What Is Attack Surface? – A Quick Overview

If you’re asking what is attack surface, then you’ve found the best article for you. The term “attack surface” is sometimes defined as a set of means by which an organization can be harmed. But that’s really just the sum of your company’s attack vectors.

What Is Attack Surface?
What Is Attack Surface? | Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The simplest definition is: Your attack surface is all of your IT assets that are exposed to attackers. It doesn’t matter if they are secure or vulnerable, known or unknown, and wherever they are: on-premises, in the cloud, in third-party environments or Partners or in the networks of your subsidiaries. This is a better definition of “attack surface” as it gives organizations an understanding and insight into their entire IT ecosystem, which includes all of their network connections.

Protecting an attack surface has become more difficult as companies expand their digital footprint. From the introduction of cloud services to the use of remote / home networks and personal devices, more and more technology trends are contributing to the exponential growth of corporate attack surfaces.

What are the best attack surface methods?

There are several important best practices when it comes to protecting an attack surface.

Monitoring your terminals

Continuous monitoring is essential to protect your endpoints. You want to monitor endpoints and devices like laptops, desktops, cell phones and tablets, as well as digital environments like services and cloud services. New servers and network connections for vendors and employees working from home should also be carefully monitored. You should also use a cybersecurity assessment tool to see how your internal security controls are working and to determine which endpoints are most at risk on your attack surface.

Show vulnerabilities

To reduce the potential for attack, you can conduct a cybersecurity vulnerability assessment to discover vulnerabilities through what-if predictions. By running scenarios that mimic the work of a malicious attacker, you can get a clear picture of where your vulnerabilities are, what damage they are causing, and how to fix them.

Reduce human error

Your users are the weakest link in your security chain and it’s hard to protect yourself from human error. No matter how many controls or programs you use to protect your attack surface, users can often accidentally and unknowingly find a way to circumvent it. Comprehensive awareness training is required to protect your attack surface from human error. You can also restrict which devices employees can use for their work and require security measures such as two-factor authentication and frequent password changes.

Types of attack surfaces

There are two main types of attack surface that can affect any business:

  1. Digital attack surface

These days, it’s easier to hack digitally than to break into a digital fortress like a data center by simply walking around.

The Internet offers many different ways to break into systems and gain access to unauthorized areas – bad guys have been doing this for decades. Blue White Hat and Red Teams also use penetration tests against many different attack surfaces.

One of the most popular types of attack surface is the digital variant. Any computer connected to the Internet is vulnerable to remote attack, and local networks can also leave their own digital attack surfaces open even if they are not connected.

As mentioned earlier, this attack surface includes software applications, networks, ports, operating system services, web and desktop applications, and more. In other words, everything works on the digital side of any business.

  1. Physical attack surface

On the other hand, the physical attack surface includes everything that has to do with hardware and physical peripherals; We are talking about routers, switches, tower or rack servers, desktops, notebooks, tablets and mobile phones, televisions, printers, USB ports, surveillance cameras, etc.

Once the attacker has gained access to the physical device, they attempt to search the systems and networks to which the device is connected to:

  • Create a digital map of all networks, ports and services
  • Check the source code of the running software if found
  • Check running databases and information stored in them
  • Download viruses, malware, or back doors to infect the operating system
  • Crack login data to access privileged areas
  • Copy sensitive information to removable media or send it to remote servers

While most offices now use security precautions like biometric access control systems, access control cards and door locks to prevent social techniques from being tracked and faked, most of the time an attacker does not need to be within the physical location/office to take control of a physical device. The human factor is often the weakest point in any cybersecurity system. Therefore, social engineering or dishonest employees can be the gateway to unauthorized access from outside.

Attack surface tools

While some tools for offline and online vulnerability analysis are viewed by some infosec experts as tools for surface attacks, there are special tools for analyzing surface attacks:

  1. OWASP attack surface detector

This OWASP tool is a powerful application that can help you not only uncover your true attack surface, but also identify weak web application endpoints, accepted settings, and accepted data types.

It also provides a useful calculation of the likelihood of attack related to your attack surface, which gives you a pretty good idea of ​​how much exposure your apps are getting. This tool is available as a CLI-based utility and as a plug-in for OWASP ZAP and PortSwigger Burp Suite. You can export the results to JSON files using the command-line interface.

  1. Sandbox attack surface analysis tools

Google’s Attack Surface Tool is a useful utility designed for Windows users. It helps Windows users reveal the true attack surface of your operating system, services, and web applications running on Microsoft platforms.

After a thorough analysis of the Windows operating system, as much information as possible is extracted so that you can assess the size of your attack surface. Some of the objects that this tool scans include files, registry, network stacks, ports, running processes, and system calls and NT objects.

Leave a Comment