What Is Attack Surface Monitoring?

9 Minute Read

An organization’s attack surface comprises all the hardware, software, SaaS, and cloud assets exposed to attacks. Open networks and the Internet provide wide access to corporate data, with each connected device, application, and resource serving as a potential entry point for threat actors. The attack surface is what you need to secure to protect your IT systems from breach.

Attack surface monitoring is the practice of monitoring corporate systems for weaknesses and entry points that an attacker might exploit to access sensitive data. This involves identifying high-risk data flows and network communications that might expose an IT environment to threats.

There are three types of tools commonly used for attacks surface monitoring:

  • Vulnerability management tools include attack surface analysis and protection capabilities. They can evaluate and address network and system vulnerabilities, focusing on system configurations and operating system exploits.
  • Attack surface monitoring (ASM) solutions go one step further by continually discovering, analyzing, prioritizing, and remediating organizational assets, whether on-premise, in the cloud, or maintained by third parties.
  • DevOps testing—modern DevOps environments integrate attack surface management processes and monitoring tools into the CI/CD pipeline. This approach helps mitigate risks while a new software version is still under development.

In this article:

Why Is Attack Surface Monitoring Important?

It is not possible to secure a system that you cannot see. Visibility is essential for discovering and validating an organization’s digital footprint and identifying security risks. Knowing what assets you have and what risks they pose allows you to prioritize assets and plan a risk remediation strategy. Monitoring tools can help direct the security team’s efforts to avoid wasting time on unnecessary manual tasks and reduce the cost of reacting to threats.

Attack surface monitoring lets you implement a proactive security approach rather than a defensive, reactive strategy. It lets you leverage tools to automatically and continually update the digital asset inventory beyond the traditional network security perimeter. Attack surface monitoring provides visibility into cloud environments, cross-geographic assets, offices, and remote machines.

Continuous monitoring ensures instant updates about the organization’s security posture. Rather than waiting for annual assessments, a proactive monitoring approach can identify new risks when they emerge. Effective risk management depends on constant feedback on vulnerabilities in the network’s security controls.

Attack surface monitoring also helps simulate a hacker’s view of the network. It reveals common and known vulnerabilities that attackers will likely exploit to perform DDoS, ransomware, and other cyber attacks.

Related content: Read our guide to attack vectors

What to Look for in an Attack Surface Monitoring Tool?

An attack surface monitoring tool can provide significant advantages for securing complex IT ecosystems with many applications and endpoints. Modern tools can address a wide variety of threat vectors.

A good attack surface monitoring tool should include the following features:

  • Request logging—keep a record of all data access requests.
  • Behavioral monitoring—track suspicious activities and unusual request volumes, providing alerts about anomalies.
  • Vulnerabilities scanning—scan applications and software for vulnerabilities and areas needing improvement.
  • Data protection—identify risks such as data loss and implement prevention measures.

Attack Surface Analysis and Monitoring Strategies

The following are the three critical security practices that can help protect your organization’s attack surface.

Monitoring Assets

A dedicated asset monitoring process should continuously assess corporate assets, including physical devices, virtual machines, containers, applications, and websites. Any of these can be entry points for attackers to infiltrate corporate networks.

Organizations should monitor vulnerabilities and risky activity before they escalate into serious issues. Monitoring helps increase visibility into an organization’s internal security controls to help determine which assets present the largest and most significant part of the attack surface.

Visualizing Vulnerabilities

Forecasting and simulation tools help visualize security vulnerabilities in the attack surface before a malicious actor can exploit them. These tools can run various scenarios across the network, mimicking real-world attacks to help locate vulnerabilities and analyze the type and extent of the damage that could occur.

Minimizing Human Error

Human error is a major risk regardless of the sophistication of the attack surface’s security controls and monitoring solutions. Alongside a clear attack surface monitoring program outlining the required monitoring processes, it is important to train employees to ensure they follow safe practices.

Many attackers target organizations through their users, with social engineering and phishing attacks trying to trick employees into exposing sensitive information. Awareness training should accompany security measures such as restricting the devices that can access sensitive systems and data. Enforcing strong password hygiene and implementing multi-factor authentication make it harder for attackers to exploit human error.

Related content: Read our guide to attack surface management (ASM)

Attack Surface Monitoring Challenges and Solutions

Insufficient Resources to Review Alerts and Remediate Systems

Almost all organizations are facing a cybersecurity skills shortage, and might be concerned that attack surface monitoring will add more alerts and tasks to overwhelmed security teams.

To address this, attack surface monitoring solutions provide business context and other criteria that can be used to prioritize issues. They provide actionable guidance on remediating weaknesses, which can be passed directly to IT and development teams for implementation.

Some attack surface monitoring solutions also provide managed services to help organizations review security issues and assist with remediation.

Integrating with Existing Systems and Work Processes

An organization might have multiple tools scanning systems and identifying vulnerabilities. There are existing work processes in place for security and IT teams, which will need to adapt to an attack surface monitoring solution.

A way to ease the transition is to customize attack surface monitoring alerts, ensuring they are similar in format and arrive via the same channels as existing alerts. Effort should be made to ensure there are no overlapping alerts—in many cases, existing vulnerability scanning processes can be stopped and replaced by attack surface monitoring.

Third-Party Scripts and Resources

Attack surface monitoring tools can discover security issues in third-party JavaScript or other external components integrated with your web properties. Your organization may have no control over this third-party code, so it may seem there is no way to act on those alerts.

However, an organization must consider its holistic security posture. Even if a third-party script is outside your control, you need to know it has a security issue. This can allow you to evaluate whether to remove or replace the script, contact the vendor, or minimize the risk by ensuring the third-party component is not used in sensitive systems.


Attack Surface Management with HackerOne

Visibility alone is not enough to minimize risk and resist attacks. Organizations need to know their attack surface. They need to risk rank their assets based on how a bad actor would prioritize and execute their attacks.

HackerOne Assets blends intelligence from ethical hackers with asset discovery, continuous assessment, and process improvement to reduce risk across your ever-expanding digital landscape. You can identify, analyze, manage testing scopes, and track testing results in one place for a complete asset inventory.

Once identified, asset risk can be ranked, coverage gaps addressed and remediation resources assigned. Our community of ethical hackers can enrich asset data to include technology mapping to enable asset tracking and foot-printing. With HackerOne Assets, organizations will know their attack surface and be armed to effectively resist attacks.

Learn more about HackerOne Attack Surface Management

What Is Attack Surface Monitoring?