In information technology (IT), an external asset can refer to resources, services, or data hosted or located outside an organization’s internal network that threat actors can exploit.

External assets can include cloud-based services, external servers, or third-party applications an organization uses.

You can liken an external asset to a book borrowed from a library. You can use it as a reference for your research even if you do not own it. In this case, the book is an external asset as opposed to the books in your library, aka your internal assets.

Read More about an External Asset

External assets can refer to many things, and you’ll learn more about them here.

How Does an External Asset Differ from an Internal Asset?

External and internal assets differ in terms of location or ownership. Here’s a breakdown of their differences.

Internal assets refer to resources, systems, or infrastructures owned, operated, and controlled by an organization within its premises or internal network. They are typically part of the company’s core IT infrastructure and support its day-to-day operations and business processes. Examples include on-premises servers, networking equipment, databases, software, and other technology resources physically located within the organization’s facilities.

External assets, on the other hand, refer to resources, services, or infrastructures that are not owned or directly controlled by an organization but are utilized to meet its specific IT needs.

They can include cloud-based services, third-party applications, and data storage hosted by external providers or any IT resource outside the internal network. They are often accessed online and may be hosted on servers maintained by external vendors or service providers. 

external asset vs internal asset

In sum, their primary difference lies in ownership, control, and location. Internal assets are owned and managed internally within an organization’s infrastructure, while external assets involve resources or services obtained from and maintained by external entities. The distinction is particularly relevant in cloud computing, where organizations may leverage external assets to enhance scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness. Note that both types can have weaknesses that threat actors can exploit. 

External and internal assets collectively constitute an organization’s attack surface, which is managed and safeguarded through attack surface management (ASM). While ASM covers both external and internal assets, external assets are specifically addressed through a dedicated approach known as “external attack surface management (EASM).

Why Do Organizations Use External Assets?

Organizations use external assets for various reasons, and the decision to leverage them is often driven by strategic, operational, or economic considerations. Here are some of them.

  • Cost efficiency: External assets, especially cloud services, can provide cost savings by allowing organizations to pay for resources on a subscription or usage-based model. They eliminate the need for significant upfront investments in hardware and infrastructure.
  • Scalability and flexibility: External assets, mainly cloud services, offer scalability and flexibility. Organizations can quickly scale up or down based on their computing and storage needs without investing in and maintaining additional hardware.
  • Expertise and specialization: External providers often specialize in specific technologies or services. By leveraging these external experts, organizations can benefit from the providers’ specialized knowledge and focus on their core competencies.
  • Rapid deployment: External assets can be quickly deployed compared to traditional in-house solutions. That is particularly beneficial when organizations need to implement new technologies or services rapidly to meet business demands.
  • Global reach: Cloud services and other external assets often have a global presence. That allows organizations to access resources and services from anywhere in the world, supporting a globalized and distributed workforce.
  • Risk mitigation: External assets can help organizations mitigate certain risks. For example, by using external data backup and recovery services, organizations can enhance their data resilience and minimize the risk of data loss due to local disasters.
  • Focus on core competencies: Outsourcing certain IT functions to external providers allows organizations to focus on their core business activities. It enables them to allocate resources more efficiently and concentrate on strategic initiatives rather than managing every aspect of IT infrastructure.
  • Innovation and updates: External service providers often invest in the latest technologies and regularly update their services. Organizations can benefit from continuous innovation by leveraging external assets without constantly upgrading and maintaining internal systems.
  • Regulatory compliance: External service providers may have expertise in navigating complex regulatory environments. That can be especially important for organizations operating in industries with stringent compliance requirements.
  • Reduced maintenance burden: External assets often come with maintenance and support services, reducing the burden on internal IT teams. That allows organizations to focus on strategic initiatives rather than routine maintenance tasks.

In sum, using external assets provides organizations the flexibility, cost efficiency, expertise, and scalability they need to adapt to the dynamic nature of the modern business environment. It allows them to stay competitive, innovate, and focus on their core business objectives. But, if not sufficiently secured, they may have exploitable weaknesses that actors can take advantage of.

Key Takeaways