An attack surface is the sum of all entry points that an attacker can exploit to gain unauthorized access to a system/environment/infrastructure. Attack surface expansion refers to the increase in number and complexity of these entry points.
There are several factors that can lead to attack surface expansion, including:
All except one (poor security hygiene) of the reasons mentioned above are critical for businesses to grow and expand. Digital transformation, onboarding new partners and investing in new applications are essential for scaling, but they may also expand the organization's attack surface.
To remain secure, companies must ensure that an expanded infrastructure, or growth efforts, don’t lead to an increased attack surface. They must take a proactive approach to maintaining and improving their security posture. For example, when an organization integrates a cloud platform to its existing on-premise infrastructure, it should:
An expanding attack surface can have several implications for an organization, including:
Increased risk of cyberattacks
An expanded attack surface offers more avenues for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities in a system. For instance, if you add an AWS Lambda function to your infrastructure without applying the proper IAM policy to secure it, an attacker can exploit this misconfiguration to infiltrate your network.
Attack surface expansion can lead to increased complexity, especially if your infrastructure is spread across multiple cloud and on-premise environments. The more complex a system is, the more difficult it is to maintain and secure.
Increased security and maintenance costs
If steps are not taken to proactively minimize attack surface, the overall costs associated with security and maintenance can become significant. These costs may arise due to the additional resources required to secure the expanded attack surface, or to resolve any exploitable vulnerabilities.
Attack surface expansion can decrease an organization's agility and speed to market. The increased security costs and complexity associated with it can impede innovation, making organizations more risk-averse and leading to missed opportunities.
Let’s look at a few strategies that organizations can implement to limit attack surface expansion:
You can only protect what you know exists, so gaining full visibility into your infrastructure is a crucial first step in protecting it.
As attack surfaces expand, traditional identity systems may not be enough to provide adequate security. With more entry points for malicious actors, there is a higher risk of identity data theft and privilege escalation. Moreover, managing identities becomes more complex as the infrastructure grows, potentially leading to misconfigurations and broken security controls.
This is where a modern, converged identity solution can save the day. A converged identity solution enables you to apply security controls to all your environments, from a central place. This ensures that all your (cloud and legacy) assets are adequately secured, significantly decreasing your attack surface.