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What is an Attack Surface?

Attack surface is known as the possible points where an unauthorized person can exploit the system with vulnerabilities. It's the combination of weak endpoints of software, system, or a network that attackers can penetrate.

Rather than extremely complex exploits, many of today's data breaches and hacks are triggered by fundamental security failures. By following appropriate cybersecurity practices and protection, users and organizations may keep sensitive data organized, protected, and secure from theft and outside threats.

Not only the devices and IT components, but people can also be the attack surface. Malware, Ransomware, and some other types of cyberattacks are common to get access to a device. But many sophisticated cyberattacks target individuals related to the business and plan attack trees using social engineering attack surfaces.

What does Attack Surface Mean?

Attack surface is also known as the sum of all known, undiscovered, and potentially exploitable vulnerabilities and controls throughout all endpoint components.

Understanding the exposures is the first step toward reducing your attack surface. Having a thorough program in place to detect, monitor, and manage your attack surface can help you avoid the most prevalent cybersecurity threats that businesses face today.

What Does an Attack Surface Do?

Earlier discussion says that an attack surface is the set of possible entry points of an attack. Attack surface typically covers the following issues-

  1. Finding the most vulnerable endpoint: the most important and efficient attack surface is finding the most vulnerable endpoint that needs a security checkup and update. Attack surfaces with vulnerability can be the reason for data breaches through cyberattacks. The endpoint needs to be improved as well as updated with security patches.
  2. Attack surface finds the whole where a new attack vector can be applicable.
  3. Find a way to protect the system from cyberattacks.

What Are the Types of Attack Surfaces?

Depending on various parameters and data types, attack surfaces are classified into three types-

Digital attack surface

Cybercriminals frequently find it simpler to get into your company by exploiting weak cybersecurity than using physical methods. Everything that exists outside the firewall and is accessible through the Internet is referred to as the surface.

Here goes a list of common digital attack surfaces-

Application

Vulnerabilities in applications are common. As the number of applications is growing, concern on the attack surface is uprising simultaneously.

Code

Code is another attack surface that hackers examine and try to find a vulnerability. Any unexpected coding could lead your system into a serious hazard.

Ports

Attackers scan ports and try to penetrate the system through open ports. Not all open ports are harmful; in some cases, your server won't work without a particular open port. But, any open port with writing access could be used as an attack surface.

Website

Websites are the most common attack surface in the digital arena. Businesses will keep data on their website to serve the users. Attackers scan for website vulnerabilities, and they use it as an attack surface to deploy an attack tree and gain access to the system.

Physical attack surface

Security concerns arise when an attacker gains access to any physical component of the workplace, in addition to a digital attack surface. If an infected device can connect to the network, it can easily pass access to the attacker.

Consider physical attack surface to be all the security flaws in a particular system that an attacker might access if they had physical access to your office, server room, or other physical location.

Laptops, computers, LANs, and routers are some examples of physical attack surfaces.

The Social Engineering Attack Surface

Social engineering uses human psychology and vulnerability to persuade victims to provide private information and sensitive data or take action that violates conventional security protocols.

Generally, social engineering's effectiveness is based on a lack of understanding of the techniques used by attackers and inadequate operational security. If the attacker could correctly evaluate and combine with other data, you are at high risk.

For example, a fake call to any of your employees to get a password is considered a social engineering attack surface. However, file sharing with fake service people could be a reason for data compromisation if the file is sent intended to gain access to the system.

Before getting into further discussion, focus on what other basis social engineering attack surface types can be organized-

  • Sensitive Data
  • Business Data
  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Protected Health Information (PHI)

What are the Elements of an Attack Surface?

Attack Surface is based on many elements. Here are the 10 common elements of an attack surface-

1. Autonomous System Number (ASN)

The ASN number is a one-of-a-kind number given to a major company or service provider with one or even more Autonomous Systems architecture. It is a 16 digit unique identification number.

Typically ASN is used for Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) which allows the users to communicate through their autonomous system number.

Your system can be victimized by an attacker if the autonomous system number is compromised by an unauthorized person.

2. WHOIS Records

The information from the domain as well as subdomain WHOIS Records may be exploited as attack vectors. It is known as domain attack surface discovery. The bigger an organization's attack surface, the more susceptible it becomes. The more attack vectors identified, on the other hand, the better the odds of preventing cyberattacks.

WHOIS Records typically provide domain register information, nameservers, domain registration dates, and other initial information. But, this type of information could help the attacker to design an attack tree. WHOIS privacy options could protect some of the information that you provided to the domain registration company.

3. NetFlow

NetFlow is a Cisco Systems concept that enables network devices to sample network activity entering or leaving the device. A Netflow configuration typically consists of one or more accumulation technologies that gather data and a terminal that enables users to view that data.

