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What is CIEM? [Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management]

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM) is a security solution that helps analyze and manage cloud entitlements across IT environments.

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What is Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management?

Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) is a security process that helps organizations manage and control access rights to cloud resources. CIEM solutions provide visibility into all entitlements across multiple cloud platforms, helping to identify and mitigate cloud access risks posed by excessive permissions.

Cloud entitlements are permissions given to a cloud identity, which can be a human, machine, or service account. They define which cloud applications a cloud user can access. It’s important to manage these privileges, because cloud identities with suboptimal, redundant, or dated privileges pose a variety of security risks

Traditionally, CIEM has been a siloed cloud security solution, but more recently organizations are realizing the power of unifying it with other cloud security solutions. Integrating CIEM as a part of a cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP) provides a more comprehensive and holistic security solution for cloud-native applications.

CIEM focuses on managing and monitoring access permissions, ensuring that only authorized entities have the necessary entitlements, while CNAPP covers all aspects of cloud-native application security, including container security, cloud security posture management (CSPM), and cloud workload protection (CWPP).

By combining these approaches, organizations can enhance visibility into their environments, streamline security operations, and make it easier to identify potential security threats – ultimately achieving a more complete and consistent security posture for their cloud-native applications.

The rest of this article will go on to describe CIEM from the perspective of a CNAPP, rather than a siloed point product.

What challenges does CIEM help address?

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management can help organizations address numerous challenges related to access and entitlements in a cloud environment, including:

  1. Over-Privileged Access: CIEM solutions can identify overly permissive access, ensuring that users and services have only the minimum required privileges, and reducing the risk of unauthorized access.

  2. Identity Proliferation: With the rise of cloud services and automation, organizations often struggle to manage the sheer number of identities, including users, service accounts, and automated processes. CIEM helps centralize and manage these identities, making it easier to handle access control.

  3. Lack of Visibility: Organizations often lack a comprehensive view of who has access to what resources. CIEM tools provide visibility into access patterns and entitlements across the cloud environment, helping organizations understand their access landscape.

  4. Complexity of Multi-Cloud Environments: Many organizations use multiple cloud providers, leading to complex and inconsistent access control policies. CIEM can help unify access management across different cloud platforms (Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Azure) ensuring consistent and centralized access control.

  5. Compliance Requirements: Organizations need to comply with various regulations and standards that require specific access controls and auditing capabilities. CIEM solutions provide audit trails, reporting, and policy enforcement to help organizations meet their compliance requirements.

CIEM Strategic Components

The cloud provides enterprises with numerous advantages. However, the cloud also poses unique security risks. The Identity Defined Security Alliance's (IDSA) report 2023 Trends in Securing Digital Identities revealed that 90% of enterprises suffered at least one identity-related breach in the last 12 months.

Identity-related risks can be mitigated by ensuring that specific areas of your cloud security strategy have CIEM functionality baked in. Below are the core strategic components of a cloud security strategy where CIEM plays an important role.

Strategic ComponentDescription
Identity and Access Management (IAM)CIEM provides fine-grained control over who has access to your cloud resources and what actions they can perform. By centralizing access management, you can ensure only authorized users and applications can access sensitive data and services.
Least Privilege PrincipleCIEM solutions help enforce the principle of least privilege by ensuring that users and applications only have the minimum level of access needed to perform their tasks. By minimizing access rights, you reduce the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.
Visibility and AuditingCIEM tools offer visibility into user activity and resource access in your cloud environments across all cloud providers. They can help detect abnormal or suspicious activities and provide audit trails for compliance purposes.
Policy EnforcementCIEM allows you to define, enforce, and automate security policies across your cloud environment. These policies can be based on factors such as user roles, geography, time, and more.
Automated RemediationCIEM can automatically generate recommendations that allow teams to follow guided remediation steps to reduce access and revoke unused permissions.
ComplianceBy providing visibility, control, and auditing capabilities, CIEM can help organizations comply with regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, and CCPA.
Privileged Access Management (PAM)PAM benefits from CIEM's insights into cloud entitlements to identify risky behaviors and potential compromise of privileged accounts.

One example of a breach that could have potentially been mitigated by a robust CIEM implementation is the Capital One breach that occurred in July 2019. A former AWS employee exploited a misconfigured firewall to access Capital One's data stored on AWS.

