Published: 01/10/2021

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

What is cloud security posture management (CSPM)?

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) is a way to measure the vulnerability posture of your organization’s data in the cloud. This method allows you to determine what sensitive information is at risk and how vulnerable it may be, based on the configuration of security controls within the environment. Once CSPM has been completed, an organization can establish mitigation strategies to reduce its overall security risks.

How it works

CSPM is a way to measure, track and manage the security posture of cloud-based applications and data. It provides visibility and accountability for your organization’s information in the cloud, including where sensitive data resides as well as how it is configured. CSPM shows where changes have been made since initial deployment, allowing organizations to validate that the target state has been achieved. In addition, once an organization has completed its posture assessment, mitigation strategies can be developed, which lowers overall risk exposure.

Who needs CSPM

CSPM is designed to help companies gain critical enterprise-wide insights into their information security posture, including how it is configured and where it lives. The more sensitive information that an organization has in the cloud, the greater their need to understand how that information is configured and what access controls are enabled. In addition, enterprises using multiple cloud providers will benefit from a solution that tracks changes across different environments.

Advantages of CSPM against traditional security approaches

CSPM is the only cloud-based posture management approach that can track changes in your organization’s sensitive data across multiple clouds. It is uniquely able to offer detailed visibility into how an organization’s sensitive information may be configured in different environments, allowing IT and security professionals to choose when and what they want to do with their assets.

Key benefits of CSPM include

  • Identifying vulnerabilities in cloud-based applications and data
  • Evaluating risk exposure of an organization’s specific data configuration against industry-standard compliance requirements
  • Optimizing resource allocation by determining where investments need to be made
  • Providing the ability to compare different data and application configurations
  • Establishing a comprehensive security configuration baseline
  • Tracking changes in your organization’s sensitive data across clouds for continuous visibility of data exposure risks.

Disadvantages of CSPM against traditional security approaches

While there are many benefits to CSPM, the method does have some limitations. For example, organizations need to validate business rules before moving forward with this approach. In addition, accomplishing the task requires additional resources in terms of both time and money. Because it is a manual process, IT professionals will also need to take on an increased operational burden to manage multiple cloud vendors while tracking changes across different provider environments.

Key cons of CSPMs include

  • Requires following specific steps that may not align with existing security processes or cultures
  • Not scalable enough for large enterprises who want complete visibility into all their activities across various clouds
  • May require too much time and money for certain companies to implement depending on how they work
  • Requires extra operational efforts to manage multiple cloud vendors and track changes
  • Does not support multi-tenant environments

Where CSPM fits into your information security program

The CSPM framework consists of three phases: assessmentvalidation and optimization, all of which must be completed in order for an organization to successfully complete its posture assessment.

These three steps work together to provide a means by which any company can measure their overall security risk exposure and identify gaps between the current state of their environment and the desired target state. While this process provides visibility into where vulnerabilities may exist, organizations will need to consider how

What to do if you use a cloud provider without CSPM capabilities

The CSPM framework is focused on cloud services. If you are using a non-cloud provider, it would be necessary to reach out to them directly in order to understand how their system works and determine whether or not they can provide the visibility that your organization needs.

Frequently asked questions about CSPM

Can CSPM be combined with other approaches and tools?

Yes, to some extent. For example, an organization may want to combine cloud-specific scanning tools with the other methods in order to get a full picture of their security footprint. However, it is important not to assume that incorporating multiple tools will provide the same results as CSPM. In fact, combining tools increases complexity and decreases transparency which can lead to additional unnecessary risk exposure for your company’s sensitive data.

Does participation in CIS controls or NIST cloud assessments make CSPM redundant?

Answer: No. Both of these frameworks work together and complement one another rather than compete against each other. They both provide critical insight into your company’s security and compliance posture.

Do I need to be in control of my cloud environment in order to use CSPM?

No. As mentioned earlier, the purpose of this approach is to provide visibility into your company’s security exposure in any environment that it uses. However, if your organization does not currently have a cloud provider for example, it may be necessary to reach out directly in order to determine whether or not they can support such an assessment.

Does CSPM only cover IaaS, PaaS and SaaS?

No. The assessment, validation and optimization phases of the CSPM framework can be applied to just about any cloud-based service which makes this approach extremely versatile. Note that some companies may need to reach out directly to their providers in order to determine whether they have the ability to give visibility into certain types of cloud services or not.

If my business partners use a type of cloud service that isn’t supported by CSPM, does that mean we cannot perform an effective security posture assessment together?

Generally speaking, recent research suggests that more than half of organizations use at least one non-supported application from a CSPM perspective. However, this does not necessarily mean that your company cannot work with its business partners to perform a comprehensive assessment of their security and compliance posture. It would be necessary to determine what type of cloud services are in use and whether or not the customer can provide access and visibility into these services for you and/or your supplier.

Can CSPM be used to manage or optimize security risks associated with an organization’s cloud service provider?

Yes. CSPM is not only designed for your company to measure its own security posture; it can also be used by organizations that need to provide visibility into their client base (e.g., consultants, software as a services companies, etc). It would simply involve configuring the assessment stage of the process to target external resources instead of internal resources which is relatively straightforward given the customizable nature of this framework.

CSPM addresses these issues in much the same way as other approaches do i.e., through contractual agreements related to governance and enforcement policies between customer and provider. The contractual agreement needs to reflect the level of visibility that your company is willing to provide into its organization, as well as any preferences that it may have regarding services and data locations.

Will CSPM be affected by future changes in legislation?

Yes, much like other approaches which require a re-assessment from time to time in order to maintain compliance with regulatory mandates. However, this change should not affect the overall process flow or overall approach itself because most legislation simply focuses on highlighting areas for further assessment i.e., it does not usually mandate specific security toolsets, policies or procedures which organizations must adopt going forward.

Is there a benefit to being able to integrate scanning tools CSPM?

Yes. Given that CSPM is a framework which allows you to choose the types of scanning engines and other security toolsets that should be used during review, it can easily accommodate all types of assessments. In fact, it may even be possible for you to use different toolsets at different stages within this framework so long as your organization’s contractual agreements permit such an approach.

CSPM is scalable across various compliance mandates. Is there a specific compliance mandate which it is best suited towards?

No. Since CSPM allows organizations to perform comprehensive visibility into their cloud environment, any regulatory mandates which require ongoing access and measurement will benefit from its use e.g., SOX, PCI DSS, FISMA amongst others.

Are there any benefits to using this approach in non-regulated environments?

Yes. It allows for a more transparent and efficient approach that is designed to foster continuous improvement within organizations, thereby enhancing overall business value.

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