Double Your Threat Blocking in 90 Days
By Picus Labs • October 10, 2023, 11 min read
As the IT infrastructure of organizations becomes more complex and the threat landscape constantly evolves—with adversaries deploying increasingly stealthy and sophisticated malware in their attack campaigns—organizations that rely on a reactive security approach are destined to fail. In contrast, organizations with data-driven visibility into their security posture can proactively identify business-critical risks present in their IT and security environments. This allows them to take remediation and mitigation actions before potential vulnerabilities are exploited by an adversary.
In this blog, we discuss security posture and the components that constitute an organization's cybersecurity posture. These components include asset visibility, attack surface, security control effectiveness, incident response, and risk management.
An organization's security posture is the collective and comprehensive measure of the security status of all its software, hardware, services, networks, information, third-party vendors, and service providers. It represents the organization's ability to manage and mitigate cybersecurity risk and is indicative of the effectiveness of the protective mechanisms, policies, procedures, and operations instituted to safeguard its assets.
Therefore, security posture includes the organization's capacity to
considering various attack vectors, vulnerabilities, and the overall attack surface that adversaries could exploit. Hence, the security posture of an organization should be continually assessed and enhanced through the strategic implementation of security controls, continuous monitoring, and risk assessments to ensure optimal resilience against evolving cyber threats.
There are mainly five components of an organization that make up the security posture of an organization.
Visibility and Asset Inventory
Security Controls and Effectiveness
Attack Surface and Attack Vectors
Incident Response and Risk Management
Employee Training and Awareness
In the next sections, we are going to deep dive into these two components and provide industry-level suggestions to harden your security posture.
Asset visibility provides a foundational framework for both risk management and vulnerability management within an organization. By having a comprehensive and up-to-date inventory of assets, including third-party software or devices like routers and switches, organizations are equipped to identify potential vulnerabilities on these assets and understand their impact.
In this section, we'll delve into how comprehensive visibility into organizational assets can bolster risk
to organizations while giving real-life examples regarding the listed topics.
Figure 1. Asset Visibility and Attack Surface of an Organization
Accurate asset visibility allows security teams to assess the inherent risks associated with each asset.
Imagine a third-party router positioned at a critical junction of a telecommunications network, responsible for routing voice and data traffic for a major city.
If this router contains a vulnerability, it could be exploited to disrupt communication services, causing widespread service outages and affecting emergency services, businesses, and individuals. On the other hand, a high-severity vulnerability in a test server used for new software rollouts, separate from the main network, poses less immediate operational risk. By having precise asset visibility, telecom security teams can better gauge the real-world implications of vulnerabilities in their infrastructure and prioritize their remediation efforts accordingly.
To highlight the importance of this, consider two real-life examples:
The SolarWinds Hack (2020): Russian hackers compromised a third-party software provider, SolarWinds, and introduced malicious code into its Orion software platform . This allowed them to infiltrate the networks of numerous government agencies and corporations, including some telecommunications companies.
Attack on Partner Comms (2020): This Israeli telecommunications company faced an attack where intruders exploited a vulnerability in the Signaling System 7 (SS7) protocol . This let them intercept and redirect phone calls and text messages, ultimately allowing them to steal the identities of cryptocurrency executives and extort money from them.
Both these instances underscore the dire consequences of overlooking vulnerabilities in critical assets, further emphasizing the need for comprehensive asset visibility in the telecommunications sector.
Tied directly to risk assessment, asset visibility plays a pivotal role in the vulnerability management lifecycle, guiding teams on which vulnerabilities to address first.
Consider the following real-life situation.
Consider a large online retailer that manages both its main e-commerce platform and a separate blog site for company updates.
A vulnerability detected on the e-commerce platform, which processes millions of transactions daily, would naturally take precedence over a vulnerability on the company's blog site. This prioritization stems from the potential business impact: while a breach on the blog site may harm the company's image, a breach on the e-commerce platform could result in massive financial losses and erode customer trust. Thus, by understanding the role and significance of each asset, teams can more effectively prioritize their remediation efforts.