A robust CIEM tool could have highlighted this misconfiguration before the exploit, tracked and monitored cloud identities to detect unauthorized or unusual activities, and provided visibility across the cloud environment.

CIEM benefits

Cloud infrastructure entitlement management can benefit businesses of all sizes and from all sectors. There are four main transformative benefits of CIEM that enterprises need to be aware of.

1. Enhanced visibility

CIEM enriches businesses with thorough visibility into entitlements and identities across multi-cloud environments. It helps enterprises understand what resources their various users have access to. The critical capability of CIEM is that it provides a centralized console from which businesses can surveil and manage cloud entitlements and privilege policies. Enhanced visibility will help enterprises weed out redundant, dormant, and overprivileged digital identities.

2. Robust security posture

The enforcement of the principle of least privilege ensures that digital identities have streamlined access to the cloud resources that are vital to their tasks. It also ensures that cloud identities have no additional cloud entitlements—both in terms of actions and access—beyond what they need to perform their essential tasks. Security approaches like least privilege and zero trust, which involve constant authentication and authorization, are key pillars of a robust security posture. 

When organizations incorporate CIEM into CNAPP, they can streamline access while gaining visibility into exposed secrets and potential lateral movement paths within cloud environments. By identifying potential vulnerabilities in real time, they can quickly mitigate those risks, further fortifying their security posture. Whenever companies proactively approach cloud security, threat actors can't exploit overlooked credentials or move unnoticed through interconnected systems.

3. Improved compliance

Organizations must comply with specific industry standards and regulations in order to operate in the cloud. CIEM can help companies stay compliant with a range of region- and industry-specific regulators including GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and FedRAMP. Automated CIEM mechanisms can help enterprises identify and remediate identity-related risks in quick time, which can help enterprises avoid legal fines and other penalties. CIEM can also enhance an organization’s audit readiness.

4. Detection and remediation of identity-related risks

Granular visibility into the events of a specific IAM user account helps detect identity-related risks faster.

Digital identities can carry a range of risks, including unnecessary privileges, outdated permissions, and misconfigurations that may lead to accidental public exposure. The best CIEM solutions can automatically detect, prioritize, and remediate these identity-related risks, which can help enterprises avoid major financial and operational setbacks.

How does CIEM work?

The aforementioned benefits of CIEM can help businesses stay secure in their multi-cloud environments. But businesses first need to understand how CIEM works to maximize its potential.

The following are four critical capabilities of CIEM that can help enterprises understand how it works and why it’s essential to make it part of their cloud security strategy and CNAPP platform.

1. Analyzing effective access

CIEM can help teams within an organization determine who has access to what. It does this by analyzing effective permissions and creating a topographic map of identities and their access across multi-cloud environments that takes into consideration mitigating cloud controls like boundaries and SCPs.

2. Right-sizing permissions

An example CIEM tool visualization of overprivileged entitlements

CIEM can automatically monitor cloud identities and right-size permissions based on least privilege policies. Right-sized permissions can significantly strengthen cloud security, reduce an organization’s attack surface, streamline access for legitimate users, and ensure that cloud identities aren’t a viable attack vector for threat actors.

3. Detecting accidental exposure

Top CIEM solutions can detect instances of accidental IAM exposure. Even brief instances of accidental exposure can result in the loss or compromise of sensitive cloud-based assets, credentials, and secrets. Detecting accidental exposure can help companies track the ways that leaked credentials and secrets may be leveraged by threat actors to hijack digital identities, move laterally within an organization’s cloud infrastructure, and steal valuable data.

4. Generating remediation recommendations

Example of remediation guidance for an AWS account with excessive access.

CIEM can do more than just detect accidental exposures. It can also provide granular recommendations that enable teams to follow step-by-step remediation actions to right-size access and revoke unused or excessive permissions. Guided remediation capabilities can help organizations address identity-related security vulnerabilities and incidents before serious damage is caused. 

Is CIEM baked into your security stack?

Many organizations are understandably conflicted about which cloud security solutions to choose. Different sources cite various security threats as being the most prominent, and the cybersecurity solutions market is bustling with countless vendors, platforms, and solutions. It can be difficult to know which CIEM solution is right for your organization.

Wiz’s demo is an easy way for organizations to see firsthand the benefits of unifying CIEM with other cloud security solutions into a CNAPP.

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