Tools, Techniques, and Best Practices to Effectively Reduce Your Organization’s External Attack Surface

Tools, Techniques, and Best Practices to Effectively Reduce Your Organization’s External Attack Surface
8 minute read

An external attack surface refers to the parts of your organization's digital information that are stored outside the enterprise network and could be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Effective and proactive attack surface reduction strategies can complement your organization’s existing security measures to provide maximum protection against breach by minimizing the number of potentially vulnerable points in your network that cyber criminals can exploit. 

Web domains, social media profiles, business collaboration software platforms, or email accounts are all a part of your organization's external attack surface because they all potentially serve as a point of access that threat actors can exploit to cause a breach or gain access to sensitive data.

This article will cover methods for reducing your external attack surface, techniques to implement in creating a secure digital landscape, tools such as secure network design and a zero-trust architecture that can support a smaller attack surface that thwarts prospective cyber attacks before they ever materialize.

The Importance of Attack Surface Reduction Strategies

The key to attack surface management is not eliminating every single potential entry point, but rather to have a clear organizational strategy around how you structure your data and information architecture in a way that still allows for effectiveness and innovation while also minimizing your potential risks. In short: you should have better visibility on your attack surface than your adversaries do.

Restructuring your external attack surface can help remove easy access points for hackers and protect your organization's sensitive data. It can also mitigate the risk of the negative consequences of a breach because your information is more secure.

What To Do To Reduce Your External Attack Surface

When considering which strategies to implement to minimize your organization's attack surface, keep in mind the goal is to reduce accessibility to threat agents and streamline the external aspects of your network's infrastructure. 

You can do this by applying these principles and strategies:

Principle Of Least Privilege

Adhere to the principle of least privilege by allowing access to your digital platforms on an "as-needed" basis. This means that you only allow users to have access to the least amount of data needed to use the parts of your platform you have designed for them.

Patch Management And Vulnerability Remediation

When your IT team is creating new patches and software updates, make strategic and conscious efforts that new code or updates do not negatively affect the security or access measures you have enacted. Watch and remedy any vulnerabilities that appear with the intent of not creating another potential attack vector.

Network Segmentation

Create firewalls around each aspect of your organization's data. Coding firewalls around your organization's digital storage makes it more difficult for a hacker to access your internal networks, and can simplify your entire cybersecurity system because of the inaccessibility of your most important data.

Defense In Depth

Protect valuable data and more advanced access logins behind a series of defensive mechanisms and firewalls that create a continually more complicated attack vector that can thwart a threat agent's efforts.

Applications of Attack Surface Reduction Techniques

Reduce your organization's external attack surface by applying the principles we have discussed and using solutions for external attack surface protection. When strengthening specific attack vectors such as your network infrastructure, your web applications, and your cloud environments, various techniques have proven effective.  

Here are some examples of attack surface reduction methods:

Reducing Attack Surface In Network Infrastructure

Your network infrastructure is the part of your organization's data that offers the maximum opportunity to build your security system from the ground up to match your organization's needs. When designing network infrastructure with attack surface reduction in mind, you can leverage the following techniques:

  • Secure Network Design: Create a network design that prioritizes security. Only grant access to data and systems to persons who work directly with those systems. Use defensive mechanisms to avoid unauthorized access to unnecessary information.
  • Network Access Control: Control who can access your networks through multi-factor authentication practices and secure passwords.
  • Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems: Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) software can monitor your network's activity and alert your cybersecurity team to investigate further. This can help you see which vectors hackers are using, and allow you to add firewalls or extra protection to these parts of your system. 
  • Data Loss Prevention: Create regular backups that are strictly protected inside your network to prevent data loss from attack efforts by a threat agent.

Reducing Attack Surface In Web Applications

Web applications are the lifeblood of many organizations, which is why it is so important to keep them secure and minimize your risk of cyber attacks. Consider these strategies to minimize your external attack surface when designing web applications:

  • Secure Software Development Life Cycle: Adding security testing into your existing process during web application development can simplify the process of having the right security in place in your applications.
  • Input Validation and Sanitization: Use validation checks to ensure that your applications meet your security and functionality criteria, then use sanitization to adjust the program. This process keeps applications from becoming bloated with unnecessary attack vectors while ensuring functionality.
  • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Prevention: Design your web applications to keep information on a webpage encoded against attack when being viewed by the authorized user.
  • SQL Injection Prevention: Encourage your developers to use parameterized queries in all entry fields of the software.

