The modern threat landscape presents serious challenges to businesses struggling to build their security programs.

While these businesses modernize IT and security programs, the attack surface is proliferating. Security leaders must realize that perimeter defenses no longer cope with the expanded attack surface, leaving gaps in security programs. Only by implementing a new systemic approach can security scale up at a similar pace to ever-growing threats.

For cybersecurity, visibility is critical: security teams must be aware of all risks before they can find a way to reduce them. However, visibility requires a defined strategy and a programmatic approach. That approach should include continuous threat exposure management (CTEM).

What is continuous threat exposure management?

Gartner defines CTEM as a set of processes and capabilities that enable enterprises to continually evaluate the accessibility, exposure and exploitability of their digital and physical assets.

In short, CTEM is the center that informs governance, risk and compliance (GRC) mandates. Using CTEM, you can build mature, strategic security controls with detection and response capabilities that are always aligned with the business’s risk appetite.

 Figure 1: Continuous Threat Exposure Management (Source: IBM)

The five stages of a CTEM program

A CTEM program is governed by five cyclic stages, where every outcome then repeats the iteration.

Figure 2: Continuous Exposure Management Process Stages (Source: IBM)

1. Scoping

As with any other security program, scoping is the first step. Security teams need to align with different stakeholders on business requirements as well as ultimate impact.

Scoping must address the enterprise’s entire attack surface, both internal and external. Security teams should look beyond vulnerability management programs and consider factors such as external attack surface, digital risk, supply chain, cloud and deep and dark web.

2. Discovery

This step is where security teams inventory assets and risk profiles based on the previous scoping process. During the discovery phase, security teams map assets, vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, technology, logic and risk.

3. Prioritization

The goal of the prioritization is to identify the threats that are most likely to be exploited by adversaries and the level of risk to the enterprise. Security teams should evolve from looking at severity scores to examining exploitability, security controls, topology, risk appetite and overall risk to the enterprise.

4. Validation

During this step, security teams assess exposure by launching controlled simulated or emulated attacks to validate exposure, existing security controls and response and remediation. Testing initial foothold gains, different attack paths and lateral movements are essential.

5. Mobilization

The goal of mobilization is not to find a way to automate remediation but to build a defined process so that teams can operationalize findings with low to no friction. Mobilization also requires merging security automation with IT process automation to maximize efficiency.

In the end, the ultimate goal of the CTEM program stages is to have a clear set of security and risk management programs aligned with business objectives to continuously minimize risk, improve resilience and accelerate collaboration.

CTEM for the modern threat landscape

CTEM is a program that manages increasing threat exposure while considering business priorities. Its iterations allow the enterprise to continuously monitor, prioritize, validate, remediate and optimize its security exposure.

Security teams should take a phased approach to CTEM, leveraging existing and new technology to support it. Ultimately, the ability to mobilize different stakeholders will ensure success.

Looking ahead, Gartner predicts that by 2026, organizations prioritizing their security investments based on a continuous exposure management program will be three times less likely to suffer from a breach.

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