Dealing with today’s dangerous cyber threat landscape is made more difficult by several contributing factors, such as talent shortages, increasingly complex infrastructure, and evolving threats. What is arguably more important than these, however, is that some organisations still fail to view their security from a hacker’s perspective and thus neglect to better manage their attack surface. Read on for a quick overview of attack surface reduction and the five steps to mitigate your cyber risk.
Understanding Attack Surfaces
In cybersecurity, an attack surface is the number of entry points into a system or network that unauthorised entities can potentially exploit and infiltrate. Its scope covers internet-enabled digital devices as well as those that can only be accessed physically. While the latter is relatively controllable and stable, the former isn’t, as it expands widely and changes quickly and often. This article mainly focuses on the digital attack surface, specifically its external-facing elements, where most cyber attacks come from.
A few key reasons why it is more challenging to reduce and monitor attack surfaces today include:
1. Rise of shadow IT or assets used by employees not approved or known by IT departments.
2. Loss of conventional network boundaries with the use of more complex hybrid infrastructures driven by organisations migrating to the cloud.
3. Increasingly sophisticated cyber threats to get around to new industry practices regarding security measures.
More often than not, modern cybersecurity defence strategies are developed with an inside-out perspective. Organisations employ tools, devices, and internal controls that they hope are sufficiently all-encompassing to prevent hackers from getting in. Unfortunately, this approach overlooks the valuable perspective of seeing the company’s IT infrastructure in the eyes of the main adversary they are trying to keep out.
Modern attack surfaces, with their ever-evolving nature, entail security gaps that continue to pop up and go under the radar because of the business’s lack of total visibility over its systems. In other words, without this visibility, threat actors are more likely to exploit these gaps or attack vectors. With only 9% of organisations actively monitoring their entire attack, as per a recent ESG research, there is no doubt that organisations need to do more to improve visibility.
4 Steps To Attack Surface Reduction For Lower Cyber Risk
After mapping out and monitoring your business’s attack surface, the next steps help reduce the number of possible entry points that attackers can exploit.
1. Develop a vulnerability management strategy that suits the business
Vulnerabilities in deployed systems, from web apps to services listening on ports, are all targets that hackers can exploit to gain unauthorised access; experienced hackers generally know where to look for these vulnerabilities. Hence, scanning for open ports and any vulnerable services running on them is a trivial yet important first step to keeping them out.
Vulnerability management performs regular scans for these security gaps and helps prioritise patching the most critical ones via security updates. Without it, there is a higher risk of attackers successfully finding and exploiting a vulnerability in one of your external-facing systems. By being swift in dealing with vulnerabilities, companies can reduce their attack surface and close off weaknesses before they are taken advantage of.
2. Improve authentication security
The simplistic ways that hackers manage to infiltrate networks often contradict the assumed complexity of modern cyber-attacks. For example, one of the most common methods is to get access to a single employee account of the target organisation either by deliberately compromising their login credentials or just reusing stolen ones from previous attacks.
Strengthening access and authentication security is an excellent strategy for reducing one’s attack surface. At the very least, implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) for critical accounts, systems, and services to ensure compromised logins do not necessarily mean network intrusions.
3. Segment your network
Network segmentation entails breaking down your network into several components or zones to strictly control data traffic between them. This reduces the attack surface by preventing hackers from gaining access to the entire network once they gain access, which happens if it remains unsegmented or ‘flat’ and everything in it can communicate without restriction. Through segmentation, hackers that somehow infiltrate a zone cannot easily move laterally, limiting the damage they can do.
4. Provide effective cybersecurity training and awareness
The human factor always plays a role in cyber attacks, so much so that some sources are considered a social engineering attack surface. The total number of users on a network provides an attack surface through which security errors happen, especially when hackers coerce or trick unwitting users into making a mistake. Effective and periodic cybersecurity awareness and training programs foster a security-first culture essential to further reducing your attack surface. By equipping employees with the latest security knowledge, there will be far fewer potential entry points into an organisation’s network through social engineering.
As organisations grow and introduce greater complexity into their systems, the more security gaps they may miss or fail to identify before it becomes too late. Hence, uncovering these vulnerabilities and reducing their attack surface should take priority as it eliminates as many entry points as possible into their IT infrastructure.
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