Why External Attack Surface Management is Crucial in 2023

Once upon a time, gate-based cybersecurity methods were the most efficient way to protect an organization’s external attack surface.

The fact is, with companies constantly growing and expanding by the minute, it’s simply impossible to get security teams to analyze and sign off on each new asset or application prior to them going live.

In addition to that, most businesses are completely unaware of just how widespread their external attack surface really is. As a result, without the aid of External Attack Surface Management (EASM), there is an increased chance that a business’s external assets will become vulnerable at one point or another.

Today we uncover how External Attack Surface Management is essential in securing a company’s IT architecture and ensuring it doesn’t fall victim to cyber-attacks, becoming the latest cautionary tale for others in 2023.

Why External Attack Surface Management is the Future of Cybersecurity

Businesses, big and small, often manage large amounts of sensitive data and sometimes even funds. This makes them alluring to cyber criminals as they often focus on their targets, considering the greatest profitability.

And, from an online criminal’s perspective, the more external assets on offer, the greater the attack surface. A broad attack surface means there are more options for acquiring access to various environments and a higher chance that a breach will occur. In addition, smaller companies are vulnerable because they have smaller IT teams and less robust security management.

External Attack Surface Management allows for monitoring a company’s external entry points, which can be used to access things like data, sensitive information or complete systems.

An increasingly faced-paced way of doing business has resulted in many security challenges that conventional security monitoring methods just cannot keep up with, which EASM aims to address.

A shifting asset landscape is incredibly tricky to keep track of. However, a strong EASM program is set to become the solution for cybersecurity teams in 2023, particularly when it comes to the changing online security trends we’re witnessing.

Vulnerable Common Attack Surfaces

An attack surface involves a physical or digital interface that an attacker can try to gain access to in order to deploy an attack vector or gain sensitive information. To make matters worse, if this attack is successful and goes unnoticed, it is usually used as a point of entry for a chain of attacks.

Understanding and defining the attack surface area is key to protecting it. With the increased use of cloud environments, the entry points of publicly accessible web applications include known, unknown and rouge assets.

Known assets are those which IT teams are aware of and observe with extra care. These include:

  • Cloud storage
  • Third-party services
  • Middleware
  • DNS domains and subdomains
  • Server misconfigurations
  • Hosted apps
  • Web VPNs
  • Routers
  • Ports
  • Frameworks
  • Physical employee devices

Unknown assets are unavoidable and create weaknesses in the attack surface. They are unknown to the security team and are also referred to as shadow IT. Unknown assets can be made up of independently installed software by workers or even forgotten websites. Often, they are harder to discover, especially for growing companies that lack the right tools and processes.

They will occur when mistakes are made in IT software installation or code or can even result from an insecure supply chain.

Rogue assets are all those assets created by malicious actors. This includes malware, typo-squatted domains, websites or even mobile applications built to impersonate the target company.

The External Attack Surface Management Solution

There are some businesses that still rely on vulnerability scanning when it comes to baseline External Attack Surface Management. Unfortunately, this outdated type of assessment provides teams with results that expire quickly and, more often than not, do not paint a true picture of an organization’s sensitive data, digital assets and risks.

EASM is one of the key tools that help organizations identify all possible risks with internet-facing systems and assets. It does this through the following processes and technologies:

  • Asset discovery
  • Data classification
  • Analysis
  • Prioritization
  • Remediation
  • Complete data classification

This tool is also linked to the MIRE ATT&CK Framework — a resource that lists the most common and latest hacking methods that might endanger a company, helping them uncover weaknesses early.

Controlling the Attack Surface

One of the most effective ways to control an attack surface is by limiting the features that are made available to external users. So, for example, only authorized employees or registered customers should be able to access things like online demos or intranet modules that might expose code. In addition to that, content management and administration modules should have enforced access restrictions.

Other steps that can be taken to curb the amount of entry points include:

  • Use obscure points
  • Enforce IP restrictions
  • Only collect the necessary data
  • Try to make any sensitive data anonymous
  • Secure admin modules on a completely isolated site
  • Restrict the type of files that can be uploaded by users to ensure secure uploads
  • Enforce cloud workload security to enhance cloud protection which helps against breaches

Staying a Step Ahead of Threat Actors in 2023

A decade ago, traditional online security strategies included providing substantial perimeter defenses through firewalls, antivirus software and internal networks. Back then, that type of cybersecurity method might have been enough to protect the assets of a business.

In today’s fast-paced online environment, threat actors don’t have to break through the perimeter thanks to externally hosted assets, leaving IT specialists with a major problem in ensuring the security of the external attack surface.

