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Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) is a product category for IT security tools that detect cloud misconfiguration and compliance risks. In addition, an essential purpose of CSPMs is to continuously monitor the cloud infrastructure for gaps in security policy implementation.

In the cyber community industry we define “Cloud Security Posture Management”, commonly named as CSPM, as a class of security tools that have been initially defined by Gartner. These kinds of security tools include cases for monitoring compliance, integrating DevOps, incidents response, and risk assessment and visualization.

Cloud security breaches are commonplace today due to most violations or errors involving misconfigurations of the cloud. Cloud providers are responsible for the infrastructure cloud stack’s security. On the other hand, users are responsible for configuring the cloud and ensuring the security of applications and data.

The initial name for Cloud Security Posture Management was Cloud Infrastructure Security Posture Assessment and was defined to configure public cloud IaaS and PaaS services in organizations and companies that needed to address cloud risks. Gartner advises IT Managers to invest in “Cloud Security Posture Management” CSPM processes and tools, in order to avoid misconfigurations that can lead to data leakage in the future.

Gartner, the IT research and consulting firm that coined CSPM, defines CSPM as a new security product category that can help automate security and provide compliance assurance in the cloud.

CSPM tools examine and compare a cloud environment to a predefined set of best practices and known security risks. Some CSPM mechanisms alert the cloud client when a security risk needs fixing, while other more sophisticated CSPM tools use robotic process automation (RPA) to resolve issues automatically.

Key features of Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) tools include:

Detects and perhaps automatically corrects cloud misconfigurations.

Maintains an inventory of best practices for different cloud configurations and services.

Can map existing configuration states to a security control framework or regulatory standard.

You can continuously monitor and evaluate compliance policies.

Provides visibility into what assets are in the cloud and how they are configured.

Works with IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS platforms in containerized, hybrid cloud, and multi-cloud environments.

They can identify threats that negatively impact the cloud security posture.

It can monitor storage packages, encryption, and account permissions for misconfigurations and compliance risks.

Why is Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) Important?

Hundreds or even thousands of applications on the cloud can connect and disconnect from other networks. This dynamic nature makes clouds powerful but also makes them harder to secure. That’s why you need to make a cloud-first philosophy the norm.

The reasons why traditional security methods do not work effectively in the cloud can be listed as the lack of a specific environment to protect, the inability to perform manual processes at the required speed, and the lack of centralization, making visibility extremely difficult.

While cloud-based computing provides overall cost benefits, the security piece of this puzzle can impact ROI as there are so many pieces to manage, such as microservices, containers, Kubernetes, and serverless functions.

With new technologies comes the idea of Infrastructure as Code (IaC), where infrastructure is managed and provided by machine-readable definition files. This API-driven approach is an integral part of cloud-first environments as it makes it easy to change infrastructure on the fly.

At the core, the above framework defines five sequential steps for operationalizing cloud security:

Obtain holistic visibility into cloud assets: In this step, security teams generally work with IT Ops teams to monitor cloud resources and organize information in a way that mirrors company boundaries.

Optimize governance to prioritize key security risks: Here, the goal is to define a governance framework that helps the company meet its security and compliance needs, while enabling developers to gradually improve security without compromising agility.

Resolve violations to reduce risk: In this phase, each DevOps owner triages the list of security findings and resolves violations that need to be addressed quickly to mitigate critical security and compliance risks based on severity.

Shift-left to improve security and development productivity: While resolving violations, DevOps teams must identify selective security controls within the CI / CD process that can be put in place proactively to not only reduce the cost of ensuring security but also speed up time to market new software releases.

Respond to security incidents immediately: Technically this isn’t a step, but the goal here is to ensure that security incident response teams (SIRT) are equipped with the right visibility and context to investigate cloud threats and vulnerabilities, and can identify the right cloud users quickly to coordinate a successful incident response plan.

Entities often say “show, don’t tell.” Because when you tell a reader what’s happening, you give them information but don’t help them deduce anything on their own. But when you show rather than tell, you help them experience the situation and draw their own conclusions. In an epiphany, we realized that organizations’ cloud security was failing because their tools were simply telling and not showing them the mistakes they were making!

