How are Attack Vectors and Attack Surfaces Related

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Today’s cyber landscape requires organizations to position themselves ahead of cybercriminals in order to maintain their safety. This starts with identifying vulnerabilities, understanding how your company could be compromised, and implementing prevention and detection methods to help achieve cyber resilience. 

Because of the growing volume and sophistication of threat actors and external attacks, there has been more conversation around attack vectors and attack surfaces. So, what do you need to know?

How are Attack Vectors and Attack Surfaces Related: What You Need to Know

The terms attack vector and attack surface are often used interchangeably, but there are very clear differences between both terms. Understanding those differences is important to help your organization maintain a strong security posture.

In this blog, we explore attack surface vs attack vector and provide recommendations to address both in your cybersecurity strategy.

What are Attack Vectors?

An attack vector is essentially an entry point that a cybercriminal uses to gain entry into an organization’s IT infrastructure. For example, the cybercriminal might create a phishing email that asks someone to provide their username and password. When the recipient complies, that is a potential attack vector that enables system entry. 

Let’s look at some of the most common attack vectors to be aware of in today’s cyber landscape: 

  • Compromised credentials 
  • Weak credentials
  • Insider threats
  • Unpatched software
  • Phishing
  • Misconfiguration
  • Social engineering 
  • Ransomware

It is not uncommon for several vectors to be utilized during an attack. An attacker may initially use a stolen password to gain access, then later find an outdated computer system that lets them access sensitive company data. It’s critical to have security monitoring tools in place that provide a comprehensive view of your network and all your endpoints that attackers could use as access points into your critical systems.


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Common Threat Management Challenges

An attack surface is the sum of the different points where an unauthorized user can try to enter or extract data from an environment. One of the most important security measures organizations can prioritize today is to keep their attack surface as small as possible. This can help prevent a system being compromised and reduce the risk of data breaches or other security incidents occurring. 

There are a few different types of attack surfaces to be aware of, which we’ll examine below.

Physical Attack Surface

Your organization’s physical attack surface is comprised of four walls; for example, an office or data center. Once an attacker gains access to your space, they can carry out malicious activities such as installing infected software on a device or exploiting sensitive data. To guard your physical attack surface, it is a good idea to implement effective physical security solutions and have stringent policies around company assets and sensitive files.

Digital Attack Surface

A digital attack surface encompasses any digital asset that can be accessed via the internet. This includes databases, servers, cloud instances, and more. As digital solutions continue to expand on a global scale, protecting this surface is becoming more challenging. To minimize the likelihood of an attack, it is best practice to have 24/7 monitoring capabilities for your digital attack surface – including any third-party partners – and a proven response plan in place should an attack occur to mitigate the effects to your business.

Human Attack Surface

Your organization’s employees are its weakest link and oftentimes the most vulnerable attack surface. Typically, cybercriminals exploit this weakness through social engineering attacks such as phishing. To reduce the risk of human error, it is important to continuously educate your employees on security awareness best practices through a formal security awareness training program.

How are Attack Vectors and Attack Surfaces Related

In summary, attack surfaces and attack vectors are closely related. Attack vectors are the methods cybercriminals use to gain unauthorized entry to a system, while the attack surface is the total possible number of attack vectors that could be used to infiltrate an organization’s network. A comprehensive cybersecurity strategy minimizes the attack vectors a cybercriminal might use as well as manages the risk of the organization’s attack surface.

Proactively Safeguard Your Business with Buchanan 

As a leading IT security provider, we offer managed cyber security for midsize and enterprise-level organizations, including daily monitoring and maintenance of critical IT security infrastructure that helps keep your environment secure and protect against threats. While we’re managing your technologies and operations, you can shift your focus to other important tasks within your organization. Contact us today to start safeguarding your business.

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