External attack surface management (EASM) is the continuous exercise of managing cybersecurity risks associated with an organization’s external-facing digital assets. The process includes monitoring, identifying, reducing, and mitigating risks present across an organization’s external attack surface.

In other words, EASM strategies help organizations improve their overall cyber hygiene by establishing critical protections for all internet-facing assets and developing protocols to stifle the malicious efforts of threat actors and cybercriminals.

EASM should be a priority for any organization that maintains an extensive digital footprint or manages a sizeable digital supply chain. Implementing EASM principles into its overall cybersecurity program can help organizations detect cyber threats across web applications, misconfigurations, public cloud services, APIS, shadow IT, and other digital assets.

Discover how UpGuard helps organizations with external attack surface management.>

What is an Attack Surface?

An organization’s attack surface is the totality of all vulnerabilities, pathways, and attack vectors hackers can exploit to carry out cyber threats or gain unauthorized access to critical networks or sensitive data. An organization’s attack surface includes:

  • Known assets: Assets that have been previously inventoried and managed, corporate website, serves, and any dependencies
  • Unknown assets: Assets such as Shadow IT or orphaned IT infrastructure that was previously outside the sight of an organization’s security team, including forgotten projects, development websites, or marketing sites
  • Rogue assets: Malicious infrastructure created by threat actors or hackers like malware, typosquatting, or a website/application impersonating an organization’s domain
  • Vendors: An organization’s attack surface includes the risks its third-party and fourth-party vendor relationships present. Vendors can introduce significant third-party and fourth-party risks, including significant data breaches 

The term “external attack surface” is commonly used to refer solely to the attack vectors associated with an organization’s external-facing assets. Cybersecurity personnel also use the term to differentiate from an organization’s internal attack surface, which includes vulnerabilities derived from internal assets such as firewalls and physical hardware.

Recommended reading: What is an Attack Surface? + How to Reduce it in 2023

External Vs. Internal Attack Surface

The difference between an external and internal attack surface lies in the source and location from which potential attacks may originate.

An organization’s internal attack surface includes risks associated with authorized individuals within the organization. In contrast, an organization’s external attack surface is composed of attack vectors external entities can exploit to compromise the organization’s digital assets.

  • Internal attacks: Misuse of privileges, unauthorized data access, data theft, and attempts to disrupt service carried out on premises by malicious, negligent, or compromised insiders
  • External attacks: Phishing, ransomware, malware, session spoofing, and other attacks carried out externally by hackers or organized cybercriminal groups

What is Attack Surface Management (ASM)?

venn diagram of ASM, EASM, and internal attack surface management

Attack surface management (ASM) is the overarching cybersecurity principle that includes EASM and internal attack surface management. Organizations utilize ASM to manage risks across their internal and external attack surfaces.

Recommended reading: Attack Surface Management vs. Vulnerability Management

Components of ASM

Most comprehensive ASM programs and solutions are composed of five stages:

  • Asset discovery: The identification of all Internet-facing digital assets that contain or process sensitive data, such as PII, PHI, and trade secrets
  • Inventory and classification: Dispatching and labeling assets based on type, technical characteristics, properties, business criticality, compliance requirements, or owner
  • Risk scoring and security ratings: Data-driven, objective, and dynamic measurement of an organization's security posture
  • Continuous security monitoring: 24/7 monitoring of critical assets, attack vectors, and known risks and vulnerabilities
  • Remediation and mitigation: The process of eradicating unnecessary risks and minimizing the impact of necessary cyber risks

Why is External Attack Surface Management Important?

External attack surface management is essential because it helps organizations develop protections to prevent external cyber attacks and mitigate security risks. EASM includes protecting assets like:

External attacks can stem from a plethora of attack vectors. Any vulnerable endpoint, exposed asset, or security gap in an organization’s IT ecosystem can be exploited by a hacker. Therefore, timely identification of digital assets and ongoing asset inventory maintenance is critical to the health of an organization’s overall threat intelligence and EASM system.

Learn how UpGuard can help you improve your organization’s attack surface visibility>

What is an External Attack Surface Solution?

EASM solutions are a combination of cybersecurity tools that utilize automation and software assets to provide organizations insight into the hygiene, orientation, and structure of their external attack surface. These solutions assist organizations with risk identification, assessment, remediation, and mitigation.

The most successful EASM solutions will utilize tools and data points that provide a comprehensive, real-time portrait of an organization’s external assets.

