Using Exposure Management to strengthen organizational defenses

An abstract image of a lock against a digital background, denoting cybersecurity.
(Image Credit: TheDigitalArtist / Pixabay) (Image credit: Pixabay)

Between rapid cloud expansion and shadow IT slipping under the radar, it’s all too easy for enterprises to lose track of their digital estate. This is why recognizing and mapping out what assets are in place is fundamental - companies cannot protect what they don’t know they have.

Exposure Management (XM ) is a critical tool in this environment, aiding organizations in gaining a clear understanding of their attack surface. Implementing robust XM practices is essential for maintaining cybersecurity across diverse environments and effectively addressing vulnerabilities.

The need for exposure management

Most businesses accumulate outdated assets over time, leading to digital clutter. This can become a serious security risk, especially if these older assets remain connected to the main IT network or, even more concerning, are exposed to the internet.

As organizations keep integrating new technologies without decommissioning the obsolete ones, they unintentionally form a tangled network of outdated and poorly secured digital assets. These neglected assets can turn into potential gateways for cyber criminals.

Katie Inns

Head of Attack Surface Management at WithSecure

With more than half of the significant vulnerabilities tracked in 2023 being exploited by threat actors, understanding digital inventories is more critical than ever. It's not just about identifying risks but viewing them within the operational context to prioritize and address them effectively. This approach helps organizations focus their efforts and reduce the potential for damaging cyber attacks.

Existing security stacks often lack context and prioritization and suffer from inefficiency. Further, siloed security processes make achieving a unified security posture challenging. XM resolves this by integrating various tools and processes, providing a comprehensive view of the attack surface. This approach highlights and prioritises critical vulnerabilities within the business context, ensuring focused security efforts. By breaking down silos, XM enhances organizational resilience and security effectiveness.

By aligning cyber security efforts with broader business goals, XM enhances an organization's security posture and resilience, ensuring the protection of critical assets and compliance with regulatory requirements.

What challenges are addressed by EM?

XM encompasses a blend of mindset, framework, and processes that enhances the understanding, prioritization, and mitigation of cyber risks across an organization's entire attack surface. By viewing the IT environment through the lens of a potential attacker, XM allows organizations to assess where vulnerabilities may lie, how they could be exploited, and the effectiveness of current defenses.

Central to XM is the ability to define and continuously scrutinize the attack surface, helping organizations pinpoint their most vulnerable assets. This targeted approach ensures that security efforts are concentrated where they are most crucial rather than diluting resources across less critical areas. XM also increases visibility, ensuring that older, often overlooked systems are recognized and included in security updates.

For instance, consider two servers that are technically identical and face the same threats. One server might store non-sensitive image files, while the other contains sensitive customer information, clearly, the server with sensitive data requires more immediate attention and robust protection.

XM is especially beneficial for mid-sized companies, which typically have fewer cyber security resources than larger corporations. It enables these companies to allocate their security budgets to achieve the greatest impact strategically.

By streamlining security operations, organizations can enhance their efficiency in managing risks and improve their responsiveness to threats. With an up-to-the-minute perspective on vulnerabilities and threats, organizations are able to proactively prioritize risks and bolster their resilience.

XM also assists in applying a business context to asset evaluation, prioritizing resources based on the criticality of the data they hold. Thus, XM not only helps clean up and secure existing digital landscapes but also safeguards future developments by maintaining a clear understanding of ongoing changes within the environment. This includes new additions to the environments, new working processes, or software updates with updated features and new access capabilities.

The strategic benefits of XM

XM redirects focus towards securing potential breach points that attackers could exploit. The process typically begins by evaluating the external security posture, often through 'red team', pentesting, or manual EASM exercises. These exercises adopt offensive cyber security tactics to pinpoint vulnerabilities, providing a clear map of potential attack vectors.

This pre-emptive identification allows organizations to address and fortify weak spots before they can be exploited, an advantage particularly critical when resources are limited.

By concentrating initially on the most pressing vulnerabilities, organizations can establish a solid foundation for their security strategies, thereby significantly enhancing their defensive capabilities from the start. Actively managing and reducing these vulnerabilities strengthens an organization's resilience against cyber attacks.

Also, teams can implement a continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) strategy to detect new issues as they arise. This approach aids in adhering to NIS2 regulations, which emphasize risk management and mandate that organizations consistently identify and evaluate cyber risks.

Moreover, XM facilitates a comprehensive view of the attack path, integrating both internal and external threat detections. This holistic perspective is instrumental in bolstering an organization's readiness for compliance, enhancing insurance protocols, and managing risks in the supply chain.

Through XM, companies not only develop stronger defense mechanisms for immediate threats, but also ensure a proactive stance in comprehensive risk management.

Ultimately, exposure management is indispensable in helping organizations pinpoint and secure their most vulnerable digital assets. By integrating this strategic approach, companies bolster their defenses against potential cyber threats and enhance their overall operational resilience, ensuring robust protection and compliance.

We list the best patch management software.

This article was produced as part of TechRadarPro's Expert Insights channel where we feature the best and brightest minds in the technology industry today. The views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily those of TechRadarPro or Future plc. If you are interested in contributing find out more here:

Katie Inns, Head of Attack Surface Management at WithSecure.