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What is an attack surface?

Has your organization suffered from multiple different cyber attacks? If it’s not the threat of ransomware, it could be a shoddy cybersecurity system that’s letting you down. A vulnerability could even be exposed by a clumsy user who accidentally clicks the wrong button. Sick of having to deal with endless digital risks? Sounds like you need to reduce your attack surface.

Charles Whitmore

Charles Whitmore

Feb 15, 2022 · 3 min read

What is an attack surface?

What is an attack surface?

An attack surface is the total number of ways or methods a hacker can use to break into your network and steal data. It’s always important to keep your attack surface as small as possible — if you give hackers a minimal number of attack vectors to work with, they’ll quickly abandon the endeavor for easier targets.

An attack surface is typically split into two classifications: digital and physical.

Digital attack surface

These threats are based around software, websites, servers — anything that can digitally connect to a business or organization’s systems. Examples of digital attack surfaces could include potential threats from the net via a phishing email or poor-quality encryption.

Physical attack surface

The physical attack surface is anything that a hacker could physically get a hold of to use to break into a system or network. These are usually end-point devices. Phones, laptops, computers, hard drives, USB sticks — they all fall into this category. A note with sensitive information that was carelessly discarded also counts towards a physical attack surface.

Why you need to reduce your attack surface

Just because you’re not part of a huge organization doesn’t mean you can be lax with your cybersecurity. Hackers are opportunistic — if they see that a network can be broken into with minimal effort, they can exploit those vulnerabilities for financial gain. All it takes is a single malware infection to potentially bring your network to a halt.

Small and medium-sized businesses are especially at risk. A report from 2019 showed that 43% of cyber attacks that year were aimed at small businesses. Unfortunately, the report revealed that only 14% of those businesses were prepared to defend themselves against a cyber attack.

How do I reduce my attack surface?

First, you need to identify every vulnerability a network has — both physical and digital. How many devices are connected to your systems? What are the virtual access points? Does your website have TLS encryption? Is storage for your data easily accessible by anyone in your network or business?

Which leads to the next point. If you own a business, how many employees have access to all of the computer systems? Is it necessary for them to have full access? If not, then place restrictions around certain profiles. By reducing the number of users that can access the most sensitive parts of your network, you automatically diminish risk.

Make sure all end-point devices are secured with the best protocols. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is highly recommended to prevent tech-savvy criminals from breaking into a device should they get a hold of one. Investing in a VPN will also secure all online communications.

Use additional security software, like NordVPN. It will not only encrypt all your internet connections, it will also make sure users don’t land on malicious websites or download infected files to their devices.

Reduce cyber threats by reducing your attack surface

Once you’ve kitted out your network with the latest cybersecurity updates and trained your employees on how to handle company data responsibly, the number of attack vectors should be reduced significantly.

Knowledge is key when it comes to cybersecurity. If you’re aware of the risks, you know exactly what to do to prevent them.

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