The ultimate guide to CAASM (cyber asset attack surface management)

You can’t protect what you can’t see.

Today’s cyber security measures require more effort to implement than ever before. Round-the-clock monitoring, increased visibility, intelligent automated analysis: Attackers have learned to take advantage of the latest innovations, which means companies must do the same. The greater the threat, the greater the need for a robust CAASM (cyber attack surface management) strategy.

Orani Amroussi | July 13, 2023

What is CAASM?

Preventing cyber attacks requires effective communication. This means knowing your strengths and vulnerabilities, aligning your IT and security teams, and uniting decision-making at the executive level.

CAASM stands for cyber asset attack surface management. CAASM is the latest approach to cyber security, focusing on providing continuous visibility to an organization’s assets for IT and security. 

It is a proactive methodology of risk management necessary in this new era of connectivity and increasingly sophisticated cyber attackers. The greater threats become, the more important it is to prioritize and classify assets and the severity of potential attacks.

CAASM calls for the constant identification and management of a company’s assets, including all of its software, network, and cloud-based systems. CAASM provides visibility and control over infrastructure, helping IT teams identify vulnerabilities such as outdated software, weak personal and administrative credentials, and misconfigurations.

The effectiveness of CAASM relies on comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date data to keep abreast of each new trend of advancing threats.


The importance of cyber asset attack surface management

CAASM is an all-encompassing method of viewing your attack surface. You have to have intelligence on every point of entry an attacker could exploit. But, as networks have become more connected, anticipating where those potential attacks could occur requires a more inclusive approach. 

CAASM is used at every stage of security measures, including:

  • Automated inventory of an organization’s systems
  • Endpoint security
  • Managing vulnerabilities
  • Identifying threats
  • Responding to incidents
  • Managing compliance and reporting

While CAASM is comprehensive in approach, it is also about streamlining these preventative measures so they are feasible—and continuous. The more we rely on cloud-based computing and storage, API communications, and remote workers, the greater the need for multidimensional cloud attack surface management.

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Understanding the attack surface

An organization’s attack surface includes every identifiable point of its infrastructure an attacker could exploit in order to gain access to its systems and potentially compromise security.

The attack surface can include both digital and physical attack vectors, such as:

  • Network devices
  • Software applications
  • Servers
  • Websites accessed from the network
  • Workstations and laptops
  • IOT devices 
  • Peripheral devices (USB, camera) 
  • SaaS products
  • Vendors


What are attack vectors?

Attack vectors are the methods or techniques cyber criminals use to gain unauthorized access or to breach systems, including:


Common vulnerabilities and risks associated with attack surface

CAASM is designed to help organizations overcome regularly occurring vulnerabilities and risks known to historically fall through the cracks. These risks can be classified into three broad categories.

Lack of visibility

Shadow IT and gaps in an organization’s security coverage can often be traced to its inability to properly view and monitor the full attack surface.

Substandard compliance measures

Without the proper security processes in place, companies can easily miss issues that cause them to operate outside of compliance standards for their industry. This is usually made worse by insufficient AI-backed automation tools.

Delayed response

A lack of data and monitoring leads to dangerously slow response times. When an attack occurs, organizations are unprepared to respond because it takes antiquated security measures a long time to recognize the threat.

The impact of an expanded attack surface in the digital era

The benefits of modern IT help companies connect to powerful infrastructure, customers, a global workforce, and pre-designed operational tools that allow them to scale at an unprecedented pace. Simultaneously, this opens these companies up to a much wider, more complex system of attacks. 

Cloud systems, multiple storage and network applications, SaaS, and the expanded internet-based workforce complicate the ability to keep a watchful eye on threats in real time.



The role of CAASM in cyber security

The purpose of CAASM is to empower security teams with continuous and comprehensive attack surface visibility. This allows teams to aggregate data from the entirety of an organization’s sources for proactive monitoring, assessment, and threat prioritization.

CAASM is designed to address the challenge of system blindspots by providing automated monitoring with better intelligence, allowing security experts to oversee the entire attack surface at all times.

Case study: How Vulcan Cyber improved ROI for a large enterprise


What are the 5 most important benefits of implementing CAASM?

The primary goal of CAASM is better visibility of all your assets so you can devise a streamlined defense that is optimized based on priority. The following are the five most prevalent benefits.

1. Understanding your attack surface

Identifying whole-system vulnerabilities and risk is the only way you can proactively protect against attacks.

2. Expediting your incident response time

CAASM helps add context to real and potential incidents so your automated intelligence identifies threats sooner, allowing you to respond more effectively.

3. Eliminating data silos

Most modern companies struggle to connect their teams, and the same issues abound when it comes to data. CAASM centralizes your view to integrate all your security data, increasing accuracy, reducing redundancy, and providing a single source of truth.

