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Published on 02/22/2024
Last updated on 02/22/2024

The Breakdown: What is cloud security posture management?


Enterprises deploying cloud-native applications enjoy the flexibility and scalability of the cloud, but they also face a daunting landscape of security challenges. Cloud environments—with distributed and ephemeral resources—are constantly evolving and present a vast attack surface. This complexity leaves a lot of room for human error, potentially rendering cloud environments and applications vulnerable. In addition, modern cyber threats targeting these cloud applications are numerous, sophisticated, and relentless.

Cloud environment misconfigurations make applications vulnerable, and attackers are eager to exploit those vulnerabilities. Because of this, enterprises depend on cloud security posture management (CSPM) to navigate these risks. CSPM is a bundle of security tools that helps enterprises ensure cloud environments are secure, compliant, and resilient in the face of cyber threats.

Ready to break down CSPM? We’ll start with a primer on key terms to lay a foundation of understanding, and then we’ll walk through, in detail, what CSPM does and why it’s important. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with an understanding of the pivotal role CSPM plays in an enterprise’s cybersecurity strategy.

Key terms to know 

It’s important to understand key terms that represent the core capabilities of CSPM. CSPM bundles these capabilities into a single, cohesive solution, each playing a vital role in ensuring the security and compliance of cloud environments. 


Compliance involves ensuring that the operation of your cloud environments and applications adheres to both external and internal regulatory standards related to security, data protection, and data privacy.

Externally, this includes various laws and regulations that may be specific to an industry (such as healthcare, with HIPAA, or financial services, with PCI DSS) or region of operation (such as the European Union, with GDPR, or California, with CCPA). Internally, organizations may have their own, unique security policies.

Ensuring compliance means that all aspects of cloud operations must align with these diverse and often complex sets of requirements, helping safeguard data and operations to mitigate risks of violations, legal consequences, and financial penalties. 

Configuration management

Configuration management is the process of maintaining and managing the security settings and configurations of cloud resources. Effective configuration management helps in preventing misconfigurations, a common source of security vulnerabilities in cloud environments.

Continuous monitoring

Continuous monitoring is the ongoing process of scanning and assessing the current security state of your cloud environments. This proactive approach helps in detecting potential security issues and responding in real time. 

Risk assessment

Risk assessment involves identifying and evaluating the potential risks that could affect cloud resources. These risks include infrastructure misconfigurations, vulnerabilities in the application source code, and more. This risk assessment step is crucial for understanding the security vulnerabilities in your cloud environments, anticipating potential threats that seek to exploit those vulnerabilities, and taking appropriate measures to mitigate them.

Risk remediation

After identifying risks, risk remediation focuses on addressing these vulnerabilities. This involves implementing measures to reduce or eliminate the impact of identified risks on cloud environments.

Policy enforcement

Policy enforcement is about implementing and maintaining security policies across cloud environments. This ensures consistent security practices and helps in preventing unauthorized access or activities that could compromise cloud security.

Each of these capabilities contributes to the overall effectiveness of CSPM. Now that we’ve laid this foundation, let’s walk through what CSPM does.

Breaking it down

What does a CSPM solution do? To use an analogy, you can think of CSPM like a health inspector for cloud computing. A health inspector thoroughly examines a restaurant to ensure that it follows safety and hygiene standards. After the inspection is finished, the health inspector issues a health rating and a suggested list of violations to fix in order to improve that rating.

CSPM works in much the same way, inspecting your cloud environments for security and compliance. At the end of the day, CSPM gives you a security risk score—called a “Risk Assessment”—much like a health rating. Some CSPM solutions (such as Panoptica) also provide a list of suggested actions you can take to improve that score. These solutions might also automatically draft the code for some of these actions in such a way that the security operations team only needs to approve it. This feature is referred to as “Risk Remediation.”

However, a significant difference between the health inspector in our analogy and CSPM is that a CSPM inspection is not periodic; it's continuous. Continuous monitoring from CSPM means that—at all times—it is vigilantly checking for errors in your cloud environment and validating what you're doing in the cloud.  

