Corporate and cloud infrastructures more at risk than ever from expanded attack surfaces: report

Published: Wednesday, 16 June 2021 10:41

Zscaler, Inc., has published ‘Exposed’, a global report on the state of corporate attack surfaces. Based on data sourced between February 2020 and April 2021, the report provides a look at the impact of attack surface exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the report, Zscaler notes that as businesses began offering more remote work options, their attack surfaces grew concurrently with their dispersed workforce. Coupled with increased reliance on public cloud services and vulnerable enterprise VPNs, large organizations not using zero trust security became more vulnerable to network intrusion attacks.

Exposed identifies the most common attack surface trends by geography and company size while spotlighting the industries most vulnerable to public cloud exposure, malware, ransomware, and data breaches. 

“The sheer amount of information that is being shared today is concerning because it is all essentially an attack surface,” said Nathan Howe, Vice President, Emerging Technology at Zscaler. “Anything that can be accessed can be exploited by unauthorized or malicious users, creating new risks for businesses that don’t have complete awareness and control of their network exposure. Our goal with this report is to provide a view of what the Internet sees of a company’s information landscape and offer useful tips on how to mitigate risk. By understanding their individual attack surfaces and deploying appropriate security measures, including zero trust architecture, companies can better protect their application infrastructure from recurring vulnerabilities that allow attackers to steal data, sabotage systems, or hold networks hostage for ransom.”

While attack surface vulnerabilities impact organizations of all sizes, major international companies with more than 20,000 employees are more vulnerable due to their distributed workforce, infrastructure, and greater number of applications that need to be managed. To better understand the scale of the problem, Zscaler analyzed organizations in all geographies, partitioning the findings from 53 countries into three regions for ease of understanding - the Americas, EMEA, and APAC. 
EMEA at Risk

The report found that while 59 percent of surveyed organizations were based in the Americas, the EMEA region led the world in overall exposure and potential risk, with 164 CVE vulnerabilities. EMEA-based businesses had the most exposed servers, with an average of 283 exposed servers and 52 exposed public cloud instances each. They were also more likely to support outdated SSL/TLS protocols and had greater risk of CVE vulnerabilities on average. The EMEA region was followed by the Americas, with 132 CVE’s (20 percent lower than EMEA), and APAC, with an average of 80 CVE possible vulnerabilities (51 percent lower than EMEA).

Top exposed industries

In addition to presenting geographic data, the report tracked corporate attack surfaces by industry, pinpointing the types of organizations most likely to be targeted by cybercriminals. The report analyzed a diverse group of companies, spanning 23 different industries, and found that telecommunications organizations were the most vulnerable and had the highest average number of outdated protocols in their servers. Telecom companies had the third highest average of exposed servers to the Internet, increasing the risk of being targeted by cybercriminals for DDoS and double extortion ransomware attacks.

The report also showed that the hospitality industry - including restaurants, bars, and food service vendors - had the highest average of exposed servers and public cloud instances; with AWS instances exposed 2.9 times more often than any other cloud providers. With the COVID-19 pandemic pushing many restaurants to offer online ordering, the rapid adoption of digital payment systems has increased risks for both businesses and customers.

What can my organization do to reduce its attack surface?

With the number of cyber attacks increasing, business IT teams must minimize their attack surface as part of an overall organizational security policy. Without comprehensive security measures, such as a zero-trust model, digital transformation initiatives and cloud migration efforts can also create new vectors of attack and threaten business continuity, professional reputation, and employee safety. Although no approach will be completely effective, Zscaler recommends the following tips for minimizing corporate network risks:

More details.