March 8, 2024

Realising the Tangible Benefits of Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM)

Realising the Tangible Benefits of Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM)

Continuous Cybersecurity Exposure Clarity Vulnerability management has long been a vital component of cybersecurity defence. However, as attack surfaces expand and threats become more sophisticated, reliance on vulnerability identification and remediation alone is proving insufficient. Organizations face overwhelming volumes of discovered vulnerabilities and struggle to accurately prioritize and address critical gaps quickly enough, if at all.

The challenges are mounting – vast hybrid IT environments with thousands of end points, lack of comprehensive visibility, and resource constraints all hamper effective vulnerability assessment. Meanwhile adversaries exploit previously unknown zero-day vulnerabilities and timeto-remediation windows measured in days, if not hours. Legacy vulnerability management alone cannot keep pace with this radically evolving threat landscape.

What is needed is a more adaptive, comprehensive approach to security risk management – one that provides wider contextual visibility combined with dynamic prioritization and response capabilities. The emerging discipline of Continuous Threat and Exposure Management (CTEM) addresses precisely these requirements.

By enabling deeper understanding of how exposures relate and where risks converge, then coupling that insight with data-driven action plans, organizations can accelerate vulnerability remediation while optimizing allocation of finite cyber resources. In essence, CTEM’s holistic perspective, assessment rigor and customizable mitigation workflows surpass the piecemeal nature of dated vulnerability practices.

This whitepaper explores the vital paradigm shift from vulnerability management to CTEM and equips IT leaders with strategies for making this transformation in their firms.

The Deepening Cracks in Conventional Vulnerability Programs

While vulnerability identification capabilities have certainly advanced, fundamental gaps remain in legacy vulnerability management approaches. These programs focus narrowly on technical system weaknesses categorized as Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs). However, realworld attacks exploit a wider threat landscape encompassing misconfigurations, unpatched software, user-based weaknesses and more.

Reliance on CVE scoring also brings shortcomings. CVE severity assigns generic ratings that frequently misjudge true business risk. A technically “critical” issue may have negligible actual exploitability or business impact in a given environment. Meanwhile, lower ranked vulnerabilities when chained may open the door to compromise of mission critical assets.

In addition, reams of technical vulnerability data lack contextual linkages to an organization’s unique digital footprint. Legacy scanning tools yield oceans of scan findings but little insight into where real exposures lie within complex hybrid technology ecosystems.C o n s e q u e n t l y , vulnerability management tends to always be in catch up mode despite limited resources and expertise to effectively analyse let alone prioritize and remediate all identified issues.

Current vulnerability management trajectories are plagued by the law of diminishing returns, more and more effort is applied with less and less tangible results. The result is technological, and personnel bandwidth consumed chasing false positives while stealthier initial access vulnerabilities go undetected, leaving adversaries to exploit simpler weaknesses to gain that first foothold. A 2022 stu dy found 75% of ransomware attacks involved exploitation of vulnerabilities for which patches were available but not deployed.

Closing Cyber Exposure Gaps through Continuous Threat Management

Industry research firm Gartner defines Continuous Threat and Exposure Management (CTEM) as "a set of processes and capabilities that allow enterprises to continually evaluate the accessibility, exposure and exploitability of their digital and physical assets." In essence, CTEM vastly expands the aperture of vulnerability management, assessing the full spectrum of weaknesses adversaries seek to exploit rather than myopically focusing on CVEs. Further, it provides contextual linkage between identified gaps, illuminating propagation pathways and prioritizing remediation based on risk to critical business assets. The harsh reality is adversaries only require one foothold to instigate compromise cascades. Meanwhile, vulnerability programs drowned in oceans of scan findings cannot hope to accurately uncover and plug initial access vulnerabilities promptly. The resulting risk exposure is akin to having thousands of minor scratches on a car while unaware of a slowly leaking damaged fuel tank.

Overcoming Security Blind spots through Continuous Threat Clarity.

