Tuesday, April 16, 2024

How To Optimize and Modernize Threat Exposure Management

Many will likely think that the answer to this question is a no-brainer. After all, reminders about preparing for cyberattacks are part of the endless stream of cybersecurity-related content posted online. Ads on addressing threats are also ubiquitous. There is more than enough information about attaining proactive security being freely shared online.

However, cybersecurity management in the current threat landscape is far from simple and straightforward. Many professional and experienced cybersecurity experts themselves admit that they are unsure of their security posture. One study shows that 50 percent of companies are not confident in stopping a ransomware attack.

Optimizing and modernizing the methods in dealing with cyber threats can be very challenging, especially in view of the rapidly evolving and increasingly more aggressive nature of cyberattacks at present. Still, there are ways to overcome the difficulties and achieve better threat exposure management with the help of the following tips.

Implement continuous threat exposure management

Gartner’s 2022 Hype Cycle mentions the need for continuous threat exposure management (CTEM). This is a five-stage program designed to continuously plan, monitor, and reduce risk levels through security validation technologies that call for prioritized remediation mechanisms. Gartner expects that this CTEM program will make organizations significantly less likely to succumb to security breaches.

The five cyclical stages of continuous threat exposure management start with scoping, which is then followed by discovery, prioritization, validation, and mobilization. As mentioned, it is a continuous process, so it restarts with scoping and the next stages to ensure uninterrupted threat monitoring.

  • The first step, scoping, is about mapping the external attack surfaces of an organization together with the risks that come with the use of SaaS apps and the full software supply chain. This stage requires the collaboration of business and security perspectives to identify and sort threats as mission-critical, high-value, or sensitive.
  • Discovery entails the mapping of the organization’s IT infrastructure, network, apps,  and sensitive data assets. This stage seeks to spot misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, and defects so they can be classified based on their respective risk levels.
  • Prioritization focuses on the evaluation of the likelihood of vulnerabilities to be exploited. Those that are most likely to be exploited are put on top of the queue for remediation. The resolution of low-priority vulnerabilities is deferred until there are enough remediation resources available.
  • Validation involves the simulation of attacks on the discovered vulnerabilities to check if existing security controls suffice. This stage is also undertaken to evaluate the adequacy of response and remediation mechanisms.
  • Mobilization is about applying corrective actions on the vulnerabilities discovered based on the outcomes of the validation stage. This is often a manual process, but it can be made frictionless through collaborative efforts. Also, the mobilization stage generates comprehensive data regarding the CTEM process to facilitate more efficient processes in the next cycle.

Again, CTEM is not a tool or security product. It is a program or cycle of processes that can be adopted by any organization to improve its ability to manage threat exposure. However, there are cybersecurity platforms that integrate CTEM in their comprehensive solutions. They can provide a multifunctional validation platform that continuously monitors and remedies threat exposure, which is what organizations need to combat the unending evolution of threats and increasing aggressiveness of cyberattacks.

Take advantage of security frameworks

Cybersecurity frameworks serve as some form of a “cheat sheet” to more efficiently detect and resolve threats. They provide a tried-and-tested structure and methodology on how to secure digital assets.

One example of which is the MITRE ATT&CK framework, which shares cross-referenced authoritative information about the latest adversarial tactics and techniques around the world. These include information on the most recently discovered vulnerabilities targeted by threat actors. The threat intelligence provided by this framework is highly detailed, showing not only descriptions of the threats but also the procedures used, specific instances of their activities, and the legitimate and malicious apps or tools they employ. MITRE ATT&CK makes the identification and plugging of threats systematic, making it meticulous but not sluggish.

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is also a good resource. This voluntary framework lays out standards, guidelines, and best practices in managing cyber risks. It guides risk management in five areas, namely threat identification, protection, detection, response, and recovery. This framework is actually compulsory for United States federal government agencies and recommended (voluntary) for private entities based on Executive Order 13800.

Additionally, there’s ISO/IEC 27001 or ISO 27K, which is considered the international standard for cybersecurity. It can also help organizations in addressing threats. It requires the systematic management of information security threats. It compels organizations to design and implement information security or InfoSec policies. It also recommends the adoption of an ongoing risk management process.

Leverage artificial intelligence

A study on the role of artificial intelligence in cybersecurity by Capgemini Research Institute concludes that “AI-enabled cybersecurity is increasingly necessary.” The rapidly increasing volume of attacks and their astoundingly fast evolution overwhelm cyber analysts. It is necessary to turn to automation and machine learning-driven solutions to keep up. Cybercriminals are already using AI to launch or execute their attacks. It would be illogical not to do the same.

Organizations use a multitude of security controls that generate large amounts of security data, alerts, and security incident reports. Human analysts cannot keep up with all of these. There has to be a way to autonomously address alerts on relatively simple issues and prioritize complex concerns for human analyst evaluation.

On the other hand, there are aspects of cybersecurity that are tediously repetitive and prone to human errors. Configurations and deployments in large organizations, in particular, create numerous opportunities for mistakes. Automation minimizes significantly or even eliminates almost entirely the configuration errors and other mistakes that become security vulnerabilities.

Moreover, artificial intelligence and automation serve important roles when it comes to threat detection and management. AI can be trained to promptly detect malware or malicious network activity not only based on threat identities but also according to behavioral patterns. It is even possible to develop predictive intelligence to anticipate potential attacks.

Additionally, AI and automation are useful in combating bots. Bots already take up a massive percentage of online traffic, and they pose serious risks as they ceaselessly look for vulnerabilities and opportunities to attack. AI systems can be used to detect bot activity and distinguish them from humans. It is also possible to differentiate good and bad bot behavior. There are so-called “good bots” that perform important functions like search engine crawlers, copyright bots, chatbots, feed bots, and site monitoring services. They cannot be lumped with and blocked alongside bad bots.

In summary

Three words sum up the ways to optimize and modernize threat exposure management: continuous, framework, and AI. Threat detection and handling should be a continuous process to ensure that threats do not have any chance of finding and exploiting vulnerabilities that can defeat cyber defenses. It is advisable to take advantage of established cybersecurity frameworks to tap into up-to-date and accurate threat intelligence and insights. Lastly, there is no excuse not to take advantage of artificial intelligence and automation to manage threat exposure more efficiently and avoid human errors.


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