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Attack Surface Assessment: Evaluating Your Organization’s Security Posture

6 minute read

An organization’s attack surface is its liability in cyberspace. Therefore, it is critically important to assess and manage your organization’s attack surface to keep that liability to a minimum. But you have to know how. In our last blog, we discussed the anatomy of an attack surface. In this follow-up blog, we’ll dive deep into what goes into an assessment, specifically focusing on external attack surface management.

The Necessity of Regular Assessment

The attack surface is dynamic, making continuous assessment vital. There are both private and public (or external) components to an attack surface, and additions to both deserve attention.  Internally, this involves monitoring every API, network device, virtual machine, and program. Externally, it means keeping track of your executives’ online postings, how your brand is being used on the internet, and the content and nature of tweets made in your company’s name. The external attack surface also includes all internet-facing assets like social media, surface and web domains, professional networking platforms, and the host of information lurking on the deep and dark web. 

Attack surface assessment identifies potential vulnerabilities and risks, so ongoing proactive assessment is crucial to reducing the likelihood of cyberattacks. Your attack surface constantly expands with every new online interface. Staying on top of it requires regular assessment using the right tools, which are designed to track attack surface spread and minimize its overall size.

Tools and Techniques for Assessment

Some of those tools and techniques include the following and are part of external attack surface mapping:

  • Asset discovery | Asset discovery is crucial as it finds “unknown, internet-facing assets” that your organization might be unaware of, as highlighted by Forrester analysts. This process is a fundamental part of external attack surface mapping. 
  • Vulnerability scanning | Once all assets are discovered, level-set with vulnerability scanning to determine which are at risk and which are at the most risk. And remember, vulnerability intelligence should always be part of an ongoing vulnerability management process that ultimately involves patching and remediation. 
  • Penetration testing | In external attack surface management, it’s not just about testing internal vulnerabilities. Teams also need to leverage end-to-end penetration testing tools for social media and other external assets.

These tools offer actionable insights into potential threats and weaknesses, enabling you to adopt a proactive approach rather than a reactive one. Attackers often rely on the element of surprise; by constantly monitoring your external attack surface, you can erode their advantage. This vigilance prepares you to be as ready for them as they are for you – if not more so.

Data Gathering and Analysis

When gathering data about the external attack surface, it is crucial to collect comprehensive and up-to-date information. Focus on present and emerging threats rather than expending resources on outdated issues or resolved concerns.

The internet is a vast reservoir of data, much of which is relevant to your organization. It requires discerning analysis, aided by the right technologies, to sift through this information effectively. Proper analysis is key in pinpointing vulnerabilities and security gaps. Once these flaws in the external attack surface are identified, this intelligence becomes crucial in shaping policies to prevent data loss.

Risk Prioritization and Mitigation

Given that resources are finite, it’s vital to prioritize identified risks and vulnerabilities based on their severity and potential impact. High-impact, high-probability threats should take precedence in your focus.

Once done, mitigation strategies can be implemented, including patch management and security policy improvements. Internal attack surface management requires things like antivirus software, email security solutions, Intrusion Detection Software (IDS), and encryption. External attack surface management mitigation strategies entail staying ahead of the game with proactive threat intelligence services that inform future preventative actions going forward, which brings us to our next point. 

Incident Response Planning

Effective attack surface management culminates in a robust incident response. At the heart of this process are adversary disruption techniques, known as “takedowns,” which aim to remove false or harmful online content promptly. Quick action here is crucial to minimize potential damage to your organization’s reputation and finances. Internally, this includes eliminating malware and blocking data exfiltration attempts.

Assessments of the attack surface are critical for shaping efficient incident response strategies. Without a well-mapped and understood attack surface, defenders may find themselves delayed or confused in their response efforts. It’s imperative that everyone knows their role; faltering at a critical moment can be costly. Clear incident response plans, paired with proactive risk mitigation, are vital for maintaining security in the modern digital landscape. Accurate assessments of the attack surface provide the necessary groundwork for these plans.

Monitoring and Ongoing Assessment

In the digital world, vigilance is a continuous requirement. Just as a garden needs regular watering, the digital enterprise requires ongoing attention to thrive. This includes your online brand presence, IoT devices, cloud architecture, and social media pages.

Continuous monitoring and assessment are akin to the constant upkeep of a garden, including the need to be wary of unexpected threats. Real-time threat intelligence is akin to a security camera, keeping a watchful eye on your digital assets. The better the intelligence, the more effective the threat hunting. Once a threat is identified, your team can act to recover compromised data or correct misrepresented information.

Constant evaluation of the attack surface is essential to stay ahead of emerging threats. What was safe yesterday may not be safe today. In the fast-paced world of cyber threats, adaptability and vigilance are key.

Implement a Regular Attack Surface Assessment

To effectively protect your digital assets, it’s crucial to first understand what those assets are and identify their vulnerabilities. This principle is as important for defenders as it is for attackers, who often aim to discover your attack surface and its weak points first. Gaining this insight before potential attackers is a key factor in maintaining the upper hand in cybersecurity.

Conducting regular attack surface assessments is therefore essential for a robust security posture. Such assessments help you identify all your digital assets, both internal and external, and evaluate their security status. In this process, tools like LookingGlass, renowned for its capabilities in external attack surface management and global threat intelligence, can be invaluable. Utilizing advanced toolsets like LookingGlass not only helps in discovering public-facing assets but also in comprehending their vulnerability landscape.

At ZeroFox, we recognize the importance of such advanced resources in cybersecurity strategies. That’s why we’ve integrated solutions like LookingGlass and contribute to projects like the OWASP Amass Project, aiming to provide government and business entities with sophisticated tools for uncovering their public-facing assets. It’s our belief that every company deserves to know the extent of their “business” exposure and how to protect it effectively.

Are you ready to start? It’s crucial to partner with a team that can help you uncover your digital assets, provide the necessary threat intelligence, and assist in protecting them, no matter how exposed they may be. Begin your journey towards a more secure digital presence by prioritizing regular attack surface assessments. Learn more about the tools, techniques, and best practices that reduce your external attack surface

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