The cause of most data breaches can be mapped to limited attack surface visibility. Inverting this statement reveals a tactic for reducing your data breach risks - increase attack surface visibility. Cyber Threat Exposure Management presents an advanced security risk management approach by prioritizing attack surface visibility. To learn how to adopt a CTEM mindset and reduce your data breach risks, read on.

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What is Threat Exposure Management (TEM)?

Threat Exposure Management is the process of ensuring security programs can identify, prioritize, and manage unexpected security risks and exposures. TEM is a forced cybersecurity innovation in response to the attack surface challenges of digital transformation.

Security teams struggle to scale their risk management efforts in line with the rate of their expanding attack surfaces. As a result, security controls are not adapting to the evolving threat landscape, which limits security posture improvement potential and increases data breach risks.

Threat Exposure Management solves this problem by prioritizing the metric of visibility. To increase visibility, all the aspects of a cybersecurity program involved in the threat discovery process need to be broadened. This results in an attack path and attack vector management program comprising of the following components.

  • External Attack Surface Management (EASM) - The process of continuously monitoring an organization’s external attack surface (including third-party service providers) for emerging risks. An EASM can map your external digital footprint (including fourth parties), identify critical assets, and discover supply chain security risks, making it an essenital component of vendor information security.
  • Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management (CAASM) - CAASM unifies multiple visibility sources (EASM, Extended Detection, and Response Solutions into one database), creating a foundation of broader visibility for other cyber risk management practices to build upon.
  • Risk-Based Vulnerability Management (RBVM) - RBVM is a modern approach to vulnerability management where critical risks are prioritized in remediation response. By encouraging remediation efficiency, RBVM helps organizations continuously improve their security posture rating, even when potential threats are rising. Vendor Tiering - categorizing vendors based on risk criticality is an example of an RBVM practice.

    Learn more about Vendor Tiering >

  • Threat Intelligence Platform (TIP) - TIPs continuously gather information about threat actor activity on the surface and dark web and then aggregate this information in a singular database. TIP tactics such as ransomware blog data leak detection can help organizations preemptively secure compromise accounts before they’re exploited to breach a network.
  • Penetration Testing - The practice of simulating real-world cyberattacks to discover vulnerabilities expands security team visibility into overlooked regions of their attack surface.

With all of these attack surface visibility-enhancing initiatives working together, security operations can respond to emerging cyber threats faster, reducing the potential negative impacts on an organization’s security posture. This results in cascading positive impacts across all of the components of Attack Surface Management and associated risk mitigation programs like Vendor Risk Management, including:

  • Cyber risk mitigation
  • Cyber risk management
  • Incident response planning
  • New threat remediation
  • Vulnerability management
  • Threat intelligence
  • Risk assessment management
TEM isn’t an innovation. The strategy builds upon existing cybersecurity concepts to increase the emphasis on attack surface visibility.

What is Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM)?

Continuous Threat Exposure Management is a proactive approach to cybersecurity risk management that prioritizes real-time security threat discovery remediation and mitigation.

CTEM further advances the TEM model by adding real-time attack surface visibility. With real-time awareness of emerging threats, CTEM programs help security teams stay on top of emerging security threats instead of feeling like they’re perpetually lagging, thereby reducing the stress of Attack Surface Management.

With a CTEM program, organizations can detect and respond to emerging threats faster to ensure their security posture is always resilient to evolving cybercriminal tactics.

This “continuous” aspect is achieved through a symbiotic relationship between the CTEM program and related risk mitigation programs, where CTEM data is constantly iterated to improve its decision-making abilities.

Gartner illustrates this relationship as follows:

CTEM flow diagram by Gartner

The CTEM strategy also significantly benefits Vendor Risk Management programs by moving risk assessment models from a rudimentary point-in-time approach to real-time risk awareness. The point-in-time model (where vendor attack surface visibility is only dependent on risk assessment) only paints a picture of third-party security risks at a single point in time between scheduled assessments. Security teams are essentially working in the dark, unaware of emerging risks increasing the threat of third-party breaches between each assessment - like vendor software misconfigurations, CVEs, and exposures facilitating phishing and malware attacks.

By combining risk assessments with continuous attack surface monitoring - i.e., incorporating a real-time component to third-party attack surface management, security teams are always aware of each vendor’s security posture and, therefore, the degree of data breach susceptibility.

Point in time assessments combined with attack surface monitorig providing real time risk awarenss.

CTEM revolutionized internal and external attack surface management by encouraging security teams to embrace a proactive risk management mindset rather than the reactive mindset that characterizes traditional models. With a reactive mindset governing threat discovery efforts, breach mitigation programs will be optimized to also detect active threats as well as static ones (such as cybercriminals inside your network). Faster active cyberattack compresses the data breach lifecycle, which according to the 2022 Cost of a Data Breach report, could save you $1.12 million in damages.