Implementing robust CTEM delivers transformative outcomes:

Holistic visibility - Discover the full range of technical, configuration and human weaknesses hackers exploit;

Accuracy - Focus on real-world exposures rather than theoretically critical flaws;

Context - Map linkages across exposure types and environments;

Prioritization - Remediate risks with highest mission impact first;

Optimization - Determine most efficient ways to maximize risk reduction;

Adaptability – Continually tune program to address evolving threats;

Enablement – Arm security and IT teams to collaborate effectively.

The benefits manifest in risk-based cyber maturity improvements that far surpass conventional vulnerability or audit-focused programs. Industry analysts predict that continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) programs for managing the attack surface will become crucial. Gartner predicts that by 2026, organizations prioritizing CTEM security investments will experience two-thirds fewer breaches.

Realizing the Tangible Benefits of Continuous Threat Clarity.

While Gartner extolls the virtues of CTEM on paper, what truly matters is measurable security outcomes. Implementing a mature CTEM program delivers compelling real-world value:

Complete visibility to enhance defender advantage.

CTEM provides expansive visibility into the full spectrum of potential exposures across on-prem, cloud, endpoints and beyond. No longer disadvantaged by corporate blind spots, defenders gain attacker’s view insights to more effectively hunt threats and secure highly dynamic environments.

Optimized use of finite cyber resources.

By contextualizing risks and identifying propagation pathways, CTEM enables accurate prioritization based on business criticality. Remediation efforts focus on chokepoints that close down the most attack avenues. One insurance firm reduced critical exposure remediation efforts by 92% through CTEM prioritization.

Accelerated response velocity.

With CTEM instituting continual assessments and response workflows, organizations shrink windows of exposure and harden environments on an ongoing basis. They also institutionalize processes to adapt to new threats much faster. One manufacturer was able to respond to emerging threats 3x more rapidly after establishing mature CTEM capabilities.

Enhanced collaboration between overburdened IT and security teams.

CTEM provides objective visibility into risk exposures which aids understanding and alignment. With exposure propagation pathways clear, IT can confidently action security remediation requests based on verified threat data. One firm reported a 63% increase in remediation completion rates thanks to CTEM-powered IT/Sec collaboration.

The above examples paint a picture of how organizations can realize immense value from CTEM programs – far beyond theoretical management frameworks to actual enhancement of cyber defence.

Overcoming Inevitable Organizational Challenges on the Path to CTEM Maturity.

The journey to transform conventional vulnerability-centric programs into continuous threat clarity is profoundly impactful. It requires evolution in tooling, processes and organizational realignment. However, companies embarking on this path inevitably encounter common obstacles:

Bridging Gaps Between IT Firefighters and Security Detectives.

CTEM’s full lifecycle mandates tight collaboration between resource constrained IT teams inundated with critical incidents and Security operations focused on long-term environmental hardening. Alignment on priorities can be difficult when security lacks insight into IT workloads and IT lacks exposure threat visibility from Security. Best practice is to establish a joint change advisory board with shared metrics like risk exposure risk reduction targets and remediation SLAs. CTEM provides the exposure insights for Security to better understand IT realities while giving IT the necessary threat data to confidently validate and action security requests. One retailer created a formal CTEM cabinet with senior IT and InfoSec leaders that met biweekly. This body helped create cross-domain standards and accountability for mutual success.

Deriving Signal from the Noise of New Intelligence.

Threat intel integration represents tremendous potential value for CTEM programs but can also overwhelm teams with data. Separating signals from noise to focus on meaningful exposures is critical but difficult, especially for smaller teams. Automating threat feed analysis based on curated sources relevant to specific business risks areas builds signal. Machine learning pattern detection saves teams from manually data crunching to determine which IOCs or new exploits warrant immediate action. Centralizing and linking exposure data contextually also delivers clarity to cut through noise. These techniques aided a hedge fund in reducing security event backlogs by 75% while boosting threat detection rates by 220%.

Leveling Up Cyber Resilience through Progressive CTEM Maturity.

