attack surface monitoring

Attack Surface Monitoring: 10 Questions Answered

Whether you’re a SaaS brand, a finance branch, or a startup, attack surface monitoring is an essential aspect of your cybersecurity.

This FAQ blog will explore what attack surface monitoring (ASM) is, why it matters, and how it differs from other systems such as external attack surface monitoring (EASM) and red teaming.

You’ll also unpack how to prioritize your attack surface monitoring efforts, along with the benefits of using an attack surface management solution.

1. What is attack surface monitoring?

Attack surface monitoring involves discovering, analyzing, and managing an organization’s attack surface.

But what do we mean by, “attack surface”?

An attack surface refers to the entire digital footprint of an organization. When we understand the attack surface, we can unveil any security vulnerabilities in the digital ecosystem.

The attack surface of a company includes:

  • On-premises and cloud-based resources
  • Web applications
  • Cloud assets
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices
  • Endpoints
  • Third-party providers and integrations, including SaaS
  • APIs
  • Shadow IT
  • Other unknown assets

You can’t secure what you can’t see.”

Forrester’s quarterly report, January 2023

Attack surface monitoring helps organizations identify and mitigate security risks, detect potential attacks, and protect sensitive data from cybercriminals.

2. Why does attack surface monitoring matter?

Attack surface monitoring gives organizations visibility into their digital assets—and therefore potential entry points for cyberattacks. Having a full asset inventory allows companies to manage their cyber risks accordingly.

And since the COVID-19 pandemic and rise of remote working, companies are more vulnerable to cyber threats than ever.

But what could these cyber risks look like?

Common attack vectors to be aware of include:

  • Phishing: Using fraudulent emails or social engineering attacks to trick employees into sharing sensitive information
  • Malware: Installing malicious software on an organization’s network to gain unauthorized access to systems or data, or supply chains. Malware can be delivered through emails, compromised websites, or social engineering attacks
  • Ransomware: Malicious software used by cybercriminals to encrypt an organization’s data, making it inaccessible until a ransom is paid
  • Misconfigurations: Configuration errors or vulnerabilities that exist in an organization’s network can create an opportunity for cybercriminals to exploit
  • Unknown assets: Assets that are not part of the organization’s standard security posture, including shadow IT, third-party APIs, or unknown IoT devices
  • API attacks: Cybercriminals can use API attacks to exploit vulnerabilities in an organization’s API endpoints and gain access to sensitive data
  • Endpoint attacks: Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in endpoint devices, including laptops, smartphones, and tablets

Of course, cybercriminals are constantly looking for (and finding) new attack vectors. Because of this, companies need to keep monitoring their attack surface in real-time to stay one step ahead.

And this is where attack surface management comes in.

3. What are the differences between attack surface monitoring and EASM?

External Attack Surface Management (EASM) only focuses on managing the external-facing assets of an organization.

  • This includes internet-facing assets such as APIs, web applications, or cloud services
  • EASM solutions, such as those offered by CybelAngel will identify unknown external assets, prioritize remediation efforts, and continuously monitor for potential threats

Attack Surface Monitoring (ASM) monitors the entire digital attack surface.

  • This includes on-premise resources such as IoT devices and endpoints
  • ASM provides real-time visibility into the organization’s attack surface as a whole, identifying potential attack vectors, and enabling timely remediation

TL; DR – The key difference between ASM and EASM is that ASM covers both internal and external assets, while EASM only focuses on external-facing assets.

4. How does red teaming differ from attack surface analysis?

Red teaming involves simulating a cyber attack to test an organization’s security controls. This usually involves input from ethical hackers who use real-life cyber attack techniques to search for any vulnerabilities.

On the other hand, attack surface analysis uses automation tools to constantly search for vulnerabilities across an organization’s attack surface. Continuous attack surface analysis can be more cost-effective and efficient, because it helps companies to constantly keep an eye on a wider range of assets.

