What is Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)?

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) monitors an organization’s cloud environments for misconfigurations and other vulnerabilities that threaten its cloud resources and data. Modern CSPM solutions identify and report access control issues, container vulnerabilities, and other cloud issues. They also support an organization’s efforts to correct these issues by prioritizing identified risks and correcting dangerous configuration errors.

Why Is CSPM Important?

Cloud environments commonly face security challenges related to insecure configurations. In fact, 55% of cloud data breaches are caused by human error, and CSPM is vital for cloud security because it helps organizations manage and avoid these common configuration-related challenges. 

Three of the core benefits of CSPM include:

  • Continuous Compliance Monitoring: An organization’s compliance responsibilities also extend to its cloud environments; however, limited cloud visibility and the rapid pace of cloud evolution make configuration management complex. CSPM helps organizations ensure that cloud environments are always compliant with applicable requirements.
  • Configuration Drift Prevention: Cloud environments are ideally suited to rapid development cycles. However, frequent changes can cause configurations to deviate from the baseline over time due to configuration changes, software updates, or other unknown factors. CSPM solutions can detect and alert on configuration drift when it puts the company at risk.
  • SOC Investigations: Forensic investigations after a security incident require in-depth visibility into IT solutions’ current and past state for root cause analysis. CSPM supports these efforts by enabling investigators to identify potential vulnerabilities that an attacker may have exploited.

Common Cloud Security Risks

While cloud computing presents numerous benefits for organizations, it also poses security risks to a company, including:

  • Improperly configured cloud settings: Security misconfigurations are common in cloud environments. A lack of understanding of security best practices or simple errors usually causes these. 
  • Mismanaged access controls: Users are frequently assigned excessive permissions in cloud environments, such as complete control over a cloud account rather than access to particular resources. If an attacker compromises these overprivileged accounts, the organization faces a severe risk.
  • Data exposure: Poor cloud configuration management and access control can expose sensitive data. If resources are publicly available or a user account with excessive permissions is breached, attackers may be able to exfiltrate sensitive data without detection.
  • Insufficient data backup and recovery: Cloud environments offer a high degree of resiliency and availability, but data loss is possible. A failure to implement proper backups could render important information or applications inaccessible to the company or its customers.
  • Insecure APIs: APIs underpin many cloud services, enabling communication between applications within an organization’s cloud environment or with third-party applications. However, APIs have numerous, often overlooked security risks that can threaten these applications and the data that they process. For example, APIs frequently have authentication and authorization issues that enable unauthorized access to sensitive data and resources.
  • Shared technology vulnerabilities: Public cloud environments are multi-tenant environments where software-based security controls isolate users. If these controls fail, unauthorized users can access a company’s data or applications.
  • Insider threats: Cloud customers face potential insider threats to their cloud data. Employees may pose risks to data intentionally or negligently, and a company also trusts its 3rd party contractors and partners to behave appropriately.

Key Features of CSPM

CSPM solutions have evolved significantly in recent years. Some key features of modern CSPM solutions that differentiate them from legacy offerings include the following.

Contextual Risk Assessment

Legacy CSPM solutions often identify and report on misconfigurations without considering the full impact of potential vulnerabilities. Modern solutions take advantage of additional context — such as the presence of sensitive data — to more accurately identify the possible implications of a security misconfiguration.

Issue Prioritization

Most security teams are overwhelmed, with more alerts and tasks than they can manage. This is especially true in cloud environments, which scale and evolve rapidly. CSPM solutions should prioritize identified issues to enable organizations to address the vulnerabilities that pose the most significant risk first rather than using resources on less critical issues.

Agentless Detection

Legacy CSPM solutions require agents to identify vulnerabilities, use secrets, and securely identify malware on a workload. Modern CSPM solutions can identify and address all of these risks without the need to deploy agents on-device.

Addressing Cloud-Specific Threats

Cloud environments use certain technologies — containerization, automated CI/CD pipelines, etc. — that are less common in on-prem environments. Modern CSPM solutions integrate tests from configuration errors, and security vulnerabilities specific to these technologies, and more general vulnerabilities.

CSPM vs Other Solutions

Companies have various solutions that they can deploy to secure their cloud environments. However, the capabilities that these provide differ from those of CSPM.

Cloud Infrastructure Security Posture Assessment (CISPA)

Cloud infrastructure security posture assessment (CISPA) is the predecessor of CSPM. While both tools have similar purposes, CISPA only provides reporting capabilities, while CSPM also offers automation for various purposes, including improving the organization’s security posture.

Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPPs)

Cloud workload protection platforms (CWPPs) focus on cyberattacks targeting cloud workloads, which comprise an organization’s cloud infrastructure. This differs from CSPM, which looks at an organization’s cloud infrastructure but focuses on misconfigurations.

Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB)

Cloud access security brokers (CASB) enforce enterprise security policies and are located at the interface between cloud applications and their users. In contrast, CSPM ensures that cloud infrastructure is configured correctly.

Benefits of CSPM

CSPM can provide an organization with numerous potential benefits, including the following.

Enhanced Visibility

CSPM provides organizations with improved visibility into their cloud environments. This allows the organization to detect risks more effectively and manage potential threats.

