In the past two years alone, businesses across industries have spent over $2 trillion in digital transformation. From cloud migration to IoT (Internet-of-Things) and third-party connectivity, businesses are racing to increase their digital footprints and achieve better operational efficiency.
However, this digital-first approach rapidly expands an organization's IT estate - so much so that businesses often lose track of how many IT assets are operating within their networks. These invisible, unaccounted, and unmonitored assets are often the back door for critical cyberattacks.
In the world of cybersecurity, you can’t secure something you can’t see or don’t know even exists. Therefore, effective asset management must be considered the foundation of any cybersecurity efforts across businesses of all types.
So, why does asset management underpin cybersecurity and therefore make itself critical to business continuity? And how can businesses improve their ROI through effective asset management?
What is asset management in cybersecurity?
Traditionally, asset management is often perceived as a financial term referring to the systematic practice of maintaining and growing your business capital and investments. In cybersecurity, an asset has a broader meaning, as it refers to any data, device, software, hardware, or any non-technical components that support or contribute to the business's IT and networking activities.
Therefore, effective asset management is the process of identifying and monitoring, on a continuous, real-time basis, the IT assets that an organization owns and fosters within its internal and external networks.
Any device, resource or service that exists within an IT environment could be subject to risks or vulnerabilities, leading to a critical breach of the network or any important resources. Threat actors can leverage the vulnerabilities of unmonitored assets and use them as a beachhead to launch a broader attack.
Ed Williams is VP, Consulting, Professional Services at Trustwave.
The foundation of a good information security policy
Without a robust asset management strategy, organizations don’t have comprehensive visibility into their IT environment. They not only lose visibility of current existing assets but might also miss out on tracking any new components that are connecting to the organizational network.
For instance, when pursuing virtualization and cloud migration, a lot of new IT components might be added to the organization's network, whether it’s new PCs, servers, IoT and OT devices, software-defined resources, cloud databases, or even new domains. Moreover, businesses might often remove existing software or servers from their network environment. Without a comprehensive asset management plan in place, how will the existing security resources know that it no longer needs to protect or monitor that particular asset?
So, without an effective asset management plan, businesses will not be able to map their existing security controls to these new assets. As new components are created, brought in, or removed from the network, their security policy will not be able to follow the ongoing IT and network operations and effectively becomes out dated and redundant.
How can asset management support business continuity, ROI and compliance?
The lack of a robust asset management strategy or its poor implementation creates severe risks for a business’s overall continuity and sustainability. When breaches occur from an unknown and unmonitored asset, businesses are often forced to spend prolonged time finding its origin. This increases downtime and extends operational disruptions.
With effective asset management practices in place, businesses can continuously deploy proactive measures across all assets, such as penetration testing and vulnerability scanning. Therefore, security teams can identify any potential threats and launch remediation efforts before a breach occurs. Even if a breach does take place, security teams have visibility into its origin and what assets were affected. This comprehensive visibility allows them to deploy a response plan faster and thus reduce business downtime and disruption.
Effective asset management also enhances the security team’s ability to operate more efficiently. They have a clear idea of which components to monitor, how to optimize security policies for different assets, and how to configure existing solutions for better security. This allows businesses to achieve more proactive results from their existing security investments, whether it’s on solutions or security professionals, thus driving their ROI.
In addition, asset management can help businesses to meet important compliance requirements such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, and NIST. Moreover, having a detailed map of the entire IT estate and being able to align security controls and policies to each asset demonstrates a business's security readiness and proactive capabilities when it comes to qualifying for cost-efficient cyber insurance plans.
The road to robust asset management
Planning an effective asset management strategy is a bit like being a shepherd. The first step is to count the number of sheep you have in the flock; only then can you tell for sure if one has gone missing or if an intruder has sneaked in. So, in order to implement a robust asset management plan, businesses will need to first inventory their entire network. This includes identifying every device, software, firmware, or server connected to the network. This means scanning your entire cloud infrastructure, outward or internet-facing system, and even physical inspection of on-prem infrastructure.
Once the initial asset inventory has been compiled, it needs to be regularly maintained and updated to track authorized changes and identify rogue or unexpected assets that appear on the network.
From there, businesses need to start implementing threat-hunting practices. It’s critical to run regular penetration tests and vulnerability scanning across all assets. All threats and vulnerabilities identified through these practices must be patched and updated immediately to reduce the risk of a potential breach.
For some businesses, conducting this extensive inventory process and regular threat-hunting exercises might not be feasible, given the lack of resources and shortage of skilled security professionals. In this case, it’s always advisable to attain third-party MDR (Managed Detection & Response) services. Effective MDR vendors often provide access to a global SOC team that can help organizations to achieve visibility of all assets across their on-premise and cloud security infrastructure.
Establishing security policies and making new investments without robust asset management is like building a house on sand. When the threat comes, your organization will inevitably crumble down. Asset management plays a crucial role in ensuring an organization's security maturity and resilience in the face of today’s constantly evolving cyber threats. Therefore, asset management should be the top priority for business leaders implementing cyber security policies going forward.