For example, as a cloud security user, when you receive an alert that a “server should restrict public access to TCP port 8080,” what conclusion can you really draw from it?

Do you know the owner or app the alert is referring to?

Is it a web server that needs internet access or a portal internal to your company?

How critical is the data behind that server and what other resources are connected to it?

These are just the first few questions that come to mind when you see an alert like this. And to take proper action, you need a lot more context and some engagement with the right application team.

This is why we built CloudHealth Secure State! To help cloud security teams obtain richer insights into app infrastructure and make it easier for developers to fix security mistakes.

How Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) Works

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) tools are intended to detect and resolve issues caused by cloud misconfigurations. However, a particular CSPM tool may only use best practices defined for a specific cloud environment or service. As a result, knowing which tools can be used in each environment is critical. For example, some devices may be limited to detecting misconfigurations in an AWS, Google Cloud, or Azure environment.

Some CSPM tools can automatically fix issues by combining continuous real-time monitoring with automation features to detect and resolve inappropriate account permissions. Continuous compliance can also be configured to several standards, including PCI DSS, GDPR, or HIPAA.

Other CSPM tools can be used with Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) tools. A Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) is a service or software tool that enables and manages data flow between on-premises IT infrastructure and a cloud provider’s infrastructure.

Cloud Security Posture Management includes discovery and visibility, misconfiguration management and remediation, continuous threat detection, and DevSecOps integration.

Discovery and Visibility: CSPM enables the discovery and visibility of cloud infrastructure assets and security configurations. Users can access a centralized source of truth across multiple cloud environments and accounts. During deployment, cloud resources and details such as misconfigurations, metadata, networking, security, and change activity are automatically discovered. A single console manages security group policies across accounts, regions, projects, and virtual networks.

Misconfiguration Management and Remediation: Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) eliminates security risks by comparing cloud application configurations with industry and organizational benchmarks so that breaches can be detected and remedied in real-time. Misconfigurations, open IP ports, unauthorized changes, and other issues that expose cloud resources can be resolved with improvement suggestions, and various safeguards are provided to assist developers in avoiding errors. For example, storage is constantly monitored to ensure that the appropriate permissions are always in place and that data is never accidentally made public. In addition, database instances are observed to ensure high availability, backup, and encryption are enabled.

Continuous Threat Detection: Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) proactively detects threats throughout the application development lifecycle by cutting the noise of multi-cloud security alerts with targeted threat identification and management approach. The number of alerts is reduced as CSPM focuses on areas where enemies can benefit most, prioritizes vulnerabilities over the environment, and prevents vulnerable code from reaching production. CSPM will also use real-time threat detection to monitor the environment for malicious, unauthorized, and unauthorized access to cloud resources.

DevSecOps Integration: Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) reduces overhead and eliminates friction and complexity between multiple cloud providers and accounts. Cloud-native, agentless downtime management provides centralized visibility and control over all cloud resources. As a result, security operations and DevOps teams gain a single source of truth, and security teams can stop compromised assets from advancing through the application lifecycle.

CSPM should be integrated with SIEM to facilitate visibility and capture insights and context regarding misconfigurations and policy violations. CSPM should also integrate with DevOps toolkits already in use. The integration will enable faster remediation and response within the DevOps toolkit. In addition, reporting and dashboards provide shared understanding across security operations, DevOps, and infrastructure teams.

The key point we’re trying to illustrate with this framework is that an effective cloud security program is built on processes that are non-linear and engage with different stakeholder teams. If you’d like to learn more about building an iterative cloud security process that allows your team to start small and get quick security wins, please see my CloudLIVE session where, with the help of demos and real-world examples, I’ll show (and not tell!) how companies can operationalize cloud security and prevent data breaches.

As we continue to double down on helping organizations improve their cloud security risk management, we’re pleased to announce several new enhancements that reduce friction between security stakeholders and improve decision making through an easier exchange of insights across company tools and processes.

