With thousands of assets in your enterprise and each susceptible to a myriad of attack vectors, there are millions of ways by which your enterprise can be breached. There is a multifold increase in cybersecurity complexity, security teams are drowning in cybersecurity data with few actionable insights and general poor cybersecurity hygiene.

So how can InfoSec teams wrap their arms around these challenges and protect their enterprise? Your first line of defense against the adversary is a good security posture.

This guide on security posture will cover:

  • What is security posture
  • 3 key steps to assess your security posture
  • How to improve your security posture

What is security posture and how to improve
Conceptual digram of security posture

What is security posture

An enterprise’s security posture refers to the overall security status of your software and hardware assets, networks, services, and information. It also includes:

  • The controls and measure you have in place to protect your enterprise from cyber-attacks
  • Your ability to manage your defenses
  • Your readiness and ability to react to and recover from security events.

A conceptual diagram representing your security posture would look something like this:

Inventory of IT Assets

At the very core of understanding your security posture is an accurate inventory of all your assets, including both core and perimeter assets. This includes on-premises, cloud, mobile, and 3rd party assets; managed and unmanaged assets; applications and infrastructure, catalogued based on geographic location. It is important to understand the business criticality of each asset as well, as this is an important component of calculating breach risk.

Effectiveness of current security controls

Surrounding this core is an enumeration of your existing security controls, deployed to manage your defenses. Inherent in this enumeration is also an understanding of how effective these controls are in reducing your cyber risk.

Risk Items and Attack Vectors

Outside of that circle are the various risk items and attack vectors. Attack vectors are the methods that adversaries use to breach or infiltrate your network. Attack vectors take many different forms, ranging from malware and ransomware, to man-in-the-middle attacks, compromised credentials, and phishing. Some attack vectors target weaknesses in your security and overall infrastructure, others target weaknesses in the humans that have access to your network.

Recommended reading: 8 Common Cyber Attack Vectors and How to Avoid It

This combination of your inventory, security controls, and defenses against numerous attack vectors makes up your attack surface. Your attack surface is represented by all of the points on your network where an adversary can attempt to gain entry to your information systems. Basically, any technique that a human can use to gain unauthorized access to your company’s data via any asset.

And keep in mind that risk extends beyond unpatched software vulnerabilities (CVEs). Your ability to monitor your assets in risk areas such as unpatched software, password issues, misconfigurations, encryption issues, phishing, web and ransomware, denial of service attacks and many others is the mainstay of your security posture.

The stronger and more resilient your security posture, the lower your cyber risk and greater your cyber-resilience.

Therefore, understanding the full scope of your security posture and correctly prioritizing areas of relevant risk is essential to protecting your organization against breaches.

To understand and optimize your security posture, you need to:

  • Analyze your current security posture
  • Identify possible gaps (Security posture assessment)
  • Take action to eliminate those gaps (Security posture transformation)

The Definitive Guide to Security Posture

What is security posture assessment

Security posture assessment is the first step in understanding where you currently are in your cybersecurity journey. To understand and transform your current security posture, you need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • How secure is our organization?
  • How comprehensive is our cybersecurity strategy?
  • How bullet-proof are our cybersecurity controls?
  • Can we accurately measure breach risk and cyber-resilience?
  • How effective is our vulnerability management program?
  • How vulnerable are we to potential breaches and attacks?

3 keys steps in security posture assessment

Before trying to improve security posture, you first need to assess your current security posture. So let’s explore how you can do that in 3 steps:

  1. Get an accurate IT asset Inventory
  2. Map your attack surface
  3. Understand your cyber risk

1. Get an accurate IT asset Inventory

The first step in security posture assessment is getting an inventory of your IT assets.

IT asset is any device, application, service, or cloud instance that has access to your enterprise network or data.