In the event of a security incident or breach, having a clear understanding of the assets ensures a more efficient and effective response. Security teams can quickly determine which assets are affected, the potential business impact, and the required remediation steps.
Let us examine the following real-life scenario.
Imagine a global financial institution with multiple branches and a vast digital infrastructure, from online banking portals to internal databases housing sensitive customer information.
In the event of a security incident, such as unauthorized access detected on their servers, having a clear understanding of the assets is paramount. If the security team knows immediately that the breach occurred on a server dedicated to marketing materials, they can react differently than if the breach was on a server containing customer financial data. With detailed asset visibility, they can swiftly pinpoint which parts of their infrastructure are affected, gauge the potential business and reputational impact, and orchestrate the necessary remediation steps. Without this insight, precious time might be lost, further escalating the risks and potential damages.
With complete asset visibility, organizations can continually monitor and assess new threats as they emerge, ensuring that even vulnerabilities on third-party devices are identified and managed proactively.
Let's delve into this real-world example.
Consider a renowned hospital network that employs a vast array of medical devices, from MRI machines to patient monitoring systems, many of which are manufactured by third parties.
With complete asset visibility, the hospital's IT team is not just aware of each device but also its origin, software version, and connectivity. When news breaks of a newly discovered vulnerability in a specific model of a patient monitoring system - one that they have deployed in several of their critical care units - they're immediately alerted. Because they've maintained a vigilant monitoring process, they can quickly assess the threat, determine which devices in their network are vulnerable, and work with the manufacturer to apply the necessary patches or protective measures. Without this comprehensive asset visibility, the hospital might remain unaware of the risk, potentially endangering patient lives and the institution's reputation.
Security Controls, along with their effectiveness, stand as fundamental components that define an organization's security posture. When we discuss "security control effectiveness," we are referring to the degree of efficiency with which the organization's implemented security measures identify and react to threats. This not only includes the preventive measures in place but also the detection layers of security solutions that safeguard against cyber threats.
Figure 2. Security Effectiveness Score of Prevention and Detection Layer Solutions Assessed by Picus Security
A high rating in security control effectiveness directly elevates the comprehensive security posture of an organization. Therefore, the state of readiness and efficacy of these defense layers remains a crucial indicator of the overall security health of an organization.
An attack vector is a distinct technique or method that adversaries utilize to meet their malicious objectives, be it unauthorized entry into a network, theft of confidential data, or disruption of business processes.
Taken collectively, these attack vectors form an organization's "attack surface" – a comprehensive overview of all potential vulnerabilities and entry points an attacker might exploit. The size and complexity of this attack surface is directly proportional to the organization's risk exposure. A larger, unmanaged attack surface can indicate greater vulnerabilities, thus affecting the organization's security posture negatively. Conversely, a well-understood and minimized attack surface reflects a proactive and mature security approach.
Therefore, understanding and managing the attack surface isn't just about identifying potential vulnerabilities; it's a critical component in assessing and strengthening an organization's overall security stance.
Incident response and risk management are foundational elements in shaping an organization's security posture.
Incident response is the structured approach detailing the processes to follow when a cybersecurity incident occurs. A swift and effective incident response not only mitigates the immediate threats but also aids in understanding the vulnerabilities, ultimately refining security measures for future threats.
On the other hand, risk management involves
to ensure that they are controlled within acceptable levels. Organizations continuously work to pinpoint and eliminate risks, especially those deemed critical to business operations. By proactively addressing these business-critical risks, organizations not only safeguard their assets but also enhance stakeholder confidence. In essence, the proficiency with which an organization manages incidents and navigates its risk landscape is a direct reflection of the strength and maturity of its security posture.
Employee training is an integral component of an organization's security posture. As human error remains a leading cause of security breaches, equipping staff with the knowledge and skills to recognize and counteract cyber threats is paramount.
