What is CSPM?

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) is a set of tools and practices that help organizations monitor and manage their cloud security posture.

7 min read

What is CSPM?

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) is the process of securing multi-cloud environments with enhanced visibility, risk and misconfiguration identification, posture assessment, and compliance protocols. CSPM tools continuously monitor cloud infrastructure, such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS), for gaps in security policy enforcement.

Gartner describes the core of CSPM as a solution that "applies common frameworks, regulatory requirements and enterprise policies to proactively and reactively discover and assess risk/trust of cloud services configuration and security settings."

CSPM solutions are important because modern enterprises need to manage, operate, and protect complex and perimeterless multi-cloud IT infrastructures where misconfigurations, poor visibility, compliance challenges, and cybersecurity vulnerabilities are common.

The global CSPM market is forecasted to reach a value of $8.6 billion by 2027 at a compound annual growth rate of 15.3% from 2022.

MarketsandMarkets – CSPM Report

Why CSPM is important

Most modern businesses are increasingly adopting multi-cloud infrastructures, embarking on digital transformation journeys, and leveraging agile methodologies that prioritize operational efficiency.

However, without a CSPM solution, a misconfiguration resulting from default settings, rapid deployment, complexity, and visibility issues can quickly lead to a data breach. The following are the five primary reasons why organizations need CSPM. 

1. Lack of visibility

Enterprises often struggle to maintain visibility across multi-cloud environments and compute types like serverless, virtual machines, and containers. Poor visibility can have serious consequences like data breaches, compliance failures, incorrect performance measurements, and IT budget leaks.

Weak spots, hidden vulnerabilities, and misconfigurations are unlikely to be identified if organizations don’t have comprehensive topographic coverage of their IT environment. 

A modern CSPM should offer an inventory of all detected technologies in your environment

A lack of visibility will cause other challenges in an enterprise’s IT environment to snowball. It can also severely hinder the digital efforts of organizations. Modern businesses need to be able to scale their cloud infrastructure and operations ad hoc, and poor visibility can be a major handicap. 

2. Lack of context and prioritization

Several cloud security solutions, including older iterations of CSPM, can identify misconfigurations in cloud environments. However, a lot of misconfiguration identification can lack context, which is essential in perimeterless environments.

Organizations need robust CSPM to provide them with context around identified misconfigurations so they can prioritize or focus on the misconfigurations that pose a risk to their environment. CSPM can help organizations prioritize cloud misconfigurations and challenges so they become easier to address. 

A security graph generated by a CSPM enables your team to focus on the issues that matter, understand the real risk criticality, and respond to issues faster

Alert fatigue, which occurs when enterprises receive a barrage of alerts about context-less cloud misconfigurations, can slow down security teams. CSPM can help organizations reduce alert fatigue and only address legitimate cloud concerns. 

3. Compliance challenges

Manual compliance processes of the past cannot keep up with rapidly scaling cloud architectures. Businesses require continuous compliance to avoid legal penalties caused by a breach in regulatory frameworks including NIST CFS/SP/800-171/800-53, PCI DSS, SOC2, HiTrust, and CIS benchmarks for cloud vendors such asAWS, Azure, GCP, and Alibaba.

By offering a compliance heatmap, CSPM makes it simple for regulated organizations to report, track and maintain their compliance

The breach of these regulations can have severe repercussions. Meta was fined $1.3 billion for compliance failures in 2023, Instagram was fined $445 million in 2022, and Amazon was fined $887 million in 2021. Multinational giants may be able to overcome such penalties but most other businesses wouldn’t be able to survive.

Businesses may also need to implement and assess their compliance posture for customized regulatory frameworks. These could be a combination of existing frameworks, duplicates, or unique policies framed by the organization. CSPM provides capabilities to do this along with automated mechanisms to assess an enterprise’s entire compliance posture and identify regulatory red flags. 

4. Operational efficiency

Businesses are employing agile methodologies and pipelines like DevOps and CI/CD to make the most of their cloud infrastructure. The nature of traditional security tools can sometimes contradict the approaches of developers in agile IT environments. Traditional identification and remediation of security risks can be slow and may struggle to keep up in a high-octane dev environment.

CSPM can help organizations bridge the gap between operational velocity and robust cybersecurity by baking in security earlier on in the development lifecycle (aka 'shift left'). If your security team can give developers the context, prioritization, and specific remediation guidance they need to fix issues on their own, you get to have your cake and eat it too (shipping code fast and securely!).

Integrating CSPM features in your CI/CD pipeline enables you to detect and 
prevent security misconfigurations and vulnerabilities early in the development cycle

5. Challenges with complex multi-cloud architectures

Cloud infrastructure offers simplified granular scalability. Increased scalability is a powerful attribute, but it also introduces complexities. New cloud applications, resources, and assets can be procured very easily, and quickly expand an enterprise’s cloud architecture. 

CSPM can help organizations identify misconfigurations in rapidly scaling multi-cloud architectures with automated mechanisms. Manual management of scaling and distributed enterprise architectures is unrealistic and susceptible to security mishaps. CSPM can mitigate those challenges and enable companies to fully leverage their cloud platforms.

CSPMs help identity misconfigurations across multi cloud environments – regardless of complexity
10 Tips to Securing Multi Cloud with Modern CSPMDownload now

How CSPM works: key capabilities

CSPM is a robust cloud security solution that can provide companies with many advantages. But how does it do so?

The following are four key capabilities of CSPM that make it an invaluable modern security solution.

1. Configuration Evaluation at Every Layer

CSPM allows enterprises to identify and remediate misconfigurations beyond just the cloud layer. CSPM enables configuration evaluation at a cloud, application, and host layer.

