Identifying and Analyzing the Attack Surface

Identifying and Analyzing the Attack Surface

An organization’s attack surface consists of all of the vulnerabilities, pathways and methods hackers can use to gain unauthorised entry to sensitive systems or data. Acknowledging and assessing this area helps organizations reduce this risk.

Physical Attack Surface – Cyber attackers have access to many endpoint devices, including laptops and mobile phones, that they could potentially use to gain entry and steal passwords or information. It can also include carelessly discarded hardware, USB ports and password-protected drives – anything that presents a physical attack surface for them to exploit.


Attack surfaces represent all the points where cybercriminals could gain entry to a system and gain control, whether by accessing data or taking over devices. Reducing this attack surface requires constant vigilance and ongoing mitigation measures to maintain optimal security.

IT teams looking to reduce their attack surface should assess each aspect of their environment, from open ports and number of interfaces/user levels that a program supports, to code that may be vulnerable to attacks such as unpatched applications or misconfiguration settings. Furthermore, they should remove unused parameters/dead code to reduce what attackers can target; in addition, third-party software that introduces vulnerabilities can increase attack surface as can features and interfaces which don’t play an essential part of its functionality.

Physical attack surfaces encompass all the endpoints that would be available to a threat actor if they gained physical access to computing devices, which includes inside threats such as employees with poor ethics or social engineering ploys; it can also include external risks like carelessly discarded hardware or sticky notes with passwords displayed.

IT teams can use this information to identify their attack surfaces and take steps to reduce them, such as installing patches and updates to systems, encrypting data in transit, deploying tools that detect and block attack vectors or installing two-factor authentication and restricting user privileges on systems; changing business processes may even help limit how much sensitive information resides within applications or databases of organizations.


Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems and networks to gain entry, steal information or disrupt operations. They do this via various methods – denial-of-service attacks, SQL injection, brute force password guessing scripts, insider threats from disgruntled or malicious employees as well as social engineering tricks that target human vulnerabilities like phishing emails or mobile apps – but by reducing their attack surface organizations can limit how often attackers gain entry and cause havoc within.

Physical attacks include all the ways an attacker can gain access to hardware components and infrastructure such as USB ports and hard drives connected to computers, data centers, server rooms and their infrastructure. Physical attacks may include eavesdropping, Dumpster diving (searching through carelessly discarded hardware or sticky notes displaying passwords) or physical force (breaking into facilities or tampering with power supplies).

By conducting an Attack Surface Analysis, organizations can identify the key areas of their systems that they must protect. This can be accomplished by walking through key user cases – signing up for an account, logging in, searching for items or placing orders – and tracking where sensitive data is stored, validated and interacts with other systems.

An effective Attack Surface Analysis should include auditing techniques to detect indicators of compromise such as misconfigurations, unpatched software or devices used for attacking other parts of the system. In tandem with security configuration management and microsegmentation – techniques which break the system up into smaller logical units protected by separate policies – a comprehensive Approach Surface Analysis must also encompass auditing techniques that detect indicators of compromise such as misconfigurations, unpatched software updates or potentially compromised devices that can be used against other parts of it –


Due to digital transformation trends and employee telecommuting or working from home networks, organizations’ attack surfaces are expanding at an alarming rate. Companies must work harder than ever to keep this under control by monitoring threats proactively and taking necessary measures to mitigate risks.

To achieve this goal, it’s necessary to comprehend all components of an attack surface, which consists of all physical and digital points of entry into a system. These could range from vulnerabilities in software and connected hardware to remote/home network access by employees or partners that could provide direct entry points into corporate networks.

Physical attack surfaces include equipment on-premises or connected to an office, while digital attack surfaces encompass all points of vulnerability in a company’s networks – including those connected to cloud services like email or VoIP, security controls to protect sensitive information, social engineering attacks such as an employee sharing data outside their organization, or phishing scams that expose credentials.

According to research by Cortex Xpanse, security teams’ average time required to inventory Internet-facing internal assets is 12 hours, so organizations need a security solution that can scan continuously discover, map and manage attack surfaces as a means of providing greater insight and lowering risks associated with these attack surfaces.

An application security platform can assist with this by performing a discovery scan to detect all devices and systems connected to a corporate network, identify any vulnerabilities within those systems, and send alerts when an indicator-of-compromise (IOC) has been detected. Furthermore, such platforms bring together traditionally disjointed teams so they can collaborate on understanding threats more effectively while devising effective responses.


Cyberattackers frequently exploit compromised credentials and privileges to gain entry to systems, steal data or launch more advanced attacks. These privileged escalation attacks are one of the most dangerous types of cyberattacks because they allow attackers to seize complete control of systems and assets.

To mitigate risks associated with hacking attempts, employ least-privilege approaches that restrict which parameters hackers can see. For instance, hide any unnecessary parameters and delete non-essential ones so attackers don’t discover them – although this doesn’t reduce code vulnerability directly, it makes exploitable flaws harder to identify that increase application’s attack surface.

Physical and digital attack surfaces include all of the resources necessary for an attacker to gain entry to a network, including user directories, hardware devices such as USB ports or hard drives, applications installed both locally and online, websites, shadow IT (where employees bypass IT policies to use unapproved apps/devices), unpatched software/misconfigurations/vulnerabilities etc.

Security management platforms (ASMs) can assist organizations in identifying their attack surface, categorizing and prioritizing it, as well as mitigating threats with the highest risks. ASM solutions consist of four core processes – asset discovery, classification/prioritization/prioritization/remediation/monitoring. Automating tasks whenever possible ensures quicker response times while always remaining current/accurate attack surface maps. Given how rapidly security landscape changes evolves over time, ASM solutions must also undergo updates regularly – such as continuous vulnerability/threat discovery/automated remediation/monitoring as well as shifting toward zero trust mindset mindsets.


Attack surfaces encompass all of the digital and physical assets necessary for cybercriminals to break into networks, including hardware, software and cloud applications. Attackers look for paths of least resistance into secure networks in order to steal critical data or disrupt business operations; visibility into all risk assets and vulnerabilities allows threat prioritization.

However, insufficient tools and strategies for detecting and mitigating cyber risks has created blind spots that attackers can use to their advantage. These assets include hardware, software, web applications APIs and any other vulnerable assets whose attack surface increases with size; making it easier for hackers to gain unwarranted entry and cause irreparable damage.

As organizations expand, new IT infrastructure often emerges that increases its attack surface. This may occur through remote work, an increase in IoT devices or shadow IT (users bypassing IT to use unapproved applications or devices), creating an ever-increasing attack surface which security teams often struggle to keep track of.

Censys’ research indicates that, due to recent attacks on organizations, 93% of CISOs prioritize attack surface management; taking this proactive, security-first approach protects organizations against threats that have yet to materialize.

Visibility is key when it comes to risk management, so an ongoing assessment of your organization’s risk landscape requires using a dynamic tool that scans your entire IT environment for risks. This allows you to monitor threats as they emerge while prioritizing and reducing attack surface threats.

Mark Funk
Mark Funk is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.