Get a demo

Continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) 101

The newly built market category 'CTEM' was invented by Gartner to address the need for a comprehensive picture of a wide variety of exposures and threats across multiple attack surfaces. Read this guide to learn about the promise of CTEM, what it holds for the future of cyber risk, and the latest trends in the realm. 

Gal Gonen | May 19, 2024

In July 2022, Gartner introduced the continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) program as a transformative approach to bolster cyber resilience in today's evolving attack surface and threat landscape. They describe CTEM as a "program that surfaces and actively prioritizes whatever most threatens your business".

What is continuous threat exposure management (CTEM)?

Continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) is a proactive cyber security strategy designed to help organizations anticipate, identify, and mitigate vulnerabilities across their digital footprint in real-time. CTEM, developed by industry analysts at Gartner, represents an evolution from traditional, often reactive and episodic security measures.

Continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) operates on the principle of continuous vigilance. By using advanced automated tools and expert manual analysis, CTEM scans an organization’s networks, applications, cloud environments, and other digital assets continuously. This continuous scanning process is crucial for uncovering vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cyber criminals.

The process of CTEM involves several key steps:

  • Continuous identification: CTEM uses automated tools to continuously scan for vulnerabilities across all digital assets. This ensures that newly emerging threats and weaknesses are identified promptly.

  • Prioritization and risk analysis: Not all vulnerabilities pose the same level of risk. CTEM prioritizes vulnerabilities based on factors like exploitability, potential impact, and the current cyber threat landscape. This prioritization ensures that resources are allocated efficiently, focusing on the most critical vulnerabilities first.

  • Mitigation planning: Once vulnerabilities are identified and prioritized, CTEM involves planning and implementing mitigation strategies. These strategies may include patch management, configuration adjustments, or other security enhancements to address identified risks.

By integrating these steps into a continuous cycle, CTEM enables organizations to not only react more swiftly to vulnerabilities but also to adopt a more strategic approach to cyber security. This continuous, proactive management of threat exposure is designed to keep pace with the rapidly changing digital landscape, where new technologies and sophisticated cyber threats are constantly emerging.


What are the main challenges CTEM is solving?


In light of the evolving nature of cyber threats, organizations are faced with the following needs:

  • Staying on top of all exposure findings from various tools and sources and having them in one place
  • Distributing remediation tasks to stakeholders from different departments such as DevOps, SecOps, and IT, and ensuring they are addressed
  • Tracking and measuring mitigation progress and reporting to upper levels

Gartner emphasizes the need for organizations to adopt CTEM due to the limitations of existing traditional security approaches, which often fail to adequately reduce exposure to threats. By implementing CTEM, organizations can gain complete control over their exposure risk posture, regardless of its origin, in an effective manner.

The following use cases can be addressed through a CTEM program:

  • Asset and vulnerability discovery
  • Risk assessment
  • Attack surface reduction
  • Risk mitigation and remediation
  • Resource allocation
  • Compliance with regulation



Benefits of continuous threat exposure management (CTEM)


In the rapidly evolving cyber threat landscape, the implementation of continuous threat exposure management emerges as a critical strategy for organizations aiming to safeguard their digital assets. CTEM represents a shift towards a more proactive, continuous approach to cyber security, addressing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. This section delves into both the significance of CTEM in modern cyber security strategies and the tangible benefits it brings to organizations.

Proactive vs. reactive security

CTEM marks a departure from traditional, reactive security measures by focusing on the continuous identification and mitigation of threats. This proactive stance is foundational to preventing breaches and minimizing potential damage, ensuring that organizations are always one step ahead of cyber threats.

Comprehensive coverage and enhanced visibility

With the attack surface expanding to include not just physical infrastructures but also cloud services, remote devices, and third-party services, CTEM ensures comprehensive coverage across these domains. It offers complete visibility into the entire attack surface, enabling organizations to detect vulnerabilities in real time across infrastructure, applications, and cloud environments. This holistic view is vital for securing all potential entry points and minimizing the risk of exposure.

