Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) Tools: The Ultimate Guide

What are CSPM solutions and how can they help organizations stay compliant and avoid the security risks of misconfigurations? Answers (and more) inside.

Ermetic Team By Ermetic Team
Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) Tools: The Ultimate Guide

What is Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)?

CSPM (Cloud Security Posture Management) is a security solution that helps organizations determine that their cloud infrastructure is securely configured and compliant. By reviewing and assessing the environment settings and configurations, CSPM technologies automatically monitor risk in public cloud service configurations and security settings.

Organizations can use a CSPM solution to map risks to compliance standards and best practices like as CIS, GDPR, SOC2, PCI DSS, ISO and HIPAA. Some CSPM solutions can also be used for remediating the detected risks. Others, still, provide a comprehensive solution for detecting and mitigating misconfigurations as well as risks to cloud identities and resources.

A recent commissioned IDC survey found that 84% of organizations are using or plan to implement a CSPM tool.

Why is Cloud Security Posture Management Important?

Cloud misconfigurations, even small ones, can pose huge risks for organizations. Misconfigured settings can render an entire cloud infrastructure vulnerable by making critical assets or sensitive data available to malicious external actors.

In a hard-not-to-mention example, the cause of one of the largest breaches to impact a financial firm, the massive 2019 Capital One breach – whose perpetrator was recently convicted – was traced back to an application firewall misconfiguration. Verizon’s 2021 breach report found misconfigurations of database assets to be a growing problem. The same study found misconfigurations accountable for more than 70% of all errors in the information sector.

In addition to keeping tabs on their cloud security posture, organizations need to stay compliant – to avoid legal sanctions, maintain competitive advantage and ensure they are aligning their infrastructure with cloud security best practice. Some common regulations and guidelines include GDPR, ISO 27001, HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOC 2 and NIST, with multiple other requirements such as at the state level, like New York’s NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulation for financial organizations, adding regulatory headache to the roster.

A CSPM solution solves these challenges by monitoring cloud configurations and security settings, and alerting to vulnerabilities and potential non-compliance. This automation, occasionally provided with remediation, gives security professionals and business leadership peace of mind and time to deal with higher productivity tasks. This is especially true if the automated solution flags risk with accuracy – gaining trust among users and helping prevent dangerous complacency from alert fatigue.

Key Capabilities of CSPM

CSPM supports compliance and public cloud configuration best practices by providing the following capabilities:

  • Visualize asset inventory for discovery of multi-cloud workloads and services
  • Analyze the risks associated with misconfigured infrastructure; solutions offering CSPM with identity risk management also analyze how unused identities, excessive permissions and risky privileges can lead to discovery and exfiltration of sensitive data
  • Through visualization, provide an understanding of network interconnects, security groups and access pathways to stored data – all accessible through API gateways
  • Audit and reporting for compliance against regulations and benchmarks
  • Audit and visualize activity usage or anomalies and provide actionable governance or remediation that reduces risk from these vulnerabilities or threats

How Does Cloud Security Posture Management Work?

A CSPM solution gathers and monitors configuration data from cloud services for risk. It also continuously monitors the data for risk. Finally, it analyzes the results against a compliance benchmark, alerting about vulnerabilities. Some solutions also auto-remediate these threats.

Let’s break this down:

Anomaly Detection

After gathering data, a CSPM tool will map configurations to compliance requirements. Then, it identifies and alerts about vulnerabilities that need fixing. It spares security professionals the need to understand compliance requirements and how they translate to misconfigurations – the CSPM is designed to do this for them.

Monitoring and Reporting

A CSPM tool provides visibility into all cloud assets and any detected misconfigurations. Preferably, this will be served through a dashboard with clear reporting and alerts. These reports should also be downloadable so they can be shared with stakeholders.

Evaluation & Recommendations

An actionable CSPM tool also prioritizes risks, provides recommendations for remediation policies and might even enforce those policies. This takes away much of the manual labor from security professionals and helps build the organization’s security posture.

A CSPM tool shows compliance
A CSPM tool shows compliance – and noncompliance! – across standards and can drill down to show the extent of compliance of each requirement that makes up the standard

Common Cloud Misconfigurations

"Cloud infrastructure misconfigurations” is a broad term, encompassing multiple types of issues. Here are the five most common cloud misconfigurations:

1. Publicly Exposed Resources

Public resources are a coveted target for attackers since they are an accessible means for performing reconnaissance into the organizational network and progressing laterally to sensitive and mission critical resources. As a result, misconfigurations involving these resources are particularly risky. Examples of such misconfigurations include a wildcard resource-based access policy in AWS or reusing secrets and keys.