UpGuard BreachSight is a leading EASM solution that utilizes continuous monitoring, risk profiles, cyber risk ratings, data leak disclosures, remediation workflows, and other cybersecurity tools to improve its users' vulnerability management and cyber hygiene.

A snapshot of BreachSight's executive summary.
A snapshot of BreachSight's executive summary.

Use Cases for EASM Solutions

Organizations often utilize comprehensive EASM solutions to bolster their risk management procedures (including third-party risk management (TPRM) and vendor risk management (VRM).

Some everyday use cases for EASM solutions include:

Learn how to choose an EASM tool >

External Asset Discovery

Maintaining an accurate asset inventory can be challenging for most organizations, especially when their external attack surface continues to expand.

The exact number of new domains present within an organization’s attack surface at any given time will depend upon the business’s unique digital footprint. However, a comprehensive EASM solution will be able to track these new entry points, provide real-time insights into their security, and assist organizations with risk prioritization.

When security teams are informed of all exposed assets in their external attack surface, they are better prepared to carry out other critical cybersecurity workflows, including:

Learn more about UpGuard’s ASM features and tools>

Risk Assessment

A comprehensive EASM solution will help organizations achieve accurate risk assessment in many ways. First, a complete EASM solution will improve organizational awareness, providing insights into the risks or vulnerabilities plaguing their external attack surface.

Next, the most comprehensive EASM solutions will rank known risks by criticality, allowing security teams to further define their risk prioritization goals using accurate reports and real-time updates.

In addition, complete EASM solutions like UpGuard BreachSight will enable organizations to protect their reputation and improve their cyber hygiene. UpGuard empowers its users to proactively address risks to prevent reputational harm before their company ends up in the news headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Attack Surface Reduction

The overall goal of attack surface reduction is to limit (or reduce) the options attackers have to target an organization’s digital assets or critical networks. There are many ways an organization can reduce its attack surface, including:

EASM solutions can also help organizations reduce their digital attack surface in various other ways. For example, UpGuard helps organizations discover exploitable vulnerabilities and domains at risk for typosquatting. The platform also allows users to detect software vulnerabilities or misconfigurations that could result in malware injections.

Incident Response (IR)

Incident response (IR) refers to the processes and systems organizations have in place to detect and respond to data breaches or other cyber attacks. The best IR programs utilize an incident response plan (IRP) to define how an organization will prevent various types of attacks and mitigate the damage caused by attacks that do occur. Each potential cyber threat that has a possibility of occurring should have unique IRPs outlined to defend against it.

Utilizing an EASM solution can help most organizations improve their IR programs by speeding up the response time of critical personnel and providing deeper insights highlighting previously unknown vulnerabilities. The most comprehensive EASM solutions also give users access to high-level reporting to demonstrate IR progress, necessity, and value to senior stakeholders and other personnel throughout the organization.

Risk Mitigation and Remediation

A robust EASM solution can help an organization simplify and accelerate its risk remediation and mitigation procedures. Over time, this simplification will also improve an organization’s confidence in its cybersecurity efforts.

UpGuard BreachSight users can identify vulnerabilities, detect changes, and uncover potential threats around the clock. This preparedness allows users to quickly progress through remediation and mitigation workflows when vulnerabilities and critical risks occur. UpGuard’s risk waiver system enables users to promptly waive extraneous risks, while tailor-made reports provide stakeholder support across departments.

Learn more about UpGuard’s tailor-made reports>

Resource Allocation

Resource allocation is an essential principle in all areas of cybersecurity. Organizations that improve the efficiency and accuracy of their resource allocation initiatives are better suited to achieve other protocols across security concepts like asset discovery, risk assessment, attack surface reduction, incident response, and risk mitigation.

By utilizing a SaaS EASM solution like UpGuard, organizations can further define what resources they need and cull expenses that are no longer necessary to achieve their EASM goals. The value of a comprehensive EASM solution begins with the insight and risk identification it provides.

In addition, UpGuard’s flexible reports provide stakeholder support and communicate the need for EASM resources.

How Can UpGuard Help with External Attack Surface Management?

UpGuard BreachSight is a leading external attack surface management solution that allows users to streamline their EASM processes and achieve their risk management goals.

BreachSight’s powerful toolbox of cybersecurity features helps users with:

You can confidently manage your external attack surface and third-party risks by gaining complete visibility into your external attack surface and third-party risks. UpGuard puts you in control with its award-winning, all-in-one solution.

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