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RAD SecurityApr 29, 2024 1:00:14 PM6 min read

What is Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) and Why Does It Matter?

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) is a technology that helps monitor and manage security across the cloud. Security engineers use CSPM tools to improve the visibility of cloud assets and reduce risks. As cloud usage grows, CSPM's role in safeguarding these environments has also grown.

Key Functions of CSPM

CSPM tools automate several functions to enhance the security and compliance of cloud environments:

  • Automated Discovery of Cloud Resources - CSPM tools automatically find and organize assets across cloud platforms, preventing resources from being neglected in the security management process.

  • Continuous Monitoring - CSPM systems constantly compare cloud environments against an organization’s policies to help ensure compliance with internal policies and external regulations (for example GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI-DSS).

  • Security Assessment and Risk Identification - CSPM tools help secure cloud environments by identifying risks and vulnerabilities, like misconfigurations, compliance violations, unauthorized access to resources, and insecure APIs.

  • Management of Misconfiguration and Compliance Issues - When CSPM tools detect a move from established security policies, they offer recommendations for how to fix these issues.

These key functions make CSPM a valuable tool for organizations in need of strong cloud security strategies.

Download the Beginners' Guide to CSPM Understand the key functions of CSPM and why it matters with our free guide.   

Why CSPM Matters

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) addresses many of the challenges that come with managing cloud environments. These challenges can become significant security vulnerabilities for organizations.

Challenges include:

  • Misconfiguration of Cloud Resources - In the cloud, configurations can be complex and are frequently updated. Sometimes, this leads to incorrect setting configurations, which can make sensitive data accessible to unauthorized users, posing risks of data breaches.

  • Lack of Visibility and Control - Security teams may find it challenging to keep track of all their cloud assets, especially because these assets tend to grow and change rapidly. Lacking a clear view and control over these assets can cause security gaps to go unnoticed (and therefore unaddressed), making it easier for attackers to exploit them.

  • Inconsistent Compliance Practices - Ensuring consistent adherence to legal and regulatory standards across various cloud platforms is challenging. This inconsistency can lead to compliance violations, attracting penalties and risking data breaches.

  • Overprivileges - Managing who has access to what in the cloud can be challenging, especially when it comes to ensuring that access rights are limited to the essentials for each user’s role. Poor management of these controls can result in too many privileges for some users, increasing the risk of internal threats or severe damage if an account is compromised.

Role of CSPM in Addressing Security Challenges

CSPM systems provide several key solutions to these types of security vulnerabilities:

  • Mitigating Risks Associated with Cloud Misconfigurations - CSPM tools continuously scan cloud environments to identify misconfigurations and security gaps. They provide alerts alongside remediation recommendations, reducing the window of opportunity for exploiting vulnerabilities.

  • Improving Visibility Across the Cloud - CSPM tools offer a comprehensive overview of all cloud resources, helping organizations monitor and manage their security landscape more effectively.

  • Improving Compliance with Industry Regulations - CSPM tools monitor cloud environments against regulatory standards like GDPR, HIPAA, PCI-DSS, etc., and they generate compliance reports that uncover discrepancies.

  • Identifying Excessive Permissions - CSPM helps support the principle of least privilege by analyzing user roles and their permissions to detect cases where permissions exceed the requirements of a user’s job function.

Limitations of CSPM

Although CSPM tools are useful for cloud security, it’s not a comprehensive solution for securing cloud native deployments in the cloud, including containers and Kubernetes. CSPM tools are primarily meant for hardening; they are not meant for real-time analysis of posture or detection and response to attacks. This is because cloud issues generally don’t change very quickly - misconfigurations in the cloud, and configurations in general, won’t change much over a set of weeks. So, when the intent is cloud hardening, identifying these configurations in real-time is not a huge priority.

What starts to become a problem is when CSPM approaches are used to secure cloud native workloads, with containers and Kubernetes, where workloads last for less than five minutes. Below is a comprehensive list of limitations for tools that take a CSPM approach:

Limited Scope of Coverage

  • Detail: CSPM tools are primarily designed to identify misconfigurations and compliance issues. They don’t typically address other security needs like real-time threat detection or active incident response.
  • Limitation: For comprehensive security coverage, organizations must use CSPM alongside other security tools.

Dynamic Cloud-Native Environments

  • Detail: Cloud-native environments are constantly changing with frequent additions, modifications, or removals of resources. CSPM tools are not appropriate for Kubernetes security, and are generally unable to track these changes in real-time.
  • Limitation: CSPM tools are unable to keep up with, and provide visibility into, dynamic cloud native environments that include containers and Kubernetes.

Alert Fatigue

  • Detail: CSPM tools can generate numerous alerts, particularly in extensive and complex cloud environments. These alerts aren’t always critical, and the high volume coming in can overwhelm security teams. The context that is needed to improve the fidelity of alerts is generally not accessible through a CSPM architecture built around polling intervals, which means you have to somehow stitch in context to attack paths that are otherwise static. This leads to less-than-ideal noise to signal ratios.
  • Limitation: Excessive alerts can lead to alert fatigue, reducing the operational efficiency of security teams and putting the organization at risk.

Compliance Focus

  • Detail: CSPM solutions often prioritize standards and best practices, which may not align with an organization's unique security needs.
  • Limitation: This compliance-centric approach can sometimes result in practical security concerns being underemphasized, and less fidelity into each IT stacks’ unique components and set-up. CSPM should be viewed as one element of a broader security strategy.

Remediation with Development & Engineering

  • Detail: CSPM solutions focus on the needs of security teams versus engineering, but remediation for cloud security is best done in shift left fashion, with development and engineering teams via Infrastructure as Code (IaC). So as much noise and as many alerts as are generated, it is less likely that the situation will improve over the long-term without help from development and engineering.
  • Limitation: CSPM tools are generally not built with IaC or development teams in mind, even in how the alerts and results are displayed, so it can be hard to use the CSPM tool in service of making long-term improvements to overall cloud security posture.

Download the Beginners' Guide to CSPM Understand the key functions of CSPM and why it matters with our free guide.   

Integration Challenges

  • Detail: Integrating CSPM tools with existing security tools and workflows can be complex and require effort, particularly if systems are incompatible or if consolidating security data from multiple sources is difficult.
  • Limitation: Challenges in integration can limit the effectiveness of CSPM tools.

Once security teams understand these limitations, they will be prepared to adjust their strategies and implement additional security measures to fill in any gaps.

RAD Security versus CSPM solutions

RAD takes a custom, behavioral approach to cloud native detection and response

A CSPM approach is static - this is ok for a cloud environment, but not a high-velocity cloud native environment.

Even when a CSPM  adds an eBPF sensor to the mix, you get reactive, signature-based detections that come days or weeks after a zero day. Anomaly detection is not something you can verify in your environment, as it happens in a black box. Even the attack paths, while detailed, are noisy and inactionable because they are based on polling intervals. Further, there are major blind spots for the real-time data happening in your containers and K8s, like who is actually using your K8s RBAC.

RAD profiles your cloud native workloads with fingerprints to detect attacks as they happen, and then adds posture and identity context to any drift events. RAD is a complementary solution to CSPMs, because hardening the cloud infrastructure is critical. But a CSPM approach is wholly inappropriate for cloud native detection & response. For that, you need from the cloud native level (workloads/Kubernetes) out, versus trying to figure out everything from the cloud posture perspective.