Enhancing Cloud Visibility: The Importance of CSPM in Cloud Security

Becca Gomby
Wednesday, Jul 5th, 2023

Curious about CSPM? We explain what cloud security posture management is, why it is needed, and how it works. 

What is CSPM?

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) is a set of automated procedures designed to identify and remediate misconfiguration issues and other risks in the cloud. CSPM continuously monitors systems for security vulnerabilities and compliance issues. 

The many benefits offered by the cloud have fueled a widespread adoption of cloud technologies. However, this aggressive migration and expansion of cloud service offerings has come with missteps and downsides, most notably in the poor security configurations of cloud infrastructure or the inability to scale security efforts alongside this rapid growth.  

Cloud misconfigurations are a massive problem in IT systems because it is an area that is easily prone to human error. Vulnerabilities and compliance failures often start with simple misconfigurations. A Gartner report estimates that by 2025, 99% of cloud security issues will be due to misconfiguration errors.  

More so, misconfigurations have a disproportionate impact on the entire security posture of the underlying IT infrastructure. A single misconfiguration has the potential of exposing hundreds of thousands of personally identifiable and confidential data to the public. As a result, misconfigurations present a common attack vector for hackers seeking to gain access to a system. 

A recent reminder of the magnitude of this problem was the conviction of Paige A. Thompson, a former Amazon employee responsible for one of the largest data breaches in the United States. Using a tool she built to scan Amazon Web Services accounts for misconfiguration issues, Thompson downloaded over 100 million Capital One customers’ personal information.  

The good news is that CSPM seeks to minimize the error-prone factors causing cloud vulnerabilities using automation. However, CSPM’s capabilities aren’t limited to configuration problems. As we have noted, CSPM reflects a group of cloud security tools and technologies whose overall impact is to reduce the risks associated with cloud computing. 

In addition, CSPM’s continuous monitoring capabilities enable cloud accounts and platforms to keep themselves compliant. The overall benefit of CSPM is to fortify an organization’s cloud-based assets against data breaches, compliance failures, and cyberattacks. 

Why is CSPM important 

Cloud environments grow quickly with the rapid proliferation of resources deployed to them. This makes it easy for them to become unwieldy to manage as they are often rife with concurrent connections to multiple entities like Docker containers, Kubernetes nodes, endpoint APIs, and other serverless functions.  

This makes it difficult for organizations to keep track of and gain visibility into their underlying infrastructure. This is especially true given how they are configured, and the level of permissions applied to each resource. 

The strength of CSPM lies in fortifying your cloud security posture. CSPM is typically adopted by businesses that pursue a cloud-first strategy and want to leverage its advantages while minimizing their risk exposure by following cloud security best practices.  

With its built-in automation, CSPM both aids and relieves DevSecOps duties with continuous monitoring of the cloud infrastructure under their purview. One of the unique selling propositions of CSPM is the rapid feedback it provides when a misconfiguration is encountered, which allows for immediate remediation efforts. This enables organizations to be proactive in keeping their cloud environment in compliance. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but CSPM provides the following benefits and advantages: 

  • Unified Visibility Across Cloud Platforms: CSPM tools are geared to check and spot compliance and/or configuration problems. In the process, they are also primed to help businesses to eliminate security blind spots, granting DevSecOps widespread visibility across hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Some CSPM tools can provide this visibility as a single source of truth for cloud resources. 
  • Continuous Security Protection: CSPM provides agentless, cloud-native protection to safeguard digital assets, primarily through alerting you to misconfiguration and compliance issues. It helps to identify the gaps between the desired state of your cloud environment and the present reality, highlighting the break in your actual security posture. 
  • Monitoring and Fixing Misconfiguration Issues: As the adage goes, prevention is better than cure. CSPM follows this by proactively identifying misconfiguration vulnerabilities in the cloud, proving itself vital for system and information integrity in the cloud environment. 
  • Guided Remediation Through Automation: CSPM increases cloud infrastructure security by providing the ability to automate the fixing of misconfiguration and compliance problems. CSPM often incorporates robotic process automation (RPA) tools to perform automatic remediation in the protection of critical cloud services.   
    While auto-remediation is a step in the right direction, it is not a silver bullet. The best practice is to employ dynamic remediation processes that can meet guidelines with seamless flexibility in real-time. Ideally, the CSPM tool should combine dynamic remediation with DevOps capabilities so possible attack paths can be detected with each misconfiguration. 
  • Maintaining Regulatory Compliance: Compliance assessment is a big deal for organizations that operate in industries that require regulatory compliance like HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, and even Azure benchmarks. By their very nature, compliance regulations demand continuous monitoring and oversight. While CSPM is easily adapted to general industry compliance standards, it also serves the purpose of internal governance requirements for risk management processes like ISO 27001. 

How CSPM works and its common best practices 

Cloud security best practices are the linchpin of CSPM technologies. One of its main purposes is to institute robust security by benchmarking a cloud environment against a set of best practices. In evaluating and comparing a cloud infrastructure against a set of acceptable guidelines, CSPM helps to minimize cloud security risks. 

