Exposure management in cybersecurity is a set of processes that helps organizations view their entire attack surface and understand which areas in their IT infrastructure are most exposed to cyber threats. Organizations can then take the necessary steps to reduce their cyber risk exposure through risk mitigation and risk remediation steps. Exposure management goes hand in hand with attack surface management (ASM) and threat and vulnerability intelligence.

With companies more connected to the internet and each other than ever, inherent vulnerabilities and exposures have also increased. Attack vectors such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices introduce many more endpoints to business networks. Firms that are unused to being connected to the internet, such as many manufacturing operations, are finding that they must deal with new ways of working and, thus, new vulnerabilities.

Firms need to quickly identify their top threats and work in an organized, coordinated manner to address them in order of potential likelihood and impact. An effective exposure management program identifies the biggest cyber threats and reduces vulnerabilities and exposures continuously, achieved via ever-evolving and documented policies, processes, and procedures.

What is Cyber Threat Exposure?

Cyber threat exposure — also referred to as cyber exposure or cybersecurity exposure — refers to the security risks associated with the compromise or misuse of sensitive data.

A cyber exposure management program uses this risk-based method of thinking about security to help security operations prioritize identifying attack paths, secure critical assets, and implement security controls to improve an organization's security posture.

What is the Difference Between Exposure and Vulnerability?

Understanding the difference between exposures and vulnerabilities can be tricky. In some places, the terms are used interchangeably. They are aligned and have similar areas of concern and focus for cybersecurity teams.


A vulnerability is a system weakness a hacker can actively exploit to gain direct unauthorized access to an account or a network. Vulnerabilities are often known software code errors and are listed in the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) catalog.

For example, threat actors can launch a cyber attack or running malicious code through a vulnerability to access an information system to steal or modify data. They may also spread malware, such as ransomware, which encrypts critical files, allowing threat actors to demand a ransom payment for the decryption key and to avoid having those files offered for free or for sale on the dark web.

SQL injections (SQLi) and cross-site scripting (XSS) are common ways hackers exploit vulnerabilities. A vulnerability in something like a cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution can cause a significant impact as it affects every one of the vendor’s customers, increasing the risk of a supply chain attack.


Exposures are areas within an organization that allow threat actors to gain indirect access to a system or network rather than direct access. Exposures typically occur through layered, targeted attacks like phishing attacks using information acquired through a data leak or through a backdoor from a software misconfiguration.

An example of an exposure is when a staff member sends confidential data to the wrong recipient. While accidental, this kind of exposure can nonetheless lead to data leaks that can be financially costly, cause significant reputational damage, as well as causing potential harm to customers, business partners, and other stakeholders.

The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) List

The CVE is a published list of known information security vulnerabilities and exposures. Published since 1999, the list is maintained by the US National Cybersecurity Federally Funded Research and Development Center, which is operated by the not-for-profit organization MITRE.

Organizations and security teams can use this public information to discuss, identify, and remediate vulnerabilities and exposures to protect information security.

What is Exposure Management?

Exposure management is a set of processes that aims to secure data or assets to prevent exposure to potential threat actors. Exposure management ensures that cybercriminals cannot indirectly gain access to critical information. It provides visibility of an entire attack surface as part of the attack surface management (ASM) process, which includes asset discovery and vulnerability identification.

The attack surface of a firm goes far beyond the remit of traditional infrastructure. Today, any consideration of the attack surface must include cloud storage and processing solutions, other third-party service providers, operational technology, and devices throughout the supply chain.

Once the entirety of the current attack surface and its vulnerabilities have been identified, the process is to prioritize the remediation of exposed data. These decisions can be made according to a risk-based approach, accounting for the likelihood of those vulnerabilities being exploited and the potential impact of those eventualities.

Learn how to implement cyber threat exposure management >

Reducing Exposure with Exposure Management

The breadth of issues affecting a business’s security posture is so vast that cybersecurity solutions can be difficult to manage. According to Gartner, three-quarters of companies surveyed intended to reduce their attack surface by reducing how many cybersecurity vendors they used for products and services.

By focusing on providers that offer robust attack surface management or threat exposure management solutions all under one roof or in one package, businesses can reduce costs, get better visibility of vulnerabilities, and reduce their attack surfaces.

As part of an exposure management strategy, the four main components of an effective plan are as follows:

Four Stages of Exposure Management

Exposure management is a long-term solution that significantly reduces a firm’s exposure to cyber threats over time.

Exposure management is an ongoing, continual process that will help a business understand its attack surface, monitor its cybersecurity performance in light of the changing cyber threat landscape, and reduce its attack surface incrementally.

An exposure management program should comprehensively assess an enterprise’s internal and external attack surface, effectively identify cyber exposure and vulnerabilities, and offer an exposure management program that prioritizes remediation processes.

1. Understanding Exposure

An exposure management platform helps organizations find and fix blind spots in an increasingly complex business ecosystem. Businesses are increasingly accepting that their attack surfaces extend to their third-party vendors, business partners, and suppliers.

Organizations benefit from being proactive when it comes to exposure management. In addition to addressing known issues, using techniques such as ethical hacking and penetration testing, businesses can use a hacker’s point of view to test an organization’s attack surface.

2. Prioritizing Cyber Risk Management

The risk management approach employed in exposure management platforms ensures that vulnerabilities and exposures are addressed promptly to reduce the risk of cybercrime.

Since the cyber threat landscape is constantly changing and increasing in breadth and complexity, regular risk assessments are essential to help security operations focus remediation activities.

Continuous threat exposure management is key. With up-to-date, accurate threat intelligence, security teams can use the most appropriate techniques and strategies to reduce cyber risk according to the business context.

3. Organizing the Response

With dynamic, real-time threat intelligence, the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and other stakeholders can ensure that the most effective security controls are implemented and maintained.

It’s essential that the response be documented, so the business can track its progress, leave a path for others to follow, and have evidence of security control implementation that can be useful for regulatory compliance.

4. Exposure Remediation

Businesses can use security ratings or key metrics to assess the effectiveness of their security programs. They can use objective ratings to benchmark the maturity of their security programs against similar organizations.

Whether the security controls implemented are new or pre-existing, they need continual assessment because vulnerability mitigation and remediation are ongoing activities — not one-off events.

It’s critical for the cybersecurity team to validate that implemented controls are working as they should be. The vulnerabilities or exposures must be documented and addressed if they are not.

An effective exposure management program helps a firm become more able to adapt to emerging threats, which is increasingly important in the face of threats like Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, ransomware, and insider threats combined with increased cyber risks from multiple endpoints, complex networks, and cyber attacks such as supply chain attacks.

How UpGuard Helps Organization Manage Their Exposure Risks

UpGuard helps organizations identify their biggest cyber risks, including vulnerabilities and exposures. Using an end-to-end risk and vulnerability management platform, UpGuard empowers organizations and businesses to take control of the attack surface management process and mitigate or remediate their most pressing areas of potential exposures and lower the risk of a potential data breach or data leak.

Ready to see
UpGuard in action?

Ready to save time and streamline your trust management process?