Understanding the Ins and Outs of Cybersecurity Exposure Management

Understanding the Ins and Outs of Exposure Management for Cybersecurity

With an ever-changing attack surface, cyber programs must evolve from a classic reactive approach to proactive security defenses and a focus on the organization’s cybersecurity posture. Practically, this entails adopting an exposure management approach.

What is Exposure Management?

Simply put, exposure management is the process of identifying, assessing, prioritizing, and remediating potential vulnerabilities and security gaps in correlation with their business criticality and value.

Practically, it involves evaluating the potential operational and waterfall impact of a breach affecting specific assets and processes while proactively managing the security risks associated with those assets.

Both security leaders and business executives accept the reality that every gap cannot be addressed because of time constraints and resource limits. The goal is to create a consistent, actionable security posture remediation and improvement plan that connects to business risks and initiatives.

Implementing an exposure management approach optimizes the cost/benefit ratio of every remediation effort as it ensures that is applied where the impact is most beneficial.

How Does Exposure Management Work?

An ideal exposure management program typically follows a five-stage process, defined by Gartner as continuous threat exposure management (CTEM):

  1. Scoping: This stage engages all stakeholders who participate in defining the scope for each cycle of exposure management. The scoping takes into account the business context and the risk quantification established from data aggregated across IT infrastructure and security stack.
  2. Discovery: This involves identifying all assets, both external – exposed to the internet – and internal – protected by privileged access and other access-limiting methods. It includes comprehensive asset inventory, network scanning, and monitoring to ensure a complete understanding of the organization’s digital footprint – including vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and overall weaknesses or gaps.
  3. Prioritization: Correlating the security assessment results with assets and processes organizational value is a crucial step to ensure that organizations allocate resources and prioritize remediation efforts to address the potentially most damaging security gaps first. The ideal prioritization of vulnerabilities and gaps considers control effectiveness, compensating controls, and the business context of assets and processes.
  4. Validation: The effectiveness of the remediation efforts is validated by rerunning the assessments to test the effectiveness of the new mitigation and measure the improvement in cyber resilience.
  5. Mobilization: Because all remediation cannot be automated, exposure management programs must mobilize teams from security, IT, and across the business to apply the mitigations and accept the potential disruptions to systems and business processes.

Exposure management is a cyclical process where the scoping stage is redefined based on the findings of the mobilization stage.

Applying the Attacker’s View

Unlike traditional vulnerability management, exposure management also includes the attacker’s view of the organization and assets – something typically provided by penetration tests. However, proven solutions and tools can now automate this offensive security mindset to provide automation, advanced analytics, and actionable insights to help organizations effectively manage their exposure.

Here are some key solutions and how to map them to the CTEM approach:

  • Attack Surface Management (ASM): ASM tools scan the domains, sub-domains, IP addresses, ports, and more for internet-facing vulnerabilities. It is also looking for Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) that can later be used in a social engineering attack or a phishing campaign. This tool helps organizations understand how hackers might get an initial foothold.
    • Mapping to CTEM: ASM solutions are instrumental during the discovery and prioritization stages.
    • The Cymulate Advantage: The Cymulate ASM includes internal attack surface management that discovers all non-Internet exposed assets, expanding the extent of external attack surface asset discovery.
  • Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS): BAS tools answer the question: “How well are my security controls and processes performing?” They launch attack simulations and correlate the findings to security controls (email and web gateways, WAF, endpoint, or others) to provide mitigation guidance.
    • Mapping to CTEM: BAS solutions are instrumental during the prioritization and validation stages.
    • The Cymulate Advantage: The Cymulate BAS includes a library of attack simulations that validate individual security controls across the full kill-chain and all controls, and allows for custom attack simulations.
  • Continuous Automated Red Teaming (CART): CART tools go beyond the ASM reconnaissance phase to answer the question: “How can an adversary breach my defenses and internal segmentation?” CART tools simulate an end-to-end campaign attempting to penetrate the organization by analyzing exposed vulnerabilities and autonomously deploying attack techniques that penetrate the network.
    • Mapping to CTEM: CART solutions are instrumental during the prioritization and validation stages.
    • The Cymulate Advantage: The Cymulate CART adds virtual red teaming capabilities that further attack route mapping by independently attempting to find alternative attack routes when the original attack plan is blocked by existing security measures.
  • Exposure Analytics:  Exposure analytics tools automate the data collection, aggregation, and exposure intelligence across enterprise IT, clouds, and the security stack. It pulls data from vulnerability management platforms, asset inventories, clouds, security controls, and the IT infrastructure. Data are aggregated to contextualize the information with business relevance, prioritize remediation, and measure and optimize cyber resilience.
    • Mapping to CTEM: Exposure analytics solutions are instrumental during the scoping, discovery, prioritization, and mobilization stages.
    • The Cymulate Advantage: Cymulate just launched Exposure Analytics, a solution that includes risk-based asset profiling, remediation planning, and measuring and baselining cyber resilience. These capabilities can be aligned with all the active capabilities of the Cymulate modular platform.

The Benefits of Exposure Management

Implementing an exposure management program within an organization offers numerous benefits:

  • Reduced Risk of Data Breaches: By proactively identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of successful cyberattacks, safeguarding sensitive data and protecting their reputation. Exposure management allows organizations to stay ahead of emerging threats and continuously improve their security posture.
  • Improved Compliance with Security Regulations: Exposure management helps organizations ensure compliance with industry-specific security regulations and standards. This avoids legal consequences and builds trust with customers and stakeholders. Compliance with security regulations is critical for organizations operating in highly regulated industries, such as finance, healthcare, or government sectors.
  • Improved Cyber Insurance Conditions: The ability to document efforts to reduce exposure and proactively remediate security gaps is instrumental in facilitating negotiations with cyber insurance underwriters, potentially resulting in lower premiums and expanded coverage.
  • Increased Efficiency in Security Operations: Focusing on the most critical security gaps, exposure management enables organizations to allocate resources effectively, streamline security operations, and optimize their overall cybersecurity strategy.
  • Improved Decision-Making about Security Investments: Insights into organizations’ security posture helps them make informed decisions regarding security investments, ensuring resources are allocated where they are most needed.
  • Increased Involvement of All Stakeholders: Cymulate 2022 survey indicated that regular meetings involving both executives and cybersecurity teams reduce the risk of breach. Integrating exposure analytics directly ties cybersecurity with the non-IT executive levels stakeholders and increases their involvement in shoring up security.

Exposure management is becoming a must-have component of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy, and Gartner predicts that CISOs implementing a CTEM approach will see a two-third reduction in breach numbers.

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