What Is Cloud Workload Protection (CWP)?
CWP is a security category that addresses the need to secure cloud workloads and ensure their compliance.
What is a Cloud Workload?
A cloud workload is a service, application, process, capability or or computing task that runs on cloud infrastructure and consumes cloud-computing resources. Specific examples include websites, microservices, virtual machines, containers, databases, SaaS applications and applications running on Kubernetes. Cloud workloads can be hosted on AWS, Azure or GCP, or on private or hybrid cloud environments. The resources consumed are used to host, execute and manage the workload.
What is a CWP?
Cloud Workload Protection (CWP) solutions, also known as Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP) solutions, protect cloud workloads – as mentioned above, such as containers, VMs, serverless functions and Kubernetes clusters – from threats. By monitoring and scanning workloads, CWPs detect security weaknesses and flaws to prevent and remediate risks like vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, malware, anomalous behavior and exposed secrets. As a result, CWPs help security and risk stakeholders meet compliance requirements and industry-standard security practices, such as AWS Well Architected, ISO 27001 and NIST.
CWPs can be deployed for public cloud (AWS, Azure and GCP) workloads and private cloud workloads. Many vendors offer CWP capabilities as part of an integrated Cloud-Native Application Protection (CNAPP) offering.
What Are the Benefits of Cloud Workload Protection?
CWP solutions can offer multiple benefits:
- Minimize the risk and blast radius of breaches and sensitive data exposure by helping prevent workload-related risks and other threats
- Provide deep visibility into cloud workloads across all environments to identify vulnerabilities, out-of-date software, exposed data and more
- Assess risk quickly without sacrificing performance
- Continuously audit compliance and implement security controls to meet changing requirements
- Shift left security for container-based workloads
- Prioritize risk, saving time by identifying and surfacing the most critical issues
Who Needs CWPP?
Protecting workloads and managing vulnerabilities is essential for minimizing cloud breaches and exposure of sensitive data, and maintaining compliance and cloud security best practice. This makes CWP, with its ability to automate workload scanning and risk detection, an essential solution for any organization operating in the cloud. CWPs can also help compliance officers keep up with dynamic requirements and implement the security controls necessary to protect sensitive data.
A CWP can help any enterprise undergoing cloud migration accelerate their cloudification process by ensuring security standards adherence from the get go.
Key Components of a Cloud Workload Protection Platform (CWPP)
While they may differ in features and capabilities almost every CWP solution comprises:
- Vulnerability scanning. Continuously scans workloads to identify vulnerabilities, exposed secrets, malware, misconfigurations, and other risks and threats
- Single pane of glass for visibility. Provides centralized visibility into cloud workloads including containers, VMs, serverless functions and K8S clusters
- Risk-based prioritization. Prioritizes risk by analyzing vulnerabilities across operating system packages, applications and libraries, and correlating the risk with other workload characteristics like network exposure and permission levels
- Compliance controls. Scans for compliance with standards that require a vulnerability management process such as AWS Well Architected, NIST, ISO 27001,CSA and SOC II and implements security controls to mitigate risks
- Agent-based and agentless solutions (some offer both). Both deployment types have pros and cons. Agent-based solutions can offer deep visibility but require repeat deployment whereas agentless are easier to enable and considered non-disruptive.
How Does Cloud Workload Protection Work?
A CWP (Cloud Workload Protection) platform scans cloud workloads, containers and virtual machines. Results are analyzed across operating system packages, applications and libraries to detect risks. CWPs provide security, developers, and devops with insights about vulnerabilities, malware, misconfigurations and sensitive data in their workloads. Risks are prioritized so stakeholders can allocate resources and plan accordingly.
What Should You Look For in a CWP Platform?
CWP capabilities are often offered as part of a fuller cloud security solution, like CNAPP. As noted, CWP focuses on protecting cloud workloads through scanning and monitoring, offering a process for managing vulnerabilities and providing visibility into environments. Whether the CWP capabilities you are reviewing are offered standalone or as part of a combined solution, be sure they can address your key use cases. Look for:
- Comprehensive multicloud workload protection across environments. The solution achieves this by scanning and detecting critical workload risks, and discovering resources that are either exposed to threats or have the largest blast radius.
- A centralized single point of visibility. Look at solutions that provide insights into vulnerabilities, exposed secrets/sensitive data, malware and misconfigurations – across virtual machines, containers and serverless functions.
- Contextual risk prioritization. An important feature for reducing false alerts is risk assessment that factors in OS security posture, applications and libraries and workload risk factors alongside findings like misconfigurations, network exposure and overly permissive identities to determine the risks of greatest potential impact.
- Container scanning that enables shifting left. Look for solutions that integrate container security recommendations into existing CI/CD workflows while also enabling DevOps teams to track the container back to the original image that created it.
- Compliance with regulatory standards and security best practices. Ensure that the solution offers a vulnerability management process via security controls and continual compliance scanning.
- Recommended: An agentless solution that doesn’t impact performance or require long and repeat deployment times.
To be effective, a CWP solution must equip you to answer: What cloud workloads do I have, which are exposed, and how are they exposed? The ability to drill down into the detailed findings and information is not trivial and yet critical for your workloads to be protected.
CWP vs CNAPP
A key component of a Cloud-Native Application Protection Platform (CNAPP) is robust CWP capabilities alongside other essential cloud security lifecycle needs like Cloud Identity Entitlement Management (CIEM), Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM), Infrastructure as Code (IaC) security and Kubernetes Security Protection Management (KSPM).
CNAPP aside, Gartner has noted that, CWP solutions are one of the five most popular tools used to secure cloud-native applications but not always successful at integrating into development and answering the infrastructure as code needs of development pipelines. Enterprises can integrate a standalone CWP (and CSPM and other solutions) with the development pipeline via APIs – but doing so may be resource-intensive, requiring building an integration or introducing another vendor.
Some modern CWP solutions – typically as part of a CNAPP – have introduced infrastructure as code (IaC) or policy as code (PaC), enabling shift-left security and integration of optimized code earlier in the development pipeline.
CWP vs CSPM
Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) solutions monitor configuration data, identify and prevent misconfigurations, and help organizations meet regulatory requirements. By preventing misconfigurations, CSPMs help organizations mitigate threats and risks. In addition, the information CSPMs find can be mapped to benchmarks, frameworks and standards like ISO and HIPAA, making CSPMs useful for compliance management.
CWPs and CSPMs are two of the five most commonly used tools for securing cloud-native applications. Organizations often implement each of these tools in a siloed manner and then stitch them together in their security stack. CNAPP solutions include CWPs, CSPMs and additional key capabilities for cloud protection that go deeper into the different domains of cloud environments, like identities and entitlements (CIEM) and, importantly, mine context from this rich cross-weave of information to determine and prioritize risk. In short, CWP and CSPMs are important and acknowledged cloud security essentials, however an integrated use of these tools is more likely to produce the kinds of insights needed for effective cloud security.
CWP vs KSPM
While CWPs scan cloud containers, most lack the ability to see inside and secure the Kubernetes components that are managing the containers. KSPM (Kubernetes Security Posture Management) platforms provide this depth. By monitoring Kubernetes configuration data, KSPM can detect misconfigurations, mitigate threats and ensure compliance with K8s-related policies. KSPM integrates in DevOps pipelines to enable frictionless use of Kubernetes in development workflows.
It has been recommended that enterprises add KSPM capabilities on top of their CWP solution, to ensure holistic protection of cloud environments.