4. Optimizing resources

CAASM means optimizing your security methods with a more precise strategy so your resources are allocated and budgeted where they bring the best protection.

5. Streamlining compliance

The more complex modern networks become, the greater the challenge for organizations to accurately report and audit their compliance. CAASM helps companies continuously monitor data directly connected with compliance so that data is available when needed.

How does CAASM complement other cyber security measures?

Modern cyber security tools are advancing, especially as machine learning (ML) helps security operations continuously improve system specificity and accuracy. But CAASM provides that all-important bigger picture of an organization’s entire attack surface. 

Without better visibility, entities are compromised in what they can see, leading to inefficiency and higher risk. When joining high-quality, ongoing security measures to the fundamentals afforded by CAASM, companies can increase their scope and better plan for incidents.


Implementing CAASM

Thorough CAASM leads to better preparation and long-term organizational integrity, with actionable insights into your overall architecture and how your systems come together. 

Mapping these system interactions helps you prepare a robust analysis and remediation plan. The following are important steps to follow when implementing CAASM.

Identifying the organizational tools that may hold asset information that would be connected to CAASM

Organizations are always adopting new technologies. While remaining on the cutting edge has become necessary to compete on the global stage, this opens businesses to unknown attack vectors. 

Whether new threats come from the cloud, IoT, or changes in the applications being used, every potential attack vector has to be identified to receive its own scanner, so that data can be properly aggregated and understood.

Mapping departments and organizational structure

Clarity builds efficiency. When implementing CAASM, much of this clarity comes from understanding your organization’s structure.

Mapping your organization’s attack surface means understanding every department, including each individual’s roles and responsibilities. This gives a detailed and accurate picture of the organization’s structure so you can identify potential security gaps. 

Each department plays a role in recognizing unique threats, along with that division’s proper response. An organization is more secure when each employee understands protocol, what needs to be tracked and monitored, and is able to fully understand and visualize the attack surface.

Building and updating workflows for remediation and incident response 

With a clear view of your organization’s structure and a detailed understanding of your vulnerabilities, you need to develop effective workflows to prepare for attacks and manage incidents when they occur. You should monitor your attack surface to identify threats and begin remediation quickly. 

Proper CAASM implementation relies on developing an effective procedure for responding to threats.

Identifying asset owners

With a proper workflow in place to manage incidents, you can accurately assign ownership to specific assets. This means understanding the departments and individuals responsible for designated assets that can be targeted by an attack. 

When every department collaborates in a unified remediation plan, it empowers an organization to reduce risks and respond faster to threats.


Start working on actionable insights from CAASM

By making sure your vulnerability data includes all of your assets and asset ownership, you can develop a proactive action plan that reduces risk and accelerates your response time.

Improve your vulnerability scan coverage

Understanding your organization’s assets and seeing which departments are responsible for each enables you to focus on improving your vulnerability scan coverage. This helps you better identify the scope of risks threatening your business-critical assets and applications.

Validate your plan’s compliance

Make sure your cyber security strategy includes all relevant compliance requirements for your organization. Regulatory compliance is designed to ensure different industries operate with the highest level of security. 

For instance, compliance measures may set the standard of protecting your customers’ personally identifiable data or using special encryption methods for processing that data. Your CAASM implementation strategy needs to take every specific standard into account. Not doing so can snowball into greater security issues down the line.

Identify shadow assets

Shadow assets can be difficult to identify. When taking inventory of your applications and all potential vulnerability entry points, you’re accounting for all the digital connections you are aware of. But, shadow assets include hardware, software, and any IT resource used without your organization’s approval—or knowledge.

Employees often add an application to their computer or install a browser extension to improve their productivity without considering the potential security threat this can introduce. Seemingly insignificant tools can lead to major security breaches or compliance conflicts. Therefore, it’s vital that you identify shadow assets when implementing CAASM.

Identifying vulnerabilities and risks

One of the key improvements to cyber security that come from CAASM is the ability to reduce a company’s blind spots. Security teams can better prepare and assess risk when they are able to approximate the numerous connections throughout their systems.

Conducting vulnerability assessments

CAASM helps to improve remediation and planning with more accurate vulnerability scoring. Organizations are able to make better decisions about what threats to prioritize, when to patch program updates, and what data needs to be included in reports because they have a more accurate view of their operations.

Assessing external and internal threats

Once an organization begins to implement CAASM, it is able to detect and respond to internal and external threats with greater precision. This also helps IT and security teams align their efforts to oversee critical system infrastructure through a shared process.

CAASM efforts benefit from AI and ML to automate redundant and time-consuming processes so your organization can gather as much continuous data as possible. ML can be trained to improve its accuracy and understanding of threats over time, helping further enhance the efficiency of your threat assessments.

