External Attack Surface Management and Its Role in Mitigating Shadow IT Risks

External Attack Surface Management and Its Role in Mitigating Shadow IT Risks
4 minute read

Shadow IT arises when well-intentioned employees adopt unsanctioned software and devices without the explicit approval of their organization's IT department. In the dynamic and intricate realm of cybersecurity, this phenomenon represents a formidable and often under-appreciated challenge. 

Shadow IT, while aimed at driving efficiency, inadvertently broadens the organization's attack surface, elevating its vulnerability to cyber threats. This situation brings to light the critical importance of External Attack Surface Management (EASM) for cybersecurity analysts and practitioners. EASM transcends its role as a visibility tool, becoming an indispensable asset in identifying, assessing, and mitigating the hidden risks associated with shadow IT.

Unveiling the Hidden Shadow IT Risks: The Imperative of EASM

For cybersecurity professionals, navigating the murky waters of shadow IT is akin to venturing into an unknown territory in the dark. EASM serves as a crucial navigational aid in this journey, providing the means to uncover and illuminate the unauthorized and often overlooked digital assets within an organization. 

An example of this scenario is the use of unsanctioned cloud services. When developers face constraints and seek efficiency, they may resort to utilizing cloud platforms like AWS, Google Cloud Platform, or Azure to host their development environments and applications without IT approval. This includes storing critical project files, databases, and running production applications. 

If sensitive data and intellectual property are stored on these unsanctioned platforms, or if crucial applications are hosted there, it poses security and compliance risks. Migrating these essential applications and data to the company's approved cloud infrastructure becomes imperative to mitigate these risks and return the organization to lower risk levels.

By bringing these assets to light, cybersecurity analysts can implement effective governance and bolster the organization's defenses. However, the role of EASM extends beyond mere discovery. In the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats, where new vulnerabilities can emerge at any moment, EASM extends further down the remediation lifecycle to provide ongoing vigilance—monitoring the organization's digital periphery to detect exposures arising from shadow IT and actively alert on them. 

This continuous monitoring is vital for cybersecurity practitioners, ensuring they can maintain a robust defense in a terrain where change is the only constant.

Enabling Secure Growth and Compliance

EASM offers invaluable insights and control mechanisms for organizations of all sizes and types:

  • For emerging startups, it provides a clear understanding of their digital footprint, enabling security while scaling. 
  • For medium-sized organizations, EASM serves as a pivotal tool for navigating the complexities of their digital infrastructure and enables low-friction through security concerns while in the growth phase. 
  • For large enterprises, EASM is instrumental in upholding compliance and governance standards across sprawling digital ecosystems, protecting against the inherent shadow IT risks. 

In fact, 62% of organizations claim their attack surface grew over the past two years and it takes about 50% of organizations more than 80 person-hours to just discover their attack surface. As these organizations grow, EASM ensures streamlined security measures all while maintaining regulatory compliance and governance standards. 

Safeguarding High-Stakes Sectors

In sectors like healthcare and finance, where data sensitivity and regulatory scrutiny are high, EASM's role is irreplaceable. In Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), healthcare and financial services firms were two of the most targeted industries. When attackers target these types of firms, one of their targets is shadow IT. EASM can serve as fortification against unauthorized deployments of rogue installations of software and devices, ensuring that the principles of privacy and data integrity are vigorously defended. This is crucial for preventing breaches that could erode trust and have devastating consequences on sensitive information.

Promoting a Culture of Cybersecurity Awareness

Beyond its technical capabilities, EASM can play a pivotal role in cultivating a culture where cybersecurity is everyone's responsibility. It can enlighten security and IT leaders to understand what their employees are trying to accomplish and educate them on what tools they should be investigating for their business. IT and security teams can then use this data to engage employees about the risks of shadow IT, promoting a mindset that prioritizes secure technology adoption. This cultural shift is essential for building a resilient organizational defense against cyber threats.

Mitigating Shadow IT Risks and Charting a Secure Path Forward

For cybersecurity analysts and practitioners, integrating EASM into their cybersecurity strategy is like embarking on a voyage with the right tools to identify and uncover security risks in their path forward. It represents a commitment to navigate the digital domain with confidence, assured that even the most concealed threats are being identified and mitigated. It’s a foundational element in the collective effort to map and fortify every corner of their digital footprint

With EASM as part of their arsenal, cybersecurity professionals are better equipped to uncover and protect against the obscured shadow IT risks, ensuring a more secure and more compliant digital landscape for all.

Tags: External Attack Surface ManagementShadow IT

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