This vast range of benefits impacting just about every area of cybersecurity is why Gartner ranks CTEM amongst its top cybersecurity trends in 2023.

According to Gartner, organizations implementing a CTEM program by 2026 will suffer two-thirds fewer breaches.

Implementing Cyber Threat Exposure Management in 2023

The successful implementation of a CTEM program started a strong foundation of optimized risk mitigation processes and strategies. This framework will help you orientate your cybersecurity program towards a Cyber Threat Exposure Management approach.

1. Ensure all Existing Risk Mitigation Processes are Optimized and Scalable

Because data feed demand between systems will significantly increase after a CTEM program implementation, your current threat discovery and risk management programs must be optimized first. Otherwise, your security teams will spend most of their time troubleshooting integrations instead of managing your attack surface, which defeats the purpose of having a CTEM program.

An optimized system is one that is readily scalable. Some examples of scalable improvement to common poor cybersecurity practices include:

  • Replacing spreadsheet with risk assessment platform - A risk assessment platform automates the complete lifecycle of security assessments, removing the tedious effort of tracking responses via spreadsheets.

    Learn how UpGuard streamlines risk assessments >
  • Tiering Vendors - Vendors Tiering allow critical vendors to be prioritized in remediation efforts, helping security teams manage their time more efficiently.
  • Automating Vendor Risk Management notifications - Even with a risk assessment platform in place, workflows can be further optimized with notifications tracking risk assessment progress. This allows assessment responses to be actions as quickly as possible.

Refer to these free resources for more risk management process optimization guidance:

2. Design an Effective Incident Response Plan

The enhanced threat visibility that comes with a CTEM program is only beneficial if you can promptly respond to each detected threat. Incident Response Plans help security teams calmly and methodically work through appropriate threat response measures during the stress of a live cyberattack.

Besides having a comprehensive IRP in place, be sure to implement a policy to keep it updated in line with emerging threats. Your CTEM program will constantly be feeding new threat data to your IRP resources which need to be capable of handling this demand.

Learn how to design an effective Incident Response Plan >

3. Map your Internal and External Attack Surface

Your attack surface management solution should be capable of mapping your internal and external attack surfaces. With this capability, your visibility efforts will be perfectly aligned with the expectations of a CTEM.

The best attack surface management solutions can detect complex attack vectors, such as end-of-life software, domains linked to vulnerable servers, unmaintained pages, etc. - risks that can easily be addressed to reduce your attack surface quickly.

For an overview of attack surface management, watch the video below.

Experience UpGuard’s attack surface management features with this self-guided product tour >

3. Adopt a Risk-Based Approach

Enhanced visibility keeps your security teams aware of the state of their attack surface. But this information is only useful if security teams understand how to distribute risk mitigation efforts efficiently. A risk-based approach to vulnerability management (RBVM) is a framework for helping security teams decide where to focus the bulk of their response efforts.

Learn the basics of Threat Exposure Management >

While a well-defined risk appetite indicates which risks should be controls should be controlled and which can be disregarded. It’s primarily useful during due diligence and not deeper into the VRM lifecycle. An RBVM framework indicates which threats should be prioritized based on their likely impact on your security posture.

This system can be manually configured based on Cyber Risk Quantification principles or, ideally, completely automated within a Vendor Risk Management program.

UpGuard’s VRM platform includes a feature that projects security posture impacts for selected remediation responses, helping security teams prioritize their efforts on where they’ll have the most significant positive impact.

Security rating change projections on the UpGuard platform.
Security rating change projections on the UpGuard platform.

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Implementing an Exposure Management Program or Exposure Management Strategy will further help security teams determine which regions of their IT ecosystem are most vulnerable to exploitation.

4. Adopt a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Real-time threat visibility extends beyond the digital landscape. Your employees play a critical role in detecting potential threats before they penetrate your network. Update your cyber awareness training program to address the importance of threat visibility and vigilance in a daily business context.

Be sure to update all awareness program resources, including webinars.

5. Keep Stakeholders in the Loop

A CTEM program provides valuable information that will validate the efficacy of your risk mitigation efforts and justify CTEM program investments. This data stream needs to be fed into a cybersecurity reporting program so that it can be clearly and effectively communicated to stakeholders and the Board.

In line with the workflow efficiency foundations that should support a CTEM program, cybersecurity reports should be capable of being instantly generated within a Vendor Risk Management to reduce administrative reporting loads within your team.

Learn how UpGuard streamlines cybersecurity reporting >

Some of the cybersecurity report templates on the UpGuard platform.
Some of the cybersecurity report templates on the UpGuard platform.

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