Actively taking actions to reduce attack surface of your network is one of the most critical steps in improving your organisation’s cybersecurity posture. Attack surface refers to the external-facing area of your system that includes all potential vulnerabilities and entry points that hackers could exploit to gain unauthorised access. Anyway, let’s start from the basics-
What is Attack Surface?
An attack surface refers to the entire external-facing area of a system, including all the potential entry points or vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit to gain unauthorised access to the system. It encompasses everything that could be targeted by a cyber attack, such as hardware, software, network components, user accounts, and data.
The attack surface includes employee email addresses and passwords, firewalls, human resources folders containing private data, product development information, financial records, and patent-protected data. Hackers who successfully breach the system can potentially gain access to sensitive and confidential information such as social security numbers, home addresses, evaluations, private salary data, rental agreements, vendor contracts, and secret innovations.
Once past the system’s defences, hackers can also plant malware and spyware into the network, which can cause severe damage such as recording every keystroke or data destruction.
An attack on the attack surface can be incredibly expensive for companies, costing billions of dollars per year in damages. It is, therefore, crucial for organisations to take proactive measures to secure their attack surface, such as implementing strong passwords, regular software updates, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems.
What are Attack Vectors?
In cybersecurity, an attack vector is a path or method used by a hacker or malicious actor to exploit a vulnerability or weakness in a system, network, or application. Attack vectors can be diverse and range from phishing emails to exploiting software vulnerabilities, social engineering, or physical access.
Attack vectors can be classified into two main categories: external and internal. External attack vectors include methods that target external-facing systems, such as web servers or cloud services. Examples of external attack vectors include network scanning, phishing emails, and social engineering attacks.
Internal attack vectors, on the other hand, involve methods that target internal systems, such as exploiting insider threats, privilege escalation, or compromised accounts. Internal attack vectors can be particularly dangerous as they often bypass perimeter defenses and can cause significant damage before they are detected.
Attack Surface Analysis: Step by Step
An attack surface is essentially the external-facing area of your system, which includes all of the attack vectors or vulnerabilities that a hacker could use to gain access to your system. To reduce the attack surface and hacking risk, you need to conduct an attack surface analysis to understand your network’s security environment.
Here are the steps to conduct an attack surface analysis:
Step #1 Identify Vulnerabilities
You need to identify all your access points, including each terminal, paths for data that move into and out of applications, along with the code that protects those critical paths. Passwords, encoding, and more should also be included in the analysis.
Step #2 Pinpoint User Types
Determine who can access each point in the system, including user types and what they need on an average day. This information will help you identify the level of access and potential vulnerabilities for each user type.
Step #3 Perform a Risk Assessment
Identify which spots have the most user types and the highest level of vulnerability. These areas should be addressed first. Use testing to help you uncover even more problems.
Step #4 Secure Your Reporting
Determine how you will know when you’re dealing with a data breach, and what your company will do in response to a threat. Review your rules and regulations for additional issues to check.
The attack surface analysis won’t fix every problem you find, but it provides an accurate to-do list to guide your work as you attempt to make your company safer and more secure. In large companies, this process can take months to complete, and it’s important to be as thorough as possible. The more you uncover, the safer your company will be.
Types of Attack Vectors and Antidotes to Them
Attack Vector #1 APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces
APIs, or application programming interfaces, are a set of protocols and standards that enable different software applications to communicate and exchange data with each other. APIs can be used to integrate different systems and services, streamline business processes, and facilitate digital transformation.
However, APIs can also be a potential attack vector if they are not properly secured. Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in APIs to gain unauthorised access to sensitive data or systems, execute malicious code, or steal user credentials.
Some common API attack vectors include:
API Endpoint Attacks: Attackers can target API endpoints, which are the entry points for accessing APIs, and exploit vulnerabilities in the API’s authentication and authorization mechanisms. For example, attackers can use brute-force attacks or injection attacks to bypass authentication or use stolen credentials to gain access to the API.
API Parameter Attacks: Attackers can manipulate API parameters to execute malicious code or steal data. For example, attackers can use SQL injection attacks to inject malicious code into the API’s database, or use cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks to steal user credentials.
API Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks: Attackers can overwhelm the API’s server with a flood of requests, rendering it unusable. For example, attackers can use botnets to send a large number of requests to the API, or use amplification attacks to increase the size of the requests.
To secure APIs, organisations can use various measures such as:
Token-based authentication: Tokens can be used to authenticate API requests and ensure that only authorized users or systems can access the API.
Encryption: Encryption can be used to protect sensitive data that is transmitted between different systems or stored in the API’s database.
Digital signatures: Digital signatures can be used to ensure the authenticity and integrity of API requests and responses.
Rate limiting: Rate limiting can be used to limit the number of requests that can be sent to the API within a specific time period, preventing DoS attacks.
Attack Vector #2 Insiders
Insiders can be a significant security threat to organisations because they have access to sensitive data and systems, and may have privileged knowledge of the organisation’s security controls and vulnerabilities. Insiders can be classified into two types – malicious insiders and accidental insiders.
