I think we’d all agree the last year and a half has brought disruption, and cloud security wasn’t exempt. The Covid-19 crisis has dramatically expanded attack surfaces as companies transitioned to remote work and embraced the cloud. But let’s be clear: the cloud is not a magic bullet. Yes, the cloud is relatively new and exciting, and it does prevent some of the old security mistakes. And yes, the cloud does close off some previously vulnerable spaces. But at the same time, it opens up new ways to do things wrong.
This is where a strategy called cloud security posture management (CSPM) comes in. The goal of CSPM is to find and reduce attack surfaces, and then eliminate misconfigurations through continuous monitoring of cloud infrastructure. This is important, because more than 99% of cloud breaches have their root cause in customer misconfigurations and mistakes, according to Gartner.
House on fire
I like to use the analogy of a brick house. Even if a house is made of perfect bricks, is it immune to falling down? No. Naturally, when you build a house, you want to make sure the bricks you’re using are solid. But even then, the house can still fall if built incorrectly. Cloud innovators push an approach called “shift left” (meaning detecting problems sooner in the build process), but this is no replacement for checking the final result. After all, no matter how carefully you check a building’s blueprints, the final structure will inevitably be different.
CSPM automates the process of ensuring the individual bricks are OK, but more importantly, makes sure the house as a whole is constructed properly, so it won’t collapse when the big bad wolf (or a squad of hackers) comes along and tries to blow it down.
But what makes CSPM so compelling from a security standpoint is that it’s proactive, not reactive like endpoint management or extended detection and response (XDR). These are analogous to fire alarms for your building. Alarms are necessary for sure, but you have to actually prevent some fires, not just wait and react. So, while firefighting is critical, part of your budget should be for tools that prevent fires in the first place and plan ahead for resilience of your infrastructure when a fire does break out.
CSPM is all about being proactive and putting the right processes in place so that fewer fires start, and spread less when they do happen. Sure, mistakes and misconfigurations will still happen. CSPM recognizes this reality, but proactively hunts for the ingredients that drive security fires rather than just accepting that they can’t be stopped.
The fantasy of DevSecOps
Your developers are not security gurus. The framework called DevSecOps advocates adding security practitioners into the software development and DevOps teams. DevSecOps strives to find a happy balance between development teams that want to release software quickly and security teams that prioritize protection. But, to me, this is too optimistic a notion – it glosses over the fundamental differences that must exist between security thinkers and app developers. Developers think “how can I make this work?”, but security is about thinking backwards – “how can this be abused?”
Security is also fundamentally a big-picture problem, where all interactions have to be considered. Getting back to the building analogy, CSPM lets you compare the final structure to the blueprints used to construct it. It allows you to examine the building to see whether there are any flaws or points of structural weakness that the bad guys can exploit to get in. Humans aren’t good at continuous detail checking, but it’s a great job for automated software.
Context is king
Context is everything. The blueprints don’t tell you whether you’re building on sand or building on bedrock. CSPM provides that critical context not just for one section of your structure but for the entire building and its surroundings.
CSPM also automatically determines whether all the cloud applications and services across your entire organization are configured correctly and securely. It’s simply not possible to hire enough security professionals to do that on their own. It’s not that people you have aren’t good; it’s that you’ll never have enough people who are experts in all the rapidly changing cloud languages and configurations.
Bad guys are actively hunting for new openings in your cloud. CSPM is quickly becoming one of the best ways to close the gaps in your security posture and shut the door on those who intend to do you harm.