What is Attack Surface Reduction and Why is it Important

Mounika Raghavarapu   

In recent years the probability of cyber-attacks has been increased at a higher rate. Not any industry vertical is an exception for a cyber-attack. Many of the large-scale organizations will have large SOC, by which they can 24/7 monitor the entire network and can identify the vulnerabilities and evade potential security risks. In the case of small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) smart cybersecurity is reducing the attack surface. Making sure that the attack surface is as small as possible, is the basic security measure SMBs have to be keen on.

What exactly is Attack surface reduction?

An attack surface is defined as the entire network landscape of an organization that is susceptible to hacking. Attack surfaces are generally all points of access where an intruder can probe the system and can perform malicious activities, in such a way as to destroy or steal the organization's critical data.

 The smaller attack surface is directly proportional to higher data protection, i.e., performing a surface analysis is an important step to protecting or reducing the attack surface. By analyzing and controlling the attack surface, organizations can drastically lower the possibilities for the attacker to enter the system, this will help reduce the exposure to cyber risks.

What are the main attack surfaces?

The most common attack surfaces are the Devices and the People. After the pandemic the world has switched to virtual, people started to connect virtually, work virtually and businesses are happening virtually. In this virtual environment, users are connecting from any device, not necessarily organizations device.

Now let’s understand how each of these aspects is considered as the main attack surfaces


Connecting to the organization's network through various devices is creating room for cyber attackers to trigger attacks. With IoT (Internet of Things), large volumes of data are being generated through devices. Also, it is estimated that by 2030 over 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

The significant threats to devices are Ransomware and hybrid ransomware attacks. Ransomware attacks are very critical to manage attackers who will take full control of the system and demand ransom to release the control. Today these attacks are spreading in hybrid form.


People (ethical users or employees) are the most primary targets for sophisticated cyber-attacks, they are often considered as the weakest link in the digital security chain. As per Verizon DBIR 2020 report, about 22% of breaches are caused due to human errors such as configuration mistakes. Password behaviors such as using the same password for multiple accounts is something that poses risk for the organizations, this behavior of the users is providing a gateway for the intruders to easily crack the password and enter into the organization's system. Advanced social engineering attacks are the most sophisticated attacks that ate used to gain access to the organization's network through employees.

Attack Surface Analysis: Step by Step

Organizations must understand their network's security environment well so as to reduce the attack surface and hacking. A deep analysis of the possible attack surface over the entire network is needed. An attack surface analysis helps organizations in recognizing immediate risks and potential future risks.

Attack surface analysis will not fix every problem that the security team had found. However, it gives you a precise to-do list to the security teams in making organizations' assets safer and more secure.

Follow this roadmap as you complete your attack surface analysis:

Identify vulnerabilities.

All the access points, including each terminal, are the possible attack surfaces, security teams have to be vigilant. Data transition paths, where data move in and out of the application are also typical attack surfaces that need to be taken care of. Also, the codes that protect these paths, the passwords need to be updated at regular intervals.

Identify user types.

Segregate the user types, on all the users who can access each point in the system. Security staff must have a list of user types amid their activity on an average day. So by knowing the user's behaviors any new activity from the concerned user type will be triggered as a threat.

Conduct a risk assessment.

The risk assessment helps the security staff to identify the spots on the network which has the highest user types and are prone to vulnerabilities. These spots must be safeguarded first and security teams must include various other testing tools to identifies even more such spots and resolve them immediately. Thereby the attack surfaces are drastically reduced leaving the system more secure.

Maintain Reports.

What is the organization's first step when they find a threat? What was the recent threat the system had and what were the actionable steps taken to resolve the issue? And what is the measure taken to restrict the same pattern threats? All these questions must answerable in reports. These reports help security staff to always update the security rules and regulations.

Reduce Attack Surface in 5 Steps

Finding out the probable attack surfaces and rectifying them doesn’t serve to be the best security propaganda for organizations. But security teams have to be keen on avoiding any point of the network to be a future attack surface.

Zero Trust:

Zero trust means no User is trusted to access the resources until they are proven to be legitimate users. For a security-first approach, organizations have to implement Identity Access management in place, so as to completely restrict the unauthorized access to the organization's critical data.  

User access protocols must be strong:

User access to employees must be given in such a way they can access the application only through the organization's approved devices and through the secure VPN. Employees changing jobs and hiring new employees is a continuous process in organizations, in such cases, security teams and HR should act immediately, they should restrict the user account, just in time he/she is no more a part of the organization workforce.

Use strong authentication policies:

In order to ensure the right people access the organization's critical data, security teams must make use of multi-factor authentication. Layering strong authentication is needed, role-based and attribute-based access control can effectively authenticate the users.

Protect Backups:

The backups created for the data and codes are the most common attack surfaces for an organization. Strict protection protocols have to be implemented, so as to safeguard these backups.

Network segmentation:

Network segmentation is a common security practice, the entire network is segmented into separate sections so that each section has a security firewall. The more firewalls mean the less chance of an intruder to enter the system.