Malicious insiders are employees, contractors, or partners who intentionally seek to harm the organisation’s security or interests. They may have a grudge against the organisation, be seeking to profit from their actions, or be acting on behalf of an external threat actor.
Accidental insiders are employees, contractors, or partners who inadvertently cause a security breach through their actions. They may be unaware of security policies, be careless with their credentials, or inadvertently click on a phishing link.
Some common insider attack vectors include:
Data theft: Insiders may steal sensitive data such as customer information, financial records, or intellectual property and sell it to external parties or use it for personal gain.
Sabotage: Insiders may intentionally sabotage the organization’s systems, networks, or operations by deleting data, introducing malware, or disrupting critical services.
Fraud: Insiders may use their access to manipulate financial transactions, transfer funds to personal accounts, or create fake accounts to steal money.
To mitigate the risk of insider attacks, organisations can implement various security measures such as:
Access controls: Organisations can limit employees’ access to sensitive data and systems based on the principle of least privilege. They can also monitor and audit access to detect any suspicious activity.
Employee training and awareness: Organisations can provide regular security training to employees to raise awareness of security risks and best practices. They can also conduct simulated phishing exercises to test employees’ susceptibility to phishing attacks.
Background checks: Organisations can conduct thorough background checks on employees before hiring them to ensure that they have a clean record and are not a security risk.
Incident response plan: Organisations can prepare an incident response plan in advance to respond quickly and effectively to insider threats. The plan should involve HR, legal, and IT teams and outline procedures for detecting, investigating, and mitigating insider threats.
Attack Vector #3 Malware
Malware, short for malicious software, is any software designed to cause harm to a computer system, network, or device. It includes a range of malicious programs such as viruses, worms, Trojans, ransomware, spyware, adware, and bots. Malware can be delivered to a system through various attack vectors such as email attachments, malicious websites, and infected software downloads.
Once malware infects a system, it can cause a range of damage, including data theft, system crashes, and the spread of the infection to other devices on the network. Malware can also be used to create backdoors into systems, allowing attackers to access and control the infected devices remotely.
Some common malware attack vectors include:
Email attachments: Attackers may send an email containing an infected attachment that appears legitimate, such as a Word document or a PDF file. Once the attachment is opened, the malware is executed on the system.
Malicious websites: Attackers may create websites that contain malicious code that infects visitors’ systems when they access the site.
Infected software downloads: Attackers may infect legitimate software downloads with malware, making it difficult for users to detect the infection.
To defend against malware attacks, organisations should implement various security measures such as:
Antivirus software: Organisations should install and regularly update antivirus software to detect and remove malware.
Firewall: Organisations should implement firewalls to block unauthorised access to their systems and networks.
Employee training and awareness: Organisations should provide regular security training to employees to raise awareness of malware risks and best practices.
Regular software updates: Organisations should regularly update their software and systems to address known vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of malware infection.
Centralised security provider: Organisations may consider using a centralised security provider to manage their security strategy, which can help to eliminate holes in their security posture.
How to Reduce Attack Surface?
Reducing attack surface involves taking steps to minimize the potential avenues that attackers can use to gain access to your systems or data. Here are the five steps to reduce attack surface:
Step #1 Assume Zero Trust
This means that nobody should be granted access to your resources until they have proven their identity and device security. This mindset ensures that security is always the top priority.
Step #2 Create Strong User Access Protocols
It’s important to establish protocols that allow only authorised users access to your network. People who are no longer part of your organisation should have their access rights removed immediately.
Step #3 Use Strong Authentication Policies
Authentication is the process of verifying the identity of a user or device. Strong authentication policies ensure that only the right people can access data.
Step #4 Protect Your Backups
Data backups can be a common point of attack for hackers. It’s important to protect your backups with strict security protocols to keep them safe.
Step #5 Segment Your Network
Network segmentation involves dividing your network into smaller, more secure sections, making it harder for attackers to access your critical systems or data. The use of firewalls and other security measures can further enhance network segmentation.
By following these steps, you can reduce attack surface and minimise the potential risks to your organisation. It’s important to note that to reduce attack surface you must keep the process ongoing, and you should regularly review and update your security protocols to ensure that they remain effective against emerging threats.
What is an attack surface?
An attack surface refers to the entire external-facing area of a system, including all the potential entry points or vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit to gain unauthorised access to the system.
What are attack vectors?
In cybersecurity, an attack vector is a path or method used by a hacker or malicious actor to exploit a vulnerability or weakness in a system, network, or application.
What are the steps to conduct an attack surface analysis?
The steps to conduct an attack surface analysis are:
Step #1 Identify Vulnerabilities
Step #2 Pinpoint User Types
Step #3 Perform a Risk Assessment
Step #4 Secure Your Reporting
What are some common API attack vectors?
Some common API attack vectors include API Endpoint Attacks, API Parameter Attacks, and API Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks.
What measures can organisations use to secure APIs?
Organisations can use various measures such as token-based authentication, encryption, digital signatures, and rate limiting to secure APIs.
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