mega-menu-burger mega-menu-close

What Is Exposure Management?

LAST UPDATED: September 04, 2023

Picus Labs   By Picus Labs  •  September 01, 2023, 11 min read

This blog provides a comprehensive guide to Exposure Management, a critical element in enhancing an organization's security posture. It details a four-step strategy that involves a deep understanding of one's exposure and adversaries, assessing defenses, and augmenting threat readiness. Central to this approach is the Picus Security Control Validation Platform, indispensable for continually validating the efficacy of security controls and providing actionable insights for improvement. Additionally, our "What Is Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM)?" blog is an invaluable resource for organizations aiming to incorporate exposure management as a continuous practice, thereby ensuring resilience against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.

What Is Exposure in Cybersecurity?

Exposure in cybersecurity is the state of being susceptible to potential cyber attacks due to vulnerabilities or weaknesses in an organization's network, systems, or applications. It refers to the surface area where attacks can occur, encompassing all the potential points of entry that an adversary can exploit to gain unauthorized access, manipulate data, disrupt services, or cause other forms of harm. 

What Is the Difference Between Exposure and Vulnerability?

The difference between exposure and vulnerability lies in the nature of access they provide to threat actors. A vulnerability is a weakness, often a known software code error listed in the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) catalog, that can be actively exploited by hackers to gain direct unauthorized access to a system or network, such as through SQL injections (SQLi) or cross-site scripting (XSS). 

On the other hand, exposure refers to the conditions that allow threat actors to gain indirect access to a system or network, typically through layered, targeted attacks like phishing or software misconfigurations. For instance, an exposure could occur if an organization inadvertently leaves a database open to the internet, making sensitive data accessible without requiring any active exploitation of a vulnerability. This could lead to significant financial costs, reputational damage, and harm to stakeholders. Understanding the distinction between exposure and vulnerability is essential for developing targeted security strategies and maintaining a robust defense posture.

What Is Exposure Management?

Exposure management is a proactive cybersecurity approach that focuses on identifying, assessing, and addressing potential vulnerabilities and security risks before they can be exploited by adversaries. Rather than reacting to threats after they are acted upon, exposure management aims to reduce the "exposure" or attack surface by understanding and minimizing the weak points in a system, network, or organization.

Why Is Exposure Management Important?

Exposure management is a crucial cybersecurity approach because it systematically identifies and prioritizes vulnerabilities within an organization's environment before adversaries can exploit them.

By understanding the potential risks and weaknesses, organizations can develop more targeted and efficient security strategies. This proactive approach ensures that the most critical assets are well-protected, and resources are allocated optimally. Moreover, in an era of constantly evolving threats, exposure management provides clarity, enabling businesses to address vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. Ultimately, it's about minimizing risks, safeguarding data, and ensuring the continuity of business operations.

Exposure Management Lifecycle

Exposure management lifecycle consists of four main steps. 


Figure 1. Exposure Management Lifecycle

Step 1: Understand Your Exposure

Understanding your exposure is the first step of an exposure management program. This step can be divided into two sub-steps.

1. Identify the Attack Surface & Exploitable Entry Points

Identifying the attack surface and exploitable entry points of an organization can be categorized under four main sections.


Figure 2. Identifying the Attack Surface and Exploitable Entry Points

When we talk about Digital Assets, we're referring to the entire spectrum of an organization's digital touchpoints, right from servers, workstations, and network devices to applications, databases, cloud resources, and mobile devices. 

The importance of maintaining an up-to-date inventory of digital assets cannot be stressed enough. In an era where flexibility in the workplace has introduced concepts like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, the risk attached to these devices has grown proportionally. Additionally, as more organizations move their operations to the cloud, understanding the dynamics of cloud security, especially the areas of responsibility between the service provider and the organization, becomes essential.

Physical Assets paint a different picture. It's not just about computers and servers; it's about the rooms they reside in, the devices that can be plugged into them, and the printed data that can be taken out of them. The significance of having stringent access controls to sensitive areas within an organization's premises cannot be overlooked. A breach in the physical world can quickly translate into a digital catastrophe. Even seemingly benign devices, like USB drives, can carry malicious payloads, turning them into potential Trojan horses. Proper data handling, secure storage, and regular data disposal methods further fortify physical security.

Diving into People & Processes, we realize that technology, on its own, cannot guarantee security. The human factor plays a monumental role. Every individual who interacts with an organization's systems, whether they're employees, partners, or vendors, introduces a variable of risk. Continuous training programs that emphasize cybersecurity best practices can reduce the risk posed by human errors. Similarly, integrating security into the very fabric of organizational processes, especially in areas like software development, ensures a more holistic approach to security. It's essential to be as wary of internal threats as external ones. After all, a software development process that isn’t security-focused could inadvertently produce applications teeming with vulnerabilities.