You need an accurate and up to date count of all hardware, software, and network assets in your enterprise. However, being aware of an asset isn’t sufficient. You also need to know detailed information about each asset and whether or not that asset is a risk. This involves:

  • Categorizing assets by type of asset, role, and geo location including in-depth information like software and hardware details, status of ports, user accounts, roles, and services linked to that asset
  • Determining business criticality of each asset
  • Ensuring that all assets are running properly licensed and updated software while adhering to overall security policy
  • Continuously monitoring them to get a real time picture of their risk profile and their lifecycle management
  • Creating triggered actions whenever an asset deviates from enterprise security policy
  • Deciding which assets should be decommissioned if no longer updated or being used

Getting an accurate IT asset inventory is foundational to your security posture. The ability to track and audit your inventory is a baseline requirement for most security standards, including the CIS Top 20, HIPAA, and PCI. Having an accurate, up-to-date asset inventory also ensures your company can keep track of the type and age of hardware in use. By keeping track of this information, you are more easily able to identify technology gaps and refresh cycles. As systems begin to age, and are no longer supported by the manufacturer, they present a security risk to your organization as a whole. Unsupported software that no longer receives updates from the manufacturer brings the risk of not being monitored for new vulnerabilities and implementation of patches.

See how Balbix can automatically discover and inventory all your assets.

2. Map your attack surface

The second most important aspect of your security posture is measurement and mapping of your attack surface. So, what is your enterprise attack surface and how can you measure it?

Your attack surface is represented by all of the points on your network where an adversary can attempt to gain entry to your information systems. For a medium to large sized enterprise, the attack surface can be gigantic. Hundreds of thousands of assets potentially targeted by hundreds of attack vectors can mean that your attack surface is made up of tens of millions to hundreds of billions of signals that must be monitored at all times.

The x-y plot below is your attack surface. In a typical breach, the adversary uses some point on this attack surface to compromise an (Internet facing) asset. Other points are then used to move laterally across the enterprise, compromise some valuable asset, and then to exfiltrate data or do some damage.

enterprise attack surface
Enterprise attack surface

Recommended reading: What is attack surface and how to manage it.

3. Understanding cyber risk

Final step in security posture assessment is understanding your cyber risk. Cyber risk has an inverse relationship with your security posture. As your security posture becomes more robust and stronger, your cyber risk decreases proportionally.

Risk is defined as the probability of a loss event (likelihood) multiplied by the magnitude of loss resulting from that loss event (impact). Cyber risk is the probability of exposure or potential loss resulting from a cyberattack or data breach.

Traditional risk calculation methods are typically based on CVSS score and a simple business impact model (high, medium, low). A major drawback of this approach is that it prioritizes based on severity, not by risk to your business. Severity doesn’t prioritize issues that need to be addressed first, leading to wasted effort.

A more accurate and actionable risk calculation method uses 5 factors –

Risk = Likelihood x Business Impact
  1. Vulnerability severity
  2. Threat level
  3. Business criticality
  4. Exposure/usage to the risk
  5. Risk-negating effect of any compensating controls an enterprise has in place

This results in very accurate prioritization and helps you avoid needless busy work fixing low priority issues.

To accurately measure and ultimately improve your security posture, you need to first understand and calculate your likelihood of breach and secondly, figure out the potential impact of a breach, a function of business criticality of assets.

5 steps to improve your security posture

Cybersecurity presents some unique challenges like a vast attack surface, tens of thousands of IT assets, a hundreds of ways in which organizations can be breached.

What is security posture and how to understand it
How to understand your security posture

To improve your security posture, you need to:

  1. Discover and create a real time inventory of all your enterprise IT assets
  2. Continuously observe and monitor your inventory across a broad range of attack vectors like unpatched software, phishing, misconfigurations, password issues etc.
  3. Analyze observations to derive risk insights and predict where you are likely to be breached
  4. Prioritize vulnerabilities based on business criticality, ongoing threats, exposure, existing controls and provide prescriptive action items
  5. Continually measure and track security posture improvements

Balbix BreachControl continuously discovers and monitors all asset types and attack vectors, analyzes this information to predict likely breach scenarios, prioritizes security issues based on business risk and guides you on the appropriate mitigation steps to address issues.

Comprehensive approach to security posture

When thinking about security posture, it’s important to remember that security is a journey, not a destination. Many organizations think that purchasing the latest security tools will help them strengthen their security posture. However, security requires a much more comprehensive approach than that. Fractured point solutions leave you exposed and limit economies of scale. The starting point is first evaluating your current security posture to figure out where your gaps are and then taking action to optimize it.

Continuous fine-tuning to improve security posture

Once your organization sets a benchmark, you need to continually adjust your security posture to align with a changing environment. Your attack surface needs to be carefully monitored across the ever-evolving cyber landscape. As security and IT teams introduce critical configurations and security controls, management will be a critical success factor over time. A single audit of a configuration in the deployment of a new system is an important beginning phase, but it’s equally important to confirm that the initial deployment configurations are still accurate and compliant over time.

Cybersecurity is everyone’s job.

Because cybersecurity is such a critical success factor, it’s “all hands on deck.” Throughout the organization, leaders wear many hats, and they all have a specific role to play in maintaining a responsive and effective security posture. These responsibilities include:

  1. Setting the overall direction
  2. Establishing priorities
  3. Managing and mitigating overall cyber-related business risks
  4. Establishing effective governance controls
  5. Resourcing cybersecurity programs
  6. Safeguarding the sensitive information they rely on for planning and decision making
  7. Establishing a cyber-secure culture within the organization

This kind of top-down commitment enables broader cybersecurity awareness and a deeper integration of safeguards into the fabric of the enterprise.

It is also essential that you give your IT security team the authority, flexibility, and resources to protect your company with a strong program of comprehensive, ongoing cybersecurity programs. Their role goes far beyond simply setting up firewalls and installing antivirus software. Your security team is a valuable asset in strengthening your organization’s security posture with programs that include:

  • Vulnerability scanning
  • Third-party penetration testing
  • Phishing simulations
  • Ongoing training
  • Overall strategy development and management

What is cyber-resilience

To increase and sustain your organization’s cyber-resilience to attacks (current and emerging), you must step out of the box, adopting a new security posture that:

  • Proactively maps your organization’s attack surface and understands its weak points and where it is likely to be attacked
  • Continuously adjusts to a constantly changing environment
  • Rests on a strategic foundation with strong tactical underpinnings
  • Takes a comprehensive view of risk across the enterprise
  • Monitors for dangers in near real time

Conclusion

Security posture is quite simply an organization’s overall cybersecurity strength and resilience in relation to cyber-threats. That said, the complexity and volume of cyber-attacks can make threat and vulnerability detection and mitigation extremely challenging. As organizations move away from last generation security strategies and fragmented solutions, they are transitioning to a comprehensive security posture that can protect against a sophisticated, ever-changing threat landscape. This posture is driven by an overarching vulnerability management process that unifies cybersecurity strategy and permeates the organization to predict, prevent, and proactively mitigate breaches before they happen.

The Definitive Guide to Security Posture

The Definitive Guide to Security Posture

Good security posture is your first line of defense against an adversary. The Definitive Guide to Security Posture will cover what is security posture, how you can assess and improve your enterprise security posture.

Get the Guide

Contents

    Frequently Asked Questions About Security Posture

    What is security posture?

    Security posture refers to an organization’s overall cybersecurity strength and resilience in relation to cyber-threats. An enterprise’s security posture takes into account:

    • Security status of software and hardware assets, networks, services, and information
    • Controls and measure that are in place to protect from cyber-attacks
    • Ability to manage your defenses
    • Readiness and ability to react to and recover from security events
    What is security posture assessment?

    Security posture assessment refers to analyzing your organization’s current security posture and identifying possible gaps in your security. Security posture assessment can be done in 3 keys steps:

    • Get an accurate IT asset Inventory
    • Map your attack surface
    • Understand your cyber risk
    How can I improve my security posture?

    Security Posture improvement presents some unique challenges like a vast attack surface, tens of thousands of IT assets, hundreds of ways in which organizations can be breached. Here are 5 key steps to take for improving your security posture.

    1. Discover and create a real time inventory of all your enterprise IT assets
    2. Continuously observe and monitor your inventory across a broad range of attack vectors
    3. Analyze observations to derive risk insights and predict where you are likely to be breached
    4. Prioritize vulnerabilities based on business criticality, ongoing threats, exposure, existing controls and provide prescriptive action items
    5. Continually measure and track security posture improvements