What is CNAPP? 4 ways CNAPPs will simplify security

Allie FickFebruary 8, 20236 min read

Abstract architectural photo shot from the ground. Features a lot of modern windows and steel.

What is CNAPP?

If you’re seeing the acronym “CNAPP” everywhere but not sure what it is and how it works, you’re not alone. You know it’s important because everyone else is talking about it, but what is it exactly? You’ve read a few definitions, watched some YouTube videos, but you’re still confused. 

As it turns out, there was a similar situation with a complex new tool 15 years ago—but today, that device requires no introduction. You might even be reading this on that tool now.

When the Apple iPhone was released in 2007, explaining it didn’t come easily to people. Users described it as a monitor that you operate with your fingers, a device with a “lack of buttons,” and “something straight out of Star Trek.” 

Despite the initial confusion, the iPhone changed the world and the way we communicate. With more than 1.2 billion users worldwide today, it’s an important part of our daily lives. 

Cloud-native application protection platforms, or CNAPPs, are security tools that provide developer, security, and operations teams one centralized place to view and manage security controls while creating and maintaining applications in the cloud. A proper CNAPP integrates with the systems and tools that businesses already use to develop and run cloud applications, which means they can protect those applications throughout each step in the process. 

Tools like CNAPPs are getting significant attention today because, in the way that iPhones changed communication, CNAPPs have a similar opportunity to revolutionize cloud security. 

The global CNAPP market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 25.7% from 2021 to 2026. Could CNAPPs eventually become as popular and relevant as iPhones?

While we can’t answer that question just yet, we can draw some similarities between CNAPPs and iPhones to help us understand what they do and how to use them. 

1. They enable you to consolidate tools.

How many ways do you use your iPhone on a typical day?  

You probably snooze your alarm, respond to text messages, check your email, read the news, check the weather—and that’s just within minutes of waking up. The rest of the day, you’re making phone calls, scrolling through social media, ordering lunch; the possibilities are endless. 

Now picture life without your smartphone.

Going through your daily routine would take much longer and be a lot less convenient. Sure, you could still accomplish the same tasks, but definitely not from the comfort of your own bed. You’d need to get up and turn on your computer or the TV to see the news; or even check a thermometer or walk outside to check the weather. It’s possible to get it all done with a few different tools, but an iPhone makes it much easier and faster. 

A CNAPP is no different. Businesses can experience those same benefits by consolidating many of their security tools—including cloud security posture management (CSPM), cloud workload protection platforms (CWPPs), cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM), and Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools—into a single platform. Using one tool to find vulnerabilities, report compliance, and detect threats across multiple clouds will save you time and money. On top of that, you’ll only need to teach your teams how to use one security tool (which means fewer training sessions) and you won’t need to renew nearly as many software licenses each year. 

2. They ingest, organize, and visualize data.

iPhones gather, store, and process a ton of data such as contact information, health and fitness data, and financial information. It would be impossible to understand all of that data without a simple user interface that organizes and visualizes the information. Your iPhone home screen allows you to easily find what you need; when you want to see how much money is in your bank account, you tap your banking app and log in. If you want to know how many steps you walked today, you look at the health app. There’s a ton of data in your phone, but it wouldn’t be useful to you if it wasn’t presented in an easily digestible format. 

CNAPPs capture the massive amounts of data that you generate when building and running an app in the cloud. Like iPhones, in addition to collecting data, they also help you organize and visualize that data so you can understand it. They use machine learning to ingest, label, and identify cloud behaviors and activities. They compare identity and resource configurations against industry, cloud, and company best practices to help you identify misconfigurations in development and production environments. They continuously collect data on workloads to identify threats, with some using machine learning to identify anomalous and unusual behavior. The most effective CNAPPs also provide visual attack paths that tie together different attack vectors, including vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, network reachability, secrets, and identity and access management (IAM) roles for every host in the environment. 

3. They prioritize alerts and give you context.

Your iPhone presents your most important alerts on your lock screen or your home screen (depending on whether it’s locked or not). When you do something that could have harmful consequences, you receive an immediate and prominent alert with context. For example, when you plug your iPhone into a Mac, it says “Trust this computer? Your settings and data will be accessible from this Macbook when connected wirelessly or using a cable.” Your iPhone detected that you plugged it into a laptop, and it explained what could happen, giving you the chance to undo your potentially harmful action. 

The CNAPP helps you by providing high-fidelity alerts. Rather than sifting through thousands of alerts and addressing everyone, by prioritizing high criticality alerts your security team can get straight to work fixing the immediate threats. The most effective CNAPPs use behavioral analytics and machine learning to learn how your environment should run and then notify you when it deviates. They correlate the data with different sources to automatically piece together what is happening. Then they’ll give you context to explain what happened and where you need to focus your efforts to reduce risk. 

4. The most effective CNAPPs (and iPhones) identify abnormal behavior.

When your Apple ID is used to sign into a new device, you’ll receive an email or notification. While you could be the user in question, because this is an unrecognized device, there is a chance that someone has stolen your identity. Apple notifies you about this unusual behavior as a precaution. 

Some CNAPPs rely on traditional signature-based threat detection, which tends to render false positives and only works against “known bad” threats, or events specifically designated as a threat. In the iPhone scenario, those CNAPPs would either alert you every single time you log in (which would generate way too many alerts) or fail to notify you about potential logins. 

Anomaly-based threat detection, on the other hand, can automatically build a baseline for normal cloud behavior and surface any abnormalities. Regarding the iPhone, your baseline would consist of devices that you regularly use your Apple ID on; and logging into a new device would be considered an anomaly that would trigger an alert. 

With anomaly detection based on data and machine learning, CNAPPs learn what behavior is expected or routine in your cloud, and should therefore alert you when something new and different happens. For example, if one of your teammates with an AWS account is downloading files that they don’t usually open, this would raise a flag that something potentially malicious is happening. Detecting these kinds of actions as soon as possible could stop attackers before they’re able to access your valuable data. 

Will CNAPPs have the same long-term impacts of the iPhone?

While CNAPPs can be difficult to comprehend, comparing them to devices that we use every day can help us grasp the benefits that come along with them. Will the CNAPP bring more impact than the iPhone? Only time will tell.

In the market for a CNAPP? Hear why Frost & Sullivan ranked Lacework a “Leader” in both product growth and innovation in the 2022 Frost Radar™: Global CNAPP report

Lacework is a global leader for CNAPP

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