Forensic investigators can track your exact location by following the biological traces left on every object you touched. In the digital world, your online activity is much easier to track because digital prints are larger, harder to hide, and even harder to erase.

This poses a serious cybersecurity problem for all businesses. To maintain customer appeal, the adoption of cutting-edge technology is critical, but this effort increases internet-facing resources giving cybercriminals more options to target.

This conundrum has birthed a new branch of cybersecurity known as Digital Risk Protection Service (DPRS). This pervasive digital age threat can also be managed by mapping the connections between internet-facing infrastructures, a process known as digital footprint mapping.

What is a Digital Footprint?

Your digital footprint is a map of all the external-facing digital assets in your organization. It represents how cyberattackers view your ecosystem and all the vulnerabilities they will potentially target.

This is an imperative perspective for evaluating the resilience of information security programs. It's easy to overlook security flaws when only focusing on internal efforts.

Digital footprint mapping forces security teams to take an external perspective with a threat actor's mindset to identify potential entry points and how they should be bolstered to prevent exploitation.

Footprint mapping, also known as footprinting, doesn't just identify the locations of each asset, it also maps the connections and pathways between them.

This is critical because cybercriminals could breach sensitive resources through indirect methods, by first compromising the weakest point in an ecosystem. This is tactic is used in supply chain attacks.

Why is Digital Footprint Mapping Important?

Digital footprint mapping is important because your digital presence is your largest attack vector. As companies adopt new technologies they expand their digital presence, giving cybercriminals a larger surface to target.

Internal solutions, like antivirus software and firewalls, are not enough to secure an entire digital pressence because they provide a very narrow perspective of an organization's entire attack surface.

This results in the entire threat landscape beyond firewalls being overlooked, which includes the vendor network.

This exposes a very concerning blind post in conventional security programs.

Third-party vendors often require access to sensitive information like customer data, business data, and financial data in order to integrate systems effectively.

Vendor software patches require ongoing updates and security certificates need to be refreshed. These requirements also extend to the suite of software solutions used by each vendor, further expanding and complicating the threat landscape.

By disregarding vulnerabilities beyond a firewall perimeter, this colossal attack surface is completely overlooked.

Not only are these third-party vulnerbitlies slipping under monitoring radars, they're multiplying as organizations scale vendor relationships to leverage their low-overhead support of business objectives.

71% of organizations are working with more 3rd parties than they did 3 years ago

- Source:

Digital footprint mapping helps organizations achieve deep visibility into their entire digital attack surface, beyond the firewall

Some of the digital threats outside the firewall include:

  • Broken links
  • Vendors
  • Vendor software
  • Vendor security programs
  • Web components
  • Web applications
  • Website subsidiaries
  • Third-party assets
  • Contractors
  • Mobile apps
  • IP addresses
  • Social media profiles
  • Vendor digital identity
  • Vendor social media accounts
  • Customer-facing eCommerce assets
  • Industry-specific assets
  • Corporate assets

How Does Digital Footprint Mapping Work?

The primary objective of digital footprint mapping is to identify all possible entry points that could be exploited in a cyberattack.

Once each vulnerability is identified, all of its connections and endpoints are mapped out and linked to other discovered asset networks.

Finally, each vulnerability is given a criticality score so that remediation efforts can be most efficiently distributed.

Each of the three phases of digital footprint creation and external threat discovery are explained below.

Phase 1: Discovery

The first step in mapping your organization's online presence is to identify all assets exposed to the internet.

This includes:

  • Cloud solutions
  • Domains
  • Open Ports
  • TLS certificates
  • Data APIs

Cloud technology makes this task very difficult since it accelerates the expansion of assets and the connections between them.

To ensure accuracy, and preserve security team efforts, this effort is best entrusted to an attack surface monitoring solution such as UpGuard.

UpGuard scans billions of data points every day to discover vulnerabilities and the assets associated with them. This solution also detects domain subsidiaries that are commonly overlooked.

The discovery process also involves surfacing all leaked data pertaining to your organization. Data leaks are involuntary exposure of sensitive data that could develop into a data breach if they're discovered by cybercriminals.

Because these events are potential attack vectors, they should still be included in your organization's digital footprint even though they're not categorized as assets.

Data leak detection efforts should extend to the third-party network since they could develop into third-party breaches. Their remediation will support the proliferation of vendor relationships without their associated security risks.

UpGuard detects data third-party data leaks before they're discovered and exploited by cybercriminals, helping organizaitons create highly detailed digital footprint maps.

Click here to order a free 7-day trial of UpGuard

Phase 2: Mapping

With all digital assets and vulnerabilies detected, it's time to map the connections between them.

Both the discovery and mapping phases of digital footprinting should be completed with a cybercriminal mindset. This is because cybercriminals follow the same sequence when planning a cyberattack - first, they discover associated assets, then map their connections to surface potential entry points.

To maintain this unique perspective it helps to use search engines cybercriminals are likely to use to map your digital footprint.

Here are two examples:

These solutions will help you learn how much of your digital footprint is currently exposed to the public, allowing you to fill any gaps in both the discovery and mapping phases of your digital footprint efforts.

All discovered vulnerabilities and their connections can then be represented graphically through network diagrams.

Learn how to create network diagrams.

When mapping the third-party network, It's very difficult to estimate the risk profiles of vendors and their digital footprint short of requesting access to their footprinting documentation.

Even if this is provided, there's no way of confirming legitimacy or whether their efforts were thorough enough to identify all critical vulnerabilities.

Because third-party breaches are on a rising trend, statistically speaking, your vendors will not take cybersecurity as seriously as you do.

supply chain attack trend 2019-2020

It's best, therefore, to take ownership of vendor security by using a vendor attack monitoring solution to evaluate the security postures of all third parties.

Phase 3: Scoring

After identifying all assets and mapping their connections, the vulnerabilities in your entire threat landscape should be evident. Each of these vulnerabilies should then be assigned a severity score so that the most critical exposures are addressed first.

This keeps the impact of prospective cyberattacks at a minimum, should any occur before remediations are complete.

To further support the efficiency of response efforts, a risk appetite should be clearly defined to separate risks into three categories:

  • Acceptable risks
  • Tolerable risks
  • Unacceptable risks
risk impact vs risk frequency

Learn how to calculate risk threshold.

Risk can either be inherent or residual. Inherent risk is the level of risk in the absence of security controls. Residual risk is the level of risk that remains after security controls have been implemented.

inherent risk vs residual risk

Each type of risk will impact the severity score of all discovered vulnerabilities so it's important to have a confident understanding of their differences before calculating security scores.

Learn the difference between inherent risks and residual risks.

Security scores, also known as security ratings can either be estimated manually or entrusted to specialized solutions.

For maximum accuracy, such complex calculations are best entrusted to dedicated solutions capable of instantly calculating security ratings for both internal and third-party entities.

UpGuard Can Help You Map Your Digital Footprint in 2024

With its proprietary internal and external attack surface monitoring technology, UpGuard can help you achieve crystal-clear visibility into your entire attack surface. For an overview of how to use UpGuard to understand your organization's digital footprint, watch this video.

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