Cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) is a cloud security solution that focuses on enforcing the principle of least privilege when managing identities and access in cloud environments. CIEM provides visibility into who has access to what cloud resources, evaluates whether permissions are appropriate, and helps right-size excessive privileges.

Why is CIEM important?

With the growth of cloud adoption, organizations are accumulating technical identities at scale across their cloud environments. However, without proper visibility and control, excess permissions granted to identities such as users, applications, and resources can pose security risks. CIEM is essential for modern cloud security because it:

  • Strengthens security by reducing attack surface and limiting insider threats
  • Aids compliance and auditing by providing transparency into access controls
  • Improves efficiency by streamlining cloud identity and access management
  • Reduces costs associated with data breaches and remediation

Understanding CIEM

Overview of customer identity and access management (CIAM)

While CIEM focuses on infrastructure identities in the cloud, customer identity and access management (CIAM) centers around managing external user identities that interact with your applications and services. Both CIEM and CIAM play important and complementary roles in managing identities and access. CIAM handles identity management for customers accessing external apps/services, while CIEM handles identity management for internal users and workloads in cloud infrastructure.

Key differences between CIEM and CIAM

  • Scope: CIEM handles IAM for infrastructure/workloads; CIAM handles IAM for customers. CIEM focuses inside cloud environments, while CIAM focuses on external apps/services.
  • Users: CIEM targets internal technical users like admins, developers, and service accounts. CIAM targets external customers accessing apps/services.
  • Systems: CIEM secures identities and access within cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. CIAM secures customer-facing web/mobile apps, APIs, and portals.
  • Data: CIEM protects infrastructure data like configs, logs, credentials, and secrets. CIAM protects customer data like personally identifiable information (PII), financial information, and account details.

The role of CIEM in securing customer data

By restricting unnecessary access to infrastructure and workloads, CIEM reduces the risk of breaches that could expose customer data. It provides layered security around identities that handle customer data and complements CIAM in protecting customer data. CIAM controls access to apps/services, while CIEM controls access to underlying cloud resources storing the data.

Components of CIEM

Identity and access management (IAM)

Core component that discovers cloud identities, evaluates their permissions, and identifies/remediates excessive access risks. Capabilities include auto-discovery of identities, analyzing entitlements, role mining, anomaly detection, and access reviews/certifications.

Customer data management

Provides visibility into where sensitive customer data resides within cloud environments. Critical for assessing data security and compliance risks. Allows classifying, monitoring, and controlling access to customer data stored in cloud resources.

Risk and fraud management

Involves monitoring and analysis of entitlement risks, access patterns, and anomalous activities that could indicate compromised credentials or malicious insiders. Uses analytics and behavioral modeling to detect high-risk users and entitlements.

Benefits of CIEM

Enhanced security and privacy

CIEM minimizes attack surface, protects sensitive data, and reduces risks from insider threats by removing unnecessary entitlements and proactively detecting risky access patterns.

Regulatory compliance

CIEM provides audit trails demonstrating access controls for cloud infrastructure identities and data. This aids compliance with regulations like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA), and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) that require managing and monitoring access to protected data.

Improved operational efficiency

CIEM automates the management and governance of cloud identities and saves security teams significant time and effort compared to traditional manual approaches. Reduces identity sprawl and maintenance overhead.

Cost savings

CIEM reduces the risks of breaches and unauthorized access. CIEM helps avoid substantial costs associated with disruption, data loss, regulatory fines, and recovery that often follow cloud security incidents.

Implementing CIEM

Assessing organizational needs and goals

Organizations should start by clearly defining existing gaps in cloud identity governance and desired outcomes from CIEM. Conducting audits of current cloud permissions is recommended to establish a baseline before implementation.

Choosing the right CIEM solution

When evaluating CIEM platforms, key criteria include automation capabilities, breadth/depth of visibility, ease of use, customer support responsiveness, and integration with existing security tools.

Integration with existing systems

It's critical to plan how your CIEM solution will integrate with other security tools and workflows like security information event management (SIEM) tools, ticketing systems for managing access requests, identity governance processes, and cloud infrastructure. Integration drives operational efficiency and reduces the burden and costs of managing multiple systems.

Planning and executing implementation

A phased rollout tailored to your environment is recommended over a "big bang" approach. Gradually onboard identities and enforce policies to minimize business disruption as you roll out CIEM controls.

Challenges and considerations

Balancing security and user experience

Overly strict access controls can negatively impact end user and administrator productivity. CIEM solutions should enable secure access without unnecessarily disrupting legitimate business activities.

Privacy concerns and data protection regulations

CIEM solutions must provide appropriate safeguards around access logging, monitoring, and data collection to avoid infringing on user privacy rights or violating data privacy regulations like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Managing scalability and evolving customer needs

As cloud usage grows rapidly over time, CIEM capabilities must scale accordingly to manage increasing identities and privileges. CIEM platforms should be flexible enough to accommodate new use cases as they emerge. The relationship between CIEM and cloud native application protection platform (CNAPP) is symbiotic. CIEM is a key component of CNAPP that helps organizations form a robust cloud security strategy.