The 4th Dimension of Threat Exposure Management

The decades-old practice of vulnerability management utilizes automated scanning methods to systematically identify and mitigate weaknesses created by unpatched operating systems and applications. In today’s highly dynamic hybrid cloud environments, the number of vulnerabilities detected continues to increase constantly, while the time it takes threat actors to recognize and exploit them continues to drop.The Ponemon Institute’s State of Vulnerability Management in DevSecOps report indicates that 66% of study respondents had a backlog of over 100,000 unaddressed vulnerabilities, with some organizations reporting 5 million or more. The need to shift from reactive methods to more insightful, proactive tools has never been more apparent.Decreasing the Attack SurfaceThe attack surface is the sum of all attack vectors cybercriminals use to gain unauthorized access. Threat actors are constantly on the lookout for opportune combinations of exposure paths, overly permissive settings, and vulnerabilities that can unlock crown jewel assets like personally identifiable information (PII) and sensitive financial data.Just like Einstein’s groundbreaking revelation that time is the fourth dimension reshaped our understanding of the universe, today’s threat exposure management (TEM) is undergoing its own revolution. It’s not just about guarding the gateways anymore. We’re talking about a multi-dimensional chess game against cyber threats, where visibility stretches into realms previously unimagined.TEM doesn’t just keep you prepared; it expands your horizon across the attack surface and lays down the groundwork for breakthroughs that promise to enhance our cybersecurity strategies significantly. As we delve into this evolving landscape, akin to string theory’s expansion beyond three-dimensional space, TEM introduces us to new dimensions of visibility.It is a holistic and proactive approach based on identifying, analyzing, and remediating undesired exposure pathways and misconfigurations before vulnerabilities can be exploited. When done right, TEM allows cloud security teams to think and view their cloud environments the way their adversaries do, with automated discovery and analysis producing actionable and insightful operationalized diagrams that highlight exposed vulnerabilities. Building Upon the TEM FoundationTEM identifies the combination of unintended exposure paths that lead to unaddressed vulnerabilities, so that the highest-risk workloads can be secured first. But how do we know a savvy attacker didn’t beat us to the punch? If the transition from vulnerability management to exposure management was like “checkers to chess,” then the addition of traffic insights makes the chess board 3-dimensional.Integrating traffic data takes TEM to the next level by providing an accounting of who has traversed exposure paths, and when. Combining traffic insights from AWS VPC flow logs  with operationalized security graphs provides deeper visibility into:The number of attempts and successful connections to an individual resource on ports/protocols of interestThe origin, direction, port services, and data volumes associated with connections.The quantity, type, and duration of any observed data exfiltration.Forensic-level details of all conversations associated with a potentially compromised resource.A Compelling Case for Threat Exposure ManagementWhile vulnerability management remains a valuable security practice, it does not provide the context needed to help IT teams decide which issues to tackle first. For example, one host may have exposed vulnerabilities but contain no sensitive information, while another host may be exposed from multiple paths and contain crown jewel information. TEM helps to ensure the latter case is given a higher priority for remediation.Dynamic AWS EnvironmentsThe numbers are staggering: By 2025, the cloud will host over 100 million zettabytes of data. This sea of information has contributed to backlogs in vulnerability mitigation that put important assets at risk and make visibility more elusive for cloud security teams. Threat Exposure Management utilizes intelligent algorithms to analyze cloud environments and identify misconfigurations, overly permissive settings, and exposed vulnerabilities, finding the needles in the proverbial haystack.AWS environments are also incredibly fluid and dynamic, with human decisions and ongoing system adaptations continuing to shuffle the deck when it comes to identifying new exposure paths. Automation has only heightened the pace of change to far exceed human abilities to react. Best-of-breed TEM implementations provide ongoing automated discovery, analysis, issue identification, prioritization, and workflows that enable efficient remediation.The Burden of SecuritySecurity in an AWS environment, or any cloud environment, is managed through a shared responsibility model. AWS is responsible for protecting the infrastructure that runs their AWS cloud services, while each patron is responsible for securing their own environment. AWS bears no responsibility (implied or otherwise) for validating the configurations we create or mitigating the vulnerabilities we introduce. This makes it imperative to establish the tools and visibility needed to address your own security and continually shrink the attack surface.Prioritization Brings Order to Chaos3rd party vulnerability scanners are useful for quantifying and characterizing the weaknesses associated with any resource. The list of issues generated through scanning is often a long and complex one. This is where the power of TEM comes into play. The real-time exposure path context provided by TEM converts unwieldy lists of hundreds of unpatched vulnerabilities into more manageable, streamlined lists of issues requiring focused attention. Details on the exposure itself and the type of resource exposed combine to prioritize remediation efforts.Traffic Completes the PuzzleEffective Exposure Management starts with understanding what the configuration of the environment will allow, identifies unintended exposures and overly permissive settings, and then integrates the vulnerability data available through third party scanning to provide well-rounded threat context and visibility. Putting these key dimensions together establishes what is theoretically possible, and what avenues need to be shut down. Traffic integration moves TEM from theoretical to definitive by examining what has actually occurred over these pathways. This visibility is instrumental during the remediation of high-priority vulnerabilities, ensuring a potentially dangerous exposure has been covered from all possible angles.The 4th Dimension of Threat Exposure Management is HereLet’s go back to Einstein for a second.  When he first described time as the fourth dimension of physical space, the concept was revolutionary, but string theory and other new ideas now postulate the existence of ten or more dimensions. Threat Exposure Management keeps you at the ready by increasing visibility into the attack surface, while creating a foundation for new innovations and dimensions of visibility that will continue to improve security in the years ahead.The integration of traffic data is one of the key factors moving threat exposure management into the future by leveraging readily available information sources like VPC flow logs in new and innovative ways. Traffic provides needed visibility for cloud security teams, with detailed conversation analysis, detection of unauthorized access, and the assessment of data compromise incidents just a few clicks away. As many organizations struggle to manage dozens of AWS accounts simultaneously, the continuous auditing and forensic-level assessments enabled through TEM plus traffic insights also helps to identify interdependencies and misconfigurations more efficiently.Observer Sentry, part of the versatile VIAVI Observer Platform, lets you visualize and analyze your AWS and EKS (Elastic Kubernetes Services) environments with stunning precision. Graphical representations of key misconfigurations pinpoint exactly where and how important cloud assets are exposed. Intelligent prioritization algorithms highlight the most troubling combinations of exposure paths and vulnerabilities. Traffic insights have taken Sentry to the next level, with detailed visibility that will identify if, when, and how exposure paths have been exploited.Learn more: