External Attack Surface Management and Its Role in Combating Zero-Day Vulnerabilities

External Attack Surface Management and Its Role in Combating Zero-Day Vulnerabilities
5 minute read

In the dynamic and ever-changing realm of information security, confronting zero-day vulnerabilities is comparable to navigating through an unforeseen, turbulent storm. Just as a storm can be unpredictable and risky, yet offers opportunity for skilled navigators, zero-day vulnerabilities bring technological challenges and potential rewards for both discoverers and exploiters, creating a high-stakes, competitive environment.

For information security professionals and leaders, this competitive environment presents a perpetual challenge: staying one step ahead of the increasingly inventive and sophisticated cyber attackers. Here, we’ll offer not just strategies, but a new perspective on building resilience against zero-day vulnerabilities, helping to strengthen organizations’ security posture through external attack surface management. 

Embracing the Post-Breach Reality

Today, the information security industry is progressively adopting a ‘post-breach' mindset, acknowledging that breaches are not just possibilities but inevitabilities. In fact, over the past two years, 88% of organizations have grappled with the repercussions of a breach. 

Breach inevitability is a primary reason why organizations are increasingly compelled to adhere to cybersecurity frameworks and industry regulations and obtain cyber insurance coverage. At the same time, to reduce risk and ensure compliance, leaders are intensifying their focus on risk management practices and data forensics collection, including log and system data, to swiftly identify and mitigate breach impacts. 

Cutting-edge solutions such as extended detection and response (XDR), managed detection and response (MDR), endpoint protection platforms (EPP), and advanced network segmentation are being leveraged more than ever to help prepare for an attack. However, despite these robust defenses, the anxiety induced by each new vulnerability disclosure and the possibility of its exploitation leading to breach lingers.

That’s because the financial ramifications are significant. The average cost of a breach for commercial businesses is $198,000, with insurance only covering 79%. In contrast, enterprise businesses, facing an average breach cost of $8.5 million, find themselves with an average cyber insurance policy coverage of only 43%. 

Such penalties underscore the crucial role of a diversified cybersecurity strategy and robust incident response plan, as organizations grapple with both the increased frequency and damaging financial impact of cyber incidents.

The Imperative of Ongoing Attack Surface Awareness

In a post-breach reality, maintaining continuous awareness of an organization's internet-facing infrastructure, including domains, IP addresses, third-parties, and certificates, has emerged as a critical factor in reducing anxiety and enhancing proactive security measures. 

Comprehensive attack surface awareness begins with establishing and maintaining a robust asset inventory, laying the groundwork for informed and timely decision-making in threat mitigation and remediation. Keeping this inventory up to date ensures that all new systems and services are constantly monitored and correlated against known threats, reinforcing a proactive security posture.

Securing the Unknowns

The rise of the external attack surface has led security analysts to demand a greater awareness of their internet infrastructure. This knowledge is critical to understanding both the known and unknown exposures that could be exploited by opportunistic threat actors. 

However, a deeper understanding of the typical security analyst workflow reveals that they need assistance with their tactical action plans in order to drive faster mean time to resolution (MTTR). 

As it currently stands, security analysts are constantly attempting to uncover emerging threats and their relevance to their organization. The most proactive organizations are compelled to continuously uncover and address blind spots from past deployments while staying abreast of new ones. Manual efforts for system maintenance are no longer sufficient.

Instead, continuous and automated asset discovery has evolved from a nice-to-have to a must-have to prevent surprises from emerging environments and new services. This is not an occasional task but a consistent commitment to stay ahead of the exposures that attackers will leverage against an organization.

Gaining an Advantage with EASM

External attack surface management (EASM) introduces a strategic advantage, providing a powerful framework for effective decision-making, saving organizations time and money. By offering advanced visibility and awareness of rapidly evolving threats, EASM enables organizations of all sizes to proactively address evolving threats. 

Consider recent vulnerabilities like those zero-days found in Ivanti Connect Secure VPN (CVE-2023-46805 and CVE-2024-21887): with an EASM solution, it would rapidly search an organization’s inventory to check for affected assets and quickly identify exposures for critical insights, such as risk prioritization and reach of these vulnerabilities across an attack surface. Given the global distribution of organizations, the ability to swiftly assess potential vulnerabilities across the attack surface is crucial. This capability distinguishes efficient responses to emerging threats from the increased risk of a security breach.

Overall, EASM ensures that a technology and security program is well-equipped to handle the challenges posed by emerging zero-day vulnerabilities and widespread exposures by altering the way an organization navigates these scenarios. In instances where endpoint clients are without CVEs, EASM search capabilities prove indispensable. Security teams can rapidly pinpoint vulnerable services such as Pulse Secure, gaining a significant advantage in timely threat response and improving MTTR.

When these types of threats emerge, they are generally met with some sort of fire drill that causes panic. When deployed correctly, EASM can remove some of that pressure, allowing security teams to make calculated adjustments enabling straightforward and well-managed situations. 

In essence, EASM empowers an organization to stay ahead of the curve, providing a proactive and resilient approach to safeguarding an organization's digital assets.

Proactive Defense for Zero-Day Vulnerabilities Leveraging EASM

To effectively manage zero-day anxiety, a proactive, multi-faceted security program is essential. This includes constant vigilance, regular updates to asset inventories, and harnessing the capabilities of advanced tools like EASM

For ZeroFox, staying ahead of the exploit release cycle is not merely a challenge - it’s an essential duty. By adopting a post-breach mindset and fortifying it with a strong proactive defense strategy that includes external attack surface management, organizations can confidently navigate the zero-day minefield, ensuring resilience in their digital presence and security in an uncertain threat landscape.

Tags: Digital Risk ProtectionExternal Attack Surface Management

See ZeroFox in action