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Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM): a comprehensive approach to cyber security

Find out more about the benefits and the challenges of CTEM and how your organisation can implement it into your cyber security strategy


cyber woman
David Pearson

David Pearson

Cyber Security Assessor

In today’s constantly evolving digital landscape, Continuous Threat Exposure Management (CTEM) is becoming a vital component of modern cyber security strategies. Traditional security methods, including periodic risk assessments, vulnerability scans, and annual penetration tests, are proving inadequate for the dynamic nature of current cyber threats. In contrast, CTEM offers a proactive and flexible framework that continuously monitors the threat environment, while adapting security controls to mitigate potential risks effectively.

Who can adopt the CTEM framework?

CTEM is not exclusively for large enterprises, it's equally adaptable for small and medium-sized businesses across various industries, especially those that are keen to proactively manage their cyber security risks. The framework is scalable and can be implemented by organisations with various levels of cyber security maturity. It's especially crucial for organisations needing to comply with industry regulations and standards, as CTEM aids in perpetually assessing and remediating security risks to fulfil regulatory obligations.

CTEM is particularly advantageous for entities with a substantial digital presence, facing a multitude of cyber threats that could jeopardise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their data and systems. CTEM is suited to any organisation seeking a systematic method to continuously monitor, assess, and tackle vulnerabilities across their attack surface, encompassing networks, systems, and assets.

The CTEM Framework: a five-stage process

CTEM is a continuous five-stage program designed to assist organisations in monitoring, evaluating, and reducing their exploitability, as well as validating their analysis and remediation processes. The five stages are:

Scoping: this initial stage involves defining the program’s scope, identifying key assets for protection, and assessing associated risks.

Discovery: this is the relentless identification of vulnerabilities within an organisation's digital infrastructure. Regular vulnerability scanning, penetration testing and proactive patch management, are key in addressing security weaknesses proactively.

Prioritisation: this stage involves analysing and prioritising identified vulnerabilities based on their severity, allowing security teams to focus on remedying the most critical risks first.

Validation: this is crucial for ensuring an accurate assessment of the organisation's vulnerability to threats. Validation enables security teams to evaluate the effectiveness of remediation efforts and make necessary adjustments.

Mobilisation: the final stage involves implementing and maintaining robust threat defence measures, defining the initiative's scope, setting goals and objectives, and identifying key stakeholders and resources.

Key components of CTEM

CTEM integrates several essential components to offer comprehensive threat exposure management:

Continuous risk management: core to CTEM is ongoing risk assessment, enabling real-time identification, analysis and prioritisation of security risks. This allows organisations to effectively allocate resources and develop strategic risk mitigation plans.

Vulnerability assessment and remediation: regular vulnerability scanning, penetration testing and proactive patch management, are vital in addressing security weaknesses.

Threat monitoring and detection: utilising advanced tools such as SIEM (security information and event management) systems, IDS (intrusion detection system), and threat intelligence feeds, CTEM detects and responds to security incidents promptly, ensuring timely and effective responses to emerging cyber threats.

Adaptive security controls: emphasising responses to changing threat conditions, CTEM leverages advanced technologies like zero-trust networking and micro-segmentation, which are crucial in limiting the impact of breaches and containing exposures.

The benefits of CTEM

Adopting CTEM brings several significant advantages to an organisation:

Improved threat visibility: enhanced insight into the threat landscape enables the early detection of potential risks.

Proactive risk management: this involves changing the risk management equation by enabling proactive handling of vulnerabilities and threats, based on continuous monitoring and assessment.

Prioritisation of threats: CTEM focuses on the most critical risks first by prioritising vulnerabilities based on their criticality.

Enhanced cyber resilience: helps by improving an organisation's ability to withstand and recover from cyber threats, by continuously monitoring, assessing, prioritising, and resolving security issues.

Actionable insights: provides actionable insights for faster response to security risks.

Alignment with business objectives: ensures security measures support the overall goals of the organisation.

CTEM does not come without its difficulties

Implementing CTEM can pose multiple challenges for organisations:

Alignment of teams: a key challenge is aligning non-security and security teams. When operationalising CTEM programmes, organisations might face unexpected obstacles, such as communication gaps and confusion over responsibilities and expectations. It's essential to involve stakeholders from non-security teams early on and ensure they fully understand the programme's objectives.

Resource constraints: limited resources, both in budget and skilled personnel, can impede the effective implementation of CTEM. Organisations often struggle to distribute sufficient funds and find the right talent for the continuous monitoring and assessment processes that CTEM demands.

False positives: the automated tools used in CTEM can generate false positives, leading to unnecessary delays and confusion. This can divert attention and resources from addressing genuine vulnerabilities and threats.

Manual processes: manual validation can be laborious and susceptible to human error. It requires substantial human resource investment to conduct comprehensive reviews and manage technical tasks efficiently.

Complexity of attack surfaces: modern attack surfaces are vast, complex, and continuously evolving, needing constant decision-making and collaboration. Security teams must keep pace with the influx of data from various point solutions used to manage vulnerabilities and applications.

Proactive vs. reactive approach: traditional vulnerability management solutions are often reactive, addressing threats after detection. CTEM necessitates a shift to a proactive approach, which can be a significant adjustment for organisations used to periodic risk assessments.

Integration of tools: for CTEM to be truly effective, the tools used must be fully integrated and not run in isolation. This integration ensures that the most pertinent threats are addressed, and that the organisation's security posture is continuously enhanced.

In summary, the challenges in initiating and sustaining CTEM include aligning different teams, managing resource constraints, dealing with false positives, overseeing manual processes, navigating the complexity of attack surfaces, transitioning from a reactive to a proactive approach, and integrating various security tools.

In conclusion

CTEM represents a comprehensive and proactive approach to cyber security, offering a structured and ongoing process to manage and mitigate cyber threats. By integrating continuous risk management, vulnerability assessment and remediation, threat monitoring and detection, and adaptive security controls, CTEM provides a robust framework for enhancing an organisation's cyber security posture.

CTEM is ideal for organisations wanting a proactive, ongoing, and systematic approach to cyber security, striving to minimise the likelihood of successful cyber-attacks and bolster their overall security posture.

Softcat can help your business align with the CTEM framework by offering our expertise in technology and service delivery. Please speak to your Network and Security Specialist about the options we have available, and how they can complement your cyber security strategy. Alternatively, you can contact our Sales team, using this form. Services that will help you align with the framework are detailed below: