Understanding Attack Vectors: The Key to Reducing Your Organization’s Attack Surface
In 2023, it is more important than ever to implement a strong cybersecurity roadmap that aligns with potent attack vectors.
Over the last couple of years, the widespread change in work setups, dominated by the shift towards employees working off-premises, has affected the global cybersecurity landscape. There has been a tangible and significant increase in threats, with cyber criminals exploiting “misaligned networks.” In 2020, there was a 358 percent increase in malware attacks over the year before that, a trend that continued in 2021 and 2022. By the third quarter of 2022, “approximately 15 million data records were exposed worldwide through data breaches” an increase of 37 percent compared to the previous quarter. As we enter 2023, the frequency and severity of these attacks are expected to continue rising.
To survive and thrive in this landscape, it is important to take proactive measures to protect yourself from potential attacks. This involves identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, understanding potential points of compromise, and implementing appropriate prevention and detection measures to achieve cyber resilience. It is also crucial to be aware of the various methods that attackers may use to disrupt your business. According to Gartner, the changes in the way we work, combined with the greater use of public cloud, highly connected supply chains, and use of cyber-physical systems have created new and challenging attack “surfaces,” leading to a surge in attack vectors.
What are Attack Vectors & Attack Surfaces?
An attack vector is a pathway that a hacker uses to take control of an organization's IT infrastructure – gaining unauthorized access to sensitive data and disrupting business operations. Imagine a thief wanting to steal a valuable object from a store. They would have to enter and exit the vault – and the greater the gaps in security, the more the number of ways in which the thief can make their way in. The thief could exploit vulnerabilities such as unguarded backdoor or a faulty alarm system or use deception and pretend to be a member of the store staff. All of these methods represent attack vectors. Digital systems have various potential entry points that attackers may try to use as vectors. Because modern computing systems and application environments are complex, there are countless potential attack methods such as social engineering attacks to credential theft and exploitation of vulnerabilities.
The total number of attack vectors available to an attacker together constitute the “attack surface” of an organization. This means that the expansion of attack surface signifies a rise in the number of attack vectors that an attacker can use to manipulate or hack into a computer system. To reduce its attack surface, an organization must eliminate as many attack vectors as possible. While it is not possible to ensure that all attack vectors in an organization are closed off, a key feature of any comprehensive cybersecurity plan is to identify and secure as many of them as possible.
Attack Vector Exploits
To exploit attack vectors, an attacker typically follows a series of steps:
A threat actor can choose to exploit an attack vector for a range of malicious purposes. Depending on their intent, the exploits can broadly be divided into two types: active and passive. Passive attacks aim to access information without affecting system resources, such as phishing or typosquatting. Active attacks seek to alter a system or its operation, such as malware, patch vulnerability attacks, and ransomware.
The trends of the previous year and expert predictions for the year ahead indicate that some initial attack vectors top the list when it comes to exploitation by threat actors.
Social engineering comes in many forms, and phishing is the most common and insidious of them. Phishing emails continue to be a popular initial attack vector among threat actors due to ease of execution. Hackers utilize sophisticated techniques to generate well-executed business email compromise attacks (BEC) along with malicious URLs. In 2022, more than 255 million phishing attacks were recorded within a period 6 months – a 61 per cent increase over 2021. Attackers have become more sophisticated with their methods, investigating potential victims to gather information to create target phishing attacks that are more likely to be successful.
Preventing end-user negligence will be the critical differentiator in protecting against social engineering attacks. Organizations should consider automation- and AI-based security solutions that provide a more robust defense against phishing attacks by conducting network-level analyses. Enabling monitoring and measurement of web browsing and email click-through behavior of end users and devices can also provide critical insights.
Supply Chain Attacks
A supply chain attack occurs when a vendor's products, services, or technology are hacked, which, in turn, harms the customer base. In recent years, supply chains have increasingly become a frequently exploited attack vector. The growing trend of outsourcing further adds to this, since it engages multiple vendors who can all pose a huge cybersecurity risk to proprietary data. Some sophisticated threat actors can even breach the target network by leveraging a supplier’s network’s privileged access. Gartner predicts that by 2025, 3x the number of companies in 2021 are likely to face attacks on their software supply chains.