MITRE ATT&CK Cloud Framework support maps hundreds of critical security rules to help organizations build controls that defend against adversary tactics and techniques used by attackers in real-world cloud attack scenarios.

Auto-Remediation General Availability and Remediation API support enable the SecOps team to integrate remediation capabilities within automated response playbooks and scripts, while developers can add a cloud security layer to their deployment pipelines using the Findings APIs to detect misconfigurations and the Remediation APIs to run rollbacks and actions.

Explore 2.0 allows both security and non-security users to instantly search cloud inventory and aggregate results that would otherwise take a lot of time to fetch through logs. Whether it’s a simple string search or a test for complex configuration patterns, users can quickly inspect cloud resources, visualize results, and export findings for further analysis by other teams.

Suppressions 2.0 drastically reduces the time teams spend on chasing false positives. Security and DevOps teams can automatically suppress security findings based on pre-defined criteria and bulk manage suppressions with the click of a single button.

Alerts 2.0 will allow users to send notifications with actionable context to the right teams quickly. Users can limit the scope of alerts to specific accounts or projects and customize alert messages to include helpful notes such as Knowledge Base articles and remediation steps that make it easier for recipients to resolve findings.

Webhook integration to share security insights across the company. With a few clicks, users can configure a new Webhook integration to send Secure State’s findings to most third-party applications used within your company. With Webhook support, you no longer have to treat cloud security as a separate activity.

SOC2 Type I & ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certifications prove our ongoing customer commitment to building secure service operations and meeting established privacy standards.

What are the Differences Between CSPM and Other Cloud Security Solutions?

Organizations, financial institutions, and healthcare providers in different industries use cloud infrastructure for their operations. As more businesses move sensitive data to the cloud, security becomes more critical than ever.

Using a cloud security posture management solution is the best way for any industry to secure cloud configurations and keep private data safe. CSPM tools will even monitor risks in the infrastructure cloud stack. Using CSPM tools and other cloud security solutions together will increase your security level.

Cloud Infrastructure Security Posture Assessment (CISPA) is the name of the first generation of CSPMs. Some organizations may also have a cloud infrastructure security posture assessment (CISPA), a first-generation CSPM. While CISPAs mainly focus on reporting, CSPMs involve varying levels of automation, from simple task execution to the use of complex artificial intelligence.

Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPPs) offer unified cloud workload protection across multiple providers, protecting any workload in any location. CWPPs are based on vulnerability management, anti-malware, and application security tailored to meet modern infrastructure needs.

CSPMs are explicitly built for cloud environments and evaluate the entire environment, not just workloads. CSPMs also include guided correction and more complex automation and artificial intelligence. So users know that there is a problem and have an idea of how to fix it.

Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) are security application points placed between cloud service providers and customers. They ensure that traffic complies with policies before allowing it to access the network. Typically, CASBs provide firewalls, authentication, malware detection, and data loss prevention, whereas CSPMs provide critical data for continuous compliance monitoring, configuration issue prevention, and security operations center investigations.

Real-Life Examples

We already told you that most cloud breaches happen because of a misconfiguration or other user errors. Most prominent cybersecurity groups echo this statement, but let’s see if we can find some real-life examples to prove that common belief.

For starters, we might mention the 2019 Capitol One breach, which basically exposed an entire cloud’s worth of data. This whole thing was carried out by a small group of hackers, one of which was arrested after bragging on social media. In any case, it has been determined that network misconfiguration was the number one cause. This instance was particularly vulnerable because there were misconfigurations in both the cloud itself and its accompanying firewall.

Another good example would be the FedEx breach of 2018. The company was making use of an Amazon cloud server, but they failed to secure the “buckets.” In case you don’t know, these are just containers for documents that are used kind of like external hard drives. Unfortunately, many people do not bother to configure them with a password. When FedEx failed to do this, about 119,000 sensitive documents were compromised. In this case, the hackers didn’t really have to do any hacking… FedEx basically gave them the data on a silver platter because some careless IT person failed to protect the buckets with a password.

Author avatar
Ankit Shah

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