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Understanding Your Digital Attack Surface and How to Protect It

Understanding Your Digital Attack Surface and How to Protect It

Oct 27, 2022

It’s a wonderful time to be a cyber criminal. Organizational attack surfaces are expanding, giving cyber criminals bigger – and easier – targets to hit.

Too often, organizations can’t keep up with their own digital transformation, and find themselves unable to understand – let alone control or protect – their full digital attack surface.

According to experts, rapid digital transformation during the pandemic pushed many businesses over a “tipping point” from which they may never return. This means the future of these businesses will become mostly digital—from remote working to cloud computing. This creates a challenge for many organizations as they struggle to keep up with the growing breadth of their digital assets. The lack of visibility makes it impossible for organizations to create proactive security approaches. If this struggle sounds familiar, keep reading to learn more about how you can begin understanding and protecting your digital attack surface.

The more your business invests in digital infrastructure to drive growth and modernization, the more it is exposing itself to attack.

Rogers Internet is Down

What is a digital attack surface?

In order to properly protect your organization’s digital assets, it’s important to understand what exactly falls under this category. A digital attack surface is a collection of applications, cloud infrastructure, websites, on-premises servers, technology, and devices that can be exposed to either remote or on-site malicious threat actors. More specifically, this list includes:

  • Laptops and PCs
  • IoT endpoints
  • Mobile/web apps and websites
  • Remote desktop protocol (RDP) endpoints
  • Email inboxes
  • Virtual private networks (VPNs)
  • Servers
  • Cloud services
  • Supply chain infrastructure and services

Understanding and managing the full scope of your attack surface — as well as all the possible ways a hacker can get into each device or network— will help reduce your organization’s exposure to cyber risk.

An attack vector is the method a cyber criminal uses to gain unauthorized access or breach a user’s accounts or an organization’s systems. The attack surface is the space that the cyber criminal attacks or breaches.

Common Attack Vectors for Businesses

Phishing:
One of the most common attack vectors. This involves cyber criminals sending a communication (text, email etc.) from what appears to be a trusted sender to persuade the victim into providing valuable information or money. Phishing messages often contain malicious links or attachments that allow the attacker to steal a users’ passwords or data.

Malware:
Malware refers to malicious software, such as ransomware, viruses, and Trojans. It enables hackers to take control of a device, gain access to networks and resources, or compromise data and systems. Malware risk is multiplied as the digital attack surface expands.

Compromised passwords:
Compromised passwords come as a result of users using weak or reused passwords on their online accounts. Passwords can also be compromised if users become the victim of a phishing attack, making it all the more important to education employees about phishing.

Unpatched software:
Cyber criminals vigorously search for vulnerabilities in operating systems, servers, and software that have not been discovered or patched by organizations. This gives them easy access into organizations’ networks and resources.

Why is it so challenging to keep up with attack surface visibility?

According to recent data by Accenture, 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses, but only 14% of businesses are prepared to defend themselves. Let’s explore some of the main reasons why attack surface visibility could be challenging for businesses:

  1. Organizations have inadequate tools and/or resources
  2. The environment is constantly changing and evolving
  3. The size and complexity and complexity of their IT environment
  4. Sudden increase in remote working endpoints

One of the biggest challenges in understanding and managing the attack surface is that it’s simply too hard to quantify. According to a study by TrendMicro, 33% of businesses claim they do not have the resources to do so. So, how can these business begin to build a more risk-aware organization?

According to data from TrendMicro, cloud assets are the area where organizations have the least visibility.

How can you begin to build a more risk-aware organization?

Unfortunately, the majority of businesses have blind spots when it comes to understanding and securing their attack surface. Over 50% of organisations admit their method of calculating risk exposure isn’t sophisticated enough while less than half claim to have a sufficient process for this. For organizations who are struggling in this department, it likely comes down to a lack of tools and resources. With the unprecedented pace of technological innovation and the rate at which the threat landscape is evolving, frequent assessments are crucial to gaining full visibility and improved control over business’s attack surfaces. So how can decision makers and IT professionals begin to build a more risk-aware organisation? This ultimately comes down to three important steps:

  1. Gain visibility into all digital assets
  2. Use that data to regularly calculate risk exposure
  3. Invest in the right tools and controls to mitigate that risk

Once organizations begin to understand the importance of mapping and assessing their digital attack surfaces, they can begin to take the necessary steps to become more risk-aware. Since reducing the attack surface is not always possible, IT professionals need to take a more proactive approach in understanding and securing the full scope of their digital assets. If business are lacking the resources to do so, partnering with a Manager Services Provider (MSP) like Synchroworks will give them the best chance of staying ahead of cyber threats.

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