The truth is that every company, whether big or small, has an external attack surface made up of internet-facing assets. Assets such as operating systems, domain names, IoT devices, servers, security devices and public cloud servers make up common components of an external attack surface.  

Unless properly controlled, assets such as these, together with attack vectors, are what cybercriminals can use to steal sensitive data.

One of the biggest challenges facing businesses today is that they’re unaware of just how vast their attack surface is, which is why external attack surface management is crucial in the protection of a company’s assets in 2023.

Features of a Web Application Firewall

Cybercrime has grown in the last decade. This culminated after the pandemic. Businesses are now under increased threat from cybercrime, as more people work online than ever.

In 2021, the US alone invested 17.4 billion USD in cybersecurity, increasing their overall budget from 6.9 billion in the previous year.

What is a Web Application Firewall?

There is a cybersecurity block or in other words it is a shield that protects your application.

What are Web Application Firewalls and How Does it Actually Work?

Web Application Firewall or WAF is an internet security software that is used to protect the web applications from hackers and cyber attacks. It protects the web application from any vulnerability that can be exploited by a hacker to attack the application and steal data.

How Do I Implement a Web Application Firewall on my Website?

A web application firewall (WAF) is a software that protects your website from hacking and other cyber-attacks. It’s an additional layer of protection for your website.

A WAF is a security system that monitors traffic to and from your website, looking for malicious activity. It blocks suspicious requests, preventing them from reaching your server.

A WAF can be configured in many different ways, depending on what you want it to do. You can configure it to block all traffic or only specific types of traffic such as HTTP or HTTPS requests, POST requests, or just GET requests.

Picking the Right WAF for your Website

A WAF is a Web Application Firewall, which is an application that monitors traffic to and from a website. A WAF can block malicious requests to the website or allow them.

The best way to pick the right WAF for your website is by finding out what kind of attacks it blocks and how well it does so. You should also check if it blocks any of your legitimate requests and what kind of impact on load time the WAF has.

Conclusion: Start Using a Web Application Firewall to Supercharge Your Website Protection Today

A web application firewall (WAF) is a software solution that offers protection for web applications and websites from cyberattacks.

A WAF is a software solution that offers protection for web applications and websites from cyberattacks. It can be used to protect against SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and other types of attacks that target the application layer.

It can also help to mitigate denial-of-service attacks, which are typically aimed at overloading the server’s resources or at exploiting vulnerabilities in the network stack.

Some WAFs also offer protection against brute force login attempts by limiting login attempts from an IP address to a certain number in a given time frame. A WAF is usually deployed as an appliance or as an add-on module for an existing firewall product.

The State of Cybersecurity

The COVID-19 pandemic has launched a revolution in the digital world. Workforces have shifted to online platforms, which has led to a significant rise in cyberattacks ranging from simple phishing attacks to sophisticated supply chain management attacks surrounding the remote work environment. According to FBI reports, cyberattacks have increased by 300% since the pandemic started.

Google has highlighted that its company blocked over 18 million coronavirus phishing attempts per day at the start of the pandemic. Overall, the cyber threat trend has increased as more individuals and firms rely on the internet to carry out their everyday operations.

As companies have moved to flexible work hours or full-time home-based work models, so have attack surfaces. Threat actors use current events and changing situations to target people who are most vulnerable.

Every individual has encountered a fraudulent email, phone, or text message related to Covid-19. Some of them have claimed to sell safety equipment, hand sanitizer, or food. Cybercrime has increased by a huge margin since the start of the global pandemic

Cybersecurity statistics for 2021

Given below is a detailed look at the cyber security statistics 2021.

1- Malware Statistics

Malware is the most expensive type of security breach for businesses. Since 2019, the cost of malware attacks has increased by an enormous amount. Meanwhile, The cost of malicious insider attacks has increased even more. Malware, Web-based attacks, and denial-of-service attacks are the major contributing factors to this revenue loss.

Based on the Verizon 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), a sum of 5,258 confirmed data breaches occurred in 16 different industries and 4 distinct world regions. 86% of the breaches were financially motivated. This is a substantial increase from the 2020 DBIR’s 3,950 confirmed attacks (out of 32,002 incidents).

CSO online research shows that roughly 95% of all malware attacks are delivered via email. According to Statista report 2021, the number of malware attacks worldwide reached 5.4 billion between 2015 and 2021. Over 80% of the attacks that occurred in North America were carried out as automated bot attacks.

Security Driven Artificial Intelligence has been cost-effective, saving up to $3.81 million (80% cost difference). Zero trust security strategies have been crucial and saved $1.76 million per breach.

2- Ransomware Statistics

As per 2021 statistics, Ransomware continues to thrive, and organizations continue to pay a high price for these attack vectors. Additionally, attackers target a diverse range of entities, from local and national governments to businesses and nonprofits, making it difficult to solve. In 2021, ransomware was 57 times more harmful than it was in 2015.