Given the complexity of supply chain processes, organizations must seek out endpoint security solutions that mitigate risks end-to-end and strengthen their overall security posture. Reliable solutions incorporate features such as screening for inbound malware, detection of suspicious behavior of supply chain-derived applications and tools, and blocking unauthorized attempts to access files.
Compromised or Weak Credentials
Usernames and passwords are the most common type of access credentials and are often exposed through data leaks, phishing scams, and malware. When lost, stolen, or exposed, these credentials can give attackers unrestricted access to an organization's systems. Weak and reused passwords also increase the risk of a data breach. Compromised credentials can bypass perimeter security and complicate detection, and the risk they pose depends on the level of access they provide. Privileged access credentials, which give administrative access to devices and systems, pose a higher risk than consumer credentials. Servers, network devices, and security tools, too, have passwords to facilitate inter-device integration and communication. If a threat actor gains access to these machine-to-machine credentials, they can move throughout the enterprise with almost unrestricted access.
To reduce the risk of compromised credentials leading to security incidents, it is essential that organizations have strong password policies that require employees to create secure passwords and prevent them from sharing or reusing passwords. Organizations should invest in security solutions that incorporate password managers, two-factor authentication, multi-factor authentication, etc.
How Can Evren Help?
In 2023, it is more important than ever to implement a strong cybersecurity culture and roadmap that aligns with potent attack vectors. A robust security program requires skilled cybersecurity professionals as well as investment in the right technology solutions – to effectively protect your organization from cyber threats, mitigate the risk of successful attacks, and ease the burden of vigilance on end users. The tools and solutions used to protect the organization should align with the business and security strategies and remain relevant in the future. Evren's comprehensive endpoint security and built-in features are designed to close off attack vectors, reducing attack surfaces and defending against current and future cyber threats. A desktop OS with in-built endpoint security, Evren uses automation for securing your data and preventing attacks to drastically lower the risks of a successful cyber attack.
For data storage, the Evren ensures encryption at rest, and the data is continuously backed up securely. It enforces multi-factor authentication for all critical services to eliminate the risk of unauthorized access. Moreover, the OS does not store any sensitive customer or end-user data, and all user data across systems can be deleted upon request. For data transfer, Evren uses a secure channel with 256-bit SSL encryption, and all SSL termination points are hardened to provide the highest levels of security. Once the OS is installed, all IT and security patches are updated automatically, to ensure continued and uninterrupted protection. Features such as Full Disk Encryption and Application Sandboxing ensure data protection on all devices, by protecting all apps and files against unauthorized access and keeping them isolated from each other to minimize security threats in the event of a breach.
In addition to securing vulnerable technologies, Evren also prevents attacks that leverage the human factor, i.e., end-user negligence. For instance, the Privileged Access Management feature prevents end-users from having admin privileges. The admin password is only available to the IT administrator, is device specific, and is valid only for 24 hours. Another critical in-built feature is URL Filtering, using which admins can block and allow select URLs. Evren also lets you restrict Google accounts to specific secure domains that can be used on the browser. Finally, by enabling comprehensive monitoring and reporting, Evren helps IT admins stay on top of user activities. The OS provides reports and data from device usage, application usage, and system reports to track and understand usage patterns and ensure security compliance across the organization.
The rise in the number of malicious threat actors is expected to continue in the coming years. Left unsecured, devices and users with access to sensitive apps, data, and networks will pose a significant risk to your enterprise. With Evren as the first line of defense, you can develop a secure, resilient cybersecurity posture that minimizes your organization’s attack surface and make it increasingly difficult for attackers to find vulnerabilities to exploit.
Evren offers a free security audit and consultation to help you evaluate your current security posture and start fortifying your organization’s cybersecurity defenses. Get in touch with our experts to schedule a session.