Exposure management is a proactive cybersecurity process that aims to identify, assess, and address potential vulnerabilities and security threats that malicious actors can exploit.
You can think of exposure management as taking a comprehensive look around your digital perimeter and ensuring no open doors or windows can allow attackers to sneak in, such as weaknesses or misconfigurations in applications, websites, networks, and other systems that make up your IT infrastructure.
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Here are some questions about exposure management and its critical aspects.
What Is the Difference between a Vulnerability, a Threat, and a Risk?
Before diving deeper into exposure management, it is essential to understand how a vulnerability, a threat, and a risk differ, as these terms are interlinked and sometimes used synonymously.
- Vulnerability: A weak point in a software, network, or system that can come in the form of outdated applications, security misconfigurations, or weak passwords.
- Threat: A potential danger that can exploit a vulnerability, such as a piece of malware or phishing email used as part of an attack.
- Risk: The likelihood that a threat will occur and successfully exploit a vulnerability, therefore causing harm.
How Does Exposure Management Work?
Threat exposure management typically involves four key steps, namely, attack surface mapping, threat assessment, risk remediation, and continuous monitoring.
Attack Surface Mapping
To efficiently manage exposure, security teams begin by gathering relevant intelligence through asset discovery and vulnerability scanning. Asset discovery is the process of identifying and validating an organization’s assets. These assets must then be checked for security misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, and other issues that make them exploitable.
After uncovering vulnerabilities in a target system, security teams should identify and assess the threats they face. At this point, they may ask questions, such as:
- Which assets are unsafe and how critical are they?
- What methods can threat actors use to attack the assets?
- How easy is it for attackers to exploit each vulnerability?
The answers can guide security teams in according proper attention to specific vulnerabilities so they can be mitigated first.
As a next step, security teams can start implementing remediation strategies to address the vulnerabilities identified earlier and lessen their organization’s exposure. Remediation often involves patching software, hardening systems, and implementing stricter access controls.
Exposure management is not a one-time process. Attack surfaces evolve as organizations add more assets or attackers find more vulnerabilities to exploit. Therefore, security teams need to keep an eye on their threat exposure constantly. In fact, Gartner predicts that organizations prioritizing their security investments based on a continuous exposure management program will be three times less likely to suffer from a breach.
What Common Threats Increase Exposure?
Organizations are increasingly exposed to threats, notably because of the growing sophistication of attacker tactics and ease of launching malicious campaigns. While threats constantly change, some tactics remain widely used over time, including:
- Malware: Malicious codes that attackers inject into target systems to access data covertly. They can remain undetected within a system for hours, days, or even months. More than 450,000 malware are detected daily, including ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts data so threat actors can demand payment in exchange for the decryption key.
- Phishing: A tactic using messages to trick users into downloading a malicious file or clicking a link that leads to a dangerous website. Phishing is typically more likely to succeed when threat actors imitate reputable companies or known individuals.
- Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks: Such attacks aim to render a target system useless by overwhelming it with a massive volume of requests. Threat actors may demand a payment to stop such an attack. DDoS attacks can also serve as cover-ups for other cybercrime happening in the background, such as data theft.
Organizations implement exposure management to tackle exploitable vulnerabilities and minimize the impact and likelihood of successful attacks.