What is an Attack Surface?

What is an Attack Surface?


Understanding your businesses’ attack surface is essential to an organization’s ability to protect itself against cyber threats. However, many organizations lack visibility into their attack surface or the tools required to address their cybersecurity risk.

Performing a cyber attack surface analysis is an important step towards improving corporate cybersecurity and regulatory compliance. With the data that it provides, organizations can make informed decisions on how to manage cybersecurity risk and meet compliance obligations.

What is an Attack Surface?

An organization’s attack surface contains everything that an attacker can target and exploit during their attacks. This includes hardware and software vulnerabilities in an organization’s Internet-facing IT systems. Anything that can be accessed by an unauthorized user (i.e., one without a corporate login) is a part of an organization’s attack surface.

Common components of a corporate attack surface include:

  • Web applications and application programming interfaces (APIs)
  • Internet-facing servers (email, web, etc.)
  • Mobile devices and applications
  • Cloud-based resources
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices
  • Remote workers

In recent years, corporate attack surfaces have been expanding rapidly. Adoption of cloud computing and IoT devices were already growing rapidly pre-COVID, and have exploded in the last couple of years. Additionally, the widespread adoption of remote work has placed many corporate IT assets on untrusted networks outside of the enterprise network perimeter and its defenses.

With this growth of attack surfaces comes additional cyber risk. Attackers commonly target the “low-hanging fruit” or the most easily exploitable vulnerabilities within a corporate environment. As the attack surface grows, more vulnerabilities are introduced, making it more likely that an easily exploited vulnerability will be exposed to an attacker.

What is the Difference Between an Attack Vector and an Attack Surface?

Attack surfaces and attack vectors are related, but different concepts. An attack vector is a particular method that an attacker uses to exploit an organization. For example, if an attacker exploits an SQL injection vulnerability within a corporate web application, the SQL injection is the attack vector.

Attack vectors and attack surfaces are related because the attack surface contains all of the systems that can be exploited by one of the available attack vectors. When carrying out an attack, the attacker will choose one or more of these potential attack vectors to employ.

Common Attack Surface Issues & Their Solutions

The most common issue that companies have regarding their attack surfaces is a lack of visibility into them. 79% of organizations acknowledge that they don’t have full visibility into their corporate IT assets.

If a company does not know what IT assets it owns, then those overlooked resources lack any IT or security management. This means that they are not part of an organization’s attack surface management strategy, likely lack vital software updates and patches, and pose a significant risk to the organization.

The simplest solution to this lack of visibility is to perform a complete discovery and inventory of an organization’s IT assets. With a complete IT asset inventory, an organization can start to determine which of these resources have vulnerabilities that pose a threat to corporate security and take action to eliminate or mitigate these risks.

What is Attack Surface Analysis?

A cyber attack surface analysis is the process of mapping out an organization’s attack surface and is a vital part of the vulnerability management process. Without an inventory of an organization’s public-facing systems, it is impossible to determine which of these systems contain potentially exploitable vulnerabilities that need to be mitigated.

Cyber attack surface analysis solutions will explore the corporate IT environment and perform an inventory of systems that are accessible from the public Internet. This inventory can then be used to determine which systems require vulnerability scanning to identify any vulnerabilities that need to be patched or otherwise remediated.

How to Reduce Your Attack Surface

Corporate digital attack surfaces are expanding rapidly with the growth of remote work, the Internet of Things, and the cloud. This makes it easier for cyber threats to attack an organization because the number of exploitable vulnerabilities grows, and cybersecurity teams struggle to keep up with vulnerability management practices.

One of the most effective methods of reducing your attack surface is to implement a zero trust security strategy. Zero trust states that access to corporate resources should be limited based on need to know. Implementing a zero trust strategy requires a full understanding of an organization’s IT assets and how they are used.

This understanding also benefits attack surface management because it can help to close visibility gaps that leave corporate resources vulnerable to attack. If public-facing resources are limited to the absolute minimum necessary for business, then the corporate attack surface is minimized as well. Cyber threat actors can only exploit the vulnerabilities that they can access, so access management is a strong defense.

Attack Surface Management with Hyper Vigilance

Hyper Vigilance provides solutions for organizations looking to map their corporate attack surfaces and manage their cybersecurity risk. Hyper Vigilance’s GuardNet is an IT and cybersecurity solution that provides companies with vital visibility into corporate IT assets and tools for managing exposure of these assets to cyber threat actors and potential attacks. With GuardNet, organizations can achieve a full inventory of their attack surface and take action to close security gaps.

Hyper Vigilance also offers specialized solutions for managing common sources of cybersecurity risk within a corporate attack surface. For example, the rise of remote work has created a massive expansion in attack surfaces as remote workers access corporate resources from devices off of the enterprise network. Hyper Vigilance offers endpoint security solutions for these remote devices that can help to ensure that they have the necessary patches and updates installed and are not infected by malware.

Attack surface management is vital to reducing corporate cybersecurity risk and ensuring compliance with regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, and CMMC. Reach out to Hyper Vigilance today to learn more about reducing your digital attack surface and achieving your regulatory compliance goals.

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