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Get to Know Your External Attack Surface

With the sophistication of cyber hacking techniques and the rapid growth of this malicious industry, every company and public organization would benefit from External Attack Surface Management.

Currently, every organization needs an internet presence in the age of ubiquitous technology. Whether for eCommerce, communication, customer support, or simply sharing their mission, these online pages open a portal for the public into the organization. Therefore, these assets that are facing the outside of the organization represent the external frontline and are often the first path a malicious actor will explore when planning an attack.

Protecting external assets is far more complex than internal ones. Most organizations still use the same cyber security tools and strategies to protect internal and external assets, even though they are tailored to protect the internals adequately. Moreover, organizations' relentless digital expansion makes the external attack surface up to three times greater than the regular one. Gartner identified the attack surface as a top cyber security risk for 2022. The main actors in this growth are the hybrid work model, cloud reliance, and complex saas applications. The attack surface is not only proliferating, but it is also more dynamic than ever. Any action taken by an organization or an associated entity results in modifications of the assets and, therefore, of the risks it represents.

As a result, the asset landscape is constantly changing, and the only way to protect it properly is to be aware of the changes and emerging vulnerabilities. Attackers are continuously looking for vulnerabilities in the organization’s infrastructure, and one of the defender’s primary goals is to know and resolve the network vulnerabilities before the attacker notices them. This is why it’s essential to understand the attack surface from the point of view of an outsider. This can be done by looking at the external assets from the first accessible page to the last. However, with the complexity of modern external presence, it’s unwise to use traditional methods.

Traditional methods

There are various ways to protect and know an organization's attack surface. Some of the existing methods include penetration testing, semi-manual documentation, or even participation in bug bounty platforms to increase attack surface protection. Penetration testing simulates a cyber attack to evaluate the security of a given computing system. An organization can choose to bring a Red Team and test the agility and robustness of the cyber security solution with an external team of experts. It reveals vulnerabilities that malignant actors could use to penetrate the computer system. This strategy has undeniable advantages, but most organizations need help in conducting a d team testing at least twice a year because of the expenses involved and the organizational effort required.

In addition, these tests are done sporadically, leaving lengthy periods where vulnerability can go undetected by the asset’s owner and be used by malicious actors. Another popular method used to test the resilience of an organization’s external assets is Bug Bounty. Bug bounty refers to a program in which an organization promises rewards for anyone who can find security exploits and vulnerabilities in their network. The ‘bounty hunters’ in this case are white hat hackers, ethical hackers who use their skills to help rather than cause harm. These white hat hackers don’t do it to be altruistic, though they receive considerable monetary rewards for each bug they can detect.

For instance, in 2021, Google paid about $8.7 million in bug bounty (Google), and Facebook's largest bounty payout was $80,000 (Facebook). Of course, rewards are not always this high, but they must be considerable enough to entice the white hackers to test the system. Bug bounty shows excellent results with little effort but requires a substantial budget, making it exclusive to big organizations.

External attack surface management (eASM)

Organizations should use eASM (external attack surface management) to oversee internet-facing risks and vulnerabilities. Due to the increasing complexity and dynamism of external assets, organizations need to make eASM a priority. To thrive in cyberspace, one needs to monitor and document all external assets that could create a potential breach. A malignant actor could use a single vulnerability to invade and create damage in many ways. Organizations often need help seeing the big picture regarding their attack surface. When they underestimate their attack surface, corners of their external assets are vulnerable.

It is common for SaaS applications, public clouds, and third parties to be overlooked or excluded from the external asset assessment. Mapping from the perspective of a malevolent outside force; from the outside attempting to find a way in. eASM empowers security teams with the oversight needed to prioritize the most critical measures and reduce unnecessary exposure to external assets. In addition, it allows for improving system configuration setups to be safer and more efficient.

Who is eASM for?

With the sophistication of cyber hacking techniques and the growth of this malicious industry, every company and public organization would benefit from eASM. Furthermore, having an efficient cyber security program and attack surface overview is often a requirement for essential projects and partnerships. For instance, a governmental faction will require proof of zero trust principles before going into business with a company. To file for cyber insurance, you would also require an up-to-date assessment of your organization’s attack surface.

Not protecting your computer system properly can also put affiliated organizations at risk. But above all, knowing the vulnerabilities of your attack surface is the only way to implement fixing strategies and maintain a safe system in the face of cyber threats. eASM is required to gain knowledge about one’s attack surface and, therefore, should be a priority to any organization. The attack surface landscape moves quickly, and breaches can appear anytime. Traditional methods such as penetration testing and bug bounty can’t detect these vulnerabilities as they emerge.

The assets must be continuously monitored to survive in the current cyber context. The attack surface needs to be mapped, observed, and rated to uncover both human error and misconfigurations. Continuous monitoring of the external assets allows for bringing to light system vulnerabilities in the computer system and resolving them before malicious actors can exploit them.