By Staff Writer at LMG Security   /   Jul 27th, 2023

Q3 2023 Top Cybersecurity Control: Attack Surface Monitoring

Attack surface monitoring imageOn Memorial Day weekend, the Clop ransomware gang began exploiting a zero-day vulnerability in a secure file transfer application, MOVEit. The attacks spread like wildfire, resulting in hundreds of hacked organizations and over 17.5 million victims’ data exposed—and that number is expected to climb as investigations continue. The timing was no accident. By all reports, the Clop ransomware gang had been testing the zero-day attack since as far back as 2021. They watched and waited until the right time, when defenders were distracted, and they could maximize their ROI. Protecting against these types of attacks is challenging, so a new class of tools has been created—attack surface monitoring.

The MOVEit attack was just the latest in a recurring nightmare of zero-day attacks: GoAnywhere, Log4j, Exchange Proxyshell, and many more.  In today’s threat landscape, any Internet-exposed interface, regardless of how seemingly secure or innocuous, may be the catalyst for the next major data breach. Zero-day attacks and missing patches are two of the biggest causes for breaches—but all too often, IT staff are not even aware that a system exists, or that a software update has failed, until they find out they are hacked.

It’s a simple fact: You can’t protect what you can’t see. Real-time visibility of all your connected systems is crucial to securing your environment. In simpler days, organizations could manually create an asset management list. In 2023 we’ve seen a spike in software supply chain breaches stemming from zero-day attacks and unpatched vulnerabilities—some of the hardest attacks to prevent and detect. With IT staff already stretched thin and today’s constantly evolving threats, automated attack surface monitoring can significantly reduce your organization’s risk and contain difficult-to-detect zero-day attacks and cloud misconfigurations. Given this market analysis, our team has selected attack surface monitoring as the top cybersecurity control for Q3. Let’s dive into what attack surface monitoring is and how it can help your organization.

What is attack surface monitoring?

Attack surface monitoring (aka attack surface management) is a class of automated toolsets that identify and reduce an organization’s exposure to cyber threats. These tools analyze the various entry points, known as the “attack surface,” that malicious actors could exploit to gain unauthorized access, disrupt operations, or steal sensitive information. These entry points can include hardware, software, network devices, third-party services/connection, cloud assets, software as a service, web applications, and more.

Gartner says that attack surface monitoring is “…a foundational component of continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) programs because it supports the first three phases of CTEM: scoping, discovery and prioritization.” Attack surface monitoring tools provide visibility across all attack vectors that helps you proactively identify and then remediate risks, and can significantly speed recovery efforts after an incident. It includes asset identification and vulnerability scans, but goes way beyond this technology to incorporate patch management, behavioral analysis, and much more for an intelligent, automated analysis of your attack surface.

6 Ways Attack Surface Monitoring Can Help Your Organization

Attack surface monitoring can help your organization build a stronger security posture and gain a clearer understanding of your risk exposure. By identifying potential weak points, your organization can take the necessary steps to enhance your cybersecurity posture. Your organization benefits from:

  • Automated asset discovery. Attack surface monitoring tools provide a detailed inventory of all your internal and external assets, as well as help you identify any systems to which your organization is connected. Many organizations have “shadow IT” challenges with departments or employees using services, often cloud services like Dropbox, Huddle, Google Drive, etc., without the IT team’s knowledge or review. Most of the time, employees don’t even realize they should have these cloud services approved by the IT team to minimize security risks. Attack surface monitoring provides a clear view of your organization’s entire attack surface, helps you identify exposed or vulnerable assets, and provides a current asset inventory that also checks off one of the requirements for a strong incident response plan.
  • Continuous mapping of your attack surface. Your attack surface constantly changes as you add users and connect to new services. Continuous attack surface monitoring can quickly identify the introduction of a new device or security vulnerability, as well as identify configuration errors that are a common cause of data breaches. It can also provide you with a searchable inventory that enables you to quickly and easily check if your organization is impacted when new vulnerabilities are announced. These tools can also help your proactive security programs and better support penetration testing and threat hunting
  • Discovery of unpatched vulnerabilities. Attack surface monitoring tools help you develop a simple, robust patch management process to ensure all software and systems are up to date with the latest security updates, as well as monitor vendor updates and security advisories to quickly address vulnerabilities. These tools are one of the best ways to counter zero-day attacks since they can identify if you are at risk due to an unpatched vulnerability. In addition, many organizations download and install patches and forget to verify the patch status after implementation. Our team has encountered too many breaches caused by failed patch implementations.
  • Dashboard for cybersecurity risks & prioritized remediation recommendations.Some attack surface monitoring solutions can assess and provide risk scores and security ratings for on-premises environments, web apps, and cloud assets. While almost any asset can serve as an attack vector, the risk they pose to your organization varies. Using AI-based tools to analyze the asset’s content within the IT environment, some attack surface monitoring tools can score risks and recommend a prioritized remediation list. In addition, the AI behavioral detection and analysis can alert you to suspicious behavior while reducing false positives.
  • Third-party risk management. Your organization is likely connected to third-party vendors and service providers, which can serve as an entryway for criminals to access your network. Attack surface monitoring enables you to see these connections and helps to assess the risks.
  • Better incident response preparation. Understanding your attack surface and the potential risks it poses enables organizations to develop more effective incident response plans, so you can react swiftly and efficiently in the face of a cyber incident.

How to Maximize the ROI of Attack Surface Monitoring

How you implement and configure your attack surface monitoring tools can significantly impact the value you receive. Remember that security is an ongoing process, and continuous improvement is key to staying ahead of potential threats. To maximize the ROI from your attack surface monitoring tools you need to address:

  • Deployment and configuration. Ensure that you follow today’s best practices for implementation and configuration of your attack surface monitoring tools. Proper integration with your existing technology stack is key, so get expert help if you need it.
  • Regular tune-ups and ongoing maintenance. Check your configuration routinely to ensure you’ve applied updates and are aligned with current best practices.
  • Vulnerability management and remediation. Ensure you have sufficient staff to routinely review your scan results, identify false positives, and perform tracking and remediation. If you don’t have enough internal resources, consider outsourcing the support and management of your attack surface monitoring solution (our team is happy to help).
  • Attack surface minimization. Given the risk of zero-day attacks, it’s not enough to wait for vulnerability announcements. Ensure that your team routinely reviews all services and interfaces discovered by your attack surface monitoring tools, and remove any that you don’t need by disabling them or placing them behind a firewall.

Attack surface monitoring is critical for protecting your organization against software supply chain vulnerabilities and many other threats. It can help your organization enhance your proactive cybersecurity posture, reduce the risk of a breach, and better prepare and respond if you experience an attack. We hope you found this information helpful! Please contact us if we can provide any additional information or help you implement an effective attack surface management solution.

About the Author

LMG Security Staff Writer