Example of misconfiguration found in the cloud layer, and filtered for AWS

This is a more holistic approach that secures every layer of a cloud environment and provides Kubernetes support. It can reduce risk, improve compliance, and enable operational efficiency more effectively than cloud solutions that address only surface layers.

2. Continuous cloud compliance monitoring and governance

Example of a compliance dashboard reporting current compliance posture against a CIS framework

Cloud infrastructure can be a powerful dynamic platform for enterprises, but they require continuous compliance monitoring and governance. New cloud provinces can be added to IT environments with a single mouse click, which means that there’s always the possibility of unknown compliance risks. Periodic compliance monitoring and governance can’t cover these varying risks and frameworks. CSPM provides continuous monitoring and governance.

3. Agentless workload scanning and vulnerability detection

CSPM provides agentless workload scanning and vulnerability detection capabilities that can identify misconfigurations in OS, applications, and libraries across compute types. This negates the limitations of agent-based scanning.

Example of a critical vulnerability detection

Agent-based scanning of IT environments can be resource-intensive, time-consuming, and prone to missing security blind spots. Agentless workload scanning can help enterprises surveil their environments effectively, efficiently, and economically. 

4. Contextual risk assessment

CSPM does more than just identify misconfigurations in cloud environments. It correlates misconfigurations to other risk factors such as vulnerabilities, identities, network exposures, secrets, sensitive data, and malware; and it identifies toxic combinations and their potential consequences. This helps enterprises identify attack and escalation paths, prioritize remediation efforts by risk factors, and secure their most valuable cloud-based assets. 

Legacy vs modern CSPM approaches

Legacy CSPM capabilities have helped businesses for many years by identifying cloud misconfigurations, keeping an inventory of cloud resources, monitoring those resources in real time, and evaluating cloud compliance.

However, they also feature an overwhelming volume of contextless misconfiguration alerts and a fragmented approach that isn’t compatible with modern operational processes. Modern CSPM has strengthened the foundation of legacy solutions and added new pillars for support. 

Legacy CSPMs have significant feature gaps that differentiate them from modern CSPMs. The main gaps they have are:

  • Lack of context: Legacy CSPMs lack information surrounding a misconfiguration. They don’t take into account factors like network paths, identity exposures, sensitive data, etc.

  • Noise without prioritization: Legacy CSPM doesn’t have the capabilities to identify the level of criticality of an issue found. Without this information, the security team can’t prioritize the most critical risks first or reduce alert noise.

  • Operational inefficiency: Legacy CSPM makes security operations inefficient by requiring additional tools, often owned by a different team and requiring different processes.

The table below expands on the specific feature differences between modern and legacy CSPM tools:

FeaturesModern CSPMLegacy CSPM
Compliance Standards and Custom FrameworksYesYes
Near Realtime Configuration EvaluationYesYes
Agentless Cloud Workload ScanningYesNo
Contextual Cloud Risk AssessmentYesNo
Offline Workload ScanningYesNo
Agentless and Contextual Vulnerability DetectionYesNo - requires agent
Agentless and Contextual Secure Use of SecretsYesNo - requires an agent and cannot identify lateral movement
Agentless and Contextual Malware DetectionYesNo - requires an agent installed on the workload and manual correlation
Data Security Posture ManagementYesNo
Kubernetes Security Posture ManagementYesNo
Effective Network AnalysisYesNo
Attack Path AnalysisYesNo
Effective Identity AnalysisYesNo
Multi-hop lateral movementYesNo
CI/CD ScanningYesNo
Comprehensive RBAC SupportYesNo

The approach of modern CSPM bridges these gaps with innovative features and actionable context. It ensures that detected vulnerabilities, malware, misconfigurations, and compromised secrets inform and enrich attack path and identity analyses.

These modern capabilities secure cloud environments with context-based fortifications, prevent lateral movement for threat actors, fuel DevOps and CI/CD, reduce attack surfaces and blast radii, and enable data security posture management and kubernetes security posture management. 

CSPM vs other cloud security solutions

CSPM is one among numerous cloud security solutions. Gartner predicts that global end-user spending on public clouds will reach approximately $600 billion in 2023. Cloud infrastructure is reigning, and cloud security solutions are in high demand. The following are comparisons of CSPM and other popular cloud security solutions. 

What is the difference between CSPM vs CWPP?

Cloud workload protection platform (CWPP) focuses specifically on protecting workloads from cyber threats in cloud environments. CSPM looks at cloud resource misconfigurations, while CWPP looks at workloads.

What is the difference between CSPM vs CASB?

Cloud access security brokers (CASB) are mechanisms to implement security policies and controls in cloud environments. CSPM focuses on identifying and remediating cloud misconfigurations.  

What is the difference between CSPM vs CNAPP?

Cloud native application protection platform (CNAPP) is a unified platform that brings together traditionally disparate cloud security solutions. A modern CSPM solution is typically part of a greater unified CNAPP platform.

What is the difference between CSPM vs CIEM?

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) helps businesses analyze and manage cloud entitlements across their IT environments. CSPM focuses on cloud resources misconfigurations rather than identities and entitlements.

Is a CSPM solution right for your organization? 

Enterprises can find it overwhelming to navigate the cloud security solutions market and choose optimal solutions. CSPM can provide numerous advantages, but companies may be confused about whether it will suit their particular needs and use cases. 

The Wiz CSPM solution includes a demo of the product and an opportunity to chat with Wiz experts, which can help organizations make an informed decision about their cloud security posture management. 

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