What is Attack Surface Management? – The Complete Look

Written By Sambita Panigrahy  
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh 
Published On August 29th, 2023
Reading Time 6 Minutes Reading

Cloud adoption, digital transformation, and expansion of remote work have made the company’s average digital footprint and attack surface larger & more distributed. Thus, the attack surface needs to be managed for better protection from probable breaches. Attack Surface Management or ASM guides organizations to discover, prioritize, and remediate vulnerabilities present in the IT environments.

But, what is attack surface in the first place?

attack surface

So, it becomes crucial to keep the attack surface as small as possible. And, that can be done through proper management. 

Attack Surface Management – How Does it Work?

Before moving forward, first, let’s have a look at the below facts.

ASM statistics show that nearly 69% of organizations have experienced a cyber attack that began from an unknown or poorly managed company asset. On the other hand, 31% of organizational breaches occur due to vulnerabilities present in the cloud. 

It’s certain from the above figures that cyber-attacks are happening as a result of the mismanagement of an organization’s IT infrastructure & misuse of its assets. 

As a matter of fact, in today’s ever-evolving intrusion patterns, only thinking from a defender’s perspective is not enough. And, that’s when ASM comes into the picture.

Unlike other cybersecurity practices, ASM is carried out entirely from the attacker’s point of view. It relies on most of the same methods and resources the hackers use. Usually, the tasks and technologies are planned & performed by authorized or ethical hackers since they are familiar with cybercriminals’ behaviors and, most importantly, skilled at mimicking their actions.

Different Types of Attack Surface Management

Mainly, there are two types of attack surface management. 

  1. Internal Attack Surface Management: It focuses on identifying and reducing potential security vulnerabilities within an organization’s internal network, systems, and processes. Organizations can prevent hackers from exploiting weak attack vectors by using this.
  2. External Attack Surface Management: Similarly, it involves identifying, monitoring, and reducing the points of vulnerability that are accessible from outside an organization’s network. It focuses on securing assets that are exposed to the public internet.

Role of ASM in Mitigating Risks

Cybercriminals these days are evolving and with the ever-growing attack surface, they find new ways (the ones that are often overlooked) to get into an organization’s IT perimeter. For instance, in one of the cyber attacks, the cybercriminals were able to install malicious software in a company’s supply chain routes.

And, that is why ASM is important.

attack surface management

Anyways, as discussed earlier, ASM works differently as compared to other security measures. It determines targets and evaluates risks based on the chances a malicious attacker would have to take advantage of each target.

So, by following the attack surface management strategies, security specialists can protect & cover all the aspects of attack surfaces including known & unknown assets, rouge assets, vendors, and other internet-facing assets.

Secondly, with ASM, organizations can improve visibility across all potential attack vendors. Thereby, it enables them to take targeted actions to enhance the security posture. As a result, it becomes easier to mitigate risks associated with specific assets or even reduce the attack surface itself.

Besides an effective ASM tool can –

  • Automate asset review, discovery, and remediation
  • Continuously map all resources
  • Quickly locate and disable shadow IT assets and other unknown assets.
  • Remove known vulnerabilities including bad passwords, configuration errors, and out-of-date or unpatched software.

Attack Surface Management Process — Learn The Core Functions

Security teams constantly strive to respond more quickly to the attacks and vulnerabilities that pose the greatest danger to the enterprise. So, to manage the attack surface properly, they follow a systematic 5 step approach.

attack surface management steps

Step 1: Discovery

In this process, enterprises identify and map all digital assets across both internal and external attack surfaces. With modern ASM solutions, security experts find vulnerabilities and weaknesses present in the IT environment. In this way, it ensures no asset is left exposed to a potential point.

Step 2: Testing

In business, a new device or network is connected, and as a result, the attack surface changes frequently. So, continuous attack surface monitoring and testing are essential. In the testing step of attack surface management, IT experts review & analyze assets around the clock to block the introduction of new security vulnerabilities, find security gaps, and remove misconfigurations & other cyber security risks.

Step 3: Context

In an organization’s IT infrastructure, any asset can act as an entry point, and simultaneously not all assets pose the same threat. So, in the context step, security professionals conduct attack surface analysis and deliver relevant information about exposed assets and their context. Such as when, where, and how the asset is used, who owns the asset & its IP address, network connection points, etc.

Step 4: Prioritization

Once security experts discover vulnerabilities present in the attack surface and understand its context. The next step is to prioritize the risks as per the severity levels. With proper ASM, it’s easier to provide actionable risk scoring and security ratings based on the visibility of the vulnerability, how easily it can be exploited, the complications present in the risk, etc.

Step 5: Remediation

Last but the most important step of attack surface management is remediation. Skilled IT professionals are now equipped with the latest tools not only to identify critical risks but also to remediate them as per priority.

Final Thoughts

To stop today’s ever-growing cyber attack, enterprises need a 360-degree view of their attack surface & monitoring/managing of all digital assets. However, with the help of a trusted Managed Cyber Security Service partner, the task of managing an organization’s attack surface becomes easier.

SysTools’ proven Attack Surface Management strategy accelerates the detection and incident response process, empowers collaboration on threat investigation, and proactively manages all internet-facing assets. 

FAQs on Attack Surface Management 

Q. How often an organization should assess its attack surface?

It depends on the following parameters.

  • Size of the organization
  • Attack surface complexity
  • Level of risk

Hence, it’s suggested to perform a continuous assessment of the attack surface.

Q. What is the most effective way to measure the effectiveness of an attack surface management program?

There are no ideal measures that would estimate the effectiveness. However, organizations can assess the impact by:

  • Evaluating the percentage of vulnerabilities mitigated over a given period
  • Determining the time it takes to remediate vulnerabilities 
  • Calculating the reduction in risk associated with the attack surface
  • Assessing the organization’s compliance with relevant industry standards and regulations

Q. What are the critical vulnerabilities one should focus on?

Determining which security gaps to prioritize depends on factors such as the organization’s attack surface, level of risk, and how easily the gaps can be exploited.

Q. What are some known strategies for successful attack surface management?

To make attack surface management a success, an organization’s key focus should be on identifying, monitoring, and reducing points of vulnerabilities. Asset Inventory, Configuration Management, Patch Management, Network Segmentation, Cyber Security Training, etc. are a few of the key strategies.