What is Attack Surface Analysis?
Attack surface analysis is the practice of mapping out all of the various ways that an attacker may target an organization and gain access to its network and systems. Based on an attack surface analysis, the organization can develop a cybersecurity strategy designed to manage its exposure to potential cyberattacks.
What is an Attack Surface?
Attack surface analysis is based on analyzing an organization’s attack surface. Understanding what this means requires understanding attack vectors and attack surfaces.
An attack vector is a medium through which an attacker can gain access to an organization’s systems in order to achieve their intended goals. For example, phishing emails are a classic and common example of an attack vector. At the beginning of a phishing attack, the attacker has no access to an organization’s systems. However, after a user has received the email and clicked on a link or opened the attachment, the attacker may have access via compromised credentials or malware installed on their computer.
An attack surface is simply the combination of all potential attack vectors that exist within an organization’s systems. For example, in addition to phishing attacks, the organization may be exposed to attack due to vulnerable software, compromised credentials, insider threats, and other attack vectors.
What is Attack Surface Analysis?
Attack surface analysis is the practice of mapping an organization’s attack surface. This is typically a structured brainstorming exercise in which the security team works to identify all of the potential ways that the organization’s system can be attacked.
A structured approach is essential to the success of attack surface analysis. For example, the team may work through a list of potential attack vectors and consider how each may apply to the organization’s systems and personnel. Any applicable attack vectors would be added to the organization’s list of known potential attack vectors for additional analysis and remediation.
At the end of the attack surface analysis exercise, the organization should have a fairly complete picture of all of the ways that a cyberattacker could pose a threat to it. This picture can then inform its threat detection and prevention strategy.
Why is Attack Surface Analysis Important?
Attack surface analysis is important for an organization’s security because it provides useful visibility into how the organization can be attacked. By mapping out all of the various attack vectors, an organization can put defenses in place to manage them.
A cybersecurity strategy that doesn’t start with attack surface analysis will most likely have security gaps. For example, if an organization doesn’t know that a phishing or social engineering attack is a potential threat, then it won’t know to protect against them.
Even for threats that an organization can’t prevent or protect fully against, mapping out the attack surface can be valuable. Knowledge of attack vectors enables more effective security monitoring and enables the organization to intelligently assess its cybersecurity risk and determine whether particular activities, software, systems, etc. are worth the risk that they pose to the organization.
Attack surface analysis provides an organization with comprehensive visibility into the potential attack vectors that an attacker can exploit. This visibility is essential to planning defenses, monitoring for potential attacks, and accurately estimating an organization’s exposure to cyber risk.