Reducing Attack Surface In Cloud Environments

Storing information in cloud environments unlocks a multitude of opportunities when it comes to efficiency and automation for your business. However, protecting that data can present unique challenges when it comes to managing and reducing your organization’s attack surface.

Cyber security best practices to keep in mind when accessing cloud-based environments include regularly checking for compromise, using multi-factor authentication, monitoring your accounts for security risks and avoiding the reuse of old passwords.

Other steps your organization can take to keep your data secure in cloud environments include:

  • Data Privacy and Encryption: Any data that must be stored in cloud environments should be protected by encryption. Particularly if the data contains information about other persons or organizations you work with, use strong protective measures to block access from unauthorized persons.
  • Identity and Access Management: Use technologies and organizational processes to ensure that only authorized persons or digital programs only have access to the parts of your system they need, specifically during the times when they need to access them.
  • Zero-Trust Architecture: Keep your cloud-based features and processes locked away behind zero-trust architecture so that users must first prove their identity and the security of the device they are using for access to your cloud environments.

Measuring and Monitoring Attack Surface Reduction Efforts

External attack surface management (EASM) is an ongoing process that your organization should continuously refine over time. 

To get started, you can use a vulnerability assessment to see where your organization is potentially weak to attacks and where you can make improvements. After you have enacted the methods outlined above across your vulnerable external attack surface, it is crucial that you continue to monitor how your efforts have affected your systems and how successful they have been in reducing your external attack surface. 

Your security team must continue to refine their process because adding in updates and code that promotes a higher level of security could inadvertently create a new attack vector for a breach. Use these methods to bolster your cybersecurity as part of an ongoing process to streamline your external attack surface mapping:

Security Metrics And Key Performance Indicators (Kpis)

Using a key performance indicator (KPI) to check in on how your cybersecurity measures are working in preventing unauthorized access to your organization's data can give you a checkpoint on what parts of your security need further attention. Using KPIs and security metrics can help you stay on target with your external surface reduction and cybersecurity goals.

Continuous Monitoring And Incident Response

Having an AI program that continually monitors your network for signs of a breach and carefully investigating each incident can help you gauge how well your current protective measures are working.

Security Audits And Assessments

Regularly schedule security audits and assessments that check in on any potential vulnerabilities in your external surface mapping. 

Threat Intelligence Integration

Use threat intelligence software to gain further insights into what your organization can do to stay ahead of threats as they emerge.

Future-Proofing: What to Expect From Future Trends in Attack Surface Reduction

Attack surface reduction will continue to be a vital part of your organization's cybersecurity as threat agents continue to explore new ways of hacking and breaching advanced networks. Some of the trends in attack surface reduction and monitoring that we are already seeing improve cybersecurity and reduce the risk of attack include:

Machine Learning And Artificial Intelligence In Cybersecurity

Machine learning and AI are exceptionally well suited to cybersecurity measures because these technologies are fast and efficient at recognizing patterns and abnormalities and can adapt based on threats they observe and see neutralized.

Blockchain-Based Security Solutions

These tools can analyze the environment around a particular blockchain and detect potential risks.

Iot Security And The Expanding Attack Surface

Because the Internet of Things (IoT) was not designed with security as a priority, it presents vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Many organizations are restructuring their access points and use of the IoT to include more security measures and thereby promote external surface reduction through these connected networks.

Quantum Computing In Attack Surface Reduction

As quantum computing continues to transition from theory to reality, its impacts on cybersecurity will continue to grow. This is true both in terms of the possible attacks threat agents may be able to create using this new technology as well as in the ways that cyber security professionals will leverage new technologies to counter those threats.

Stay a Step Ahead of your Adversaries With External Attack Surface Management From ZeroFox

At ZeroFox, our cybersecurity experts are constantly evolving the methods and tools that we use to monitor our clients’ external attack surface, identify threats early, and disrupt potential adversaries and attacks before they can cause damage to your business’s bottom line and reputation. 

Attack surface reduction can be an intimidating task for those unfamiliar with the tools and techniques involved. If your organization is unsure where to start when it comes to mapping your attack surface and identifying and remediating any potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cyber criminals, Get a Demo today to learn how ZeroFox can support your organization and keep you a step ahead of your adversaries.

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