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Attack Surface Management vs. Vulnerability Management

StrongDM Team
Written by
Dynamic Access Management platform
Fazila Malik
Reviewed by
Product Marketing Manager
Last updated on: June 28, 2023

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In today’s highly connected world, cybersecurity has become one of the most pressing concerns for businesses and organizations of all sizes. As more and more data and critical systems go online, the risks associated with cyber threats magnify. One of the most important aspects of cybersecurity is managing vulnerabilities and the attack surface (AS). While attack surface management (ASM) and vulnerability management (VM) serve similar objectives, they differ significantly in terms of their scope, methodologies, and approaches. In this article, we delve into the details of ASM and VM and provide a comprehensive comparison between the two to help organizations make informed decisions about their cybersecurity strategies.

Understanding the Basics

What is Attack Surface Management?

Simply put, the attack surface refers to all the possible points of entry into an IT system that a hacker or cybercriminal could exploit. ASM involves the identification, assessment, and minimization of these potential attack points. In other words, it aims to reduce the number of ways in which a system can be attacked. The more complex and interconnected an IT system is, the bigger its attack surface, and greater the chances of a cyberattack.

Attack Surface Management is a critical component of any organization's security strategy. It helps organizations to identify and prioritize their most critical assets, applications, and systems, and to focus their resources on protecting them. ASM also helps organizations to stay ahead of emerging threats by continuously monitoring and assessing their attack surface.

ASM involves several key steps, including:

  • Identifying all the assets, applications, and systems that make up the organization's IT infrastructure
  • Mapping out the relationships and dependencies between these assets, applications, and systems
  • Identifying all the potential attack vectors (i.e., the ways in which an attacker could gain access to the system)
  • Assessing the likelihood and impact of each potential attack vector
  • Implementing measures to minimize the attack surface by reducing the number of potential attack vectors

What is Vulnerability Management?

VM, on the other hand, involves identifying and assessing vulnerabilities (i.e., weaknesses or gaps) within an IT system that can be exploited by cybercriminals. Once these vulnerabilities are identified, they can be remediated to prevent potential attacks from causing harm. VM typically involves scanning IT systems, networks, and applications by using tools and technologies to identify security risks and gaps.

Vulnerability Management is a critical component of any organization's security strategy. It helps organizations to identify and prioritize their most critical vulnerabilities and to focus their resources on remediating them. VM also helps organizations to stay ahead of emerging threats by continuously monitoring and assessing their vulnerabilities.

VM involves several key steps, including:

  • Identifying all the assets, applications, and systems that make up the organization's IT infrastructure
  • Scanning these assets, applications, and systems for vulnerabilities using tools and technologies
  • Assessing the likelihood and impact of each vulnerability
  • Remediating the most critical vulnerabilities first
  • Continuously monitoring and reassessing vulnerabilities to stay ahead of emerging threats

It is important to note that ASM and VM are complementary processes that work together to provide a comprehensive security strategy. ASM helps to minimize the attack surface, while VM helps to identify and remediate vulnerabilities within that attack surface. By implementing both ASM and VM, organizations can significantly reduce their risk of a cyberattack.

Key Differences Between Attack Surface Management and Vulnerability Management

Managing the risks that come with cybersecurity threats is critical to the success of any organization. Attack Surface Management (ASM) and Vulnerability Management (VM) are two different approaches to managing cybersecurity risks. While both ASM and VM are important, they differ in scope, methodologies, and tools used.

Scope and Focus

ASM has a broader scope in terms of the entire attack surface. It encompasses all the different potential entry points into a system and seeks to reduce their number. This includes identifying and securing all the assets, software, and hardware that make up the attack surface. In contrast, VM focuses on identifying and remediating vulnerabilities that have already been discovered. This includes patching vulnerabilities and ensuring that systems are up to date.

ASM takes a proactive approach to security by reducing the overall attack surface, while VM takes a reactive approach by focusing on vulnerabilities that have already been discovered. ASM is more concerned with the overall security posture of the organization, while VM is focused on identifying and fixing specific vulnerabilities.

Methodologies and Techniques

ASM uses a proactive approach that involves reducing the size of the attack surface and minimizing the potential attack vectors. This involves assessing all the potential entry points and determining which ones are not required or necessary and then taking steps to close them. ASM also involves threat modeling to identify potential attack vectors and to prioritize security efforts. This approach helps organizations to be more resilient to cyber-attacks.

On the other hand, VM uses a reactive approach that involves identifying vulnerabilities once they have already been discovered and taking steps to remediate them. VM includes scanning systems for vulnerabilities, patching systems, and ensuring that systems are up to date. This approach is more focused on fixing specific vulnerabilities and ensuring that the organization is protected from known threats.

