Security Solutions

6 mins

What is External Attack Surface Management (EASM)

External attack surface management (EASM) is a combination of processes, technologies and services that assist in identifying and addressing possible security vulnerabilities and weaknesses across external-facing assets.

The goal of EASM is to detect and address threats that would have gone unnoticed - from unpatched vulnerabilities to shadow IT systems, this enables the risk to be remediated but equally provides a clearer view of the external attack surface as a whole.

Initially, the organization will need to identify all business and IT relationships as well as joint ventures and acquisitions. Identifying cloud assets is also important in this step. The real challenge is to locate all less obvious externally-exposed IT assets of these entities and map any additional connections between assets.

An effective EASM tool continuously scans for exposed assets, risks and vulnerabilities - presenting valuable risk context enabling security professionals to address them. Risk prioritization is not a given with an EASM tool but can greatly reduce the workload for security teams who have thousands of assets in their attack surface. By understanding at a glance which risks need fixing first the focus is streamlined to the most salient threats - the Hadrian risk prioritization page automatically tests and validates the risks once they are marked as resolved. Read more about Hadrian below.

How does your External Attack Surface create risk?

The external attack surface refers to the vulnerable areas of an organization or system that can be targeted from an external source.

All the digital assets that customers, partners  and employees interact with when engaging with an organization online, including those managed by your company or third parties constitute the external attack surface. Internet-facing assets can be accessed through the internet itself - examples include : servers, network services, domain names, SSL certificates, operating systems and IOT devices. Since these assets lie beyond the walls of endpoint protection services and firewalls they can place an organization at risk in numerous ways: exposed servers, misconfigured public cloud services, and third-party partner software code vulnerabilities are common culprits. 

External assets are potentially direct pathways for threat actors to your organization’s crown jewels and must be secured - especially since they can be used to retrieve sensitive data.

External Attack Surface Management (EASM) was originally developed to address the challenge of legacy systems that faced difficulties in adapting to digital ecosystems, resulting in gaps in visibility and vulnerabilities that needed to be addressed. However, with the proliferation of connected technologies, organizations now face new threat points from third-party SaaS and IaaS providers, VPNs, marketing partners and shadow IT. Additionally, the agile DevOps environment presents an extra challenge, with regular app updates and continuous deployments resulting in constantly changing infrastructures.

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Furthermore, the Covid pandemic has expedited digital transformation, resulting in swift adoption of cloud services for various operations, which in turn has introduced additional weak points and attack vectors. As a result of all these challenges, the attack risk for businesses is further amplified and managing the risks of the external assets is essential to a holistic IT security strategy. 

How to minimize your attack surface?

Minimizing the attack surface of a company is a critical aspect of cybersecurity. It involves reducing the number of ways in which a potential attacker could infiltrate your systems. Here are some steps that companies can take to minimize their attack surface:

  1. Inventory of Assets: The first step in minimizing the attack surface is understanding what needs to be protected. Identify and catalogue all hardware, software, data, and network components in your organization. This will help you understand where vulnerabilities might exist.

  2. Patch Management: Keep all systems, software, and applications up-to-date. Attackers often exploit known vulnerabilities that have already been patched by the software vendors. Implementing a reliable patch management process can help protect against such attacks.

  3. Principle of Least Privilege: Limit user and system access rights to the minimum necessary for performing legitimate activities. This can help prevent attackers from gaining unnecessary access to various parts of your system.

  4. Firewalls and Network Segmentation: Use firewalls and other network security tools to restrict access to sensitive areas of the network. Network segmentation is a good practice to contain any potential breach.

  5. Monitoring and Logging: Regularly monitor and log activities to detect any unusual actions or patterns. Anomalies in logs can often be an early indication of a cyber attack.

  6. Secure Configurations: Implement secure configurations for all network devices, servers, and applications. Default configurations are often insecure, providing attackers an easy route in.

  7. Security Awareness Training: Regularly train all employees on safe online practices. Many attacks, such as phishing, depend on exploiting human errors.

  8. Incident Response Plan: Have a well-defined and rehearsed incident response plan in place. This ensures that, if an attack does happen, the organization can react quickly and appropriately.

  9. Encryption: Encrypt sensitive data both at rest and in transit to protect it even if it falls into the wrong hands.

  10. Multi-factor Authentication (MFA): Implement multi-factor authentication wherever possible to add an extra layer of security.

By managing the external attack surface effectively, organizations can reduce the likelihood of successful cyber attacks, protect their sensitive data and systems, and enhance their overall cybersecurity posture.

Read our case-studies to understand how EASM tangibly helps organizations reduce risks.

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