Immediate Actions to Reduce the Cyber Attack Surface

What Is an Attack Surface?

Your “attack surface” is a susceptible area comprised of points in a network, system, or application at which an intruder could try to gain entry. Think of your attack surface as any opportunity or vulnerability a bad agent can exploit to gain access to part of your IT infrastructure. As a rule of thumb, if a network or asset has a network connection, consider it part of your attack surface.

Immediate Actions to Reduce the Cyber Attack Surface

The Effect of New Technology on Attack Surface Area

Defending the cyber attack surface was a whole lot easier when networks were outlined with a  well-defined corporate “perimeter.” In the days of defined network perimeters, reducing the attack surface was a straightforward task.

New digital technology has changed that completely, and networks’ perimeters now look something like the ozone layer: weakened, worn extremely thin, and posing a danger of allowing harmful UV light into planet Earth’s atmosphere.

Since it’s more fun to talk about cool outer space concepts than technical IT stuff, we’ll continue the analogy even further. Nowadays, our networks have reached outer space (otherwise known as the cloud), and our worries have moved on from harmful UV rays to contending with aliens! Cloud computing, remote work, microservices, and IoT have disrupted traditional definitions of attack surfaces and invited, to the glee of malicious hackers, some really easy windows of opportunity to breach our earthly systems.

Randori noted that an average of 30% of the assets discovered in a study they conducted were shadow IT assets, unknown to the security teams. In other words, approximately 1 in 3 assets are not being protected because they’re not even known to exist!

Studying the attack surface and fortifying the weak patches is essential to protect valuable data from cyber criminals and prevent potentially devastating damage. In this article, we will explain what an attack surface is, and analyze how to reduce your vulnerability to an attack. 

How Do You Manage Your Attack Surface?

Ongoing monitoring is necessary to offset potential cyber threats. Atack surface management is a combination of processes that assess and prioritize attack surface risks, as well as introduce strategies to reduce the attack surface and mitigate risks. 

Attack Surface Management Includes:

  • Risk assessments
  • Increase network visibility
  • Reducing your digital footprint and limiting external access points
  • Strengthening authentication requirements
  • Vulnerability management
  • Penetration testing

How Attackable Is Your Attack Surface?

Attackers look for a sensible route that will lead them to the prize. Their technical capabilities only go so far and, much like the rest of us, they work on budgets. They want to locate the most vulnerable assets as soon as they can and look for low-hanging fruit, often in the form of outdated software with known vulnerabilities or servers running unsupported program versions.

It’s helpful to adopt an attacker’s mindset and change your perspective to think like a hacker. With this perspective, you can determine which areas are most likely to be exploited from an outsider’s view, rather than assuming that the most critically-rated vulnerabilities pose the highest risk. 

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How to Perform an Attack Surface Analysis

To improve your security posture, your team can observe your network from a hacker’s point of view via attack surface analysis. Attack surface analysis is a useful tool to uncover potential attack surface reduction opportunities.

Attack Surface Analysis Overview

  • Attack Surface Mapping

Enumerate your attack surface to create a repository of known systems by employing an asset discovery tool to scan for all systems and inventory all assets. This is arguably the most important step because unknown assets cannot be protected.

  • Measure and Prioritize Vulnerabilities

Vulnerability management tools scan external and internal systems for known vulnerabilities and help with risk prioritization and remediation

  • Red teaming

Penetration testing provides insights about attack vectors that provide entry for attackers. Red teams will be able to help your security team think from the perspective of a hacker to address the most pressing attack vectors.

Reduce Attack Surface: Immediate Steps 

  1. Minimize Attack Surface Complexity 

Remove unneeded applications and devices to reduce the opportunities for attackers to exploit them. Less cyber exposure means less risk of vulnerabilities. Turn off features and services you don’t need.

Another way to reduce the attack surface is to avoid using too many third-party apps — these are often risky because their source code is widely available. The team must carefully test and review the code when using a third-party application to avoid introducing third-party vulnerabilities.

