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How Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) Prevent Data Exposures

According to Gartner, by 2020, 95% of cloud security issues will be the result of misconfiguration and you can see that businesses face tremendous challenges ahead. As organizations look to migrate applications and data to the cloud, they are realizing that many of their IT staff lack cloud security expertise. The cloud represents a fundamentally different approach to computing and the security differences between the cloud and traditional on-premise infrastructures are night and day, and many IT staff lack cloud security expertise to ensure their new infrastructures are properly protected.


This article explores data exposures in the cloud due to misconfigurations, how companies can use cloud security posture management to address these challenges, and why taking a look at stopping both the accidental and intentional threats to your cloud environment will be imperative for businesses in the years to come. Read on this article to learn:

  • Common data exposures in the cloud due to misconfigurations
  • How companies can use cloud security posture management (CSPM) to address these challenges
  • Why stopping both the accidental and intentional threats to your cloud environment will be imperative for businesses

Content Summary

The Accidental and Intentional
Be Aware
Cloud Security Posture Management
Armor Recommendation


A major credit bureau had millions of its records that were stored in the cloud exposed to the world as a result of a simple misconfiguration. This is one of many examples where organizations exposed millions of files including sensitive consumer data; voter registration and healthcare records; credit card information; and even application forms for military and government agencies. The news reports were disturbing as the exposures raised the specter of the cloud having no tolerance for even the most innocent of mistakes. Misconfiguration became the operative word. Fast forward. Today, there is a pool of vendors wanting to sell you tools—conveniently referred to as cloud security posture management, or CSPM, tools—to help you identify misconfigurations in the cloud and help you avoid being another example of what can go wrong.

But what is the reality behind the headlines? What do these tools really do to address risk? Do you need these types of tools when operating in the cloud? Also, who in your organization can benefit from these tools?

The Calendar of Unfortunate Events

The Calendar of Unfortunate Events

The major data exposures that took place at these organizations were extensively reported. Each of them saw their data in the cloud directly or indirectly exposed. The number of stolen records was staggering to say the least. The incidents served as a wake-up call to others considering the cloud to host their applications and data: Be very careful, or else.

However, the news isn’t all bad and the underlying cause, the misconfigurations, is solved more easily than one might think. Here’s the reality. Of the 13 incidents mentioned above:

  • 100% involved an unsecured S3 bucket in AWS.
  • 920 million + Records were exposed publicly.
  • Eight involved data exposed by an affiliate, partner, or customer of a larger organization.
  • All were announced to the media by either UpGuard (based in Mountain View, California) or Kromtech (based in Dubai, UAE) as a public service announcement and/or a positive press opportunity (for the organization).

So, the good news is that for most organizations just making sure your AWS S3 buckets are properly configured takes you safely away from joining the ranks above.

But, before you get too comfortable with the idea that misconfiguration risk is easily addressed and settle into thinking that your exposure is unlikely, let’s discuss the real value of CSPM solutions available today.

The Accidental and Intentional

As organizations look to migrate applications and data to the cloud, they are realizing that many of their IT staff lack cloud security expertise. The cloud represents a fundamentally different approach to computing and the security differences between the cloud and traditional on-premise infrastructures are night and day.

So, we’ve put together a simple way to think about the cloud as it relates to concerns for security against cyberthreats and misconfigurations, as well as other controls and settings that aren’t correctly configured in the cloud—the accidental and the intentional.

The Accidental
These are the inadvertent and overlooked security and compliance settings, controls, and configurations that can potentially expose your applications and/or data to the public or to hackers.

Sure, exposure of millions of records, if you have them, would be a worst-case scenario and the most devastating to your business. However, this is also the most unlikely scenario now that you know not to mess with the default AWS settings for your S3 bucket, which limits public access to it. What is more likely, is that a misconfiguration or incorrect setting leads to your cloud footprint being noncompliant with a major mandate which your organization is subject to, or settings allow a user to access your web application.

This is where CSPM vendors and tools have emerged to fill the gap and address accidental risk.

The Intentional
The cloud is a target for threat actors. In fact, in a recent analysis conducted by Armor, there were 681 million cyberattacks against our 1,200+ client base in 2018. The most frequent types include attacks against known software vulnerabilities, brute-force attacks/attacks involving stolen credentials, web application attacks (e.g., SQL injection, cross site scripting, cross site request forgery attacks, and remote file inclusion), and attacks targeting the internet of things (IoT).

Armor’s Threat Resistance Unit (TRU) expects more of the same in 2019 with additional emphasis on:

  • IoT attacks and distributed denial of service (DDoS) campaigns
  • Exploits and attacks targeting containers and cloud services
  • Targeted ransomware
  • Sophisticated phishing campaigns

Be Aware

  • 57% Of survey respondents were either “concerned or very concerned that in the next 12 months, misconfigured systems, such as server workloads and cloud services, could lead to a successful attack that [would threaten] their infrastructure, data assets, and business operations.”
  • 95% Of cloud security failures, through 2022, will be the customer’s fault.
  • 50% Of enterprises, by 2021, “will unknowingly and mistakenly have some [infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS)] storage services, network segments, applications, or APIs directly exposed to the public internet, up from 25% at YE18.”
  • 80% Of organizations, through 2024, “implementing a CSPM offering and extending this into development will reduce cloud-related security incidents due to misconfiguration.”

Cloud Security Posture Management

We’ve referred to vendors and tools when talking about CSPM. The fact is, that as vendors have emerged offering these solutions, we’ve seen their adoption and integration by other organizations. In the future, these will just be tools integrated with other solutions that address the intentional part of the cloud security and compliance problem.

What Do Cloud Security Posture Management Solutions Do?

