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Attack surface management is an important practice many businesses should employ to secure their machines and systems. To defeat them, you must think like them, so attack surface management does exactly this. It allows you to approach security from the perspective of an attacker. Today, we will do a quick dive into the subject, and together, we will discover how employing ASM can help you to better secure the assets of your organization.

Attack Surface – What Is It?

Before we dive into ASM tips and tricks, we must first find out what attack surface really means. The attack surface encompasses all of the attack vectors cybercriminals can use to manipulate an organization’s network. Think of it as the totality of a business’s software, hardware, cloud, SaaS accessible from the Internet. For a clearer view, we can split the attack surface into several categories:

  • On-Site Assets: assets such as servers and hardware;
  • Cloud Assets: cloud servers, databases, SaaS applications, and any other asset that leverages the cloud for operation or for delivery;
  • Unknown Assets: can also be referred to as “shadow assets”. Here we can include any infrastructure that is no longer in the view of the security team such as development websites;
  • Rogue Assets: these are malicious infrastructures that threat actors use to steal company data such as malware, or impersonations of your website;
  • Vendors: you should pay attention not only to the assets owned by your business but also to the assets purchased from an external vendor or partner. Many breaches may come through your vendors and there are plenty of examples to back this up.

What Is Attack Surface Management?

Now that we have established a clear view of the attack surface and what elements it contains, it’s time to move on to ASM.

Attack Surface Management is a process that involves the continuous discovery, classification, prioritization, and monitoring of the IT infrastructure of an organization. What makes ASM different and efficient is that it changes the perspective of the defender. You are seeing the process from the perspective of the attacker instead of the victim’s. Thus, it can better identify the targets and assess the risks based on the opportunities that they would bring to the threat actor. Numerous ASM tasks and technologies are developed and carried out by “ethical hackers,” who are knowledgeable about the tactics used by cybercriminals and adept at imitating their actions. ASM relies on many of the same techniques and resources that hackers utilize.

The term is sometimes used interchangeably with EASM (external attack surface management), but there are key differences between EASM and ASM.

EASM is a process that only focuses on the risks and vulnerabilities present in the organization’s external or internet-facing IT assets (thus its name), while ASM also addresses vulnerabilities such as malicious insiders, or inadequate end-user training against phishing attacks.


The Phases of Effective ASM

Essentially, the process of attack surface management can be divided into four cyclical processes that happen continuously: discovery, classification and prioritization, remediation, and finally monitoring.

1.     Discovery   

Asset discovery searches for and locates internet-facing hardware, software, and cloud assets that potentially serve as entry points for hackers or cybercriminals attempting to attack a business automatically and continually. We have already classified the categories and assets falling in each one of them earlier in the article.

2.     Classification and Prioritization

Once we have our assets identified, it is time to classify them accordingly, for a better overall view on them and for easier prioritization by the threat level it consists.

Assets in the IT infrastructure are inventoried according to their identification, IP address, ownership, and linkages to other assets. They are examined for potential vulnerabilities, the reasons behind such vulnerabilities (such as code flaws, misconfigurations, and missing patches), and the types of attacks that hackers might use these vulnerabilities to launch (e.g., stealing sensitive data, spreading ransomware or other malware).

3.     Remediation

After following the steps mentioned earlier, the organization is well equipped to identify and remediate the vulnerabilities. Typically, these are remediated in the order of priority and can involve:

  • Adopting the proper security measures to the asset in question, such as installing greater data encryption, applying software or operating system patches, and troubleshooting application code
  • Establishing security standards for previously unmanaged IT, retiring orphaned IT securely, removing rogue assets, and incorporating subsidiary assets into the organization’s cybersecurity strategy, rules, and procedures are all examples of bringing previously unknown assets under control.

4.     Monitoring

Both the network’s inventoried assets and the network itself should constantly be monitored and scanned for vulnerabilities since security threats in the organization’s attack surface alter any time new assets are deployed or current assets are deployed in novel ways. ASM can identify and evaluate fresh vulnerabilities and attack pathways in real time, and it can notify security teams of any vulnerabilities that require quick attention.

Importance of Attack Surface Management

Even for smaller businesses, there is a vast terrain of potential assault points. Its security must be ensured at all costs. However, attack surfaces are continuously shifting, particularly given how many assets are now spread via the cloud. The number of external assets and targets security teams must safeguard has expanded as a result of contexts such as the pandemic and the newly generated wave of work-from-home opportunities. A lot of security teams never completely evaluate external attack surfaces because hackers are automating their reconnaissance tools.

How Can Heimdal® Help Your Organization?

When it comes to attack surface management, it is firstly important to have a knowing of how large your attack surface is and in what state are all the assets that are composing it. Heimdal® Security’s Patch and Asset Management is a solution that lets you deploy and patch your company’s software on-the-fly, from anywhere in the world, according to a schedule of your convenience.

Our solution is customizable, and it offers you a complete visibility and granular control over the entire software inventory of your company.

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Wrapping Up

Taking into consideration all the points made previously in the article, we can draw a clear conclusion regarding the importance an efficient attack surface management procedure has on an organization if implemented.

By clearly identifying, classifying, and monitoring the assets your company has at its disposal, it is much easier to stay prepared, and not allow threat actors to take you by surprise and potentially harm not only your business, but also other parties related to it.

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Author Profile

Cristian Neagu


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Cristian is a Content Editor & Creator at Heimdal®, where he developed a deep understanding of the digital threat landscape. His style resonates with both technical and non-technical readers, proof being in his skill of communicating cybersecurity norms effectively, in an easy-to-understand manner.

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