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Map Out Your Attack Surface with Website Scanner

Posted DateDecember 4, 2020
Posted Time 4   min Read

In today’s modern IT architecture, the number and nature of devices and endpoints are expanding at an exponential pace. Knowing the possible routes (including direct, indirect, and obscure) attackers could take to enter your network and gain access to your valued assets is indispensable. Put differently, mapping and consciously taking steps to reduce the attack surface is critical for effective website security. Website scanners are essential security tools for the ongoing mapping of the attack surface.

Given the dynamic nature of the IT architecture and thus, the attack surface, automated website scanners infuse agility and speed into attack surface mapping. Let us delve further into how to leverage security scanning tools for web application attack surface mapping for better security.

The Attack Surface: An Overview

The attack surface essentially describes the possible points of entry for attackers to get into your IT environment and orchestrate data breaches. Attack surface is not the same as attack vectors. Attack vectors only include the sum of compromised entry points, but the attack surface includes all points of entry for attackers into your networks and exploit your application.

The Components

The attack surface is the sum total of:

  • All paths through which data enters and exits the application. For instance, network services, ports, web, and desktop apps, protocols, software, operating systems, devices, third-party components, and so on.
  • Codes governing and protecting data transfer (including authorization, authentication, resource connection, activity logging, data validation, encoding, and so on)
  • All valuable data contained in the application, including PII, IP, trade secrets, critical business data, and so on.
  • Codes protecting data (including data integrity, access auditing, encryption, operational security controls, and so on).

The complexity of the attack surface massively increases with the different types of user groups and privileges. The two extremes – unauthorized, unknown entities and highly privileged users – increase the complexity and risk levels further.

How to Map the Attack Surface? 

Imagine you are trying to secure your physical office premises. You have identified all entry points such as doors, windows, fire exits, etc. You have accordingly placed locks on all entry points including biometrics. Does that mean your office premises are fully secure? No. Because you have not considered all the threats the premises face. What if a high-level executive overrides security measures to steal company data? Or, what if an attacker uses brute force to break into the premises or coaxes an employee to open the shut door? Similarly, mapping the digital attack surface is not just about identifying all the endpoints and digital assets.

To map and understand the attack surface, you must also understand the level of exposure of these different assets and endpoints, and the potential threats facing the organization. The threat landscape is constantly evolving. Adding further to the complexity, the IT architecture is dynamic with an ever-increasing number of resources and endpoints getting added.

Given this context, you will need continuous, real-time visibility into your networks and the entire IT architecture for the reconnaissance process to be effective. This way, you can assess the risks effectively and accordingly, take measures to minimize the attack surface.

Web app security scanners are used in combination with penetration testing and other tools to map, understand, and analyze the attack surface. IT security teams and developers use the insights from the mapping and analysis exercises to design and strengthen security measures. They further upgrade the application to minimize the attack surface and, thereby, the risks involved.

How do Website Scanners Enable Mapping of the Attack Surface? 

Typically, organizations depend on manual scanning and pen-testing to map out their attack surface. While pen-testing is an important tool, it is much more focused. This is because of the time and costs involved in conducting penetration tests.

For scale, agility, and comprehensiveness of coverage in mapping the attack surface, web scanners are necessary. The best web application scanners like the ones from AppTrana are intelligent, customizable, and holistic in nature.

The best web application scanners start by listing out all endpoints in the IT architecture from devices, networks, systems, and open ports to protocols, codes, hostnames, IP addresses, databases, technologies, third-party components/ services, SSL Certificates, etc. They list all the versions of the probable entry points. This means outdated/ legacy services and the software you’re running will be listed too.

Typically, website scanners scan all the identified areas to crawl for known vulnerabilities, security misconfigurations, and gaps. Powered by automation, these security tools significantly reduce the time and effort required to map the attack surface and identify security gaps.

The best website scanners automatically add new areas to crawl based on security analytics, WAF (Web Application Firewall) insights, and pen-testing results. Equipped with Global Threat Intelligence and the ability to learn, such scanners automatically include new vulnerabilities and threat vectors. Most importantly, such scanners equip you with comprehensive scanning reports and insights to enable you to take corrective measures to reduce the attack surface and protect your application.


Mapping the attack surface is an important first step in web application security. By investing in the best website scanner, you can map the attack surface and identify weaknesses in your IT architecture in an agile, effective, and dynamic manner.

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