a) Web Application Scanners: These tools analyze web applications for vulnerabilities like SQL injection, cross-site scripting, data exposure, and insecure configurations.
b) Network Scanners: These tools scan network infrastructure, ports, and services to identify weaknesses and potential entry points for attackers.
c) Threat Intelligence Platforms: These platforms gather and analyze threat intelligence data to provide insights into emerging threats and malicious activities targeting the organization.
d) Vulnerability Management Systems: These systems help identify, track and prioritize vulnerabilities across the external attack surface, enabling efficient remediation.
e) Attack Surface Monitoring Services: These services continuously monitor an organization's digital footprint, including websites, domains, and online assets, to identify changes, vulnerabilities, or potential risks.
External attack surface monitoring involves continuous surveillance and analysis of an organization's externally visible digital assets. It focuses on detecting change and vulnerabilities that introduce risks within the external attack surface. By monitoring the digital footprint, organizations can identify new attack vectors, emerging threats, or misconfigurations that could expose them to cyber attacks.
Timely detection allows for prompt remediation, strengthening security controls, and mitigating risks before they can be exploited by threat actors.
External attack surface monitoring helps organizations maintain an up-to-date understanding of their security posture and enables proactive defense against external threats.
EASM stands for External Attack Surface Management in cybersecurity. It refers to the proactive process of identifying, analyzing, and mitigating vulnerabilities and risks associated with an organization's externally facing digital assets. EASM aims to identify external threats and ensure the security of the organization's public-facing infrastructure, including websites, servers, applications, and network services.
Third-party threats refer to risks posed by external entities with whom an organization has a business relationship. These entities include suppliers, vendors, contractors, or service providers. Third-party threats arise when these external entities have access to the organization's systems, data, or network, potentially introducing vulnerabilities or acting as a gateway for attackers. Managing third-party threats involves assessing the security practices and controls of these entities, ensuring they meet the organization's security standards, and monitoring their activities to detect signs of compromise or unauthorized access.
An outsider threat refers to a cybersecurity risk posed by individuals or entities external to an organization. These threats typically come from malicious actors, hackers, or unauthorized individuals seeking to exploit vulnerabilities in the organization's systems, networks, or digital assets. Outsider threats can manifest as various attack vectors, including network-based attacks, social engineering, phishing, or the exploitation of software vulnerabilities. Effective security measures, including external attack surface management (EASM), are essential to protect against outsider threats.
Attack surface management (ASM) and vulnerability management (VM) are distinct but interconnected aspects of cybersecurity.
Attack surface management focuses on identifying, analyzing, and securing an organization's externally-exposed digital assets, such as websites, servers, and network infrastructure. It involves understanding the organization's digital footprint visible to potential attackers and implementing measures to minimize vulnerabilities and risks associated with the external attack surface.
Vulnerability management focuses on the identification, assessment, and remediation of vulnerabilities across an organization's entire infrastructure, both internal and external. It encompasses scanning systems, applications, and networks to discover vulnerabilities, prioritizing them based on severity, and applying patches or implementing mitigation strategies to address those vulnerabilities.
Vulnerability management typically focuses on digital assets found in known IP ranges, while attack surface management produces a dynamic asset inventory independent of known systems, providing additional insight and risk visibility.
While attack surface management primarily focuses on the external-facing assets, vulnerability management takes a broader approach, covering both internal and external vulnerabilities within an organization's infrastructure.
Internal attacks and external attacks represent two distinct types of cybersecurity threats.
Internal attacks occur when a threat actor originates from within the organization's network or infrastructure. These attacks can be carried out by employees, contractors, or insiders with authorized access to the organization's systems. Internal attacks often involve the misuse of privileges, unauthorized data access, data theft, or attempts to disrupt services.
External attacks involve threat actors attempting to breach an organization's systems or networks from outside sources. These attackers can be hackers, malicious individuals, or organized cyber criminal groups. External attacks typically target the organization's externally accessible assets, such as websites, servers, and applications. The goal is to exploit vulnerabilities in the external attack surface to gain unauthorized access, compromise data, or disrupt operations.
The difference between internal and external attacks lies in the source of the threat and the location from which the attack originates. Internal attacks focus on the risks posed by authorized individuals within the organization, while external attacks deal with threats originating from external entities attempting to exploit vulnerabilities in the organization's digital assets.
Understanding the difference between internal and external threats is essential for effective cybersecurity management. Here are a few reasons why this distinction is important:
a) Mitigation Strategies: Internal and external threats require different approaches for mitigation. Internal threats necessitate measures like access controls, employee training, and privileged user management. External threats, on the other hand, require measures such as network security, web application firewalls, and external attack surface management (EASM).
b) Incident Response (IR): Differentiating between internal and external threats helps organizations develop appropriate incident response plans. Internal threats may require internal investigations, disciplinary actions, or legal proceedings. External threats may involve collaboration with law enforcement agencies, forensic analysis, and public relations efforts.
c) Risk Assessment: Understanding the origin of threats helps in accurately assessing risks. Internal threats involve risks associated with employee behavior, system access, and data handling. External threats involve risks related to the external attack surface, vulnerability to attacks from malicious actors, and exposure to broader threat landscapes.
d) Resource Allocation: Recognizing the types of threats allows organizations to allocate resources effectively. They can prioritize investments in technologies, personnel, and processes that address the specific challenges posed by internal and external threats.
