An attack surface refers to all the possible points, also called attack vectors, where cybercriminals can access a system and steal data. When an attack surface is small, it’s easier to manage and protect, making it essential to reduce your attack surface as much as possible.
Continue reading to learn more about attack surfaces and how you can reduce your organization’s attack surface by following a few of our tips.
Attack Surface vs Attack Vector: What’s the Difference?
While attack surface and attack vector are often used interchangeably, these terms do not mean the same thing. An attack surface is used to describe the sum of all the points that a cybercriminal can use to gain unauthorized access to systems and data, whereas attack vector describes the specific method that a cybercriminal may use to gain unauthorized access to those systems. Some common attack vectors include compromised credentials, phishing, malware and insiders.
Types of Attack Surfaces
There are three types of attack surfaces: digital attack surface, physical attack surface and social engineering attack surface.
Digital attack surface
The digital attack surface encompasses all things that are accessible through the internet which have the potential to be compromised and could provide unauthorized access to an organization’s network. This includes weak passwords, web applications, network protocols, insecure coding, system access points and APIs.
Essentially any endpoint that is outside of an organization’s firewall and can be accessed via the internet is considered part of the digital attack surface.
Physical attack surface
The physical attack surface refers to any assets and information that can only be accessed physically, such as in a physical office or through endpoint devices (computers, operational hardware, IoT devices). With the physical attack surface, the most common social engineering attack vectors are malicious insiders. Malicious insiders include disgruntled employees who misuse their access privileges to compromise systems with malware and steal sensitive information or careless employees who create risk through poor cybersecurity practices.
The physical attack surface can include anything such as passwords written down on paper, physical break-ins and even stolen devices.
Social engineering attack surface
The social engineering attack surface is determined by the number of authorized users who are vulnerable to social engineering attacks. Social engineering exploits human weaknesses by manipulating individuals into sharing sensitive information, downloading malicious software and sending money to cybercriminals. With the social engineering attack surface, the most common social engineering attack vector is phishing.
In a phishing attack, cybercriminals psychologically manipulate victims into providing them with money and sensitive information by pretending to be someone or a company the victim knows. Phishing most commonly takes place through emails, but can also occur through text messages and phone calls.
Why Is a Large Attack Surface a Security Risk?
Having a large attack surface is a security risk for organizations because it’s harder to manage the various points where an unauthorized person can gain access to sensitive information like Personally Identifiable Information (PII) linked to employees and clients. If an organization has a large attack surface, compromising an employee’s credentials can be a huge security threat to the organization’s entire network, especially since many successful cyberattacks start with compromised credentials.
Reducing your attack surface will reduce the vulnerable points in a system that can be targeted. Smaller attack surfaces are also easier for organizations to manage. Organizations are able to keep track of any security updates or patches and ensure that employees are following cybersecurity best practices.
How To Reduce Your Organization’s Attack Surface
You can reduce your organization’s attack surface by implementing the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP), assuming zero trust, and training employees, as well as regularly updating all software, operating systems and applications.
Invest in a password manager
A password manager is a solution that provides organizations with visibility and control over employee password practices and aids employees in creating and securely storing passwords. With a password manager, IT administrators can monitor password use across an organization and enforce Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) and least-privilege access – minimizing the organization’s attack surface by removing weak passwords and enforcing security policies that better protect critical data.
Implement the principle of least privilege
The principle of least privilege is a cybersecurity concept in which employees are only given access to the information and systems they need to do their jobs and no more. Implementing this principle is important because giving employees unnecessary privileges increases your organization’s attack surface. If a breach were to occur, these unnecessary privileges make it easier for threat actors to move laterally through your organization’s network.
Assume zero trust
Zero trust is a security framework that requires all human users and devices to continuously be validated and strictly limits access to systems and data. Zero trust is based on three core principles: assume breach, verify explicitly and ensure least privilege.
Assume breach: This principle essentially takes into account that any user on your network, human or machine could be compromised right now, so you should ensure you’re segmenting networks and have end-to-end encryption protecting your data.
Verify explicitly: Everyone, human or machine, should be proving who they are before they are able to access an organization’s networks, systems, applications and data.
Least privilege: When logged onto the network, users should only have the minimum amount of access to systems and data they need to do their jobs.
By assuming zero trust, organizations reduce their attack surface by greatly reducing the risks of password-related cyberattacks because users and devices are always explicitly verified and don’t have unnecessary privileges.
Regularly update software, operating systems and applications
Updating software, operating systems and applications is important because updates patch known vulnerabilities. When these vulnerabilities are left unchecked, they open up a backdoor for cybercriminals to exploit them with malware and other malicious viruses. The sooner these vulnerabilities are patched, the better, which is why we recommend enabling automatic updates.
Train employees on cybersecurity
Employees have become the primary attack vector for cybercriminals, making it crucial to train employees on what cyberattacks are and how to spot them, as well as the cybersecurity best practices they should be following. Educate employees by providing security awareness training, monthly newsletters or even in-person training. The more employees know about cybersecurity, the more likely they are to avoid falling victim to common cyberattacks.
Phishing is a common cyberattack that cybercriminals use to trick employees into providing them with money and sensitive information. One way you can train employees to spot phishing emails is by sending simulating phishing tests available through software like KnowBe4. This will give you a good idea of which employees need more training on spotting phishing attempts so you can send them phishing tests more regularly.
Secure Your Organization With Attack Surface Management
Reducing your attack surface can seem complicated but it’s necessary to reduce the risk of cyberattacks. Investing in cybersecurity early on can save an organization millions of dollars. Ready to reduce your attack surface? Find out how KeeperPAM can help.