Adaptability to emerging threats

The dynamic nature of the cyber threat environment necessitates a security approach that can quickly adapt to new vulnerabilities and attack vectors. CTEM facilitates this adaptability, allowing organizations to respond to emerging threats swiftly and maintain a robust defense against both known and unforeseen challenges.

Enhanced risk management and decision-making

By offering one operational platform to own exposure risk, CTEM enhances an organization’s ability to manage cyber security threats. It provides manageable, accurate, and correlated security data findings, enabling better prioritization and remediation decision-making. This strategic approach to risk management optimizes security efforts and resource allocation, focusing on the most critical issues first.

Regulatory compliance and trust

CTEM not only ensures organizations comply with evolving regulatory standards but also builds trust among customers, partners, and stakeholders. Demonstrating a commitment to continuous security monitoring and improvement underscores an organization’s dedication to protecting sensitive information.

Competitive advantage

Organizations that implement CTEM can gain a competitive advantage by showcasing their commitment to cyber security. Efficient collaboration across departments, coupled with rapid remediation times, positions these organizations as market leaders in terms of cyber resilience, attracting more business opportunities and fostering customer confidence.

Key stat: In a recent KPMG survey of 1,325 CEOs, 77 percent see information security as a strategic function and a potential competitive advantage. Geopolitical uncertainty is increasing concerns over corporate cyberattacks for 73 percent of executives.

Tangible benefits of implementing CTEM

The CTEM framework brings a host of benefits that enhance an organization’s security posture by:

  • Providing complete visibility into the entire attack surface, ensuring no vulnerability goes unnoticed.
  • Establishing one operational platform to manage exposure risk effectively.
  • Delivering manageable, accurate, and correlated security data findings that enhance the understanding of the threat landscape.
  • Facilitating better prioritization and remediation decision-making, allowing organizations to address the most pressing threats first.
  • Significantly reducing remediation time, enabling swift response to vulnerabilities.
  • Promoting efficient collaboration



The five steps of CTEM according to Gartner


Gartner introduces a five-step process for implementing a continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) program:

  1. Scoping: Define the cyber security exposure scope, focusing on external and SaaS threats.
  2. Discovery: Develop a process to discover assets and assess their risk profiles.
  3. Prioritization: Prioritize threats based on urgency, security, availability of compensating controls, tolerance for residual attack surface, and level of risk.
  4. Validation: Validate potential attack pathways and response plans.
  5. Mobilization: Mobilize people and processes to operationalize the CTEM findings.

Cybersecurity Needs Continuous Threat Exposure Management


Read more: How to own risk with the Vulcan Cyber exposure management solution


Best practices for implementing continuous threat exposure management (CTEM)

Implementing CTEM within an organization requires a structured approach that encompasses strategic planning, deployment of appropriate technologies, and cultivation of a security-aware culture. Here’s a step-by-step guide to effectively implement CTEM:

1: Assess current security posture

  • Initial assessment: Conduct a comprehensive review of the current cyber security measures, identifying existing vulnerabilities, and understanding the organization’s attack surface.
  • Asset inventory: Create a detailed inventory of all digital assets, including networks, applications, and cloud environments, to ensure full visibility during the scanning process.

2: define CTEM objectives and strategy

  • Set objectives: Establish clear, measurable objectives for the CTEM program, aligned with the organization’s overall cyber security strategy.
  • Develop a CTEM strategy: Outline a tailored CTEM strategy that includes methodologies for continuous scanning, prioritization of vulnerabilities, and a plan for mitigation.

3: Select and deploy CTEM Tools

  • Tool selection: Choose appropriate tools for continuous vulnerability scanning and risk analysis. Consider tools that offer integration capabilities with existing security systems.
  • Deployment and integration: Deploy the selected tools and ensure they are fully integrated with the organization’s IT environment, including SIEM systems, for real-time monitoring and alerting.

4: Establish processes for continuous monitoring and analysis

  • Continuous scanning: Implement continuous scanning processes to identify vulnerabilities across all digital assets.
  • Vulnerability prioritization: Develop criteria for prioritizing vulnerabilities based on their potential impact and exploitability.
  • Risk analysis: Conduct risk analysis to understand the broader implications of identified vulnerabilities on organizational security.

