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What is DSPM? [Data Security Posture Management]

Data security posture management (DSPM) is a solution designed to continuously monitor an organization's data security policies and procedures to detect vulnerabilities and potential risks.

Wiz Experts Team
6 min read

What is Data Security Posture Management?

Data security posture management (DSPM) is a solution designed to continuously monitor an organization's data security policies and procedures to detect vulnerabilities and potential risks.

According to Gartner, “data security posture management (DSPM) provides visibility as to where sensitive data is, who has access to that data, how it has been used, and what the security posture of the data stored or application is.”

DSPM solutions offer security and risk management teams actionable insights to improve their organization’s data security posture. This enables IT experts to make informed decisions and take appropriate steps to protect data from potential threats.

Why is DSPM important

Considering that 47% of companies have at least one exposed cloud-hosted database or storage bucket, and over 20% of these exposed cloud environments contain sensitive data, DSPM is more crucial than ever.  

DSPM outlines the components that make up an organization’s security strategy. This may include how least privilege access is enforced, consistency in how organizational data is classified, and compliance protocols (especially country-specific regulations such as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA) for Canada and the U.S. Federal Information Security Administration Act), and company security policies.

By incorporating a DSPM solution into the security strategy, organizations benefit from:

  • Enhanced data protection: DSPM solutions monitor access controls and enforce measures such as encryption and backup, reducing the risk of data loss, reputational damage, and financial losses caused by security incidents.

  • Reduced data attack surface: DSPM solutions automatically identify and monitor sensitive data and potential entry points that could be exploited within an organization’s system. This minimizes the attack surface and makes the organization’s data more resilient to cyberattacks.

  • Risk mitigation: DSPM solutions continuously monitor data security metrics and indicators allowing for faster incident response, better risk mitigation strategies, and less downtime.

  • Compliance: Organizations worldwide are subject to data protection regulations (e.g., GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI-DSS), which require them to implement adequate security measures to protect personal and sensitive information. DSPM solutions aid in identifying and bridging security gaps that could lead to fines and compromise customer trust. In addition, most DSPM solutions offer incident response plans so organizations can recover faster from security incidents.

To further understand why you need a DSPM solution, consider the real-life scenario below.

In June 2022, a Pegasus Airline employee accidentally misconfigured the security settings of an AWS S3 bucket, exposing 23 million PII files. The exposed bucket also contained encryption keys and source code. Implementing a CNAPP solution that offers DSPM could have prevented this. Automatic and continuous scanning of the airline’s data including both in-house and third-party applications to identify, prioritize and alert on such vulnerabilities for swift remediation. 

How DSPM Works

DSPM solutions identify sensitive data within organizational networks and infrastructure and combine auditing, monitoring, cloud compliance, and remediation to ensure proactive data protection. 

Following are the key components of DSPM.

ComponentsDescription
Data discovery and catalogingThe first step in DSPM is data identification. Because cloud data is rarely stored in a single location, manually finding and classifying sensitive data is time consuming and inefficient. DSPM solutions automate this process across the organization's infrastructure, networks, and data repositories. Once the data has been identified, the DSPM solution classifies it according to sensitivity (e.g., protected health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information PII).
Security assessmentNext, DSPM solutions assess data movement within an organization’s network to identify potential security issues. The assessments include network scans, penetration testing, and evaluation of access controls and encryption protocols. DSPM solutions also leverage threat intelligence databases to identify software misconfigurations that could lead to data leakages or breaches.
Configuration and policy managementDSPM solutions verify that both system and application configuration align with security best practices and help detect and mitigate security risks.
Reporting and alertingDSPM solutions then generate reports and spin dashboards that help stakeholders make industry-compliant decisions to improve overall data security. DSPM solutions also classify risks based on potential impact, enabling you to focus on addressing critical issues.
Remediation and responseIn addition to threat identification, DSPM solutions aid with incident response by providing root cause analyses of threats and step-by-step instructions for remediation.

Use Cases

DSPM solutions can be used in various security and cloud-based instances.

  • Data security in complex cloud environments: Hybrid and multi-cloud environments increase complexity, making it challenging to maintain data security across all cloud environments. DSPM solutions streamline data security across the multiple cloud environments of large organizations.

  • Insider threat detection: Most DSPM solutions monitor user access patterns and analyze user behavior. This helps organizations quickly block unauthorized access, changes, and data exfiltration.

  • Data privacy compliance: Organizations must comply with certain industry and country-specific data privacy regulations. DSPM solutions provide visibility into security configurations, data handling practices, and access controls. They also provide regulatory compliance reports.

What to look for in a DSPM solution

A reliable DSPM should include these key capabilities:

1. Rapid, agentless visibility into critical data

To streamline visibility into critical data, select a DSPM solution that quickly scans for sensitive data across the organization's infrastructure, without requiring the installation of agents on individual systems.