  1. Verify Configurations

Default configurations often turn on all application services and open all ports. The security process should include reviewing all digital assets and disabling unnecessary functions, services, or applications. By minimizing the attack surface and reviewing configurations of internet-facing assets, malicious actors will have a harder time infiltrating the environment. 

  1. Strict Authentication

Implementing continuous verification and Zero-Trust policies within an organization requires identity protection, strong password access controls, risk-based identity management, data encryption, and multi-factor authentication. 

  1. Limit the Attack Radius

If a breach occurs, minimizing the attacker’s lateral movement is critical. Zero Trust limits the east-west path an attacker might take to traverse a network maliciously. Limiting the attack radius can be achieved through the following:

  • Microsegmentation—this technique enables you to split the network into isolated, logical units, each with its security policies. Isolating these units helps contain threats and prevents actors from moving laterally.
  • Identity-based segmentation is a security method that divides workload identities in a network into small islands and applies custom security policies to each workload. Traditional network-based segmentation can be challenging to maintain in a Zero Trust environment. 
  • Least privilege principle. Users, processes, and devices are given access to the minimum permissions required to perform a task. As tasks change, privileges should change in sync with task responsibilities.  Traditionally, many attacks have been orchestrated using privileged accounts, as they are typically not monitored and are often overly trusted. The principle of “least privilege” will make it impossible to grant implicit trust to privileged accounts.

What is an Attack Vector?

Although they are not the same thing, the terms “attack surface” and “attack vector” are frequently used interchangeably. The attack surface refers to the area being targeted, and the attack vector is the method or means used to gain entry.

What Are Some Common Attack Vectors?

  • Weak encryption

When malicious actors detect weak algorithms or insufficient encryption, they can revert encrypted code or sensitive data to its original unencrypted form. This vulnerability will result in the unauthorized retrieval of sensitive information from the victim.

  • Misconfigurations 

Usually, misconfigurations are a sign of non-compliance with industry security standards. Staying up-to-date with compliance regulations will ensure the proper configuration of a network. Misconfigurations are easy flaws for attackers to spot.

  • Unpatched applications

Patch management tools scan for vulnerable components, outdated programs, and missing patches, automating the patching process. Many well-known cyber attacks are exploits of known vulnerabilities that a company could easily have avoided with better patch management.

  • Third-party vendors

Third-party vendor assessment and acute visibility into your supply chain will enable a security culture throughout your supply chain ecosystem.

  • Cloud service providers

Cloud-based applications remain high on the list of the most popular attack vectors for cyber actors. Poor configurations allow for data theft, breach, and even cryptojacking.

  • Weak security credentials

Incorrectly applied access control rules and allow unauthorized users access to sensitive data or system processes.

  • Weak passwords

Multi-factor authorization, password management tools, and frequently changing passwords are methods of combating password-based attacks. However,  the ultimate security option for MFA seems to be hardware tokens. With a token system, malicious actors cannot easily uncover corporate login credentials.

  • Lack of cyber awareness

Cybersecurity training and education are great ways to minimize network attack vectors. A well-educated team is less likely to allow attackers in.

Proactive Attack Surface Management

Remember that gaining visibility into your attack surface is a great way to start your attack surface analysis. Once you have that visibility, you can go to the next step: attack surface mapping. You’ll need to understand the “attackablity” of your points of exposure and think about which assets are most enticing for a potential attacker.

Centraleyes’ automated platform brings together automated risk assessments of internal and external assets, threat intelligence, and vulnerability management, providing you with acute real-time visibility into the relationship between your attack surface and risk posture. With streamlined processes for vetting third and fourth-party vendors, a comprehensive strategy for internal risk planning, as well as a centralized visual dashboard to facilitate communication across departments, you’ll be equipped with the information and metrics you need to implement a scalable proactive security strategy that covers your expanding attack surface.

Start Getting Value With
Centraleyes for Free

See for yourself how the Centraleyes platform exceeds anything an old GRC
system does and eliminates the need for manual processes and spreadsheets
to give you immediate value and run a full risk assessment in less than 30 days

Looking to learn more about Reduce the Cyber Attack Surface?
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