5: Develop and execute mitigation plans

  • Mitigation planning: For each identified vulnerability, develop a mitigation plan that outlines the steps required to address the risk.
  • Implementation: Execute mitigation strategies, including patch management, configuration changes, or other corrective measures.
  • Documentation and reporting: Document all mitigation efforts and report on the effectiveness of the CTEM program to stakeholders.

6: Foster a culture of continuous improvement

  • Training and awareness: Educate staff about the importance of cyber security and their role in the CTEM process.
  • Review and adapt: Regularly review the CTEM program’s effectiveness and adapt strategies as needed to address new threats and technological changes.

7: Compliance and regulation consideration

  • Ensure that CTEM practices align with relevant industry regulations and standards, maintaining compliance and minimizing legal risks.

Exposure management and CTEM: Understanding the distinction

Exposure management, integral to continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) focuses on the precise identification, assessment, and mitigation of exposure risks. This section aims to demarcate exposure management within the cyber security ecosystem, emphasizing its unique methodologies and strategic importance.

Defining exposure management’s unique scope

Exposure management is dedicated to the meticulous oversight of an organization’s susceptibility to cyber threats, distinct from the broader task of threat management. Its primary focus is on vulnerabilities as potential exposures rather than immediate threats, providing a nuanced approach to preemptive risk mitigation.

Objectives of exposure management

The principal aim of exposure management is to systematically reduce the window of opportunity for attackers by:

  • Mapping the exposure landscape: Detailed mapping of where vulnerabilities could potentially expose the organization to cyber threats, beyond mere identification.
  • Risk quantification: Assigning a quantifiable measure to exposures based on potential impact, thereby allowing for a more calculated approach to risk management.
  • Tailored mitigation strategies: Crafting mitigation strategies that are specifically designed to shield the organization from exposures, rather than generic threat countermeasures.

Exposure management’s role within CTEM

Within the CTEM framework, exposure management serves as a critical component that ensures vulnerabilities are not just identified and patched, but that their potential to expose the organization to risk is thoroughly evaluated and addressed. This involves a strategic cycle of assessment, prioritization based on exposure potential, and the implementation of targeted mitigation tactics.


What is the difference between vulnerability management and CTEM?


CTEM and traditional vulnerability management differ in their scope, approach, and objectives:


Exposure management encompasses a broader perspective beyond traditional vulnerability scanning. Unlike traditional vulnerability management tools that focus on managing known infrastructure and network vulnerabilities, it involves identifying and addressing misconfigurations, weaknesses, and potential attack vectors across various layers of an organization’s infrastructure, applications, and cloud environments.


While traditional vulnerability management tends to be perceived as more “reactive”, exposure management takes a proactive approach to identify and remediate security risks before they are exploited. It involves continuous monitoring, contextualized prioritization of risks beyond severity scoring, and orchestration of remediation efforts across different teams and technologies.


Traditional vulnerability management tools aim to maintain a baseline level of security hygiene within the organization’s systems, primarily within networks. The primary objective of exposure management is to reduce an organization’s overall risk exposure across its entire attack surface.

In summary, exposure management offers a more comprehensive and proactive approach to risk management by addressing a wider range of security threats and vulnerabilities across the organization’s infrastructure and applications compared to the more “reactive” and focused nature of traditional vulnerability management.

The Importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration

Successful exposure management relies on collaboration across cyber security, IT, and business units to ensure that exposure risks are understood and addressed in alignment with organizational priorities and risk tolerance.

White paper: A step-by-step guide to achieving cyber security maturity


Vulcan Cyber and CTEM

The Vulcan Cyber exposure operating system (ExposureOS) is designed to help information security teams aggregate, correlate, prioritize and remediate exposure risk from one platform. 

With the Vulcan Cyber exposure management solution, you can:

  • Gain visibility and control of risk across the entire attack surface (apps, cloud, code, infra, etc.)
  • Prioritize risk based on contextualized and enriched intelligence
  • Foster collaboration among security teams and remediation owners using automated workflows and remediation guidance
  • Remediate more findings and reduce mean time to remediation

Ready to see a demo? Schedule a call with one of our experts, or try Vulcan free.