Improved Compliance

Companies often struggle to achieve regulatory compliance in their cloud environments. CSPM ensures that an organization’s cloud infrastructure adheres to compliance requirements, reducing the risk of penalties for non-compliance.

Reduced Risks

CSPM identifies and addresses misconfigurations and other vulnerabilities, thereby reducing the risk of data breaches and various other security incidents. Companies can then take action to remediate these vulnerabilities to decrease their cloud attack surface.

Cost Savings

CSPM can help organizations cut costs by identifying and addressing misconfigurations and optimizing their cloud infrastructure. By identifying these issues before they can be exploited by an attacker, CSPM eliminates costly data breaches and incident response activities.

Remediation Guidance

Identifying a security incident or a cloud vulnerability is only a portion of CSPM capabilities. CSPM also provides organizations with step-by-step instructions on addressing identified security issues and misconfigurations.

Use Cases and Examples

CSPM solutions can be used to address various risks and threats within an organization’s cloud environment. Some everyday use cases for CSPM solutions include the following.

Access Control Assessment

Excessive privileges and permissions are a common security issue in cloud environments. If an attacker can access an overprivileged account, they can abuse these extra permissions to cause additional harm to the organization.

CSPM solutions assess access controls and permissions within cloud environments. It can then recommend how an organization can revise access controls to enhance security without negatively impacting legitimate access to cloud resources.

Data Encryption Checks

Encryption is one of the most effective protections against data breaches since it renders data unreadable without the appropriate encryption key. However, only about 60% of sensitive data is encrypted in the cloud.

CSPM assesses whether data at rest and in transit is appropriately encrypted. Addressing encryption gaps both enhances corporate cybersecurity and enables the organization to comply with applicable regulations.

Container Security

Containerization streamlines cloud adoption and management of multi-cloud environments. Containerized applications can run anywhere with no regard for the quirks of a particular environment.

However, containers can also introduce new security risks for an organization’s applications and cloud infrastructure. For example, container images may contain misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, or malicious code that is embedded in each instance.

CSPM helps to manage these threats by assessing container security configurations, identifying vulnerabilities, and ensuring adherence to security best practices.

CSPM solutions have already grown significantly from their CISPA roots, and they continue to do so. Some future trends to look out for in the CSPM space include the following.

Cloud-Native Security

Cloud environments have unique security risks and challenges. Additionally, the massive scalability of cloud environments can pose challenges for appliance-based cybersecurity solutions with limited capacity. Cloud-native security implements security management specifically for cloud environments. This includes specialized checks for container security, serverless configurations, and Kubernetes clusters.

Threat Intelligence

The rise of generative AI and automation has dramatically accelerated the cyberattack lifecycle. Cybercriminals can rapidly deploy new campaigns designed to slip past an organization’s defenses.

Threat intelligence can help to address this threat by leveraging information from the community. Future CSPM solutions may leverage more contextual threat intelligence to enhance risk assessments.

Zero Trust Security

Many organizations are currently working to implement a zero-trust security model. The zero-trust model enforces least-privilege access controls on a case-by-case basis rather than implicitly trusting insiders. Future CSPM solutions will integrate with and complement zero-trust architectures. This enables the company to enforce its strict access controls more effectively and enhance its security posture.

Choosing a CSPM Solution

A CSPM solution is a crucial component of an organization’s cloud security posture. Some key factors to consider when selecting one include:

  • Assessing your current cloud environment: CSPM solutions should be able to support an organization’s business needs, so assessing the current environment to define requirements is an essential first step toward selecting a solution.
  • Identifying security requirements: A cloud security strategy may be defined by both internal and external drivers, including corporate cybersecurity policies and regulatory requirements.
  • Evaluating automation capabilities: Cloud environments scale and evolve rapidly, and automation is essential to monitoring, managing, and remediating security configurations at scale.
  • Checking for multi-cloud support: 87% of companies have multi-cloud deployments, so a CSPM solution should offer consistent protection across all platforms.
  • Integration with other security solutions: CSPM is a corporate cloud cybersecurity strategy component and should offer painless integration to simplify security management and avoid visibility and security gaps.
  • Considering scalability: Application developers use cloud scalability to support rapid growth. CSPM solutions should scale with these applications and support application growth without compromising security.
  • Evaluating user-friendly interfaces: Security teams are less likely to use tools with a non-intuitive design or high-friction experience, so user-friendly interfaces are essential for supporting cloud security.
  • Providing support: An organization’s security team may face issues configuring their CSPM or addressing potential issues and need ready access to support for their questions.
  • Pricing models: CSPM solutions may be available under various pricing models, so it’s important to compare these to pick the best product for your organization’s needs.

Elevate Your Cloud Security with Cato Networks

Security posture management (CSPM) is a critical component of an organization’s cloud security strategy. Misconfigurations are a major cause of cloud data breaches and security incidents, and CSPM enables companies to proactively identify and remediate these issues or more effectively investigate and respond to security incidents.
The Cato SASE Cloud Platform offers CSPM capabilities as part of a converged SASE solution. This modern approach enhances efficiency, simplifies management, and eliminates visibility gaps. Contact us to learn more about improving your organization’s security with Cato SASE Cloud.