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Continuous Threats Need Continuous Management

A senior stakeholder explainer for Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM)


Cybersecurity in the Era of Continuous Threats: The Case for CTEM


Traditional approaches to cybersecurity no longer provide sufficient defense. Enterprises are missing an opportunity to reduce their exposure to threats through siloed and tool-centric methods of risk and threat detection. The need for a proactive, integrated strategy is clear, and Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) stands at the forefront of this transformation.


For CISOs, the key benefit of Implementing CTEM is to provide your organization with strategic advantages, aligning cybersecurity efforts with business goals. It ensures that security investments are prioritized based on actionable intelligence, reducing the likelihood of breaches.


Why is CTEM so important to consider as a strategy? Gartner predicts that by 2026, organizations employing CTEM will be three times less likely to suffer from a breach.


Understanding CTEM


CTEM is not a fleeting trend but an essential systemic approach to refining an organization's security posture amidst a landscape where threats outpace traditional defenses. The premise is simple yet profound: zero-day vulnerabilities, while significant, are not the primary culprits behind breaches. Instead, a successful protection approach marries the readiness for unknown threats with a strategic emphasis on publicly known vulnerabilities and identified control gaps.


As business environments grow in complexity, with technological expansions both on-premises and in the cloud, the attack surface widens. New technologies and business initiatives like SaaS applications, IoT, and supply chain touchpoints introduce new vulnerabilities. In response, security leaders are increasingly recognizing the inadequacy of preventative-only strategies and are turning to more mature, multi-faceted tactics that include detection and response capabilities.


The Financial Imperative


The shift to CTEM is not just about bolstering defenses—it's a financial imperative. According to IBM's Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average cost of a data breach reached an all-time high of $4.45 million in 2023. These staggering figures underscore the criticality of managing exposure through a structured, iterative process like CTEM.  If there’s ever a motivation to pivot to a new cyber strategy, financial implications are high up there.


CTEM in Action: A Five-Step Cycle with Practical Steps


A mature CTEM program encompasses a five-step cycle: scoping, discovery, prioritization, validation, and mobilization. This cycle ensures that outputs from exposure management contribute to multiple parts of the security and IT organizations, facilitating a holistic management approach to a wide set of exposures. It's a cyclical, iterative process that demands regular, repeatable steps to ensure consistent outcomes.


1. Scoping: Defining Your Battlefield


  • Practical Steps:

  • Inventory digital assets, including cloud instances, endpoints, and operational technology.

  • Define business-critical systems and data, focusing on what is essential to protect.

  • Establish governance to manage CTEM with clear roles and responsibilities.


2. Discovery: Identifying the Known and Unknown


  • Practical Steps:

  • Implement comprehensive scanning tools for vulnerability assessment.

  • Engage in threat intelligence services to stay abreast of the evolving threat landscape.

  • Conduct regular penetration testing to uncover hidden vulnerabilities.


3. Prioritization: Making Informed Decisions


  • Practical Steps:

  • Use risk-based vulnerability management tools to evaluate the severity and impact of each threat.

  • Align security measures with business impact, prioritizing actions that protect the most critical assets.

  • Foster collaboration between IT and business units to ensure risk assessments are business-aware.


4. Validation: Testing Your Defenses


  • Practical Steps:

  • Validate remediation and mitigation actions through simulated attack scenarios.

  • Review security policies and practices to ensure they are effective and up-to-date.

  • Establish metrics and KPIs to measure the effectiveness of your security posture.


5. Mobilization: Orchestrating Response and Remediation


  • Practical Steps:

  • Develop and test incident response plans that include CTEM insights.

  • Train employees on security awareness and response protocols.

  • Establish a cross-functional CTEM team to manage and act on CTEM outputs.


CTEM in Action: Strategic Advantages and Outcomes


Enhanced Risk-Based Decision Making

In the boardrooms of companies, the conversation around cybersecurity is increasingly tied to risk management. With CTEM, organizations can pivot from a scattered approach to a risk-based decision-making process, where each security investment or response is evaluated on its potential impact on the company’s risk posture. For example, a Fortune 100 financial institution could use CTEM to not only identify and prioritize vulnerabilities in their trading platforms but also to assess the potential financial impact of a breach, thereby allocating resources more effectively.


Optimization of Security Investments

For any company, every security dollar spent needs to justify itself in terms of ROI. CTEM helps in optimizing these investments by identifying which security controls contribute most to reducing exposure. A multinational conglomerate could leverage CTEM to determine whether investing in endpoint detection and response (EDR) systems for their industrial control systems could yield more risk reduction per dollar than further encrypting internal communications, which may already be robust.


Cross-Functional Alignment and Collaboration

Large organizations with various subsidiaries are often siloed, with each department in each business operation acting independently. CTEM fosters cross-functional collaboration, bringing together IT, security, compliance, and business units. For instance, a global retailer might use the insights from a CTEM program to facilitate discussions between their e-commerce platform managers and security teams, ensuring that new digital customer experience enhancements do not introduce unmanageable risks.


Proactive Compliance and Regulatory Advantage

Regulatory fines for data breaches can be exorbitant for organizations within their scope, often reaching into the millions or more. CTEM enables these companies to stay ahead of compliance, not just reacting when new regulations come into effect. A pharmaceutical giant could use CTEM to continuously monitor their adherence to health data protection standards across all jurisdictions they operate in, thus proactively addressing risk and aligning with compliance to avoid penalties.


Strengthened Supply Chain Security

Supply chain vulnerabilities are a critical concern for larger companies, given their extensive reliance on third-party networks. CTEM provides a framework for assessing and managing risks presented by vendors and partners. A global tech company, for example, could implement CTEM to continuously evaluate the security postures of their hardware suppliers, ensuring that vulnerabilities in the supply chain are identified and addressed before they can be exploited.


Data-Driven Cybersecurity Culture

CTEM contributes to developing a data-driven cybersecurity culture within an organization. By consistently communicating the outcomes and effectiveness of security measures, CTEM helps in building a culture of security-mindedness. For a large energy company, CTEM can provide the data to support downstream communications and reporting needed to drive home the importance of cybersecurity practices to field operators and engineers, who may not always see the immediate relevance to their day-to-day work.


Conclusion


For CISOs and senior cyber security stakeholders navigating the complexities of modern cyber threats, CTEM offers a structured, business-focused approach to managing exposure. It integrates security into the fabric of business operations, fostering resilience in the face of continuous threats. As we progress into a future where cyber threats are an everyday business reality, CTEM is not just a recommendation—it's a necessity.


As a strategic shift, CTEM requires commitment and a change in mindset. It's about moving from a reactive stance to a continuous, proactive management of your organization's threat exposure. By starting with the practical steps outlined above, you can begin to integrate CTEM into your cybersecurity strategy, paving the way for a more resilient and secure enterprise.


To start your CTEM journey, here are some useful links to get started, based on your organizations maturity and requirements:


Digital Asset Discovery - explore beyond your borders and inventory assets you own here: Attack Surface Discovery


Vulnerabilities Discovery and Management - discover and assess vulnerabilities across your digital landscape here: Vulnerabilities Discovery


Enable your SOC to better prioritize - leverage an easy to use threat analytics tool to triage threats quickly here: Speed up threat analysis


Validate threats and expand visibility - go beyond your borders and equip experienced analysts with unmatched threat hunting capabilities here: Gain the advantage over your adversaries


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