Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management (CAASM)

Identify exposures and vulnerabilities throughout your physical and digital attack surface.

Rapid7 Attack Surface Security

What is Cyber Asset Attack Surface Management (CAASM)?

Cyber asset attack surface management (CAASM) is a platform tool that leverages data integration, conversion, and analytics to provide a unified view of all physical and digital cyber assets that comprise an enterprise network.

CAASM policies help to identify exposures and potential security gaps along the network attack surface. They are intended to act as authoritative sources of asset information complete with ownership, network, and business context for IT and security teams, furthering the knowledge of the security organization at large.

CAASM can be integrated with existing workflows to automate security control gap analysis, prioritization, and remediation, thereby boosting efficiency and breaking down operational silos between teams and their tools. It’s important to remember, however, that the assets these tools are meant to protect are more than just devices and infrastructure.

A Security Operations Center (SOC) typically tags “assets” as users, applications, and even application code. The key is for the security practitioners within a SOC to recognize the interconnectedness of these assets.

Consider a scenario where more than 1,000 servers have the same vulnerability. Assessing each one quickly becomes time and cost-prohibitive, thus CAASM capabilities can step in to speed up the process by enriching cyber asset data to then automate the majority of analysis.

How Does CAASM Work? 

CAASM works by considering the interconnectedness and totality of network assets, analyzing their vulnerabilities, and then enacting risk-reduction policies. Common key performance indicators (KPIs) of CAASM include: 

  • Asset visibility 
  • Endpoint agent coverage
  • Service-level agreements (SLAs)
  • Mean-time-to-respond (MTTR)

As mentioned above, assessing each vulnerability can become cost and time-prohibitive when there is such a multitude of assets to consider on one network. Automation helps by analyzing vulnerabilities faster as well as prioritizing them for remediation.

CAASM enables organizations to leverage analytics with the goal of refining search results, identifying trends, or disseminating specific information to defined groups or individuals. This integrated approach delivers comprehensive attack surface visibility and mapping so a SOC can address risks and manage vulnerabilities more efficiently.

Perhaps the most critical function of CAASM is the identification and mapping of new assets as they plug into and out of a network. It’s important to leverage comprehensive asset discovery tools to gain a true picture of what a changing attack surface looks like as those new assets appear. Network access control (NAC) capabilities can also aid in the creation of policies to cut down on unauthorized access attempts, should a bad actor exploit an asset vulnerability that has yet to be identified.

From there, security personnel can more easily define specific outcomes for assets or asset groups. Once these outcomes are established, it’s simply a matter of running searches for all assets that do not meet these security criteria and subsequently prioritizing them for remediation. In this way, CAASM helps a SOC streamline inventory and remediation practices to help it gain greater efficiencies.

How Does CAASM Differ from Other Technologies?

CAASM differs from other technologies in many ways, but is also similar in others. There are so very many platforms and methodologies out there to help security practitioners ensure their attack surfaces are as protected as they can possibly be. When looking at attack surface protection solutions, what are some key differences a buyer might consider before purchasing the right solution for their organization?

CAASM vs. Attack Surface Management (ASM)

Continuous attack surface management (ASM) is the overarching concept of the always-on monitoring of an organization’s digital footprint, with the goal of shrinking the attack surface and strengthening the company’s security posture. ASM encompasses all of the methodologies we’ll discuss here. CAASM is essentially ASM through the filter of all of an organization's cyber assets on its network or that are attempting to access its network, both internally and externally.

CAASM vs. External Attack Surface Management (EASM)

The main difference between EASM and CAASM security is that the former typically focuses solely on external-facing assets while the latter focuses on both external and internal network assets, therefore granting a more complete picture of the attack surface at any given time. Because of its more simplistic nature as compared to CAASM, EASM solutions tend to be easier to set up and therefore more widely adopted.

CAASM vs. Digital Risk Protection (DRP)

While CAASM solutions tend to focus on internal and external network assets – and therefore the data they share with the network and take off of it – a DRP solution typically aims its focus on an organization’s sensitive digital assets and their exposure to the internet and potential attackers as well as vulnerabilities that could result from that exposure.

CAASM Use Cases

Let's take a look at the situations that would most call for implementation of a CAASM solution to help protect an enterprise network as the proliferation of cyber assets creates more vulnerability.

  • Inventory and mapping: Maintaining visibility over a detailed – and automated – inventory of the cyber assets growing a network’s attack surface is the overarching mission of a CAASM solution.
  • Optimize vulnerability management (VM) workflows: By defining asset outcomes and refining processes to be more automated, vulnerabilities can be spotted, prioritized, and remediated faster than ever. This means a stronger security posture for the attack surface as well as the ability to take more proactive measures as telemetry dictates.
  • Maintain compliance requirements: Complete asset inventories are critical in maintaining regulatory and internal compliance requirements. Typically, CAASM solutions will come with built-in compliance frameworks that help an organization adhere to the likes of NIST, SOC2, and others.
  • Identify vulnerable application servers: A CAASM tool can help to find application servers that are contextually exposed for exploitation as well as identify owners based on login telemetry. From there, the server owner and security team can be notified. This integrated approach delivers comprehensive attack surface visibility and mapping.
  • Ensure access management: As noted above, NAC controls can accentuate CAASM tools so that authentication protocols are aiding in the effort to verify assets that have a right to be on the network. With CAASM, security personnel can leverage identity and access management (IAM) policies to quickly remediate incorrectly escalated privileges as well as better understand who and what are on the network.

Benefits of CAASM

The purpose of ASM is to shrink the so-called attack surface, so that there are fewer potential access points for a threat actor to breach the network. But as we’ve discussed here, more assets interacting with an enterprise network means a greater proliferation of access points.

Implementing an effective CAASM solution can help to mitigate these concerns as more assets come onto the network. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of such a solution:

  • Lower risk profile: With regard to security automation, IDC has noted, “using continuous automation tools to discover externally exposed assets helps an organization address risk in previously unknown assets with both a frequency and breadth that are possible only with automation.”
  • Reduce the size of the attack surface: It bears repeating: A shrunken attack surface is a smaller target for threat actors and potential breaches. Leveraging automation to plug vulnerabilities quickly as well as employing network access authentication tools can help a security organization achieve its goals as relates to shrinking its network attack surface.
  • Strengthen partnerships: As IT teams make it a habit of sharing data from assets hopping onto and off of the network, security teams can leverage the automation native to CAASM tools to sift through that data faster. This helps to create efficiencies in discovery of both vulnerabilities and any active exploitations.

A CAASM platform isn’t a plug-and-play solution to cyber asset management. Indeed, it will take the skill of experienced security practitioners to properly implement such a solution. But the value derived from a well-maintained and effective CAASM tool will mean a stronger and more secure network.