Through consistent training and awareness programs, employees transform from potential vulnerabilities into an organization's first line of defense, reinforcing its overall cybersecurity framework and readiness against evolving threats.
Strengthening an organization's security posture is imperative in today's complex digital landscape. Below, you will find main practices implemented to increase an organization’s security posture.
Analyze Your Current Security Posture
Begin by conducting a comprehensive audit of your current security strategies, tools, and protocols. This analysis serves as a baseline, allowing you to gauge the effectiveness of your current defenses and understand where improvements can be made.
Security Posture Assessment
After the initial analysis, delve deeper to identify possible gaps or vulnerabilities. A thorough security posture assessment will reveal weak points, outdated protocols, and any areas that may be susceptible to cyber threats. This could range from outdated software to inadequate access controls or even lax employee training.
Security Posture Transformation
Once gaps are identified, it's time to take decisive action. Implement updated protocols, invest in state-of-the-art security tools, and consider integrating emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning for real-time threat detection and mitigation. The transformation phase is not just about patching vulnerabilities but evolving your entire security strategy to be more proactive and adaptive.
Employee Training and Awareness
As the first line of defense, employees play a critical role in an organization's security posture. Ensure they receive regular, updated training on the latest threats and best practices. Awareness programs can help reinforce the importance of security protocols, turning staff into vigilant sentinels rather than potential weak links.
Stay Updated with Compliance and Regulations
Adhering to industry standards and regulations demonstrates your organization's commitment to cybersecurity. Regularly reviewing and aligning with these standards ensures that your practices not only avoid penalties but also adopt best practices recognized globally.
Finally, improving your security posture is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Implement continuous monitoring systems to keep an eye on network activities, ensuring that any irregularities are quickly detected and addressed.
For an enhanced security posture, continuous monitoring of the environment is indispensable. In the dynamic landscape of cybersecurity, threats evolve rapidly, and vulnerabilities can emerge at any moment. Only through persistent monitoring can organizations proactively detect, respond to, and mitigate these risks. This vigilant oversight ensures that defenses are always updated, resilient, and prepared to counter both existing and emerging threats, solidifying the organization's security foundation.
Constant Vigilance & Maintenance:
Use of SIEM Tools:
What they do: Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tools gather and centralize data from different parts of an organization.
Why they're crucial: By analyzing security alerts in real-time, SIEM tools help in detecting possible security incidents. Their centralized perspective aids in identifying patterns or unusual activities that might indicate a breach or other security event.
Leveraging SOAR Tools:
What they do: Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) tools manage security threats by collecting data and, where appropriate, automating responses.
Benefits: Routine threats can be managed without human intervention, freeing up your security team to deal with more intricate and challenging threats. As a result, the time to respond to incidents can be drastically reduced.
Employing EDR Tools:
What they do: Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) tools are specialized in monitoring endpoint devices like laptops or smartphones.
Why they're important: As many threats target individual devices, EDR tools help detect and investigate any unusual activities or breaches on these devices swiftly. Given the prevalence of remote work and the wide use of personal devices in professional contexts, having a vigilant eye on endpoints is paramount.
Reporting & Communication:
What it entails: It's not just about having the tools but also about effectively communicating the state of security to stakeholders.
Benefits: Regular updates ensure everyone is on the same page regarding the organization's security status. This clarity supports informed decisions, especially when allocating resources for further security endeavors.
 S. Oladimeji and S. M. Kerner, “SolarWinds hack explained: Everything you need to know,” WhatIs.com, Jun. 27, 2023. Available: https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/feature/SolarWinds-hack-explained-Everything-you-need-to-know. [Accessed: Oct. 04, 2023]
 S. Haig, “Telecoms protocol from 1975 exploited to target 20 crypto executives,” Cointelegraph, Oct. 20, 2020. Available: https://cointelegraph.com/news/telecoms-protocol-from-1975-exploited-to-target-20-crypto-executives. [Accessed: Oct. 04, 2023]
Understand the 4 trade-offs limiting security teams in managing their organization's threat exposure.