The Importance of a Holistic Approach

As the world becomes more digitalized, cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important. Cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated, with hackers constantly finding new ways to exploit vulnerabilities. In order to protect themselves, organizations need to adopt a comprehensive security strategy that includes both Attack Surface Management (ASM) and Vulnerability Management (VM).

Combining Attack Surface Management and Vulnerability Management

ASM and VM have different scopes and objectives, but they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a combination of both can help organizations develop a more comprehensive security strategy. ASM involves identifying and analyzing an organization's attack surface, which includes all of the ways that a hacker could potentially gain access to their systems or data. VM, on the other hand, involves identifying and prioritizing vulnerabilities in an organization's systems and applications.

By combining these two techniques, organizations can develop a more holistic approach to cybersecurity. A holistic approach involves identifying vulnerabilities and reducing the attack surface at the same time. By identifying both threats and vulnerabilities, organizations can prioritize security efforts and allocate resources more effectively. This can help them to reduce the likelihood of a successful cyberattack.

Benefits of a Comprehensive Security Strategy

A comprehensive security strategy that includes both ASM and VM can lead to several benefits for organizations. Protected systems and networks, reduced attack vectors, and prioritized patch management are just a few of the benefits that organizations can expect to see.

By implementing ASM, organizations can gain a better understanding of their attack surface and identify potential areas of weakness. This can help them to reduce the number of potential attack vectors and make it more difficult for hackers to gain access to their systems or data.

By implementing VM, organizations can identify and prioritize vulnerabilities in their systems and applications. This can help them to allocate resources more effectively and ensure that the most critical vulnerabilities are addressed first. This can help to reduce the likelihood of a successful cyberattack.

By combining ASM and VM, organizations can develop a more robust cybersecurity posture and be better prepared to respond to potential threats. This can help them to protect their systems and data, and maintain the trust of their customers and stakeholders.

Best Practices for Implementing Both Strategies

Prioritizing Assets and Vulnerabilities

One of the best practices of implementing a comprehensive security strategy is to prioritize both assets and vulnerabilities. This involves identifying critical assets and systems and prioritizing them first. Additionally, organizations should prioritize vulnerabilities based on their likelihood of exploitation and their potential impact.

Continuous Monitoring and Assessment

Continuous monitoring and assessment are essential for effective ASM and VM. Organizations should have systems and processes in place that monitor and assess the entire attack surface continuously. Continuous monitoring helps organizations identify vulnerabilities, confirm remediation efforts, and minimize the attack surface. This approach also ensures that emerging risks are detected early.

Incident Response and Remediation

Finally, incident response and remediation are critical components of a comprehensive security strategy. Organizations should develop and implement a comprehensive incident response plan that includes steps for identifying and responding to security incidents. This should also include remediation efforts in the event of an incident.

Conclusion

ASM and VM are critical components of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. While they have different scopes and objectives, organizations need to adopt a holistic approach that incorporates both techniques for increased security. By identifying and reducing attack surfaces and vulnerabilities, organizations can significantly reduce the chances of a cyberattack. Organizations that implement comprehensive cybersecurity strategies are better prepared to respond to potential threats and have a better chance of mitigating the damage caused by successful cyberattacks.


About the Author

, Dynamic Access Management platform, StrongDM puts people first by giving technical staff a direct route to the critical infrastructure they need to be their most productive.

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What is Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)?

What is Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)? Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a proprietary protocol developed by Microsoft that allows users to remotely...

What Is Segregation of Duties (SoD)?

Segregation of Duties (SoD) is a risk management principle that ensures critical tasks are divided among different individuals to prevent conflicts of...

What is Vendor Privileged Access Management (VPAM)?

Vendor Privileged Access Management (VPAM) is a cybersecurity strategy that focuses on controlling and securing third-party access to an organization's...

What Is Zero Trust Data Protection?

Zero Trust Data Protection is a security framework that assumes no inherent trust, requiring verification from anyone trying to access data, regardless of...

When to Use SQL vs. NoSQL Databases

Understanding SQL and NoSQL Databases When it comes to managing data, there are two main types of databases: SQL and NoSQL. While both types of databases...

Z
Zero Trust

Zero Trust is a modern security model founded on the design principle “Never trust, always verify.” It requires all devices and users, regardless of...

Zero Trust vs. the Principle of Least Privilege: What's the Differences?

As cyber attacks become more advanced and frequent, organizations are realizing the importance of enhancing their cybersecurity strategies. Two approaches...

Zombie Accounts

Zombie accounts: forgotten accounts that open the door to bad actors looking to insert malware, steal data, and damage your internal systems.

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