2023, May 30
·
Security
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5 min read
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Matt S.

What Is an Attack Surface? Tips How to Reduce It

In cybersecurity, an "attack surface" refers to all the potential points where an attacker could enter or extract data from a system or network.

An attack surface refers to all the points of entry that a hacker can use to access a system or network. When it comes to organizations, those are any software, hardware, or network doors that an attacker can exploit. The more entries you have, the more vulnerable you are. That is nothing new, though. Based on the publicly available "HaveIBeenPwned" website data, more than 600 companies were impacted by significant data breaches. Successful companies like Adobe, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Nvidia got their taste of "attack surface" at least once, so you might ask - okay, what's so special about it?

Definition

In cybersecurity, an "attack surface" refers to all the potential points where an attacker could enter or extract data from a system or network. In other words, it's a sum of all the different ways a malicious actor could breach a system.
This could include any software with network access, hardware interfaces, user interfaces, APIs, system configurations, and even the users themselves. By understanding and managing the attack surface, organizations can identify security vulnerabilities and take steps to mitigate potential threats, thereby improving their overall security posture.
Below is a list of standard components that could be considered part of an "attack surface":
  • Software & Hardware:
     Every piece of software or a physical device running on a network can be a potential point of vulnerability. This includes software such as operating systems, applications, databases, and hardware such as servers, workstations, routers, switches, etc.
  • Networks:
     The network infrastructure and its configuration present potential attackers' entry points. Unsecured Wi-Fi networks, poorly configured firewalls, and unused or open ports can all be exploited.
  • Users:
     The human element is a significant part of the attack surface. Users can be targeted through social engineering tactics, like phishing, to gain unauthorized access to systems.
  • Data:
     The data can be vulnerable if it's not adequately protected. This includes data at rest (stored data) and in transit (data being transferred from one location to another).

How To Reduce Attack Surface?

Securing an organization's information systems from cyber threats involves understanding and minimizing its attack surface - the sum of potential points of vulnerability that an attacker could exploit. A comprehensive approach to reducing the attack surface should involve several vital strategies. By focusing on these four overarching categories, an organization can significantly strengthen its defenses against cyber threats:
  • Asset Management and Maintenance:
     Maintain a current inventory of all hardware and software assets. This includes promptly updating software with the latest security patches and removing or disabling unnecessary applications, services, and ports.
  • Physical and Network Security Measures:
     This involves securing the physical hardware, properly configuring network infrastructure, including Wi-Fi and firewall settings, and routinely monitoring network traffic for unusual activities. Regular penetration testing should also be carried out to discover and rectify security vulnerabilities.
  • User Education and Access Control:
     Train users on cybersecurity best practices and implement stringent access controls for physical and digital assets. This helps prevent unauthorized access and reduces the risk of social engineering attacks.
  • Data Protection and Cloud Security:
     Ensure that all data, both at rest and in transit, is encrypted and secure. If cloud services are used, they should be properly configured and monitored to prevent unauthorized access or data breaches.
Also, when securing your messages and data - you should consider using a secure messaging platform like Skyda. It encrypts everything on the go and has no storage outside your device - meaning that everything you send or store is only for you.

The Role of Cybersecurity Policies

Effective cybersecurity policies are critical in reducing an organization's attack surface. These policies provide guidelines for the safe usage of the organization's IT resources, which aids in the prevention of potential cyber-attacks. They can outline requirements for regular software updates, prescribe security measures for network configuration, and provide guidance on safe internet usage behaviors for employees.
A good cybersecurity policy helps reduce the attack surface and promotes a culture of cybersecurity awareness within the organization. Regular training and updates should accompany these policies, ensuring all employees know and adhere to them.

Conclusion

Understanding and reducing the attack surface is a fundamental aspect of cybersecurity. It involves identifying all possible entry points an attacker could exploit and taking effective measures to secure them. Every element is crucial in strengthening an organization's defense against cyber threats, from software and hardware management to user education. Additionally, comprehensive cybersecurity policies can further help in mitigating potential risks.
While it may not be possible to eliminate the attack surface, it's undoubtedly achievable to reduce and manage it effectively, making it significantly harder for attackers to find and exploit vulnerabilities. Regularly reviewing and updating security measures are critical as cyber threats evolve. Ultimately, a proactive and informed approach to cybersecurity can significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful cyber attack, protecting the organization's valuable information assets and maintaining trust among its stakeholders.
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