An attack surface analysis is a comprehensive evaluation of an organization’s IT infrastructure to identify vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and security issues that could pave the way for cyber attacks. It is part of a much broader cybersecurity process called “attack surface management (ASM)” that aims to help organizations reduce the risk of cyber attacks by identifying, monitoring, and remediating vulnerabilities before they can get exploited. 

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We’ll discuss attack surface analysis in greater detail below.

How Does an Attack Surface Analysis Work?

The concept behind an attack surface analysis is similar to how banks assess their physical security. They map out all possible entry points and think of ways robbers could stealthily enter their premises. Doing so allows them to implement proper security measures to protect the entry points identified.

In the same way, analyzing the attack surface requires security teams to identify parts of their IT infrastructure that attackers may try to penetrate. Analyzing the possible infiltration methods is also part of the process. At the end of the exercise, they will better understand their organization’s cyber risks, allowing them to develop strategies to protect their network and minimize risks.

What Are the Steps in an Attack Surface Analysis?

While there are several ways to perform an attack surface analysis, most of them follow these steps.

  1. Set boundaries: Determine whether the analysis will focus on internal or external attack surfaces. Internal analysis covers security weaknesses within an organization’s network, while external analysis focuses on vulnerabilities accessible from outside it.
  1. Create an asset inventory: List all digital assets within the scope of the analysis. An external attack surface analysis involves assets including websites, IP addresses, and cloud applications. Internal assets, meanwhile, comprise work devices, HR intranets, and internal servers.
  1. Identify potential attack entry points: You may use automated tools to look for weak spots or vulnerabilities in your assets that threat actors could take advantage of.
  1. Prioritize vulnerabilities: Not all vulnerabilities pose the same level of risk, so it’s important to rank them based on how likely they are to be exploited and their impact on an organization. Through prioritization, you can focus your resources on remediating the most severe vulnerabilities first.

After analyzing the attack surface, other processes in the overall ASM strategy can be done. That includes remediation, where vulnerabilities get fixed based on the order in which they were ranked in the analysis.  

However, it’s important to note that analyzing the attack surface is an ongoing process. Once the vulnerabilities get fixed, new ones can emerge and newly added assets may need to be secured.

What Are the Benefits of Conducting an Attack Surface Analysis?

Analyzing the attack surface has several advantages, including:

Benefits of attack surface analysis
  • Reduced risk of cyber attacks: The process provides a clear understanding of an organization’s attack surface, allowing security teams to focus their efforts on the most critical areas and implement appropriate mitigation measures.
  • Improved compliance: Many industry regulations and compliance frameworks call for regular attack surface analyses. Conducting them helps organizations demonstrate their commitment to cybersecurity and aids them in meeting the necessary compliance requirements.
  • Improved decision-making: The insights gained from the analysis provide valuable information for making informed decisions about cybersecurity investments and resource allocation.
  • Reduced costs: An attack surface analysis is a preventive measure that is less costly than addressing an actual cyber attack.

What Are the Challenges in Performing an Attack Surface Analysis?

Conducting an effective attack surface analysis can be difficult since most modern IT infrastructures are complex, with several interconnected systems, applications, and networks. On top of that, the increasing adoption of new technologies, such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT), inevitably expands attack surfaces. All these make it challenging to completely and accurately map attack surfaces and identify all potential entry points.

Aside from that, constant changes and advancements in cyber threats make it difficult for organizations to keep up with new vulnerabilities and emerging attack techniques. They may also find it hard to find security professionals with the necessary skills to conduct a thorough attack surface.

An attack surface analysis is not a one-time process. It should be conducted regularly to ensure new assets and vulnerabilities are detected and associated risks immediately mitigated.

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