  • Identify your cloud environment footprint and monitor for the creation of new instances or buckets (i.e., shadow IT).
  • Provide policy visibility and ensure consistent enforcement across multiple cloud providers.
  • Scan your compute instances for misconfigurations and improper settings that could leave them vulnerable to exploitation.
  • Scan your storage buckets for misconfigurations that could make data accessible to the public.
  • Audit for adherence to appropriate compliance mandates.
  • Perform risk assessments vs. frameworks and external standards such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
  • Verify that operational activities are being performed as expected (e.g., key rotations).
  • Automate remediation or remediate at the click of a button.

Typical CSPM services conduct these activities on a continuous basis and can include automation capabilities to correct issues without human intervention or delay.

The following depicts a micro view of how CSPM solutions work from a single workload perspective:

Micro view of how CSPM solutions work from a single workload perspective

Micro view of how CSPM solutions work from a single workload perspective

Going beyond the micro view of a single workload, now consider how CSPM solutions can provide a macro view of risk and the level of drift from established policies.

How CSPM solutions can provide a macro view of risk and the level of drift from established policies.

How CSPM solutions can provide a macro view of risk and
the level of drift from established policies.

What Do Cloud Security Posture Management Tools Find?

  • Cloud configurations and settings that violate compliance requirements; instances of not following established account hygiene best practices (e.g., ensuring host operating system (OS) logs are being gathered, API event logging is turned on, and network flow logs are being collected, if applicable).
  • Excessive account permissions. Highly empowered accounts, or accounts where permissions are granted but never used represent an increased attack surface. Developers often provision accounts and services with more permissions than necessary in the name of development speed and reducing runtime issues. However, this increases risk, which CSPM solutions identify.
  • Accounts and services where multifactor or other strong authentication methods are not used (e.g., weak passwords).
  • Excessive or misconfigured network connectivity. Public clouds enable microsegmentation by default to enforce the principle of least privilege. Network connectivity should be provisioned to the minimum needed—otherwise known as Zero Trust Networking.
  • Assets, workloads, and/or services with direct connectivity to the internet.
  • SSH/RDP for remote management open to the public internet.
  • Data storage exposed directly to the internet.
  • Data storage and file shares that are promiscuously shared.
  • Data/database storage services that are not encrypted at rest.
  • Improper use of encryption key management.
  • Expired keys/certificates, or those nearing expiration.
  • Externally facing web servers without the use of a web application firewall (WAF) or load balancer.
  • APIs exposed directly to the internet.
  • Use of API-based applications and services without the use of an API gateway control point.
  • Any areas of infrastructure where the observed runtime state has deviated in a risky way from the desired state. Ideally, you should also proactively identify preproduction instances where a developer has deviated in a risky way from the desired state before an application is placed into production.

The value of CSPM tools is straightforward. They help organizations address the accidental side of security and compliance when deploying applications and data to the cloud.

Cloud Security Posture Management: Not Just for Security & Compliance Teams
It’s clear that security and compliance will be accomplished in the future through collaboration and close relationships among IT; security; governance, risk and compliance (GRC); and DevOps teams.

To that end, modern CSPM solutions are designed with security-as-a-service (SECaaS) in mind. They are easy and fast to deploy, provide simple to digest results and reporting, and provide subscription models that align to actual cloud usage. This means that CSPM tools provide DevOps with an effective way to integrate security and compliance measures to address potential configuration and settings issues they may have caused during development. CSPM solutions provide key capabilities for DevOps, security, IT, and GRC teams alike and contribute to the required collaboration necessary to achieve security and compliance outcomes in the future.

What’s in a Name? Not Enough in Our View
As you’ve read by now, CSPMs play a pivotal role in helping organizations address compliance with major mandates or frameworks. This was a driver for their development in the first place. We feel the category would be better served by the name cloud security and compliance posture management (CSCPM), as these tools have always focused on the value of continuous security and compliance in a strictly cloud native way.

Remediation Is King
CSPM solutions provide various remediation capabilities that are critical for teams today. It’s simply not enough that security solutions alert to potential areas of risk or threat. Tools must go beyond to automatically remediate potential issues with minimal-to-no human intervention required. Doing so provides tremendous value for security and DevOps teams.

In addition, remediation at a broader and even global scale means that CSPM tools can drive faster iterative change at scale across workloads and environments than what teams could do on their own.

Cloud Security Posture Management Evolution
Expect to see CSPM tools change quickly as new capabilities are added including automated provisioning, automated remediation, new threat detection capabilities (i.e., the process of addressing some of the existing intentional issues), and risk prioritization—to name a few.

Armor Recommendation

We hope this perspective helps you see CSPM tools in the same light we do. CSPM tools provide very clear safeguards and value to organizations that are expanding workloads into the cloud.

We recommend that organizations with applications and data in the cloud take a hard look at CSPM tools and the benefits they provide in terms of addressing security and compliance.

Combined approach of CSPM and Defense-in-Depth security protections

Combined approach of CSPM and Defense-in-Depth security protections

In addition, we believe a combined approach of CSPM and Defense-in-Depth security protections, to address the intentional aspects of security and compliance for your workloads in the cloud, best allows organizations to maintain security and compliance of their responsible areas per the shared responsibility model.

Alex Lim is a certified IT Technical Support Architect with over 15 years of experience in designing, implementing, and troubleshooting complex IT systems and networks. He has worked for leading IT companies, such as Microsoft, IBM, and Cisco, providing technical support and solutions to clients across various industries and sectors. Alex has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the National University of Singapore and a master’s degree in information security from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also the author of several best-selling books on IT technical support, such as The IT Technical Support Handbook and Troubleshooting IT Systems and Networks. Alex lives in Bandar, Johore, Malaysia with his wife and two chilrdren. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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