In addition to facilitating best practices, CSPM works in conjunction with tools such as cloud access security brokers (CASB) to safeguard the flow of data between other environments like the cloud providers and on-premises IT infrastructure. 

CSPM best practices

Just as securing cloud environments has become more complex, CSPM’s best practices and benefits inevitably overlap, so we’ll also be emphasizing some of those that have been highlighted earlier. 

Incident response 

CSPM enhances the ability of DevSecOps to make security assessments that remediate and minimize the occurrence of security incidents in the cloud architecture. Apart from proactively identifying likely incidents, CSPM can provide a global view of threats assessment, with details on how they are detected, quarantined, and remediated. 

Continuous compliance monitoring 

CSPM ensures compliance is maintained on an ongoing basis. It takes away most of the monotonous, arduous, and routine work of monitoring account permissions and storage S3 buckets. CSPM identifies the risks associated with workloads, especially from a compliance perspective by executing compliance checks. 

Maintaining an inventory of best practices 

When an organization uses multiple cloud tools and technologies, it is imperative that it maintains a baseline security standard for the different cloud services and configurations. Once these have been established, CSPM will not only flag when any of these best practices are in violation but provide necessary recommendations for their remedy.  

This will typically include why this particular best practice is important and why a critical remedy to the situation is required. CSPM tools also allow you to choose performance benchmarks that are important to you from an inventory of available lists.  

Risk visualization and assessment 

CSPM provides an asset-based view of the cloud infrastructure, showing the statuses of entities and assets, along with their current risk levels. Since cloud loads are often distributed by region, it also depicts risk profiles by geographic location. Most CSPM tools embed data visualization technologies that show an organization’s total assets, those that are protected, and those that have failed, all within a particular time frame.  

Individual resources can also show the policies that have failed, along with recommendations, audit procedures, and remediation procedures for its resolution. This also comes with contingency planning. 

Automation and audit procedures 

Automation is the main, effective driver of CSPM solutions. One of the ways CSPM reduces the problem of misconfiguration is through embedding automation so human intervention is reduced in IT processes. In addition to reducing misconfiguration issues, automation accelerates the speed, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of detecting, neutralizing, and patching vulnerabilities. 

Automated compliance monitoring thoroughly checks cloud processes and requirements to detect where there’s incongruity with compliance. This early detection system allows stakeholders to fix issues expeditiously, providing an audit trail of accountability.  

In addition, CSPM also allows you to perform spot checks of the actual policies themselves. Audit and accountability features also come with remediation procedures that provide step-by-step instructions on how to change configurations when issues are identified.    
However, while automated compliance monitoring is enacted with good intentions, it usually leaves a sour taste with the avalanche of trivial alerts, often with false positives, produced. As a result, a CSPM tool needs to have dynamic remediation functionality capable of fine-tuning the monitoring process. This will enable it to execute smart prioritization of the critical alerts while closely tailoring solutions to the organization’s specifications. 

Security operations center investigations 

CSPM tools can provide a control framework since they often serve as a single source of truth for cloud security issues. As a security operations center, it can allow investigations to map the automated discovery of assets with their configuration status, especially in relation to regulatory standards.  

CSPM use cases

CSPM ensures organizations have the right cloud security posture in three main areas: configuration, identity access and control, and data protection. 

Facilitating Robust Identity Access and Management (IAM) Configuration 

CSPM ensures cloud entities don’t have excessive permissions that pose a risk and endanger the organization. CSPM tools use IAM to ensure user access and resource policies are strictly enforced. They also make sure user roles are commensurate with the actions they’re permitted to execute.  

Some of the CSPM security policies can include the following: 

  • Ensure multi-factor authentication is enabled for all cloud users, especially for the root account. 
  • Establish IAM policies that discourage the creation of accounts with full administrative privileges. 
  • Creation of support roles to manage and handle incidences with cloud provider support. 
  • Eliminating the use of role user accounts for daily administrative tasks. 

A good CSPM solution should highlight the assets that have failed these requirements so DevSecOps can fix them.  

Cloud Configuration Management 

CSPM is built to ensure cloud resources have been properly configured. CSPM uses various tools and methods to make certain a strong security posture with regulatory compliance is maintained at all times. It checks for granular service configuration throughout the cloud environment. 

Data Protection 

CSPM facilities document and data protection. It does this by helping identify sensitive data and ensuring it has been adequately protected. CSPM prevents sensitive data exposure by employing data loss prevention (DLP) methods and data-in-transit encryption. 

In-depth Context and Visibility 

To protect critical workloads and data assets, DevSecOps need to clearly visualize the broad swath of their cloud environment. This includes providing context on how they interact with each other that might provide hackers a foothold in exploiting the system. Context also lies in prioritizing alerts with their associated risk levels. This high-level visibility has several advantages, among them minimizing risk exposure through configuration drift prevention.  

Explore How Panoptica’s Graph-based Technology Improves Cloud Security 

Panoptica’s platform goes above and beyond the expected parameters of a CSPM tool. In addition to allowing you to see deep inside your cloud stack with our graph-based technology, it also offers a rapid visual assessment of risk with contextual cloud security to guide your operations. 

Sign up quickly and easily now and see how Panoptica can help improve your cloud security management. 

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