External Attack Surface Management (EASM) and Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management (CAASM) are related concepts in cybersecurity, but they differ in scope and focus.
External Attack Surface Management (EASM):
EASM specifically deals with managing an organization's external attack surface, which consists of publicly accessible assets such as websites, servers, applications, and network infrastructure that can be targeted by external threats. EASM involves activities like asset discovery, vulnerability assessment, threat monitoring, and security control implementation to protect against external attacks. The primary objective of EASM is to minimize vulnerabilities and risks associated with the organization's externally-exposed digital assets.
Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management (CAASM):
CAASM has a broader scope and encompasses the management of an organization's overall cyber asset attack surface. It includes not only the external attack surface but also internal assets such as internal networks, endpoints, cloud infrastructure, and other components that contribute to the organization's overall attack surface. CAASM involves identifying, analyzing, and securing all assets, both internal and external, to minimize vulnerabilities and risks across the entire infrastructure.
CAASM typically focuses on digital assets found in known IP ranges, while attack surface management produces a dynamic asset inventory independent of known systems, providing additional insight and risk visibility.
While EASM focuses specifically on identifying risk on externally facing assets from external threats, CAASM takes a more holistic approach by considering both internal and external assets. CAASM recognizes that vulnerabilities can exist within an organization's internal network and infrastructure, which may also present risks and potential entry points for attackers.
An external attack surface management (EASM) solution provides several benefits in terms of cybersecurity:
a) Vulnerability Identification: EASM helps identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in an organization's externally facing assets, including websites, servers, applications, and network infrastructure. By continuously scanning and monitoring externally-exposed assets, the solution can detect potential entry points for attackers and prioritize vulnerability remediation.
b) Risk Reduction: EASM solutions helps reduce overall risk by proactively addressing vulnerabilities in the external attack surface. By mitigating weaknesses and strengthening security controls, organizations can minimize the chances of successful cyber attacks and data breaches.
c) Compliance and Regulatory Alignment: EASM solutions assist organizations in meeting industry regulations and compliance requirements. By identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to protecting sensitive data and ensuring data privacy, aligning with standards like GDPR or PCI DSS.
d) Incident Response Improvement: EASM solutions provide visibility into attack vectors and indicators of compromise. This visibility helps organizations respond promptly to security incidents, mitigate ongoing attacks, and minimize the impact on business operations.
e) Reputation Protection: By effectively managing the external attack surface, organizations can safeguard their reputation and maintain customer trust. It demonstrates a proactive approach to security, reassuring customers and stakeholders that their data and interactions are secure.
f) Continuous Monitoring: EASM solutions offer continuous monitoring capabilities, enabling organizations to stay vigilant against emerging threats, new attack vectors, or changes in the digital landscape. This proactive monitoring ensures that security measures are up to date and responsive to evolving cyber threats.
What are the Main Challenges around External Attack Surface Mapping? External attack surface mapping, or the process of identifying and mapping an organization's externally exposed assets, can pose several challenges:
a) Scale and Complexity: Organizations often have a vast and complex digital footprint, making it challenging to accurately identify all external-facing assets. This includes websites, subdomains, cloud instances, APIs, and third-party integrations. Mapping this extensive attack surface requires thorough discovery techniques and tools.
b) Dynamic Nature of Assets: The digital landscape is continuously evolving, with assets being created, modified, or retired regularly. Keeping pace with these changes and maintaining an up-to-date map of the external attack surface requires ongoing monitoring and timely updates.
c) Lack of Visibility: Organizations may lack comprehensive visibility into their external attack surface, especially if assets are spread across different departments, subsidiaries, or third-party providers. This lack of visibility makes it challenging to assess the overall security posture and identify potential vulnerabilities.
d) Third-Party Risks: Organizations often rely on third-party vendors, suppliers, or partners for various services and integrations. However, these third parties can introduce vulnerabilities to the external attack surface. Mapping and assessing the security of these external entities pose challenges, as organizations may have limited control over their security practices.
e) Evolving Threat Landscape: The threat landscape is constantly evolving, with new attack techniques, vulnerabilities, and threat actors emerging regularly. Keeping up with these evolving threats and ensuring that the external attack surface is adequately protected requires continuous monitoring, threat intelligence gathering, and proactive security measures.
f) Limited Resources: Conducting comprehensive external attack surface mapping requires significant resources, including skilled cybersecurity professionals, tools, and technologies. Organizations with limited resources may struggle to allocate the necessary personnel and budget to effectively manage their external attack surface.
Overcoming these challenges requires a combination of robust discovery techniques, automation, continuous monitoring, collaboration with third parties, and the allocation of appropriate resources to ensure comprehensive and effective external attack surface mapping.