As your organization's attack surface expands—spanning across the cloud, remote locations, and interconnected digital supply chains—the potential for cyber risk exposure grows.
Implementing a proactive cybersecurity exposure management program can enhance your understanding of your organization's cyber risk posture and facilitate informed decision-making about how to best allocate investments and resources.
In this blog, we explore cyber risk exposure management and how you can assess your exposure, plus best practices and controls you can implement to protect your organization from cyberattacks.
The growing importance of exposure management.
Business leaders are increasingly aware that cyber risk is business risk. This is reflected in the shifting makeup of the board of directors. By 2026, Gartner predicts that 70 percent of boards will include one member with cybersecurity expertise—a sure sign that executives outside IT are looking to lead the business as it navigates sweeping digital transformation and sophisticated cyber threats.
Given this, exposure management is critical. With the right program and solutions, your organization can uncover security blind spots, better understand security performance (i.e. what the organization is doing right), and prioritize risk management activities.
Understanding exposure—identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Your digital ecosystem is full of risks, but knowing where they are hidden is a constant challenge. Unpatched systems, misconfigurations, insecure access ports, shadow IT, and investments in new technologies all introduce new pathways for potential attacks. Furthermore, threat actors are constantly perfecting their techniques or exploring new ones.
To address these risks, you need an exposure management approach that provides visibility into risks across your distributed IT environment—on-premises, in the cloud, and across business units, subsidiaries, and remote locations. By understanding what your attack surface looks like, and where the greatest risk lies hidden, you can prioritize IT resources and significantly reduce technical and business risk.
But don’t stop there. In today’s cyber landscape, your vendors have emerged as the primary and most significant cybersecurity risk factor. Alarming statistics reveal that 73 percent of organizations have encountered at least one major disruption caused by a third-party within the past three years.
Thus, it becomes imperative that you expand your vulnerability detection and response to encompass your vendors, particularly those who provide digital services, have access to your network, or handle sensitive data.
Implementing robust controls: Strengthening defenses and reducing exposure.
Armed with a comprehensive understanding of your risk exposure, you can obtain a clearer perspective on areas that require enhanced security performance and stronger controls.
To get ahead of risk exposure, consider the following measures:
- Focus on concentrated risks: With visibility into your attack surface, drill down into areas where risk is most concentrated, such as vulnerabilities in your most critical assets—and prioritize remediation.
- Create a cyber exposure response team: Risk management and threat response is not the job of one person or even the collective Security Operations Center (SOC). Effective exposure management involves the combined efforts of various disciplines including risk managers, procurement teams, sales management, HR, and even legal. Not all will need to get involved in risk remediation efforts, but a team should be assembled and assigned clear responsibilities in the event of a cyber incident or data breach that impacts customers, employees, or vendors—or has regulatory ramifications.
- Measure your progress: Utilize metrics to gauge progress in terms of security performance and exposure management over time. Consider employing security ratings and benchmarking your efforts against peers or competitors to assess and compare your achievements. Be sure to constantly assess the effectiveness of your security controls against standards such as those outlined by the Center for Internet Security (CIS).
Best practices for effective exposure management.
Exposure management isn’t a one and done exercise. In addition to understanding your attack surface, establish a vulnerability management program that continuously identifies, prioritizes, reports on, and aids remediation. Best practices include:
- Continuous monitoring. Don’t wait for the result of penetration tests or security audits; keep a finger on the pulse of your cyber health continuously and automatically. Create alerts so that you’re notified in near-real time the moment pressing new risks are discovered, such as a misconfigured cloud firewall, anomalous user behavior, or an unpatched system.
- Establish a regular patching cadence so that vulnerabilities are better managed. How quickly you patch software vulnerabilities is directly correlated to the likelihood of experiencing a cyber event.
- Implement network segmentation. Network segmentation is the act of dividing your larger network into smaller, more manageable segments that are isolated from each other and invisible to the outside world. If your network is infiltrated, the hacker will be contained and unable to cause widespread damage. Read more to learn if network segmentation is right for you.
- Extend continuous monitoring to your vendors. Monitor your supply chain for emerging risk and be assured that your third parties fall within your risk tolerance. Collaborate with your vendors to address critical vulnerabilities before either organization is impacted.
- Improve employee cyber awareness. Careless or reckless insiders remain a top source of risk exposure. Read our 13 tips for establishing or revisiting your cybersecurity training program.
NASA: Successful exposure management at work.
NASA offers a real-world example of successful cyber risk exposure management. The agency relies on more than 3,000 vendors to achieve its mission, giving threat actors multiple pathways for infiltration.
Protecting this extensive supply chain has been a longtime challenge for NASA. To identify potential vulnerabilities, security teams traditionally relied on manual risk monitoring procedures, public disclosure statements, and breach notifications—which were usually only reported by larger vendors.
To gain deeper insights into risk in its supply chain and better manage exposure, NASA uses Bitsight Third-Party Risk Management. Using Bitsight, NASA has improved its exposure management dramatically. To help the agency prioritize risk, security teams established daily alerts and easy-to-understand metrics on changes to vendors’ security postures—resulting in about 50 percent time and efficiency savings.