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The Evolution of External Attack Surface Management: From Cyber Warfare and Enterprise Luxury to Mainstream Business Necessity

5 minute read

External attack surface management (EASM) has transformed completely over the last few decades, evolving from a siloed function of concerned governments engaged in cyber warfare to an essential component of enterprise luxury risk management. 

Today, EASM is a critical component in the cybersecurity strategies of businesses of all sizes. It has become indispensable in protecting a company’s digital assets against the escalating threat landscape, enabling organizations to comprehend their digital footprint, understand its exposures, and take action before attackers can. 

But, to truly understand its importance, we have to understand its origins and evolution. We’ll go back to the early days to lay the groundwork for today’s EASM, a core element of a strong external cybersecurity practice, and explain why tomorrow’s EASM will only become more critical as the digital world rapidly expands.

The Early Days: Cyber Warfare and External Attack Surface Management

Initially, the concept of managing and visualizing the external attack surface was primarily a concern of governments and the military aiming to gain advantage on the battlefield. A new frontier was discovered as EASM was developed as a cyber attack surface espionage and defense strategy. That’s when Jeff Foley, founder of Project Amass, was early in his career supporting the United States Air Force Research Laboratory in developing cyber warfare capabilities. 

After that, Foley worked in several sectors, including financial, energy, and internet security, and noticed that they all had one thing in common: they weren’t aware of how many of their assets were exposed and vulnerable on the internet. Governments invested heavily in both offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, recognizing that the risk and potential of the digital domain was greatly impactful to national security. Foley saw that the commercial world needed the same kind of visibility and created Project Amass to meet that need. These early EASM systems focused on detecting external threats, but were constrained by the technology and scale of digital environments at the time.

A Transition to the Corporate World: A Luxury for Large Enterprises

Initially, EASM was a luxury of large corporations equipped to handle complex and costly cybersecurity solutions. As the internet and digital technologies became more integral to how businesses operated, more of the commercial world started to see the value. Often corporations with significant resources paired with significant digital operating risk had no choice but to ensure their cybersecurity posture was buttoned up. These groups invested heavily in sophisticated cyber defenses, with a core element being EASM to ensure visibility and protection of their external-facing assets, data, and reputation.

The Growing Threat Landscape: Increasing Frequency of Cyber Attacks

The way business is conducted today, digital transformation is necessary. And, while businesses grow their digital presence and capabilities, there’s a growing appetite and increasingly more opportunity for adversaries. For example, with cloud services, IoT devices, and remote work models, attack surfaces dramatically increased. A notable example is the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack, which affected more than 200,000 computers across 150 countries, showing that no business is too small to be targeted. In 2023, the average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million, and ZeroFox reported an almost 50% increase in ransomware incidents.

The threats don’t stop here though. AI, in its 2023 advent, has spread like wildfire, enabling adversaries to more effectively attack their targets. The rise of cyber threats demonstrates the clear need for visibility on the battlefield and proves EASM isn’t a privilege—it’s a critical element of a strong cybersecurity posture.

External Attack Surface Management Goes Mainstream

Advancements in EASM technologies have reduced its cost and improved its accessibility. Organizations are realizing the need for thorough and prioritized visibility and, through a combination of better capabilities and cost requirements, it’s now a vital component of comprehensive cybersecurity programs. Add in the advancement of a rapidly changing threat landscape and you have a tidal wave of businesses adopting EASM practices to gain operational assurance. 

This shift is driven by several factors:

Increased Regulatory Requirements

With the introduction of regulations, like the new SEC cyber breach disclosure requirements, GDPR, and NYDFS, businesses are now legally required to ensure the security of their data, making EASM a compliance solution.

Public Awareness and Brand Reputation

As cyber incidents gained public attention, businesses realized the importance of cybersecurity in maintaining customer trust and brand reputation as a means to ensure revenue.

Affordability and Accessibility 

The market responded to growing demand with more affordable and user-friendly EASM solutions, making them accessible to smaller businesses.

Integrating EASM 

Businesses began to view EASM as part of their overall risk management strategy, essential for protecting their assets and ensuring business continuity.

The Future of EASM

EASM lays the foundation for a rapid evolution in response to an ever-changing threat landscape. And, as businesses continue operationalizing EASM with enhancements in automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, it will become indispensable to advancing the security of their digital footprint.

The future of EASM requires seamless integration into business processes, led by sophisticated AI and predictive analytics for proactive security measures. Enhancing its effectiveness, organizations will look strategically to build upon this foundation by incorporating digital risk protection services (DRPS) and cyber threat intelligence (CTI). In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2026, 70% of organizations will use a converged ASM and DRPS solution from a single vendor, up from 5% in 2022. 

These additional components bring valuable layers of intelligence and protection, enriching EASM’s capabilities to drive positive outcomes for organizations. As digital ecosystems expand, new regulations and standards are expected, further highlighting the need for adaptable EASM, DRPS, and CTI solutions. 

EASM serves as the cornerstone for a comprehensive exposure management framework, and its effectiveness is amplified when combined with DRPS and CTI. Together, they deliver proactive cybersecurity, enhanced decision-making, resource optimization, and trust building in the digital ecosystem all in a concise and comprehensive manner. The journey of EASM, enriched by DRPS and CTI, from a tool of cyber warfare to a mainstream business necessity illustrates the changing dynamics of the digital world. As cyber threats evolve, our approaches to managing and mitigating them must evolve as well.

EASM and ZeroFox

As the leader in external cybersecurity, we continuously pave the way for innovation—and external attack surface management is no different. Our EASM solution is helping to define this maturing category, and we’re excited for the developments to come. Keep an eye on our website and stay tuned for more.

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