The Attack Surface Mapping guide for Ethical Hackers

The below is how Abraham Lincoln responded to the question: What if you only had 8 hours to cut a tree? I would spend 6 of those hours sharpening my axe.

This article explains how to map the attack surface in a precise and realistic way. An attack surface aims to figure out which areas of a system must be examined and analyzed for security loopholes; to inform developers and security professionals to mitigate the threat.

Mapping the system’s attack surface is a practice that enables you to think about most of your assets and their value. DNS Lookup, WHOIS Lookup, etc., techniques help to map the attack surface.

Let’s get going to have a proper understanding of Attack Surface Mapping.

What is an Attack Surface?

The Attack Surface is a term that defines all the various points where an intruder might gain access to a system and access information.

These flaws are usually associated with a system’s privacy issues. A simple security measure is to make the attack surface as minimal as practicable.

What About the Attack Surface Types?

There are two kinds of attack surfaces: the digital and the physical attack surface.

Since these dual attack surfaces intersect and are linked, it is critical to protect them together. Web services, networks, networking protocols, and domain names are all part of the digital attack surface. The physical attack surface refers to the external threats against an organization, such as building windows, manufacturing services, or a flame.

Visualize an Attack Surface

As per Skybox Security’s white paper, there are three measures to grasp and visualize an attack surface.

  • To envision a company’s infrastructure by mapping out all the systems, routes, and channels.
  • To compare each indication of a weakness that reveals to its last step’s visualized chart.
  • Look for compromise measures. It is a sign that a threat is already accomplishing.

How Can You Assess Your Attack Surface?

Identifying your information system’s attack surface is a challenge that allows you to consider most of your resources and the importance they have. To build a global map, you will need to do the following:

  • List down
    • External and known servers like FTP, SSH, etc.
    • DNS records, sub-domains, etc.
    • Different software as well as their variants.
  • Take account of physical access to the corporation’s properties (structures, system robbery, manufacturing facility, etc.).
  • Look for more networks and servers to exploit after identifying all hosts of an organization.
  • Consider a standard web server; the open ports themselves (HTTP, RDP, etc.) are all sources of threat. It is crucial to map out the virtual clients operating on the server; web apps running on any of them are also an attack vector.
  • Most domains have a DNS server, SMTP server, etc. While evaluating the attack surface, these would be the first reference point. Using DNS lookup and WHOIS, map out where the A records, MX records, and DNS records services get housed.

How Can You Assess Your Attack Surface


DNS Lookup

To locate the IP address of a specific domain name, use a DNS lookup method. The IP addresses in the DNS records obtained from name servers include in the outcome. Two categories to DNS lookups:

  • Forward DNS lookup.

The Forward DNS lookup or basic DNS lookup is a widely use DNS method. Discovering a domain’s IP address is the forward method to DNS.

  • Reverse DNS lookup.

The procedure is similar in a reverse DNS lookup, only that it begins via an IP address and ends with the domain name.

IP Netblocks

IP netblocks are sets of IP addresses that belong to a specific server. Regional Internet Registry (RIRs) allocate IP blocks to netblock users who are usually ISPs and big firms with many IP addresses.

WHOIS Lookup

Whois is a popular Internet database. It outlines who possesses a domain name, IP address, etc. Whois databases are valuable and have become an indispensable tool for ensuring the legality of the domain name registry and website management procedures. A Whois database includes all the contact details for the user, community, or organization that owns a domain name.

Mitigate Attack Surface?

Monitor the attack surface and determine the threats involved with it until you know what it is. Once the attack surface is crucial, the inventory also aids in the prioritization of the components to secure. Identifying the attack surface helps in reducing it and implement appropriate defenses. With fewer potential attack sources, defense measures get focus, resulting in increased security. A few recommendations are:

  • Delete unnecessary files and documents.
  • Monitor network devices and logs.
  • Segment the networks.
  • Strong passwords.
  • Monthly awareness training for employees.
  • Monitor zero-day vulnerabilities.
  • Apply patches on vulnerable systems.
  • Use Honeypots.

Privacy – like eating and breathing – is one of life’s basic requirements. ~Katherine Neville

Sana Qazi
Sana Qazi is a technical writer specialized in Information Security. She enjoys writing about technology and reading multiple genres like suspense. When not writing, she can be found traveling, dinning out, watching series etc. She manages her medium blog as well.

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