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What Is An Attack Surface? Everything You Need To Know

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What is the attack surface?

The attack surface is the sum of all possible security risk-exposures (or attack vectors) an attacker might use as a pathway to enter a network. From there, they could access, exploit, steal, and attack your digital environment. 

External digital assets can be known or unknown, and a common issue is the presence of shadow IT - where assets that an organization may not be aware of are being exposed to the internet. It is important to understand what your attack surface is and how to manage it effectively in order to avoid a potential cyber attack. 

Attack surfaces are hyper-dimensional, constantly evolving, and can grow rapidly, making them difficult to manage. The two main types of attack surface:

1. Digital attack surface

A digital attack surface refers to the total vulnerabilities on the hardware and software. It is everything outside of the firewall or hosts that are permitted to be accessed by the firewall (authorized or not) - where internet-facing assets such as email servers and mobile applications are located. 

2. Physical attack surface

A physical attack surface refers to endpoint devices, like mobiles or USB ports for example. Once access is gained, the attacker can scan the digital attack surface for attack vectors. As we move towards an increasingly digital future, businesses are using a wider variety of devices and in higher volume, providing more opportunity for an attacker to gain access to sensitive data and cause a ransomware attack. 

Of course, people can also be included in the attack surface. It is vital to have the knowledge needed to identify and respond appropriately to a potential cyber threat. Organizations must effectively educate their employees so that they understand how their IT environments work and are aware of potential dangers. Human error is one of the most common causes of data breaches today, with phishing attacks being one of the most prevalent. 

Known and unknown factors on your attack surface

Known factors are assets that you are aware of and monitor, such as subdomains and general security processes. Unknown factors are assets you aren’t aware of. These shadow IT assets are most likely not being patched or updated which could lead to a potential vulnerability being present. It is inevitable for there to be unknown assets on your attack surface because it is constantly changing, so it is important to remain vigilant. While the unknown can seem intimidating, with the right software cyber security can be made simple and effective. 

Managing your attack surface

You can’t remediate problems you aren’t aware of, so using a robust attack surface management platform that can help you visualize your full attack surface and potential exposures is a necessary investment today and is becoming more and more popular with forward-looking organizations all over the world.


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