As society continues to move into the digital world, the threat of cybercrime looms largely, exceeding the global cost of $6 trillion in 2021.
In the past, the attack surface was mainly internal and stayed within a well-defined and fortified perimeter. But as today’s interactions between employees, customers, and other firms are increasingly taking place online, the attack surface expands at a faster pace while incorporating internet-facing assets.
As our reliance on digital technologies grow and Web 3.0 becomes reality, initiatives aimed at protecting cyberspace activities intensify. World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022 even revealed that businesses operate in a world in which 95% of cybersecurity issues can still be traced to human error, and insider threats represent 43% of all breaches.
Despite the benefits of digital technology integration like IoT; big data analytics; cloud computing; and AI for collaboration; scalability; and cost-efficiency, these applications are complex and open up an enterprise to more digital vulnerabilities and threats.
Digital security risks are typically caused by digital platform usage, the physical environment, people, and the organization’s digital ecosystem as a whole. These could gravely affect data integrity; confidentiality; and availability; preventing enterprises from integrating successfully into emerging digital platforms — or worse — halter their operations and put people at risk.
For modern businesses, the wider the attack surface is, the higher the organization’s risk for breach. Taking into consideration the widespread dependency on digital systems, teams should be aggressive and ceaseless in preventing and managing these escalating cyber threats.
Digital Attack Surface
It is a no-brainer that anything on, based, or connected to the internet can be attacked one-way or another. Indeed, nowadays, perpetrators are more sophisticated than before. In a matter of seconds — and just a few clicks — an organization’s digital attack surface can be compromised.
To put it simply, digital surfaces include any IT and web application infrastructure, run internally or under third parties. Having said that, the digital attack surface is where hackers, threat actors, or unauthorized users can exploit an organization’s underlying digital systems.
The digital attack surface, with its maze of interconnected online assets, is a popular target for cybercriminals. In fact, most SMEs have hundreds of internet-facing assets that are potentially susceptible to attack.
These involve every computer or device connected within an organization’s network as well as all the servers, databases, and access points on cloud platforms, data centers, and operating offices.
In parallel, businesses continually expand their web presence with new projects, supply chains, customer support services, tracking mechanisms, and social media campaigns, among others. Dynamic cloud applications handle app workloads while hundreds of new devices with IP addresses can be brought online at any time. These activities create conditions for new security issues to emerge.
To prevent scenarios of sensitive data exposure and manipulation; ransomware incidents; and network shutdowns, monitoring the digital attack surface is crucial. There should be a regular analysis to mark high-risk areas that needs vulnerability testing; identification of existing and new attack vectors; classification of which types of users can access each part of a system; and mitigation against targeted cyberattacks.
Prioritizing vulnerabilities helps with reducing digital security risks. Most companies have tons of vulnerable attack vectors and having the visibility or threat intelligence necessary to secure these points is a must.
Listed below are the most common pathways used by a hacker to illegally access a network:
Passwords. Using weak or reused passwords on online (personal or corporate) accounts is very unsafe. Compromised credentials should be fixed immediately because once acquired, attackers can navigate without being detected for a certain period and possibly cause significant damage.
Malicious Software. Causing errors, slowing down computers, or spreading viruses hit organizations from time to time. The risk of malware increases as the attack surface becomes bigger, allowing more vulnerability to unauthorized access and control of network resources.
Encryption. Deploying poor encryption can result in sensitive data being uncovered easily. If the protocols in place are missing or quite ineffective, data transfers become unprotected which can cause hackers to decrypt information in less time and conduct other man-in-the-middle attacks.
Overlooked Assets. Leaving unused or forgotten domains and subdomains under the rug could be problematic later on when utilized by cybercriminals. It is better to terminate these platforms as expired certificates and software could link to a company’s IP or storage domain unnoticed.
Shadow IT. Having no security control over systems or cloud app subscriptions should be watched closely to avoid unnecessary permissions, provision of services, and migration of workloads and data. Without proper vetting of new technologies, apps and tools could be risky to a business’ operation.
Misconfigurations. Accounting for over 80% of security vulnerabilities, bypassed configuration of web apps, networks, and cloud cause loopholes. Previously, a misconfigured cloud storage bucket exposed thousands of mobile phone bills of telco subscribers due to human error and misconfiguration.
Takeovers. Recognizing abandoned subdomains and servers could be beneficial to cyber attackers. Once inside, they can easily ruin the organization’s reputation by claiming their identities and kick starting dark web sales, unsolicited campaigns, and other malicious transactions.
Phishing. Receiving a text or email from what appears to be a trusted sender should still be inspected as this attack vector can lead to giving up valuable information. Phishing messages typically contain a malicious link or attachment that steals users’ passwords or data.
Insiders. Handing over network access to attackers from employees could also happen, either due to carelessness, personal motive, or revenge to dispute. 96% of companies experience challenges in protecting corporate data from insider threats like sabotage, fraud, theft, and espionage.
Course of Action
In a vastly interconnected society, digital security threats and vulnerabilities require continuous efforts to identify, analyze, and measure. As infrastructures grow in complexity and cybercriminals are deploying more sophisticated methods, here are some steps to follow to reduce risk and alleviate impact:
Control Who Is in Control. The zero-trust security model ensures that only the right people have the right level of access to resources at a given time. This reduces the number of entry points and guarantees that only authorized individuals can access the organization’s systems.
Scan, Spot, and Segment. Regular network scans and analysis enable organizations to quickly spot potential issues deemed for both cloud and on-prem networks. Micro-services and firewalls also add additional barriers and divide the network into smaller units for a stronger defense.
Educate Staff. As the front liners against cyberattacks, offering regular cybersecurity awareness training to employees will help them understand the latest trends and best practices in the industry. Categorize them into types and permissions and use these as a reliable performance metric factor.
Secure Reporting. Be as thorough as you can in dealing with breaches and threats. In this way, the company will become safer and more alert when it comes to digital network usage. Digital safety should be on top of the team’s agenda by tightening protocols and conducting routine cleanups.
Take Care of Backups. Use strict protection protocols to keep data, code, and other strict and confidential info backups safe by doubling down on security measures. Make sure that the backups couldn’t be tampered with without triggering an alarm and requires special admission for entry.