5. How can organizations prioritize their attack surface monitoring efforts?

Organizations and CISOs can prioritize attack surface monitoring with these steps:

  1. Risk assessment: Understand their digital assets and identify any cyber risks.
  2. Asset discovery: Create an asset inventory for the organization’s entire digital ecosystem.
  3. Automation: Prioritize continuous monitoring using automatic tools such as scanners or agents.
  4. Processes: Have an established workflow and policy for addressing vulnerabilities and potential attacks.
  5. Recognition: Know who potential threat actors could be, such as hackers, or people within the organization with malicious intent.
  6. Threat intelligence: Be aware of new attack vectors and stay ahead of potential cyber threats.

With an ASM solution, organizations can automate finding real-time information on their vulnerabilities, and easily set up mitigation actions right away.

6. How can CISOs benefit from attack surface monitoring?

CISOs can benefit from attack surface monitoring by:

  • Understanding their organization’s attack surface
  • Identifying vulnerabilities
  • Taking immediate mitigation actions

With attack surface monitoring, CISOs have an overview of their entire attack surface. This enables them to prioritize their cybersecurity efforts accordingly.

Attack surface monitoring also helps CISOs to comply with regulatory requirements and laws, such as those which relate to data privacy (GDPR), or sensitive personal information (HIPAA).

7. How can ASM benefit an organization’s security posture?

Just like having CCTV monitoring at a company premises, ASM acts as a surveillance system for a company’s online security posture, too.

It boosts security by…

  • Giving real-time visibility into an organization’s attack surface and digital footprint
  • Facilitating the constant discovery of new or unknown assets and cyber risks via continuous monitoring and asset discovery
  • Prioritizing security risks based on their severity, using security ratings to evaluate their importance
  • Integrating remediation workflows with other security tools and threat intelligence feeds
  • Lifting the burden on security teams through security control automation tools.

All of these factors will lead to a reduced risk of cyberattacks and data breaches in the long run.

8. How can organizations discover their digital footprint?

There are several ways for companies and organizations to understand their digital footprint, including digital asset discovery. This is where they can use specialized tools to located open ports, installed software, and connected devices.

IP addresses can also be analyzed to build a picture of the user profiles which are interacting with your ecosystem. There is also the option of monitoring domain registration information, or data analysis on the Internet or the dark web.

9. How does ASM integrate with other security tools?

Attack surface monitoring integrates with security tools such as:

  • Vulnerability management tools
  • Security orchestration platforms
  • Workflow management tools

Integrating ASM with other platforms is important, because it enables organizations and CISOs to automate their remediation workflows from A-Z, and prioritize their vulnerabilities effectively.

Plus, threat intelligence feeds will help them to access real-time data about any potential attacks or emerging cyber risks.

10. How do security ratings support cyber risk management?

Security ratings use automated algorithms to assess an organization’s cybersecurity posture.

The risk scores are calculated based on:

  1. An organization’s attack surface.
  2. Their known vulnerabilities.
  3. Other relevant factors.

This provides an objective overview of their security posture, and it can also be used to benchmark against competitors or peers.

Concluding thoughts

Hopefully, this FAQ blog has shed some light on the world of attack surface monitoring and cybersecurity, and it will helps organizations improve their security posture.

Attack surface monitoring (ASM) is a critical, non-negotiable aspect of anyone’s cybersecurity strategy. Every organization should be constantly monitoring their attack surface. This will help them to stay ahead of any vulnerabilities, and quickly resolve any potential cyber risks.

In the long run, attack surface monitoring helps CISOs and organizations to:

  • Visualize their digital assets
  • Streamline their remediation efforts
  • Reduce their vulnerability to cybercriminals

Remember—ASM is just like CCTV; it will monitor your company systems, help you to anticipate any threats, and ultimately keep you safe from cybercrime.

CybelAngel's 2024 State of the External Attack Surface Report
Discover more about your evolving attack surface.

To learn more about the state of cybersecurity in 2024, take a look at CybelAngel’s annual report. It’s packed with insights into industry trends, EASM knowledge, and things to prioritize this year.