Lastly, the realm of Dependencies highlights that an organization's security posture isn't solely determined by its internal protocols. Third-party vendors, software providers, and other external entities that integrate with an organization's ecosystem bring along their vulnerabilities. Regular assessments of these third parties, ensuring that the software they provide is up-to-date and patched, and having clear agreements in place outlining security expectations can help in managing this external risk.

2. Scope What Matters - Identifying Your Crown Jewels

Identifying your organization's crown jewels is pivotal. This means recognizing that not all data holds the same value. It's essential to classify data based on its sensitivity and business criticalness, with elements such as intellectual property, customer data, and financial records typically being paramount. 

Yet, this classification varies across businesses; what's crucial for one might be inconsequential for another. Equally significant are the business processes; some are so vital that disruptions could be disastrous, requiring prioritized security. This extends to infrastructure, where specific nodes, like primary servers or central databases, play a more critical role than others. And beyond tangible assets, an organization's reputation and brand image stand vulnerable. A security breach can tarnish these intangible assets, so understanding potential damages to brand equity is instrumental in shaping protective strategies.

Step 2: Understand Your Adversaries

In the second step of an exposure management program, organizations need to understand which adversaries are particularly targeting their region and/or sector. This step can be categorized into two main aspects.

1. Gain Visibility into Adversary Targeting & TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures)

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) play a central role in improving an organization’s security posture, particularly in how threats and vulnerabilities are understood and addressed. Mapped to frameworks like MITRE ATT&CK, TTPs provide a structured way to capture the attack behavior of adversaries. By understanding the specific TTPs of potential threats, organizations can develop and refine their defense strategies.

When crafting Adversary Emulation plans, a deep understanding of TTPs is indispensable. Adversary emulation plans involve simulating realistic attack scenarios that mimics the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of particular adversaries to evaluate the readiness of existing security controls of an organization and improve its security postures. Leveraging accurate TTPs in these simulations ensures the emulation is as close to real-world threat scenarios as possible.

Moreover, knowledge about specific adversaries, especially their motivations and the regions or sectors they target, is critical. If an adversary predominantly targets financial institutions in North America, then a bank in that region would need to be particularly vigilant. Recognizing the specific motivations and preferences of these threat actors allows organizations to assess their risk profile more accurately and prioritize their defense strategies accordingly.

2. Up-to-Date Cyber Threat Intelligence

Cyber threat intelligence provides timely and relevant data that informs an organization's exposure management program. By accessing real-time information from sources like threat intelligence platforms, malware dumps, and exploit databases, organizations can get an accurate view of both known and emerging threats and vulnerabilities that particularly affect their region and/or sector or systems

This up-to-date intelligence data helps in identifying active attack patterns, understanding adversary tactics, and making informed decisions to prevent potential security breaches. In a nutshell, keeping pace with the latest threat intelligence is essential for organizations aiming to maintain a strong security posture and minimize risks.


Figure 3. Picus Complete Security Control Validation Threat Library

At Picus Security, our red team engineers conduct continuous cyber threat intelligence (CTI) research to identify the latest threats observed in the wild. They then add attack simulations to the Threat Library on Picus Continuous Security Control Validation, which safely mimic the behaviors of malicious actions by adversaries.

Step 3: Assess Defenses

1. Validate Security Control Effectiveness

Implementing security controls is a crucial step in securing your organization, but it's only part of the battle. Organizations must ensure that their existing security controls are functioning as intended and are effective against real-world threats. Security control validation involves proactively validating these controls by regularly testing them against the latest threats observed in the wild. This testing involves running attack simulations that safely mimic the behavior of the attack lifecycle and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of adversaries to assess how well your defenses will react to a possible attack scenario.

Tools like the Picus Complete Security Validation Platform are invaluable in this regard. They enable your organization to simulate a wide range of attack scenarios and malicious actions, ensuring your defenses remain robust and up-to-date against the most recent and relevant attacks. This proactive approach not only validates the effectiveness of the implemented security controls but also helps in identifying and rectifying any potential weaknesses before they can be exploited by adversaries. Ultimately, this is about ensuring the integrity of your external attack surface and making sure your organization is as resilient as possible against potential cyber threats.

2. Quantify the Value and Effectiveness 

Continuously bolstering the defense measures is a critical objective for any organization, and a key component of this process is accurately measuring the effectiveness of its security controls and teams. A quantifiable security effectiveness score is essential as it provides a data-driven reflection of an organization's security posture. 

