What is CSPM?

Lacework EditorialDecember 7, 20227 min read

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

The driving force behind cloud adoption has shifted over the years. Initially, companies flocked to the cloud for its cheap, abundant compute and storage. Now however, the cloud has become the default operating system that organizations rely on to run their businesses and develop new products and services. As organizations race to out-innovate the competition, they’re making significant investments in infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), automated pipelines, containerized and microservice architectures, and infrastructure as code (IaC).

But cloud security is no easy task. The same organizations building in the cloud often struggle to ensure their cloud is secure, comply with regulatory standards, and protect themselves and their customers from data breaches or disruption. Despite these universal struggles, the pressure to build within or migrate to the cloud continues unabated, especially as the cloud has become a stronghold for innovation and growth during uncertain economic times.

What is cloud security posture management (CSPM)?

The cloud has dramatically changed the way computing environments are built, configured, and operated. Physical boxes and wires have been replaced with API calls. Critical resources and sensitive data that were once buried beneath layers of infrastructure are now directly accessible from the internet. As a result, traditional systems designed to provide network visibility, security, and compliance are ineffective when it comes to the cloud.

So, what is CSPM? Cloud security posture management, or CSPM, is a solution that enables organizations to assess the security and compliance posture of cloud-native applications. By providing continuous monitoring of cloud environments, CSPM helps teams quickly identify insecure configurations and regulatory compliance violations. With CSPM, teams can identify exploitable misconfigurations due to drift and misuse, and also prevent cyberattacks that target cloud infrastructure.

Why do misconfigurations in the cloud occur?

Unlike legacy corporate networks, the cloud is a highly dynamic set of interconnected and ephemeral services that are constantly changing. Customers have demanded that clouds be highly configurable, and cloud providers have certainly listened — AWS alone offers over 200 of these services. With these offerings, customers can configure infrastructure to support and run almost any conceivable process. But, all this flexibility breeds complexity. 

Many organizations are still in the early stages of building out their cloud environments. This lack of expertise, combined with the fact that applications can span multiple cloud service providers, can lead to clouds interacting in unpredictable ways, thereby making them challenging to configure safely.

Often, misconfigurations happen when teams intertwine different cloud-native technologies (e.g., containers, Kubernetes, or serverless functions). Without proper visibility, it’s easy to misunderstand how these resources interact with each other. For example, if you make a seemingly small, isolated change to one resource without knowing that it’s connected to another internet-accessible resource, you might expose your data to the public internet.

In addition to this complexity, the speed at which cloud infrastructure services are provisioned contributes to the difficulty in preventing misconfigurations from being deployed. Infrastructure as code (IaC) is an increasingly popular technology that automatically configures and provisions cloud infrastructure services. However, should services be improperly configured, IaC makes it easy for compliance and security risks to multiply and spread quickly from a single application to thousands of them.

How does cloud security posture management work?

CSPM automatically checks cloud service configurations to determine their security and compliance with industry or regulatory standards and best practices. CSPM tools work by automatically discovering and cataloging users, services, security groups, and secrets that are active within a cloud account. The configuration of these resources is then compared to or assessed against some preferred policy or rule set that defines what “good” looks like. These can be industry framewoks like CIS benchmarks or CSA CCM, compliance requirements like PCI DSS or SOC 2, or internal best practices created for special cases. Any violations are usually given a severity rating from high to low, and alerts are automatically generated. 

CSPM tools have evolved since their inception, from initially being noisy control-plane monitors to becoming feature-rich, highly-scalable platforms. These platforms are now capable of providing contextual alerts and surfacing abnormalities that might indicate compromise. They can also ensure that risks are automatically dispatched to the right teams by integrating into existing issue tracking workflows and sharing risk data with other cybersecurity and compliance tools for investigation. Modern CSPM tools are helping to drive the evolution of the cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP). A CNAPP can ensure that an entire cloud environment is protected — from the cloud infrastructures themselves to the applications within those infrastructures.

Why is CSPM important?

Misconfigurations are the leading cause of cloud breaches — a trend that is unlikely to change. Experts predict that most future cloud breaches will be caused by preventable misconfigurations or end user mistakes. This statistic underscores the importance of using CSPM tools to continuously find and fix misconfiguration issues across the cloud application lifecycle. 

In a survey that ESG conducted in partnership with Lacework, 83% of respondents said they were experiencing an increase in misconfigurations due to infrastructure as code (IaC) usage. As organizations build faster with IaC, they also experience an uptick in consequences, such as unauthorized application and data access, malware introduction, data loss, and impacted service levels.

CSPM allows you to more easily spot misconfigurations that pose a danger to your cloud environments. Some common cloud misconfigurations include:

  • Unsecured data storage elements or containers
  • Excessive permissions
  • Default credentials and configuration settings left unchanged
  • Standard security controls that have been disabled
  • Unrestricted access to ports and services
  • Unsecured secrets

One of many major breaches due to misconfigurations occurred in 2021, when a leading cloud service provider (CSP) reportedly misconfigured its own cloud storage buckets. Those buckets included third-party data, with around 100 pitch decks containing source code from companies hoping to partner with the CSP — companies whose intellectual property was then exposed. Though the CSP moved fast to resolve the issue, bad actors were quick to exploit the misconfiguration and compromise that sensitive information.

The bottom line: to protect your own data — and that of your key stakeholders — it’s critical to continuously scan your cloud environments for misconfigurations. CSPM can provide that consistent level of visibility and security.

Is CSPM necessary for an organization?

To get a handle on constantly changing cloud environments, organizations need continuous security and compliance visibility of their cloud infrastructure. 

Whether you’re working with customers, partners, boards, or auditors, it’s important to demonstrate that your cloud resources are securely configured. Failing to meet compliance requirements can result in financial penalties, including costly fines and loss of business. Moreover, without continuous, automated monitoring in place, trying to prove compliance with arduous manual processes can cost teams countless hours each week — hours that could be spent on other more strategic projects. 

CSPM enables teams to save time by expediting the most tedious parts of compliance processes. By demonstrating compliance continuously and efficiently, organizations can more easily satisfy the needs of everyone from their own customers to auditors. A good compliance strategy also comes with substantial financial benefits. Proving compliance against objective standards like PCI or SOC 2 displays a responsibility when handling sensitive data, which can open up new revenue streams or customer opportunities — especially in highly regulated industries. 

Secure your organization’s cloud with a CSPM solution

If you’re looking to increase security efficacy, reduce risk, and simplify compliance associated with your cloud-native applications, CSPM is a great place to start. 

At Lacework, our CSPM capabilities are part of our CNAPP. A CNAPP is a single consolidated platform that provides security over every aspect of the software development lifecycle — from build time through runtime. This consolidated cloud security platform includes functions like cloud security posture management (CSPM), cloud workload protection program (CWPP), infrastructure as code (IaC) security, vulnerability management, code security, and more.

Recently, consulting firm Frost & Sullivan named us a CNAPP market leader in recognition of our comprehensive offerings, including CSPM. And we continue to add new features. Recently, we announced attack path analysis, which lets you see misconfigurations that an attacker could exploit, as well as enhancements to our agentless workload scanning. These new capabilities, coupled with our one-of-a-kind threat monitoring that enables you to discover unknown threats without writing rules, help you protect your cloud environments more quickly and completely than ever before. 

For more on the differences between CSPM, CNAPP, and another C acronym, CWPP (cloud workload protection platform), you can check out our primer on the topic. And to continue learning about Lacework and our CSPM offerings, please visit our dedicated CSPM webpage.


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