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/ What Is Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)?

What Is Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)?

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) is an IT security solution that monitors cloud-based systems and infrastructure to pinpoint misconfigurations, compliance violations, and other potential vulnerabilities in cloud services, web applications, and resources. CSPM solutions provide visibility and policy enforcement to reduce overall risk.

Why Is CSPM Important?

Cloud services and cloud-based apps offer huge productivity and flexibility advantages, but because they’re open to the internet and readily available to anyone, they also bring a greater risk of cybersecurity threats, including data breaches. Despite security awareness training, vulnerabilities remain and security issues arise, endangering sensitive data. IT security and business leaders constantly work to address:

  • Data breaches resulting from misconfigurations of cloud infrastructure, which can expose enormous amounts of sensitive data, leading to legal liability and financial losses.
  • Continuous compliance for cloud apps and workloads, which is impossible to achieve using traditional on-premises security tools and processes.
  • Cloud governance challenges (visibility, permissions, policy enforcement, lack of knowledge about cloud security controls), which grow alongside cloud adoption.

Data breaches get the most attention and cause the most damage. And according to Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report, misconfigurations are still among the top three leading causes of data breaches (responsible for more than 20% of them in the 2023 report), while web applications sit in the top three attack vectors across all industries.

An effective CSPM provides automated visibility, alerting, and enforcement to protect sensitive data and infrastructure from the inherent risks of the cloud.

Benefits of Cloud Security Posture Management

CSPM tools offers several key benefits that help organizations reduce costs, strengthen security, and minimize risk exposure in cloud environments:

  • Proactively detect and address risks before attackers can exploit them with real-time visibility and automatic identification of misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, and security gaps
  • Ensure compliance with best practices and regulations with continuous monitoring of configurations relative to industry standards and benchmarks
  • Conduct automated remediation and policy enforcement, slashing the time and cost of manually resolving security issues across cloud resources
  • Integrate CSPM processes with DevOps workflows to embed security throughout software development as part of a DevSecOps approach
Cloud-native applications require different rules and techniques, leading to the development of cloud workload protection (CWPP). But as the applications grow increasingly dynamic, the security options need to shift as well. Combining CWPP with the emerging cloud security posture management (CSPM) accounts for all evolution in security needs.

- Gartner, 2020

What Are the Key Capabilities of CSPM?

Broadly speaking, CSPM tools protect you in three ways:

  • Provide visibility into your cloud assets and configurations. Enterprise CSPM discovers misconfigurations, changes in policy or metadata, and more, and helps you manage all these policies through a centralized console.
  • Manage and remediate misconfigurations. By comparing your cloud configurations against industry standards and other pre-built rules, CSPM reduces human error that can increase your risk of costly breaches.
  • Discover new potential threats. CSPM monitors your cloud environments in real time for inappropriate access and anomalies that may indicate malicious activity.

How Do CSPM Tools Work to Secure Cloud Infrastructure?

Keeping those broad strokes in mind, let's look at the functions in a bit more detail. CSPM services can take advantage of automation to correct issues without human intervention or delay, conducting continuous monitoring as they:

  • Identify your cloud environment footprint and monitor for the creation of new instances or storage resources, such as S3 buckets
  • Provide policy visibility and ensure consistent enforcement across all providers in multicloud environments
  • Scan your compute instances for misconfigurations and improper settings that could leave them vulnerable to exploitation
  • Scan your storage buckets for misconfigurations that could make data accessible to the public
  • Audit for adherence to regulatory compliance mandates such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR
  • Perform risk assessments against established standards and frameworks (e.g., ISO, NIST)
  • Verify that operational activities (e.g., key rotations) are being performed as expected
  • Facilitate one-click remediation and automated remediation of identified issues

Differences Between CSPM and Other Cloud Security Solutions

CSPM is only one aspect of cloud security, focused on monitoring, identifying, and enforcing proper cloud resource configuration. Other solutions address threat detection, access control, data security, software security, and more in the context of cloud computing.

Learn more in our dedicated article: What Is Cloud Security?

By 2026, 60% of organizations will see preventing cloud misconfiguration as a cloud security priority, compared with 25% in 2021.

- Gartner, “Forecast Analysis: Cloud Security Posture Management, Worldwide,” July 18, 2023

Implementing Cloud Security Posture Management

Your organization’s CSPM implementation approach will be unique, as a function of your size, industry, cloud footprint, and much more. A common implementation process would look something like this, with an effective CSPM and expert support helping you to:

  1. Assess your cloud: You’ll need to identify everything—accounts, services, and resources—in your cloud environment, as well as your architecture, configurations, and dependencies.

  2. Define policies: Create and enact security policies mapped to your organization's standards and compliance requirements, customized to your cloud services, roles, and responsibilities.

  3. Automate scanning: Continuously monitor your environment for misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, and policy violations in real time, enabling you to proactively address risks.

  4. Integrate CSPM into DevOps workflows: Incorporate CSPM throughout the development life cycle, including change management, so it’s not just an unwelcome bottleneck.

  5. Triage risks and remediation: Rank your risks based on their potential severity and likelihood to be exploited, and address them in the order with the greatest effect on your overall posture.

  6. Continuously improve: No policy is set in stone. Cloud environments, threats, and compliance mandates change, so regularly audit your policies to ensure they’re still effective.

That’s implementing and maintaining CSPM in a nutshell. But on its own, CSPM isn’t enough. That’s why Zscaler takes a platform approach.

Suggested Resources

Zscaler Cloud Configuration Security (CSPM)
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Overcome the Top Five Data Protection Challenges in a Cloud-First World
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CIEM vs. CSPM: Which is Better for Reducing Public Cloud Risk?
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