What rules does CSPM check your cloud environment against? As part of its configuration management capabilities, CSPM checks for cloud misconfigurations that would either lead to a security vulnerability or non-compliance with regulations. Some examples include: 

  • A cloud storage bucket (such as with AWS S3) that incorrectly permits public read and write access
  • A compute instance with insecure and open ports
  • An IAM policy that is overly permissive
  • Unencrypted data storage 

Sometimes, the complexity of the cloud makes it difficult to catch misconfigurations manually. Other times, configurations of individual resources may be considered secure, but when put together present a risky setup. CSPM detects these risks by having holistic visibility into your entire cloud environment. Panoptica describe the results of its holistic findings with an “Attack Path Analysis” that shows how an attacker could exploit a particular mix of resources.

CSPM also carries out policy enforcement. This means it is always watching to ensure new activities in your cloud do not violate your organization’s established security policies. Some CSPM solutions warn you when you are taking an action that violates policy, while others restrict you from taking the action altogether.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a CSPM provides risk assessment, presenting all the security risks—detected and categorized by severity and type—in a single dashboard so that you can take action. For example, CSPM might detect an SSL vulnerability related to a CVE with a high CVSS score. The dashboard would show this SSL vulnerability as network related and give it a severity level of “critical.” Or as another example, the CSPM might detect an API in your application that uses a weak password for its authentication scheme. This risk would be categorized under authentication and given a severity level of “high.”  

Ultimately, an organization that uses CSPM has a constant pulse on its security, always able to see a “score” for how it’s doing.

Alongside detected risks, CSPM solutions featuring risk remediation provide actionable guidance on what needs to be changed in order to eliminate a vulnerability or achieve compliance. 


CSPM integral to the CNAPP

A cloud-native application protection platform (CNAPP) is an all-in-one platform that consolidates various cybersecurity tools into a single solution. A CNAPP bundles together tools such as CSPM, static application security testing (SAST), vulnerability scanning, API security, cloud workload protection, and more.

CSPM is considered a major and indispensable piece of a CNAPP (see Gartner’s Market Guide for CNAPPs). As an integrated part of a CNAPP’s suite of security tools, CSPM can use its risk assessment findings to point security professionals to other modules in the CNAPP that can help with remediation. 

The role of AI/ML in CSPM

AI/ML also play a significant role in enhancing the capabilities of CSPM, especially within the context of a CNAPP. 

  • Enhancing threat intelligence: The comprehensive visibility and continuous monitoring from CSPM are joined to AI/ML algorithms for identifying emerging threats and anomalous patterns that might go unnoticed by traditional threat detection methods.
  • Improved risk prioritization: AI/ML-powered attack path analysis puts individual risks (as detected by CSPM) together to determine possible attack paths, helping to determine the most critical risks across your entire cloud environment.
  • Automating incident response: By automating detection and response processes, AI/ML can enable CSPM systems to react to detected security vulnerabilities immediately, without requiring human intervention.
  • Adaptive security posture: As cloud environments evolve, AI/ML can help CSPM solutions to adjust their security postures in real time. 

CSPM provides a proactive approach to staying secure

In the complex world of cloud-native applications and computing, evolving cyber threats and the likelihood of human error in cloud configurations are significant challenges. These misconfigurations can lead to vulnerabilities, exposing organizations to security breaches or compliance violations, which can result in business disruptions, financial losses, and legal consequences.

CSPM addresses these challenges by providing comprehensive visibility and continuous monitoring of your cloud environments. By assessing your cloud environments for risk and helping you prioritize and remediate those risks, CSPM gives you a proactive and automated approach to maintaining robust security in the cloud.

Panoptica, a leading CNAPP solution from Outshift, brings comprehensive visibility into your cloud environments and risks through its CSPM capabilities. You can read more about how CNAPP and CSPM go hand in hand, schedule a live demo of Panoptica, or contact our security experts today. 

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