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Attack Surface Management Vs. Vulnerability Management

Published on Jul 11 2023

Attack Surface Management vs. Vulnerability Management

Cyber innovation and digital transformation have sped up dramatically. These newer technologies have increased the attack surface of most companies, making it harder for them to manage cybersecurity processes and be ready for an increase in cyber attacks.  

Cybersecurity relies heavily on two processes, attack surface management (ASM) and vulnerability management (VM), to safeguard companies from cyber threats. Both processes are important for maintaining a solid security posture, but they do so in different ways and with different goals. This article examines how ASM and VM differ regarding their objectives, procedures, and tools. 

What is Vulnerability Management (VM)?

The term "vulnerability" refers to a flaw or weakness in a company asset that cybercriminals can use to gain unauthorized access. Cybersecurity teams use vulnerability management (VM), also known as vulnerability scanning, to find and classify vulnerabilities, entry points, and exploit points in a company's network devices, computers, and apps.  

The internal resources and software-based IT landscape are the focus of this approach. In addition, VM typically manages the various network components as separate assets without considering how they connect to the rest of the IT environment, including other components like people, software, or connections. 

What is Attack Surface Management (ASM)?

The attack surface is the total number of potential entry points that cybercriminals could use to gain unauthorized access to a company's systems, networks, and data. Attack surface management (ASM) provides a comprehensive overview of the company's environment as seen by a cybercriminal.  

Asset discovery, vulnerability scanning, web crawling, and penetration testing are tools and methods used in ASM to determine the company's attack surface. After the attack surface has been identified, the risk associated with each potential entry point is assessed. Furthermore, ASM prioritizes threats to reduce the attack surface, improve security posture, and eliminate security risks within specific assets. 

Attack Surface Management vs. Vulnerability Management 

After defining attack surface management and vulnerability management, the following are the key differences between them: 

  • Scope 

The first difference concerns the security threats addressed by the two procedures. ASM's scope is much wider than VM’s, covering all the possible vectors a cybercriminal could use to penetrate a company's defenses and gain access to confidential data.  

Social engineering, phishing, and other human-based attack vectors are also analyzed as part of ASM. Comparatively, VM is more limited in scope than ASM because it only seeks to locate and fix security vulnerabilities in a company's physical and virtual resources. 

  • Different Discovery Approaches 

Differences emerge at the first detection stage between vulnerability management and attack surface management. ASM provides high protection by predicting potential security threats and eliminating them before they can be used.  

Contrarily, VM employs a reactive security strategy, which involves analyzing vulnerabilities after they have been discovered and then prioritizing and remediating them by their risk level. 

  • Identifying and Categorizing Risks 

Classifying vulnerabilities involves determining how serious they are, how likely they are to be exploited, and what damage they could do to a business. A common practice in vulnerability management is to categorize vulnerabilities according to their nature, whether they are software, hardware, firmware, or based on where they originated.  

In contrast, ASM employs an inventory to classify cyber assets according to properties such as owners, technical particulars, business significance, and compliance prerequisites. 

  • Risk Scoring and Prioritization 

Calculating a risk score involves determining how probable and serious a security breach is. It considers the likelihood of an attack, the severity of a breach, and the quality of current security controls. 

Risk scoring enables prioritizing vulnerability repairs and allocating resources to the most pressing issues. Without setting priorities, cybersecurity teams waste time fixing low-risk vulnerabilities while critical ones go unpatched and continue to pose a risk.  

Prioritization is a part of both processes; however, in the ASM, vulnerabilities are typically scored according to a standard, like the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), to determine how serious they are. 

  • Continuous Security Monitoring 

The term "continuous security monitoring" refers to keeping an eye on a company's systems and network in real-time or nearly real-time to detect and respond to any vulnerabilities, attacks, or other anomalies. Unlike vulnerability management's discontinuous approach, ASM can continuously monitor the company's cyber assets for threats and vulnerabilities.  


Vulnerability Management (VM) and Attack Surface Management (ASM) are important in cybersecurity, but they do different things and take different approaches. Companies can better manage their attack surface and vulnerabilities, lessen the likelihood of successful attacks and strengthen their security posture if they fully grasp the distinctions between ASM and VM. 

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