Implementing CTEM capabilities serves as a catalyst for elevating whole-of-organization cyber maturity across people, process, data and technology dimensions.

Organizations can assess current vs desired program maturity using Cyber Capability Maturity Models from analysts like Gartner and chart strategic security roadmaps. CTEM intersects foundational elements like asset inventories and vulnerability management then builds towards resiliency:

Early Wins Consolidate visibility, centralize exposures, launch response processes;

Build Momentum Automate data collection, contextualize exposures, develop SOAR integrations;

Resiliency Focus Implement custom analytics for enhanced intelligence, drill incident response relying less on alerts to more continuous assessments.

The most adept organizations leverage CTEM metrics not just to bolster IT security but to inform enterprise risk appetite conversations with the C-suite and board. Getting leaders to view cyber risks through continuous exposure clarity lens is a game changer for security teams seeking bigger budgets and more influence. By tying iterative CTEM progress to shutting security blind spots and boosting defensibility, practitioners can methodically enhance cyber resilience. More mature capabilities then pave the way for cost optimized cyber insurance and or solutions.

Realizing Cyber Resilience through Progressive CTEM Maturity.

While the merits of Continuous Threat and Exposure Management sound admirable conceptually, actualizing real-world impact requires thoughtful translation into tangible capabilities:

Ingest Diverse Data Sets - Aggregate technical vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, identity issues, exploitable weak permissions and more using agent-based, API and network-based collection tools. Cloud, on-prem systems, endpoints and custom apps require umbrella coverage.In the telecommunications industry and others grappling with OT/IT convergence take into consideration all data sets for a holistic view.

Centralize Contextual Mapping - Connect the dots between exposure types using attack graph analytics and advanced correlation engines to illustrate risk pathways across hybrid environments. Depict dead ends to avoid distraction.

Prioritize via Asset Criticality - Calculate how reachable mission critical data, infrastructure and workflows are from identified exposures based on propagation pathways within the enterprise architecture graph model.

Launch Response Workflows - Initiate remediation process using customizable playbooks based on asset priority levels. Provide visibility to speed collaboration between IT remediation and Security ops.

Measure Risk Reduction Outcomes - Quantify residual risk scoring for assets pre and post remediation using key risk indicators to showcase exposure treatment impact. Report metrics to business leaders using risk level dashboards.

With the above, one financial services company was able to synergize their existing vulnerability management platform with identity governance and cloud posture tools using a common contextual mapping engine. This delivered unified visibility into over 19,000 exposures which got prioritized based on exploitation likelihood and business criticality. Shooting the largest widest vector attacks narrowed immediate remediation efforts down to just 15 issues. Implementing dynamic response workflows led to an 84% faster remediation completion rate subsequently hardening risk surface area. Communicating measurable risk reduction to the Board won further budget for the program.

Gain the Continuous Advantage Against Relentless Adversaries.

In the face of ever-shifting cyber terrain and increasingly sophisticated threats, legacy security modalities centred on periodic audits, theoretical risk analysis and reactive response are no longer sufficient. Sole reliance on vulnerability programs tackling continuously expanding attack surfaces is a losing battle. Defenders require continuous threat clarity to accurately understand accessible weaknesses and attack pathways leading to crown jewels. Dynamic prioritization based on asset exposure then allows for efficient use of constrained remediation resources on vulnerabilities that yield maximum risk reduction. This real-time exposure monitoring and treatment is the essence of world class cyber resilience and business continuity.

Gain comprehensive visibility into the entirety of network and asset attack surfaces and layers;

Eliminate corporate security blind spots across cloud, endpoints and identity ecosystem;

Institutionalize capabilities to uncover threats early and adapt defences quickly;

Enable data-driven decisions on resource allocation for IT security and risk teams;

Forge alignment between security detection and IT response squads;

Communicate cyber risk effectively to senior management;

Project strength to customers, regulators and business partners.

In closing, leading analysts predict that by 2025, 80% of forward-thinking enterprises will implement formal CTEM programs as adversaries become ubiquitous.