NetFlow is only effective while operating; it will not discover sites you do not frequent any more. So, if your business has been operating for a long time or bought an old company, there may be numerous assets that no one uses anymore but which still have vulnerabilities and may be used against you.

4. Web Frameworks

Web Framework is another element of the attack surface. If anyone could find the framework you are using as your web framework or any module that is vulnerable, your data could be compromised.

Frameworks are designed to reduce development time and workload, but often the framework could be at the risk of cyberattacks. If the attacker could find any whole to penetrate a framework, he can easily exploit multiple targets at a time.

Web Framework attack surfaces are comparatively the most practiced targets by the attackers as these are used by a large number of users.

Ruby on Rails, Django, Laravel, and ASP.NET are some of the popular web frameworks.

5. Web Server

You may face Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), Zero-Day, Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS), and injection attacks when your web server is vulnerable to exploitation.

Web servers are the most common attack surface. By inserting scripts into HTML pages or remotely executing arbitrary code, a web server attack may be used to compromise an online application.

Web server attack surfaces must maintain certain security protocols to keep the server protected from attackers.

6. Public and Private Cloud

A public and private cloud can become an attack surface when it is vulnerable. However, Office 365 and Dropbox are examples of software-as-a-service programs that may be used to exfiltrate information or propagate malware in an organization through rogue file shares; hacked credentials can also be used to gain access to data.

As the businesses are being more dependent on the cloud surface, attackers are now applying different attack trees to gain access to the system. Public and private cloud attack surfaces need to be free from security vulnerability as well as constant monitoring for new bugs.

7. Domains and Subdomains

Domain names and subdomains are among some of the risk attack vectors that help compensate for a target's total attack surface. Furthermore, the domain attack surface may be used in phishing, malware, and spam operations, among other cyberattacks.

Domain DNS samples usually include top-level domain names, and brand-related search phrases were frequently found not just at the second-level website domain level but also at lower levels. Concentrating on domains up to a second level would only show a tiny part of a domain surface.

8. Internet Ports and Services

A Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or User Datagram Protocol (UDP) port that is set to receive packets is referred to as an open port. A closed port, on the other hand, refuses connections or rejects all transmissions.

Open ports may be hazardous when the service port is insecure, unpatched, susceptible to attacks, or has inadequate network security policies. Wormable ports, which are accessible by default on specific operating systems, are particularly dangerous, such as the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, which ransomware can exploit.

9. SSL Certificates

SSL certificates are required for effective encrypting of Internet data and validating the identity of servers. They provide authentication to any websites or domains. End consumers will have no means of knowing whether the website they are visiting is who it purports to be without these certifications.

Whenever the SSL certificate expires, cybercriminals may put themselves in the midst of a user's browser or a web server as they attempt to connect. This creates a potentially hazardous scenario where the server ensures that he is sharing data with the user's browser and vice versa.

10. IP Address and IP Blocks

IP address blocking is a network service set that prevents requests from networks with specific IP addresses. Blocking IP addresses is frequently used to defend against brute force attacks and also to restrict access from a disruptive address.

The attacker collects all public IP addresses of registered hosts for a domain and expands this list to include netblocks of host services. Then look for any virtual hostnames that are hosted on the IP addresses. It's time to launch a cyberattack once the addresses are identified.

What Is Attack Surface Management?

Attack Surface Management, commonly known as ASM, involves monitoring, finding, and to some extent fixing general issues of the attack surface.

ASM is responsible for finding new vulnerabilities, asset identification, security concerns, network segmentation, and cyber threat intelligence.

Attack Surface Management is important for legacy, IoT, and other IT resources. A proper attack surface management could save your data from being compromised by the attacker.

However, attack surface management takes action against human mistakes. For example, if one of your employees gets a phishing link and tries to open the link from your network. Attack surface management solutions would block the link and deny the user access to the phishing link. Most of the attack surface management tools can detect phishing links and flag them as risky.

Moreover, Attack Surface Management could find vulnerable and outdated software that may create security threats for your system.

Importance of Attack Surface Management

  1. Attack Surface Management can identify on-premises and cloud-based attacks and also can neutralize them.
  2. ASM can classify the areas according to various threat levels and data security layers. It can also reduce the organizational impact of being hacked and data breaches.
  3. ASM gives priority to highly risky areas and takes action against the vulnerability as soon as possible. It also checks other risk factors and fixes them periodically.

What is Reduce Attack Surface?

Reduce Attack Surface focuses on some common practices of attack surface management behavior that reduce the chances of being victimized by a cyberattack.

To reduce attack surface security threats, businesses and individuals should have some knowledge of the network security environment. When the network is shared with all the employees, the network engineer and each also have to follow a specific guideline to reduce the attack surface.

However, Attack Surface Management tracks records that could be analyzed to find potential security threats.

How to Reduce the Attack Surface Area?

