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External Attack Surface Management Explained

by Mic Johnson

Businesses currently utilize online services/technologies for different reasons. Such services are not always secure as they are exposed to the public. Hence, cybercriminals can easily prey on clients’ confidential information and introduce a new and expanding attack surface.

This is why organizations need external attack surface management to identify external threats and protect their online ecosystem from cyberattacks. In this blog, learn more about external attack surface management and why it’s necessary for your organization. Before exploring external attack surface management, we will begin by defining the external attack surface.

What is an External Attack Surface?

All public assets or platforms that customers and employees use to interact with your company online are known as the external attack surface of your business. Whether the interface is physical, digital, owned, or managed by your organization or a third party, it still makes up your external attack surface. The term “attack” comes into play because cyberattackers can attempt to access your external surface, deploy an attack vector, and try to extract sensitive information that they can exploit. So, the external attack surface is a point within an array of attacks.

How do you characterize the External Attack Surface Area?

Many establishments rely heavily on Software-as-a-service (SaaS) services and products to run their business. Therefore, the external attack surface goes beyond the company’s firewall and network. It is a summation of all the available entry points of various web applications publicly accessible online. The assets can be categorized into familiar and unfamiliar assets.

Let’s talk a little more about these types of assets.

Familiar assets

Familiar assets are simply the assets you’re aware of and monitor closely. They can be devices, login interfaces, multiple subdomains which are protected by your domain security, scan Apache installations, and various applications you’ve installed in systems across your network.

Unfamiliar assets

Unfamiliar assets are devices, applications, software, and third party services you’re not aware of. They usually exist when you conduct business online, and they are responsible for creating weaknesses in the external attack surface. Such assets are more difficult to notice, track or control, especially in startups yet to set up the right cybersecurity processes or tools.

Unknown assets usually exist when the following occurs:

  • Mistakes in the code or rogue.
  • There is an unsafe supply chain.
  • Shadow IT software is installed.
  • New vulnerabilities pop up in existing code.

Some popular unknown assets or external attack surfaces like cloud storage, middleware, third-party services, misconfigured servers, applications etc., are prone to data breaches.

What is External Attack Surface Management?

External attack surface management (EASM) is the repeated practice that involves checking for vulnerabilities and anomalies in different systems of technologies you don’t own. Third-party services and apps with unauthorized access to public interfaces are good examples of systems you should watch out for from time to time. External attack surface management helps organizations identify, manage, and monitor their networks to prevent cyberattacks.

One of the primary ways to understand what the external and internal system interfaces relay to each other is by mapping out your attack surface. And since the attack surface is continuously evolving, you need a knowledge base like the MITRE ATT&CK Framework to be updated with hacker tactics and techniques. In addition to knowing what assets to identify and monitor, you require the right tool to map out your external attack surface.

Attempting to map the external attack surface utilizing the visibility from traditional tools is nearly impossible for the following reasons:

  • More companies host assets beyond their firewalls, which makes it challenging to manage and track effectively.
  • Team members like DevOps, network engineers, and many others running internet-connected assets may feel pressured to deliver quick results. Such haste leads to the creation of unofficial cloud services, websites, and other assets that have not gone through legitimate channels.
  • Frequent changes in an external attack surface can result in unintentional risky exposure of delicate data to the internet.

According to Verizon’s latest data breach report, 70% of cyberattacks are perpetrated by external factors. Therefore, a better visibility of your external attack surface will help limit data breaches and secure your network. As we go on, you will get familiar with the features you should look out for when choosing an external attack surface management solution to deploy.


How External Attack Surface Management Solutions help mitigate Cybersecurity risks

First, let’s take a look at how managing your external attack surg\face can safeguard your data.

  • EASM solutions can identify unknown risks and asset exposures in real-time.
  • They automatically prioritize risks by streamlining operations and providing quick solutions to help teams focus on tasks and promote workflow efficiency.
  • They also provide updated views of a company’s assets to help them fully maximize their existing tools.
  • EASM leverages IT, reduces security costs, and saves time by identifying traditional systems, new tools, and servers. Rather than wasting time searching for new solutions and spending to acquire them, EASM utilizes IT to update users about new and existing solutions.

Essential Elements of an External Attack Surface Management Solution

Before choosing an EASM solution, it is advisable to go for solutions that automatically monitor your attack surface, discover assets, analyze assets, prioritize risks by order of criticality, and provide remedies to mitigate them. Ultimately, opt for more proactive solutions where familiar and unfamiliar assets, risks, and vulnerabilities are handled systematically.

Based on these, an ideal external attack surface management solution should:

  1. Detect all exposed known or unknown assets across online platforms and the supply chain automatically.
  2. Automatically classify assets based on category, framework, or the service offered.
  3. Understand whether every exposed asset belongs to a business unit or a third-party vendor.
  4. Reveal how the vulnerable assets connect to the core network.
  5. Continuously monitor a business’s external surface so that team members or employees can focus on more critical tasks.

Cyberattacks from external factors threaten the data security of many organizations and makes it difficult for businesses to earn clients’ trust. Thankfully, companies can incorporate an external attack surface management solution, secure their networks, preserve their reputation and thrive.


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