What is an attack surface?

Attack surface refers to all the points of entry and potential vulnerabilities an attacker can use to exploit or breach a system, network, or application.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • Learn what an attack surface is
  • Understand the importance of an attack surface
  • Gain strategies to reduce your attack surface

Copy article link

What is an attack surface, and why is it important?

An attack surface is all the points of entry and vulnerabilities an attacker can exploit to infiltrate a network or a system. It is essentially like all the doors and windows in a house — the more doors and windows a house has, the more potential entry points for a break-in. Understanding a network’s attack surface is critical — by knowing where the vulnerabilities are and monitoring it accordingly, an organization can reduce their attack surface and make it much harder for attackers to penetrate and compromise systems.

What is an attack surface versus an attack vector?

An attack surface is different from an attack vector. An attack vector is the method - the way for attackers to enter a network or a system. For example, common attack vectors include social engineering attacks, credential theft, vulnerability exploits, and insufficient protection against insider threats, while the attack surface are all the different entry points attackers can use to launch an attack.

What are the components of an attack surface?

Attack surface components are the elements within a network that can be targeted or exploited. There are three main components of an attack surface — digital, physical, and social.

  • Digital attack surface includes networks and services, such as ports, codes and wireless connections.
  • Physical attack surface includes endpoint devices like USB ports and laptops.
  • Social engineering attack surface refers to targeting personnel or employees such as phishing or ransomware attempts.

What is attack surface management?

Attack surface management is a critical part of maintaining a robust cybersecurity posture, and incorporates actively identifying, accessing, and reducing vulnerabilities within an organization’s network to reduce attack surfaces and minimize risks of breaches. For example, an attack surface management for a computer system starts with identifying all the entry points that a hacker can get access to, such as software vulnerabilities, weak passwords, or network connections. Once the entry points are identified, security personnel analyze the vulnerabilities and implement strategies to reduce risk, such as updating software, enhancing authentication methods, or configuring firewalls.

What is attack surface monitoring?

A key part of attack surface management is attack surface monitoring, or the continuous monitoring of an organization’s attack surface in real time or near real time. Continuous observation and analysis of the different components of an attack surface helps to detect and respond to potential security risks and adapt to emerging threats.

What strategies can organizations implement to reduce their attack surface?

There are many strategies an organization can implement to reduce their attack surface, including, but not limited to:

  • Regular vulnerability assessment and penetration testing to identify system weakness and keeping software and operating systems up to date with the latest security patches
  • Implementing a Zero Trust strategy that limits access to only the most essential functions or personnel
Cloudflare’s Zero Trust platform consolidates impactful technology solutions to reduce attack surfaces, including Zero Trust Network Access, Secure Web Gateway, Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), and DNS filtering – all into a single, natively integrated platform.