Reducing the attack surface area means fixing the existing bugs and keeping close observation of further security concerns. To some extent, attack surface management takes action against suspicious activities.

Here are six steps to reduce the attack surface area-

1. Eliminate Complexity

Reducing the attack surface area, the business should plan a 'ready to go forward' role to avoid complexity. In most cases complexity lets the employees make mistakes. A clean and user-friendly IT environment surely reduces the attack surface area.

However, any complexity could create a new vulnerability when the business is highly dependent on network and server management.

2. Scan for Vulnerabilities

In a network, server, or even in a web framework, vulnerabilities could be found at any time. You may have managed the environment securely, one component of your network environment might need a security patch.

Not necessarily; you will depend on the updates by the vendors; you need to scan for vulnerabilities routinely.

3. Implement Zero-trust Policies

None of the users should grant access without authentication. Each must prove that they have the access as well as the devices are secure enough to handle the data.

It's easy to loosen such rules and let everyone view everything, but a security-first attitude will protect your business.

4. Train Employees

Training of your employee's network security best practices. Employees should know how to operate the system effectively as well as securely.

In most cases, companies' data get compromised because of employees' lack of awareness of cybersecurity. Make aware your employees about potential security threats and teach them how to use the resources securely.

5. Segment Network

Network segmentation makes it way harder for the hacker to access your system. If you keep your network segmented according to your use and need and put a security layer for each segment, it would be harder for cyberattackers to reach your data.

6. Find a Network Security Solution That Protects Your Attack Surface

Developing cybersecurity rules is one of the most frequent methods to avoid cyber assaults. Security awareness training is being implemented. Spam filtering and anti-malware solutions should be installed.

Zenarmor (Sensei) protects the network from cyberattacks and keeps your business secure from authorized access. It deals with communication protocols and data attributes that allow real-time network visualization.

A technique of obtaining unauthorized entry to a company network system is known as an attack vector. On the other hand, The number of endpoints an attacker may employ to access a system or data is referred to as the Attack Surface.

Attack vectors come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the target asset's location and exposure. Website attack vectors target online companies, particular websites, and networks to find the vulnerability and gain access.

Attack vectors and attack surfaces are related in terms of the event of a cyberattack. These both happen with a successful cyberattack. Attack surface shows the path to deploy malware or inject malicious code into a network, server, or website. The attack vector is the way how the code is injected into the server or website.

A cyberattacker first examines the attack surface and then deploys an attack vector to gain access. If the attack surface is vulnerable, successful attack vectors could steal sensitive data from your server.

Phishing, SQL injection, and XSS are examples of popular attack vectors. On the contrary, all endpoints connected to the network are considered as the attack surface.

Here are some common attack vectors-

1. Phishing

Cybercriminals use the phishing vector to manipulate the victim to share sensitive information easily. Phishing emails typically contain phishing links and malicious attachments.

2. Malware

It is used to gain unauthorized remote access. However, some malware has different functionality like erasing the storage, lock the system.

3. Brute Force

The password which is easy to guess is always vulnerable to brute force attack. Using upper case, special characters with numbers are the best combination of a strong password.

4. Encryption

The encryption process is used to hide the original message when the data is transmitted. Poor encryption methods could be a security threat in the encryption attach surface.

What Is The Difference Between an Attack Surface and an Attack Tree?

Though there are similarities between attack surface and attack vector, the attack tree works differently. An attack tree is a structure that detects potential security threats. Depending on the kind of attack, the attack tree could be very sophisticated.

Because of the subtrees that are available in the attack tree, it is much more difficult to comprehend than the attack surface. The attack tree of an attacker may be lengthy depending on the aim and target, but it can be shortened by decreasing the scripts and limiting access to untrustworthy people. Even if it is difficult to comprehend, the attack tree is the most basic method for evaluating the IT security system.

The attack tree can be explained in many-objective paths. The larger the attack surface, the more important it is to have a good and protective code.

You may need attack trees to identify risks in three ways:

  • You may identify dangers by using an attack tree built by someone else.
  • To assist you think about risks for a task you're working on, you may make a tree.
  • You may also plant trees with the intention of having others utilize them. It isn't easy to grow fresh trees for widespread usage.

Here goes some difference between attack tree and attack surface-

  1. An attack tree is the set of methods and plans to defend against cyberattacks where the attack surface measures how easy to attack a system.
  2. The attack tree shows the path to vulnerability and a series of actions to protect against threats. On the other hand, reducing the attack surface limits the access level to the authorized users only.
  3. An attack tree is designed depending on the vulnerabilities found on the attack surface. And the security hole in the attack surface lets the attacker steal data from the system.
  4. The attack surface can be compared to the earlier stage to find the vulnerability before planning an attack tree.
  5. Attack surface information is used to find the way to attack. The attack tree itself is the process of attack.