For example, let's assume a customer ran a simulation using the Picus Security Control Validation Platform. This platform provides comprehensive metrics, such as the 'OVERALL PREVENTION RESULTS' and 'OVERALL DETECTION RESULTS'. The 'Prevention Results' are calculated based on the number of threats that were blocked versus those not blocked, while the 'Detection Results' are based on the number of threats that were alerted versus not alerted.


Figure 5. Picus Complete Security Control Validation Overall Prevention and Detection Results

In this scenario, over the last week, the customer observed an increase in their overall prevention score, contrasting with a slight decrease in their overall detection score. These results are compared with the Weekly Picus Average Scores. Such detailed metrics provide not only an insightful snapshot of the current effectiveness of the organization's security controls but also enable a comparison with industry averages, guiding necessary adjustments to strengthen defenses.

Step 4: Improve Your Readiness

The final stage of the Exposure Management Program is dedicated to bolstering your organization's readiness against a spectrum of threats, both known and emerging, that specifically target your organization's region or sector. For any organization, enhancing threat exposure readiness is a multifaceted task that extends beyond merely identifying and understanding vulnerabilities. It demands a persistent and comprehensive effort towards strengthening all aspects of cybersecurity: mitigation, prevention, detection, and response. This could involve deploying new technologies, optimizing current processes, or investing in staff training.


Figure 6.  Picus Complete Security Control Validation Provides Vendor-Based Prevention Signatures

For instance, the Picus Security Control Validation Platform provides vendor-based prevention mitigation suggestions for all commonly used defense solutions and firewalls. It offers vendor-based prevention signatures even for the latest threats, advanced persistent threat (APT) groups, or attack campaigns observed by our dedicated blue team engineers. 


Figure 6.  Picus Complete Security Control Validation Provides Detection Rule Suggestions

Additionally, the platform provides detection rules for a variety of platforms such as Splunk, IBM QRadar, and also includes Sigma rules, among others. These features ensure that your defenses are not only robust but also up-to-date and in line with the most recent threats and industry best practices.

For instance, one of the detection rules provided by Picus is for 'Screensaver Path Change via Rundll32', which is identified as a high-severity rule. This rule is designed to monitor and alert on instances where the screensaver path is changed via 'rundll32.exe', a technique often employed by adversaries to execute malicious screensavers. The rule queries the Windows Security Event logs for events with the EventCode '4688' (a new process has been created) and specifically filters for the 'rundll32.exe' process with command line parameters indicative of a screensaver path change. This rule, among others, is part of the comprehensive set of detection rules provided by the Picus platform, aimed at ensuring your organization's defenses are not only robust but also up-to-date and aligned with the most recent threats and industry best practices.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are the most asked questions about Exposure Management
What is The Meaning of Exposure Management?
Exposure management is a proactive approach in cybersecurity that involves identifying, assessing, and addressing potential vulnerabilities and risks before they can be exploited by adversaries. It aims to minimize the attack surface by understanding and reducing weak points in a system, network, or organization. This approach is crucial for developing targeted and efficient security strategies, safeguarding data, ensuring business continuity, and ultimately minimizing risks by addressing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.
How Does Exposure Differ From Vulnerability?
Exposure and vulnerability are related but distinct concepts. A vulnerability is a known weakness that can be actively exploited by an attacker to gain direct unauthorized access to a system or network. Exposure, on the other hand, refers to conditions that allow threat actors to gain indirect access, often through inadvertent actions or misconfigurations. Exposure management focuses on minimizing these conditions, whereas vulnerability management focuses on identifying and patching known vulnerabilities.
How can Organizations Reduce Their Threat Exposure?
Organizations can reduce their threat exposure by implementing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that includes regular risk assessments, maintaining an up-to-date inventory of assets, implementing robust security controls, continuous monitoring of their environment, and regular training of employees. Additionally, leveraging tools like Picus Security's Control Validation Platform can help in continuously validating the effectiveness of security controls and providing actionable insights for necessary refinements.
Please click here to see the references

[1] Specops Software, “MFA Fatigue attacks are putting your organization at risk,” BleepingComputer. Available: [Accessed: Aug. 23, 2023]

[2] S. Ozarslan, “Simulating and Preventing CVE-2021-44228 Apache Log4j RCE Exploits,” Dec. 10, 2021. Available: [Accessed: Aug. 21, 2023]

[3] “Gartner Identifies Top Security and Risk Management Trends for 2022,” Gartner. Available: [Accessed: Aug. 21, 2023]

[4] “Overview.” Available: [Accessed: Aug. 21, 2023]

Table of Contents:

The Red Report 2023

The Top 10 MITRE ATT&CK Techniques Used by Adversaries