  • Accent Consulting stated that ransomware attacks were predicted to cost businesses $20 billion by 2020, having increased more than 50 times since 2015.
  • Ransomware Infection rates remain increasing. According to the BlackFog report,  Ransomware seems to be most prevalent in populations that are highly connected to the internet, such as those in the United States and Europe.
  • As per NCBI, REevil was the most prevalent ransomware in the 4th quarter of 2019, with attacks continuing into 2020.
  • PWC stated that malicious email attacks have increased by 600% during 2021, primarily driven by the pandemic.
  • According to National Security Institute, the average cost of ransomware incidents has risen from $5,000 in 2018 to around $200,000 in 2020.
  • Cybercrime Magazine estimates that a ransomware attack will occur every 11 seconds in 2021.
  • Fortinet declares that almost one out of every 6,000 emails contains a potentially malicious link that is associated with ransomware. 
  • According to Cybereason, 42% of users reported that their cyber insurance did not compensate for their ransomware-related losses.

3- Industry Specific Cybersecurity Statistics

Several Industries were affected due to cyberattacks during the pandemic:

  • According to Comparitech, public companies lose 8.6% of their value due to cyber intrusion.
  • In 2020, 66% of firms suffered some form of phishing, including the most common type, spear-phishing attacks. This is dropped by 83% from 2019.
  • Companies in France and Japan are less likely to pay a ransomware attack and seem to have reduced breaches.

According to Proof Point’s research, the engineering and telecommunications industries have been particularly vulnerable to phishing attempts, whereas legal firms and hospitals have passed phishing tests more often.

4- Cybersecurity Jobs statistics 2021

Cybercrime is estimated to cost the world $6 trillion by the end of 2021. This figure is expected to rise to $10.5 trillion by 2025.

To keep up with escalating cybercrime, the worldwide information security market is expected to grow to $170.4 billion by 2022.

61% of cybersecurity experts say that their team is understaffed. Furthermore, the cybersecurity skills gap will continue to be a major issue, with 3.5 million unfilled jobs in 2021.

Packetlabs has developed a list of 2021 cybersecurity statistics to help with internal or external stakeholder presentations or meetings. These current statistics may illustrate the importance of upgrading an organization’s cybersecurity posture. It may also broaden the understanding of where the firm stands in the cybersecurity landscape.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, 2021 has been the most affected year by COVID-19 after 2020, as several workforces have switched to digitalizing data. As a result, cybersecurity risks and attacks have increased with the increase in the online work environment. It has been a good year for job applicants in the cybersecurity sector. However, companies have had to fill the skill gap and number of work positions to reduce cyberattack risks.

Five tech commandments to a safer digital life

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Cyber-security is just as important when using our smartphones as when working online.

Summary

Security is ‘only as good as the weakest link’, a rule that applies to cyber-security. This article identifies five critical rules to follow regarding digital security:

  1. Use strong passwords, at least eight characters, different ones for different sites. A password manager automatically generates long, complex passwords for accounts with one master password.
  2. Use multi-factor (two-step) authentication (as used by banks) where a phone code is used and a login and password—you can generally add this feature to most online accounts.
  3. Don’t overshare. Smartphone cameras can automatically capture our location, but this feature could compromise security. Ensure the photo location feature is off by default.
  4. Don’t share data about friends. Sharing your address book may compromise others. If you are interested to see if your friends are using a service, ask them. 
  5. Stay sceptical

Worth thinking about the consequences of not following these rules.

Ways to Prevent SQL Injection Attacks

SQL injection is a common cybersecurity issue used by attackers as an entry point to your database. It can be a precursor of many other attacks like credential stuffing, account takeovers, and other forms of fraud. Therefore, it is essential to understand how to protect the application’s database to avoid heavy losses from SQL injections. In this post, we will discuss various ways that you can use to prevent SQL injection attacks.

Ways to prevent SQL injection attacks

Among the most dangerous threats to web applications today are SQL injection attacks. All is not lost to a network or database admin because there are various ways to prevent them from ever happening or minimize their occurrence frequency.

As we will see below, you can take various steps to reduce the risk of exposure to SQL injection attacks.

Regular auditing and penetration testing

It is becoming increasingly necessary to perform regular application, database, and network audits nowadays. With regulations like GDPR, a company does not have the luxury of relaxing on matters of database security. In addition, auditing the database logs for suspicious activities, privilege escalation, and variable binding terms are necessary practices.

