Reduced Attack Surface: How to Reduce Your Attack Surface (and Why It Matters)
Data breaches are an ever-present risk for organizations of all sizes — and the larger the attack surface, the greater the risk. There is growing awareness of the need to manage the attack surface, and reducing the attack surface is an essential component. However, many companies lack full visibility into their real attack surface, making reduction challenging. Further, the interconnected nature of IT assets means that even when businesses recognize the need to reduce the attack surface, they may lack the tools to do so effectively.
In this article, we’ll discuss the best ways to reduce your attack surface, why it’s vital to your company’s security, and how attack surface management makes it possible. First, let’s review what an attack surface is.
What is an Attack Surface?
Your company’s attack surface is the total of all entry points or attack vectors that hackers can use to gain access to your company’s network. It includes your known internet-facing assets and unknown internet-exposed assets such as shadow IT, and Zombie IT.
Why the real attack surface is even bigger
Your real attack surface isn’t limited to owned assets; it also includes dependencies and connections that make up the digital supply chain. Threat actors are simply looking for a vulnerability that provides an attack vector, whether that means attacking an internet-facing asset directly or exploiting an exposed digital supply chain connection. In fact, 20% of exploitable attack surface risks now originate in the digital supply chain. As enterprises rely more on third-party vendors and services, digital supply chain risks will present and ever-growing challenge.
Why is It Important to Reduce Your Attack Surface?
Today’s large attack surfaces are challenging for security teams to manage. The larger the attack surface, the greater the potential for attack vectors and the greater the risk of an exploit.
The costs of a cyber attack are significant. According to IBM’s 2022 Cost of a Data Breach report, the global average cost of a data breach is $4.35 million. That can include mitigation and remediation costs, regulatory fines, costs associated with breach notifications and providing credit monitoring services to impacted consumers, legal costs, lost income resulting from business interruption, extortion paid to recover data after a ransomware attack, and public relations and reputation management costs.
Cyber attacks result in more than just financial costs. Business interruption and reputation damage diminish consumer trust in your organization and can turn potential investors, partners, and vendors away. Additionally, third-party vendors may be reluctant to re-establish connections prolonging disruption to business well after the attack has been contained and the risks remediated.
Attack Surface Reduction Begins with Visibility
To initiate attack surface reduction, begin by mapping out your attack surface and digital supply chain. Adopt a continuous discovery approach to uncover unfamiliar assets, shadow IT, and Zombie IT. Evaluate each asset meticulously to pinpoint risks, such as:
The attack surface is always changing as more vendors and services connect via the digital supply chain. For example, an employee may use a new service, data may be migrated to a different cloud server, or an existing third-party service might reconfigure its infrastructure. All of these activities change the attack surface and can potentially introduce new attack vectors, and your security team may not be aware that these changes occurred. That’s why attack surface mapping isn’t a one-time activity but an ongoing process to continuously monitor the attack surface risk.
How to Reduce Your Attack Surface
There are two primary approaches to attack surface reduction: reducing attack surface risk and reducing your attack surface assets. Both approaches are vital for effective attack surface reduction.
1. Reducing Attack Surface Risk
Risk reduction involves maintaining complete visibility into the attack surface, identifying and prioritizing potential attack vectors, eliminating high-risk attack vectors, and continuously monitoring the entire attack surface.
Given the size and complexity of today’s attack surfaces, security teams are faced with overwhelming numbers of security issues. Addressing everything is not possible. Instead, remediation actions should be evaluated and prioritized based on the level of risk, so your security team can effectively address the critical risks first.
2. Reducing the Attack Surface Assets
Attack surface reduction also requires your security team to decommission any Zombie IT identified during discovery. Zombie IT refers to outdated, unused, or forgotten assets that remain active within an organization’s network. These assets not only consume valuable resources but also pose significant security risks. These abandoned assets often lack necessary updates and patches, leaving them vulnerable to cyber threats and potential breaches. Decommissioning zombie IT helps reduce the attack surface, mitigating the chances of unauthorized access or malicious activities. It also ensures better IT asset management, streamlines operations, and improves overall security posture.
The Need for Attack Surface Management
Reducing attack surface risk in today’s complex IT environments requires up-to-date visibility into known and unknown assets. It requires ongoing analysis and prioritization of risk, and actionable remediation steps, including identification of Zombie IT that should be decommissioned. These requirements are outside the scope of traditional security tools like vulnerability management.
Attack surface management solutions automate processes such as dynamically mapping your entire attack surface through continuous supply chain discovery, assessing and prioritizing risks, and providing clear, actionable remediation steps so your security team can rapidly address the most critical risks. Attack surface management solutions can even neutralize some of the most exploitable risks.
In order to reduce your company’s attack surface, you need an attack surface management solution that continuously monitors your company’s assets to identify markers of misuse, such as old protocols and platforms, unlinked assets, expired certificates, and end-of-life software components. After identifying these assets, your attack surface platform should provide decommissioning candidates report with prioritized recommendations for decommissioning old resources to reduce the attack surface.
The problem with many security solutions is that they provide a lot of alerts and lists of issues without effectively prioritizing risks based on their potential impact and exploitability. That approach creates many alerts and false positives, which leads to a lot of noise and makes it challenging to focus on the most critical risks.
An attack surface management solution like IONIX assesses and prioritizes risks and — rather than bombarding your team with alerts — provides clear action items to keep your team laser-focused on the risks that matter. With IONIX, a single action item can resolve multiple issues, providing a significantly streamlined workflow aligned with the way your security operations team actually works.
Modern attack surfaces are large and difficult for security teams to manage, yet it’s crucial for organizations to implement measures to reduce the attack surface. Book a demo today to learn how IONIX’s attack surface management solution provides ongoing discovery and actionable remediation steps, putting attack surface management within reach for your security team.