CSPM: An Introduction to Cloud Security Posture Management

Cloud Security Posture Management is a vital part of a robust defense against cyberattacks for any business that uses cloud computing. Here, our expert introduces you to its components.

Written by Katlyn Gallo
Published on Dec. 15, 2022
CSPM: An Introduction to Cloud Security Posture Management
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With the continued adoption of the cloud, cloud security has become quite the buzzword in the technology industry. Although information and cybersecurity concepts remain the same, new threats arise when companies migrate their technology to cloud platforms. The seemingly endless possibilities and scalability opportunities that come with cloud platforms and solutions are, unfortunately, accompanied by the ease of making a mistake that’s detrimental to the security of the platform. This article will explore an important component of cloud security, Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM), and discuss its importance. 

CSPM: Cloud Security Posture Management

CSPM stands for Cloud Security Posture Management, which is the practice of continuously assessing cloud platforms to identify misconfigurations and other risks. In other words, CSPM ensures the security posture of an organization’s cloud environment(s) is aligned with expectations. 

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What Is CSPM?

CSPM stands for Cloud Security Posture Management, which is the practice of continuously assessing cloud platforms to identify misconfigurations and other risks. In other words, CSPM ensures the security posture of an organization’s cloud environment(s) is aligned with expectations. 

To assess their cloud environments, companies must use CSPM tools that automate the assessment process. Popular cloud platforms like Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS provide some CSPM capabilities by default, but their extent depends on the licensing model a company subscribes to. Organizations may also decide to invest in a third-party CSPM tool, as there are many vendors in this space whose products integrate with the various cloud platforms. 

 

Why Is CSPM Important?

In recent years, data breaches have become more and more commonplace. Unfortunately, many of these could have been prevented if only the company had a CSPM program in place. Some examples include a breach of Microsoft Azure in 2021 in which a cloud service misconfiguration resulted in the exposure of confidential information of customers, and one involving Prestige Software, where an exposed Amazon S3 bucket resulted in the compromise of 10 years’ worth of data belonging to popular travel agencies. If neither of those breaches ring a bell, maybe the Capital One incident does, where over 100 million customers’ personal data was exposed in 2019 due to a misconfigured firewall. 

CSPM tools identify misconfigurations, which increase the risk to the cloud platform. Although we can’t cover all of these here, the most common misconfigurations inadvertently expose private resources to the internet. This exposure could be as simple as accidentally deleting a firewall rule that denies all inbound traffic, resulting in internet traffic gaining access to one or more internal systems. Another common occurrence is accidental exposure of cloud storage, which can be detrimental to an organization if the data involved in the exposure is sensitive in nature.

CSPM enables organizations to continually assess their cloud platforms and take action when they identify critical issues like these. Although this sounds simple, implementing a successful CSPM program takes time. 

 

How to Implement CSPM in Your Organization

Companies should consider several things prior to the assessment stage of CSPM. As with other security assessments, defining the objectives and obtaining buy-in from leadership is crucial. From there, security teams can proceed with the subsequent phases of implementing CSPM.

How to Implement CSPM

  • Define objectives and involve key partners.
  • Decide how you will assess your cloud platforms.
  • Perform the assessment.
  • Review results and prioritize mitigation.
  • Wash, rinse, and repeat.

 

Define Objectives and Involve Key Partners

Although the overarching goal of CSPM is likely the same across organizations (i.e., avoiding attacks), companies may want to include various capabilities of CSPM tools in their objectives. Prior to performing a CSPM assessment, information security leadership should meet with key partners like technology leadership to ensure they’re in agreement with the plan to implement CSPM within the organization. Without buy-in from technology leadership, obtaining the resources needed to review the results and take action once the assessment is complete will be difficult.

 

Decide How You Will Assess Your Cloud Platforms

After the required partners have been briefed and everyone has agreed upon the objectives of the program, the security team must work with the cloud infrastructure team to decide how they will perform the assessment. As described earlier, cloud platforms like Azure and AWS provide some CSPM capabilities out-of-the-box, but these may be limited. So, the organization needs to assess existing capabilities and determine if they meet their needs. 

If they find that the tools available to them won’t achieve their goals, the security and technology teams will need to research their options. Maybe they will decide to invest more money in the cloud platform to access additional features. They also might look at third-party vendors that specialize in CSPM that provide more capabilities like automation and mapping to control frameworks (e.g., NIST or CIS). The key takeaway of this phase is to come to a decision that will best achieve the agreed-upon objective of the CSPM program.

 

Perform the Assessment

With objectives defined and the assessment approach settled (and procured if necessary), the security team is now ready to perform the assessment. This is the quickest, easiest step, as it typically involves configuring a scan to run within the CSPM tool that’s being used. The important consideration for this stage is the scope of the initial and subsequent assessments. 

Today, many large enterprises use multiple cloud environments and should assess each platform. Although many companies may primarily operate on one cloud platform, ignoring cloud platforms that are only used minimally can leave the company open to the same level of risk as no assessment at all. Attackers won’t discriminate if they stumble on misconfigurations, even in a seemingly small cloud presence. They will always do as much damage as they can if a vulnerability is available to them. Thus,the organization must ensure that the scope of CSPM assessment contains their cloud presence in its entirety.

 

Review Results and Prioritize Mitigation

The final phase of the CSPM process is to review the results of the assessment(s) and prioritize the mitigation of the findings. CSPM tools help with this by ranking the findings by severity. For example, a misconfigured firewall or storage account, resulting in public exposure, will likely always be scored as a critical finding that should be reviewed and resolved as soon as possible. 

The security team typically performs and monitors the assessments and then reviews the findings and collaborates with the respective technology teams to create an action plan. CSPM is very similar to vulnerability management programs in this respect since there will likely be many discoveries, but the teams must use the severity ratings from the assessment along with business knowledge to prioritize remediation efforts. For instance, a medium- or high-severity finding may exist on two public-facing applications, but only one of those applications is business-critical, which means that application is crucial to business continuity. In this situation, the security team should prioritize the remediation of misconfigurations affecting the business-critical application prior to the other application. 

Along with developing action plans, the security team should create an internal process they can use to track the progress of remediation efforts. However they track the findings, the team should ensure to assign ownership of the remediation and set deadlines as well. This helps to set expectations and hold those involved accountable to remediating the misconfigurations that have been assigned to them. 

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Wash, Rinse, and Repeat

As you may have guessed by now, CSPM isn’t a one-and-done sort of assessment. These assessments can be run as frequently as an organization wants, but typically security teams decide to perform them on a weekly basis. Why? Because cloud environments are constantly changing. 

Cloud platforms enable engineers, developers, and administrators to spin up servers, applications, storage accounts, and more with the click of a button. Although cloud computing has plenty of benefits, one of its biggest downfalls is the ease with which a mistake can be made. An engineer is always one click away from building a server and accidentally leaving a remote access port open, like RDP or SSH. Similarly, a network administrator can easily delete the wrong firewall rule and leave an entire portion of the internal network exposed to the entire internet. 

CSPM helps to catch these mistakes. It’s a proactive assessment that’s used to identify these security risks that can lead to data breaches and cyber attacks. For this reason, it’s crucial to develop a CSPM program that takes an iterative approach to assess, review, prioritize, and mitigate findings. With a CSPM program like this in place, an organization can rest assured that they are aware of their cloud security posture and taking the necessary steps to ensure it remains secure. 

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