Digital or external attack surface has become a growing concern for cybersecurity teams. In addition to patching up vulnerabilities within internal infrastructures, a major gap in security could lurk behind those internet-facing assets.

In fact, cybercriminals can gather a lot of information while scouring the web with a simple Google search. If they scratch even deeper, they can discover leaked data and passwords that open the gateway leading them into organizations.

All of this easily available information puts systems at risk because it can be exploited by hackers. In other words, it becomes the part of the external attack surface that can be targeted by threat actors at any time.

Therefore, an important part of cybersecurity is the management of external access points to organizations and their networks.

What is External Attack Surface Management?

External Attack Surface Management maps the surface that is likely to have vulnerabilities, scans it all the time, and weeds out issues or anomalies before they can benefit cybercriminals.

Essentially, EASM boils down to finding vulnerabilities that hackers could use to compromise infrastructures from the outside and removing them before they’re discovered. This tool addresses a challenge that most organizations face today — how to retain an overview of information at all times, especially intelligence available outside the system.

Keeping track of what data is available to whom and whether there is leaked corporate intelligence that could be used by hackers to breach systems requires a lot of legwork. Therefore, most IT teams rely on tools that use AI and continually work towards finding the signs of already misused credentials.

With an attack surface that’s continually changing and growing with every new data leak or social media update, EASM doesn’t allow company assets to become liabilities.

Cybercriminals seek readily available data on the internet before applying any hacking techniques. Threat actors are interested in: 

  • Social media activity
  • Leaked passwords and emails
  • Personal information (name, surname, address, credit card numbers, etc.)

In the hands of criminals, personal information can lead to identity theft or financial fraud. In the worst-case scenarios, they can imitate the targeted individual and drain their bank accounts, ruin their reputation, or spread false information.

Many of the most recent hacking attacks include social engineering. This means getting to know a person and sending a targeted email with an infected link or even imitating various authorities such as government institutions or a CEO.

Social media and information that’s shared there can lead to a successful cyberattack or a scam. For example, platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook or official sites of a business can easily reveal the hierarchy within a company and give criminals an angle on how to approach their victims.

Hacking forums, data dumps, and the dark web are other resources that threat actors use to find the weak spots of a company’s security — or lack thereof. They can contain emails or passwords that lead the criminal into organizations, even if the scammer has little to no technical knowledge.

What Does Managing Your Attack Surface Include?

An attack surface can be managed in three steps:

  1. Mitigation of flaws within the system
  2. Discovery of any anomalies and high-risk threats
  3. Data analysis of the activity within internal and external attack surface

The first step is scanning for information or activity that could lead to major incidents such as a breached system, ransom notes, or stealing sensitive data. 

High risk is anything that is likely to escalate in a major incident, used by hackers to either gain direct access to the organization or to conduct a cyberattack.

Besides seeking data, discovery phases also determine whether there are any signs of unauthorized access to the infrastructure.

The second step is an analysis of the attack surface. The surface is compared with its previous state to determine if there are any anomalies or signs of high-risk vulnerabilities that need patching up.

A generated report based on said analysis highlights any high-risk flaws and makes the jobs of IT teams much easier. Otherwise, they would get alerted of any vulnerabilities and possibly discard them as false positives.

The final step is to mitigate the flaws that are likely to result in criminal activity. The documentation of the analysis, along with the high-risk vulnerability report also suggests ways to patch up weaknesses and strengthen security.

The three steps are automated and have to be repeated continuously to be effective. What’s more, it’s important that the tool is updated to be able to discover whether there are flaws that can be exploited with the new hacking methods.

MITRE ATT&CK Framework is the resource that is used to ensure that the tool is up-to-date with the latest cyber techniques. The framework is a library that describes new methods that are likely to be detrimental to organizations.

Wider Understanding of the Attack Surface

External Attack Surface Management helps IT teams discover if there is any data or access points that could lead the threat actors straight into the infrastructures. It does so the same way hackers would, by considering any possible vulnerability and investigating the external attack surface.

Including external surface attack management in your regular cybersecurity hygiene is necessary. It gives IT teams a comprehensive image of the entire infrastructure, without overlooking its major part.

Having data under control is a major part of external surface attack management because leaked shadow IT or corporate intelligence can be used by threat actors to breach systems.

To patch up flaws early (before hackers discover them), continually scan the attack surface for possible leaked information, analyze the findings, and mitigate threats before they can turn into a serious incident.

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