What is External Attack Surface Management?

Attack Surface Management
5 min read
James Mignacca
October 26, 2022
James Mignacca
October 26, 2022
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Organizations today store an ever-increasing amount of data. As data grows, the risk that companies will fall prey to malicious cyber threats and data loss also increases.

In fact, a CyCognito and ESG Report, found that 68 percent of organizations have experienced an attack originating from an unknown, unmanaged, or poorly managed company asset. Even more (75 percent) expect they will experience this type of attack in the future.

That’s why attack surface management is critical for data protection. Attack surface management is the use of people, processes, best practices and technology to manage and mitigate cyber risk and the threats to a company’s assets.

Attack surface management is a cybersecurity tactic that approaches threat detection and vulnerability management from the perspective of the attacker, with companies identifying and evaluating the risk posed by both known and unknown assets.

There are two elements that attack surface management focuses on:

  1. Cyber risk and threats that target a company’s external digital assets
  2. Cyber risk and threats that target a company’s internal digital assets

When it comes to protecting a company’s external digital assets, this is typically known as external attack surface management. In this blog, we are going to explore what that term means and what is involved in implementing it.

What is an external attack surface?

Every company has an external attack surface. This is the entirety of a business's internet-facing assets and associated attack vectors that can be exploited by a cyber threat to steal sensitive data.

An external attack surface is typically made up of a wide range of assets, including operating systems, IoT devices, servers, domain names, public cloud services and security devices. These assets could be located on-premises, in the cloud or from third-party vendors.

When it comes to a company’s external attack surface, some of the main challenges include:

  • Distributed IT ecosystems
  • Siloed teams
  • Constantly changing external attack surfaces

These challenges typically leave businesses with a complete lack of visibility into what their external attack surface looks like, leaving them unable to improve how they protect it.

What is external attack surface management?

External attack surface management, sometimes referred to as EASM, is a cybersecurity tactic designed to better protect a company’s external attack surface (and all of the assets associated with it) from malicious cyber threats.

EASM helps organizations identify and manage risks associated with internet-facing assets and systems, so that the business can better uncover threats that are difficult to detect and better understand their true external attack surface.

To do this, external attacks surface management uses processes and technologies to identify cloud misconfigurations, exposed credentials, shadow IT, software vulnerabilities, as well as other security weaknesses that cyber attackers can exploit.

Some companies still rely on vulnerability scanning for baseline EASM, but this is a legacy tactic. Traditional vulnerability assessments offer point-in-time results that quickly expire and fail to give you an accurate picture of your business’s digital assets, the sensitive data they contain and the risks they produce.

Relying on this legacy tactic leaves your business in the dark when it comes to understanding your business’s overall attack surface.

How does external attack surface management work?

External attack surface management helps businesses discover, manage and monitor their external perimeter at scale, allowing them to prioritize the risk of all attack surfaces and remediate them.

To do this, EASM uses the following technologies and processes:

Asset discovery: A company’s external attack surface cannot be protected until all of the company’s assets are visible. The use of a continuous asset and data discovery platform helps businesses to uncover and map unknown external-facing assets.

Data classification: By building an accurately classified inventory, through the use of automated data classification, businesses are able to easily access the assets they manage and can prioritize data protection tactics based on risk or sensitivity.

Analysis: Once a business has discovered all of their assets, it’s critical that they evaluate the risk level of each asset. This helps organizations find the assets that are the most vulnerable to malicious cyber attacks, which leads us on to our next point.

Prioritization: With the risk level of each asset evaluated, companies are then able to prioritize their data protection efforts so that they focus on the external attack surface assets that are the most vulnerable.

Ultimately, understanding your business’s attack surface starts with knowing where your business’s data is. Complete data visibility supports a broad spectrum of proactive cybersecurity measures and virtually eliminates the need for legacy penetration tests and vulnerability assessments.

Emerging technologies like EASM and CAASM address the new and complex use cases that form your business's attack surface. Download our Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management buyer's guide to learn more about attack surface management strategy and whether CAASM solutions are right for your business.

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