2. Centralized dashboard and reporting

The DSPM solution must provide a centralized dashboard with comprehensive reporting capabilities, real-time monitoring, and customizable visualizations for better insights into your organization's data security posture.

3. Continuous detection and prioritization of critical data exposure

Look for a DSPM solution that continuously monitors and detects critical data exposure. The solution should also offer automated data classification to help prioritize risks to address the most critical ones first.

4. Data lineage mapping

Consider a DSPM solution that implements data lineage mapping to understand and trace the data lifecycle: origin, movement, transformation, and storage. This facilitates detection of backdoors and non-compliance issues.  

5. Real-time remediation

Choose a DSPM solution that allows you to automatically—or with minimal human intervention—remediate identified security issues in real time.

6. CI/CD integration for data exposure prevention

Opt for a DSPM solution that integrates with continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. Most DSPM solutions with this capability automatically scan and enforce security policies from code, infrastructure, and dependencies for more comprehensive coverage.

7. Automated compliance assessments

A DSPM solution must be able to scan for compliance violations, generate compliance reports, and provide recommendations to address non-compliance issues.

7. Extend to AI

As organizations continue to explore the potential of AI, the risk to sensitive data swells. Just a few months ago Microsoft AI researchers accidentally exposed 38 terabytes of data. This is just one example of the new data security risks and attack surfaces that security teams have to now grapple with.

AI systems are increasingly reliant on sensitive data. AI models are trained on massive amounts of data that often includes sensitive information such as personally identifiable information (PII), financial data, and health records. To safeguard sensitive AI training data in the cloud, organizations must be able to extend DSPM capabilities to AI. A DSPM tool should be able to automatically detect sensitive training data and proactively remove attack paths to it.

8. Scalability and performance

For enterprises and large organizations, the DSPM solution must be easily scalable to avoid performance lags when datasets spike to quintillions.

DSPM vs. CSPM

DSPM and CSPM (cloud security posture management) are two related but distinct concepts. DSPM is data-focused, identifying data-targeted vulnerabilities, enforcing data security policies, and facilitating incident response. CSPM, on the other hand, is a data-agnostic, cloud-focused framework used to identify misconfigurations, investigate identity issues, and gain real-time visibility into the security of cloud environments. As such, unlike DPSM, CSPM does not offer real-time insight into specific data security issues.

The major difference is context and priority; DSPM prioritizes data security, while CSPM focuses on cloud infrastructure security. Therefore, while DSPM and CSPM have separate use cases, both are important for comprehensive cybersecurity.

Should DSPM be a stand-alone solution?

Like many other point solutions, data security is becoming part of the trend towards consolidating cloud security tools. Organizations want to secure cloud-native apps and their underlying data across the entire development lifecycle using a unified platform that all teams can leverage, including security, DevOps, and data protection.

Incorporating DSPM into a cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP) offers numerous benefits to further boost your data security:

  • CNAPP is an end-to-end solution encompassing CSPM, CIEM, and CWP. Ideally, a CNAPP solution should also incorporate DSPM, though most traditional platforms do not offer these capabilities. Incorporating DSPM into CNAPP enables you to collate data and cloud security risks into a single priority-based list that pinpoints vulnerabilities and attack paths, for effortless and quick remediation.

  • A CNAPP solution with DSPM capabilities can capture the origin and flow of data, helping to secure data movement between cloud storage solutions or within application networks.

  • CNAPP solutions correlate and prioritize data and cloud security risks before notifying the appropriate teams, preventing alert fatigue. Adding DSPM functionalities can help to reduce the number of alerts, allowing security experts to focus on the vulnerabilities that require immediate attention.

Is DSPM baked into your cloudsec stack?

As we just discussed above, a siloed DSPM point solution overlooks a number of benefits offered by an integrated approach. That's why Wiz takes a unified cloud security approach that naturally bakes in DSPM with other cloudsec use cases.

By integrating data exposure protection in our CNAPP, Wiz automatically correlates data risks with other cloud risks like public exposure, vulnerabilities, and lateral movement and uncovers the attack paths that pose the greatest threat to your sensitive data.

Mattress Firm is a great example of a company that is leveraging integrated DSPM. Customers are their most precious assets, and using DSPM allows them to discover and protect customer data across databases in multi-cloud environments. 

At Mattress Firm, we believe in delivering unparalleled service to our customers, and that includes keeping their data safe. Wiz’s data security posture management solution helps us easily answer the question of what data is stored where, helping us protect our customer data in the cloud.

Sloan Rabon, Manager, Application & Cloud Security, Mattress Firm

Interested to see how an integrated DSPM could work in your environment? Schedule a personalized demo to learn how Wiz can help you improve your overall security posture, meet compliance regulations, reduce your attack surface, and secure complex multi-cloud environments.

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