2. Cross-Account Shared Resources

Some cloud providers allow cloud infrastructure admins to give a user access to a resource in another account – an action known as cross-account access or resource sharing. This practice can lead to accidentally providing access to a large number of users, including external. This misconfiguration can easily lead to a data breach.

3. Data Stores Unprotected by Encryption Keys

Encryption helps protect data stores. Not having insight into which data resources lack encryption can lead to sensitive data being accessible to bad actors, who can then leak it or use it for ransomware purposes.

4. Disabled MFA

MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) is a secure authentication method that uses two factors to verify users. These factors can include credentials, SSO, OTP, location, biometric data, a security question and more. MFA helps ensure that attackers who gain access to a user’s credentials do not gain access to the system, as happened in the SolarWinds attack.

5. Going Against Best Practices

In addition to the aforementioned vulnerabilities, cloud providers and security experts provide best practices for correctly configuring cloud computing, to avoid malpractice that could lead to errors. It is highly recommended to follow trends and recommendations and adhere to these practices to protect your cloud infrastructure from a breach.

Benefits of Cloud Security Posture Management Tools

CSPM tools provide organizations with multiple benefits for securing their cloud infrastructure. These include:

Ensuring Compliance

By leveraging CSPM tools, organizations can enforce and maintain compliance of their cloud applications and services according to their industry-specific standards. By correlating the mapped out vulnerabilities with compliance standards and creating recommendations, security professionals can ensure they are meeting all legal requirements.

Providing Visibility

CSPM tools provide organizations with visibility into the configurations, workloads and services of their cloud assets. As a result, they can maintain governance over the cloud and its security posture. Visibility is often provided through a clear UI, an insightful dashboard and shareable reports.

Reducing Overhead

CSPM tools take care of all of the manual heavy lifting from security professionals, including understanding compliance requirements; reviewing network data storage, API setting, configuration data, etc.; identifying vulnerabilities by correlating with compliance regulations; and creating an actionable plan for mitigating the risks. This frees up their time and reduces the risk of manual errors.

Enhancing Security Posture

Monitoring for misconfigurations is an essential part of ensuring a healthy security posture – and a widely recognized necessity. Following CSPM recommendations helps organizations build up their security and protect themselves from risks.

Is CSPM Enough? A Comprehensive Approach to Cloud Security

But CSPM protects only one part of cloud security risk. Armed with CSPM alone or other disparate security tools, a cloud security team will fall gravely short on protecting against or preventing risk. Looking again at the Capital One case study, a misconfiguration was the first crack in the wall; what really put the organization at risk was the attacker’s ability to obtain privileged credentials and move laterally to access and exfiltrate sensitive data. A comprehensive cloud security solution that visualizes risk in context across the full cloud stack and enforces least-privilege remediation and governance, across multiple cloud providers, can empower you to cover such gaps – and have actionable understanding of the true security posture of your cloud infrastructures. Solutions that combine public cloud security, CSPM and Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) produce awareness of potential cloud MITRE attack vectors related to misconfigurations, privilege escalation and lateral movement, as well as discovery and exfiltration.

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FAQs

What is a CSPM tool?

CSPM (Cloud Security Posture Management) helps organizations ensure their cloud infrastructure is compliant with industry standards like GDPR, PCI DSS, CIS, and more. They map the stack, correlate with regulations and can provide remediation recommendations.

What is CSPM in cyber security?

CSPM (Cloud Security Posture Management) is a security solution category built for monitoring cloud configurations and security settings for compliance breaches. When a vulnerability is detected, security professionals are alerted. CSPM tools give organizations peace of mind that their stack is compliant.

What is CSPM and CWPP?

CSPM and CWPP are two cybersecurity categories for cloud infrastructure protection. CSPM (Cloud Security Posture Management) monitors risk in public cloud service configurations and security settings and maps them to security standards and policies. CWPP (Cloud Workload Protection Platforms) secures workloads, including containers, serverless, virtual machines and servers.

What is the benefit of a cloud security platform with CIEM and CSPM?

CSPM goes wide, helping detect misconfigurations, and monitors to see if all cloud infrastructure elements align with compliance requirements. CIEM goes deep, continuously detecting and assessing risk related to the largest cloud attack surface - machine and human identities; it reveals hidden dangers to sensitive resources and enforces least privilege to prevent them. Read more about the combined value. Such a platform is also an excellent, evolutionary identity-first stepping stone to full Cloud Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP) cloud security.