Today’s attack surface is increasingly external, as organizations employ numerous internet-facing assets. Growing adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, cloud technologies and the move to remote work only expand the modern attack surface, making it far too broad to see, manage and protect with traditional cybersecurity. Generally invisible, unmanaged and ever changing, exposed hyper-connected assets become an easy and costly entry point for attackers to exploit and detection is next to impossible without the right expertise, technology and 24/7 monitoring.

Unfortunately, organizations are often stuck in firefighting mode, attempting to put out fires and handle critical alerts such as misconfigurations, vulnerabilities and breaches as soon as they are discovered. As the attack surface continues to change and expand, this means organizations may not have the visibility they need to know which fires are most important, and some alerts may go unresolved altogether. Instead of just chasing fires, organizations need an approach that covers all kinds of attacks and addresses systemic issues. By focusing on proactive prevention, organizations can reduce the attack surface and create a more consistent approach to attack surface management.

Embrace proactive prevention

The external attack surface is a maze of interconnected online assets and sprawling connections to third parties, making it a popular target for cybercriminals. As a result, new risks and vulnerabilities have come to light, including cloud misconfigurations, access control, web applications, third parties, DNS hijacking, compromised external assets, email server takeovers, shadow IT, and neglected or unmanaged assets.

Long gone are the days when organizations could put up a firewall and rely on its protective layer to spare it from attack. Even identifying and stopping an attack in progress isn’t enough anymore. The reactive era is over: We need to move towards a mindset of proactive prevention. This requires organizations to acknowledge their risk and risk tolerance, which will vary based on industry, regulations and business priorities. With this understanding, organizations can begin to think about a strategic approach to prevention and determine how to allocate available resources effectively and efficiently.

Gain efficiency through automation

With traditional workflows for critical vulnerabilities, a security event is only attended to and remediated if it reaches the top of the pile in terms of priority. With escalation rules in place, theoretically, any finding will eventually reach all the way to the top. However, in practice, the low-severity or low-urgency alerts rarely get triaged or resolved, which means organizations that only leverage this approach might lose efficiency and, ultimately, increase risk.

Automating reconnaissance, asset discovery, asset inventory and asset categorization by risk enables organizations to more strategically allocate additional resources to address potential threats and issues before an attack has taken place. Automation not only provides organizations with the visibility they need to determine which risks are most important, but also reduces the workload of reactive technologies, allowing them to address more threats than before.

Shift to a strategic mindset

Fighting fires and focusing on critical alerts will only get so far in today’s world of cyber threats. In fact, in the aggregate, low-severity findings across many assets can point to an equal (or greater) risk as any one critical finding. Incorporating more planning to reduce the attack surface overall enables organizations to address and rectify threat patterns to prevent future breaches proactively.

Especially with lean security teams, organizations are often tasked with an insurmountable number of issues to address. Without the visibility to know what is most important, these teams can’t use their time or resources efficiently or effectively. Taking an automated strategic approach to security enables organizations to leverage the resources they have, allocating people, processes and technology to minimize the attack surface and effectively address threats today and into the future.