As crucial auditing, the system for malicious behavior is, it is equally essential to perform penetration testing of your database to gauge the readiness of your response mechanisms to potential attacks that include SQL injection. Penetration testing companies can find threats like cross-site scripting, unpatched vulnerabilities, retired software, insecure password, and various forms of SQL injection.

User Input Validation

Validating the user inputs is a common step to preventing SQL injection attacks. You have first to identify the essential SQL statements and make a whitelist containing all valid SQL statements. This leaves out the invalidated statements. We refer to this process as query redesign or input validation.

Ensure you configure inputs for user data by context. For instance, you can filter email addresses to ensure that only strings that contain specific characters such as “@” are allowed. In a similar fashion. Ensure that you filter the social security and phone numbers using regular expressions to allow a specific format and number of digits in each of them.

typical eStore’s SQL database query

Sanitization of data through special character limitations

You can safeguard your database against SQL injection attacks through adequate sanitization of user data. SQL injection attackers use specific character sequences that are unique to exploit a database. Therefore, sanitizing your data not to allow concatenation of strings is a critical measure.

You can achieve this by configuring the inputs from a user to a function. It ensures that an attacker does not pass characters like quotes in an SQL query as they might be dangerous. Various administrators use prepared statements to avoid unauthenticated queries.

Parameterization and enforcing prepared statements.

Input validation and data sanitization do not fix all SQL injection-related issues. Therefore, organizations must use prepared statements containing queries that are parameterized to write database queries. We also call this variable binding. Distinguishing user input and code is made easy to define the SQL code used in a query or a parameter.

Although dynamic SQL as a programming method allows more flexibility in developing an application, it has the drawback of allowing SQL injection vulnerabilities as instructions. In addition, sticking to the standard SQL means malicious SQL inputs will be treated as data but not as a potential command.

Enforcing stored procedures in the database

Stored procedures use variable binding like parameterization. Unlike mitigating SQL injections using prepared statements, when you implement stored procedures, they are resident to the database and are only called from an application. If you use dynamic SQL generation, they minimize the effectiveness of stored procedures. According to OWASP (The Open Web Application Security Project®), only one parameterized approach is required, but neither is enough to guarantee optimal security.

Increasing the capability of the virtual and physical firewalls

To help fight malicious SQL queries, we recommend using software or appliance-based web application firewalls. Both NFGW and FWAAS firewall offerings are easy to configure and have a comprehensive set of rules. If a software security patch is yet to be released, you can find WAFs to be useful. One popular firewall is ModSecurity. It is available in Microsoft IIS, Apache, and Nginx servers. It has ever-developing and sophisticated rules to help filter potentially dangerous requests from the web. Its defenses for SQL injection can catch many attempts to sneak in malicious SQL queries from the web.

Reducing the attack surface

An attack surface is an array of vulnerabilities that an attacker can use as an entry point. Therefore, in the SQL injection context, it means that you do away with any functionalities in the database that you do not require or ensure further safety.

A good example is the xp_cmdshell extended storing procedure for the Microsoft SQL Server. It can spawn a command shell and pass a string for execution in windows. Since the process started by the xp_cmdshell has similar security privileges as the SQL Server service account, severe damage from the attacker can befall the database.

Encryption

One rule should always reign when dealing with matters on the internet. No connected application is secure. Therefore, ensure that you hash and encrypt your connection strings and confidential data. There are many encryptions and hashing tools that are cheap, easily accessible, or even open source. Today we must universally adopt encryption as a data protection mechanism. It is for a good reason. Without encrypting your data using appropriate hashing and encryption policies, when it falls in the hands of a malicious actor, all the data is in plain sight. There are various hashing mechanisms like SHA, LANNAN, and NTLM. Encryption algorithms in the market today are bcrypt, DES, RSA, TripleDES, among many others. According to Microsoft, through encryption, we transform the problem of protecting the data protecting cryptographic keys.

Monitoring the SQL statements continuously

Third-party vendors and organizations should ensure continuous monitoring of all SQL statements within an application or database-connected applications. They should also document the prepared statements, database accounts, and stored procedures. It is easier to identify SQL statements that are rogue and various vulnerabilities when you scrutinize the functioning of the SQL statements. Therefore, a database admin can disable or delete unnecessary accounts, the stored procedure, and prepared statements.

There are monitoring tools that use technologies like behavioral analysis and machine learning. They include tools like SIEM and PAM and are an excellent addition to an organization’s network security.

Take away about prevent SQL injection

It is essential to conduct regular penetration testing to evaluate how you have implemented measures to prevent SQL injection attack responses. Through this option, you can stay ahead of the attacker and prevent lawsuits and hefty fines from coming your way. Besides the above measures, you can implement other safeguards like limiting access, denying extended URLs from your application, not divulging error messages, among many others.