Evaluating potential attack vectors

Improved threat evaluation stems from better continuous monitoring of a company’s systems. Internally, this can help teams identify misconfigurations, weaknesses in administrative privileges, and employee safety standards. Externally, this can involve cloud systems, external collaboration, and remote workers as they connect to the network. 

Viewing these sources of impact helps companies evaluate and prioritize their security measures so they can anticipate where to place more attention and resources.

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Prioritizing remediation efforts

With clarity and company-wide threat visibility, it is now possible to address known threats and eliminate or reduce the potential of a breach using the following processes.

Taking a risk-based approach to vulnerability management

A risk-based cyber security approach is about prioritization. Place the highest priority on the most immediate threats and vulnerabilities.

This can involve weighing the regulatory and compliance concerns, risks of financial loss, or protection of personally identifiable client data. CAASM is used to identify the highest priorities so they can be measured, assessed, and managed.

Categorizing assets based on criticality

Part of any effective remediation strategy is classifying different types of threats and vulnerabilities. This plays a necessary role in determining the most valuable parameters in a given business, along with what known vulnerabilities can open a company up to the most impactful threats.

Developing a remediation strategy

The most effective strategy is based on accurate and comprehensive data. With risks and vulnerabilities identified and classified, an organization will be best equipped to prioritize a remediation strategy of monitoring, analyzing, and updating systems as needed.

On-demand webinar: Using assets and vulnerabilities context to prioritize endpoint risk


Security best practices

An organization’s security is most effective when practiced diligently and continuously. The following best practices help companies avoid common security breaches, avoiding the resulting extra costs and resource depletion.

Securing assets

CAASM focuses on continuous visibility—within a company’s physical location and also where it connects with cloud systems and IoT. With expansive asset visibility, teams are able to protect systems and monitor high-risk zones of the attack surface.

Regular patching and updates

Managing patches and updates for all of your company’s applications is a critical part of protecting your networks from malicious attacks. In addition to applying patches when they come across your radar, security teams and IT both should stay current on threats to watch for.

Patches and updates include web browsers, extensions, and even specific sites visited to see that there aren’t any unrecognized issues with version history that could be exploited.


Lessons learned

The past two decades have offered multiple examples where organizations failed to recognize the severity of potential cyber attack threats. Despite today’s improved security measures, severe breaches still catch major organizations unprepared. Every security breach is a new opportunity to learn valuable lessons. 

The following are some of the key takeaways to help your organization follow the best CAASM practices:

  • Aggregate your asset data from multiple sources into one centralized location.
  • Improve your workflow using automation, AI, and ML for continuous monitoring.
  • Prioritize your risks to reduce your response time to threats.
  • Remain up-to-date with system patches and updates.


Future trends in CAASM

The future is unfolding at record speeds right in front of our eyes. We’ll see a continued increase in threats to the cloud, mobile devices, and IoT, and the more sophisticated security measures become, the more cyber attackers are motivated to exploit rising vulnerabilities.

Using AI and automation in attack surface management

As AI and ML automation improve performance, visibility, and system intelligence, they also accelerate the advancement of the tools attackers can use to breach a company’s security protection. 

Even the now-famous ChatGPT poses an onslaught of new attacks, as it can be manipulated into devising clever strategies for phishing campaigns and a broad range of socially-engineered attacks.

While AI and ML serve to continuously improve accuracy and heighten protection, the future will present an accelerated schedule of new threats—countered by new defenses.

CAASM will be central to this new level of vigilance. Vendors will use AI and ML increasingly, providing a better view of the attack surface while reducing the time needed to remediate attacks.

Prioritizing SaaS security

As organizations rely on SaaS platforms to scale their businesses, CAASM will prioritize better monitoring and visibility for SaaS connections.

Managing identity and access

Administrative rights and more advanced security measures will be predominant in improving CAASM. Two-factor authentications, biometric login permissions, and accurate user access will play a key role in protecting systems.

Protecting data

Data security will be a top priority, but it also represents a larger and more complex attack surface. Utilizing fast, powerful, and affordable cloud data storage introduces challenges for visibility, but this emphasizes the importance of an organization’s ability to scale its CAASM security efforts at pace with its use of new technologies.


Step up cyber security with Vulcan Cyber

As attack surfaces expand and proliferate, it becomes all the more critical to manage cyber risk efficiently. Threat actors are finding new avenues to target and access organizations’ sensitive data, and so security teams must double their efforts to find solutions and workflows that can scale and accelerate at the required pace. 

The Vulcan Cyber risk management platform consolidates, deduplicates and prioritizes vulnerability data, and supports teams through every step of the vulnerability management lifecycle. Get a demo today.