Beyond vulnerability scanning: Enhancing attack surface management for more proactive security

November 16, 2022

Attack Vector vs. Attack Surface: Explained

By: Randori Blog

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There is a fundamental difference between an attack vector vs. attack surface. Despite this, the two terms are often mixed up. Both are important but different pieces of the puzzle that is cybersecurity.

Attack vector vs. Attack surface, what’s the difference?

Understanding the difference between attack vector vs. attack surface starts with an essential understanding of cybersecurity. An attack surface is a totality of all the potential entry points cybercriminals could exploit. Cybercriminals use weak assets as an entry point to sensitive data or systems. An attack vector is a method used during a cyber attack to circumvent security measures. This is what is commonly called a data breach. 

Simply put, an attack surface is a map of all the weak assets where cyber threat actors could use an attack vector to break through cybersecurity measures. Both are essential to understand to create a proactive attack surface management plan.

Common Types of Attack Vectors

The methods cybercriminals use to break through organizations’ security perimeter and security measures are always evolving. This is part of the reason a proactive cybersecurity stance is so important when securing digital assets. Here are some of the most common attack vectors. However, just because they are common doesn’t mean they aren’t still a threat to your company. Seeing the different types of attack vectors helps distinguish between an attack vector vs. attack surface.

1. Misconfigured systems

Cloud services like Google Cloud, iCloud, and Microsoft Azure can become an attack vector by only using default login credentials and improperly setting S3 permissions. There is a potential for an attack vector to be created each time a cloud storage system reconfigures data.

2. Ransomware

One of the oldest forms of cyberthreat, ransomware, depends on data that has already been leaked. Cybercriminals then hold that data for ransom until they are paid. Often, the data stolen is essential to an organization’s functionality or is sensitive in nature.  

3. Phishing

Phishing attacks impersonate a well-known entity or company with the aim of tricking users into handing over credentials such as logins and bank information. This insidious tactic has been found to be especially effective against the elderly. The cybersecurity of companies that contain the information of the elderly needs to be especially careful of data breaches, as the information they hold puts their customers at risk. 

4. Weak and Compromised Credentials

There are a lot of reasons credentials get exposed and stored in the deep reaches of the dark web, including other attack vectors like malware and phishing methods and past data breaches. Once credentials have been exposed, they give access to any number of different applications and networks. Credentials need constant updating, monitoring, and safeguarding. 

5. Weak Logins

Avoiding weak logins by using numbers, capital and lowercase letters, and symbols are a great start to keep login information from becoming attack vectors. However, 2-factor, multifactor, and biometrics are all ways to secure login information. 

Types of Attack Surfaces

There are two major types of attack surfaces; digital and physical. The words might be easy enough to understand on their own. However, each type of attack surface has its nuances and specific weaknesses. Understanding the different attack surfaces better explains the difference between an attack vector vs. attack surface. 


The digital attack surface involves all potential entry points within an organization’s digital footprint. All digital assets, both in use or retired, can become liabilities if they aren’t properly managed. The digital attack surface is further divided into two distinct areas; internal and external. 


The internal attack surface is the province of in-house security and IT teams. The internal attack surface is the cybersecurity perimeter viewed from the inside. This is the traditional approach to cybersecurity and is useful for securing many weak assets, but it lacks the ingenuity to keep up with evolving attack vectors.  


The external attack surface is the part of cybersecurity that companies like Randori like to focus their attention and expertise on. The external attack surface is an organization’s cybersecurity perimeter viewed from the point of view of cyber attack actors. This innovative view of the digital attack surface allows for advanced and proactive attack surface management. 


The physical attack surface is more tangible but no less complicated than the digital attack surface. The physical attack surface involves an organization’s devices, hardware, mobile devices, and human resources. While many aspects complicate the management of a physical attack surface, they are distinctly different from the digital.

Attack Vector vs. Attack Surface; Different but Equally Important

Attack vectors and the attack surface are very different parts of cybersecurity, though it’s not surprising that the terms can become confusing when you aren’t a cybersecurity professional. The difference between an attack vector vs attack surface is well known to cybersecurity specialists like those at Randori.  Would you like to see what attack vectors could potentially do with the weak assets in your attack surface? Learn more from the cybersecurity experts at Randori. 

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