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What Is Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)?

LAST UPDATED: July 27, 2023

Picus Labs   By Picus Labs  •  July 27, 2023, 11 min read

In this comprehensive blog, we delve into an emerging cloud security solution called Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM). We unpack its essential role in identifying, managing, and mitigating risks in cloud environments, examine its benefits from spotting improper network settings to ensuring adherence to compliance standards, and illustrate real-life examples that underline its significance. Further, we navigate through the CSPM lifecycle, from cloud asset cataloging to its integration with DevSecOps. We conclude by discussing the persisting issue of cloud misconfigurations and how CSPM's key capabilities can substantially elevate an organization's cloud security. An essential read for cybersecurity professionals looking to harness the power of CSPM in their cloud security strategy.

What Is Cloud Security Posture Management?

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) is a proactive cloud security approach that focuses on the identification, management, and mitigation of risks in cloud environments. It automates the identification and remediation of risks in 

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), 

  • Software as a Service (SaaS), and 

  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) models. 

CSPM encompasses the continuous assessment of an organization's cloud platforms to ensure they align with best security practices and compliance regulations. CSPM solutions provide full visibility into an organization's cloud infrastructure, enabling them to detect misconfigurations, unprotected data, and excessive permissions that could potentially lead to data breaches. Moreover, they aid in the integration of security into DevOps practices, facilitating a more proactive and automated approach to cloud security.

Why Are Cloud Misconfigurations Still a Major Issue?

Cloud misconfigurations remain a significant issue due to multiple reasons, many of which stem from misunderstanding and complexity. According to the 2022 IBM Security X-Force Cloud Threat Landscape Report [1], cloud vulnerabilities have grown by 28%, with a notable 200% increase in cloud accounts on the dark web. 

One key issue is the 'Shared Responsibility Model' where organizations fail to realize their role in securing their data, leading to vulnerabilities. Another prime example is the tendency to leave default settings unchanged or permitting overly broad access, which can invite unauthorized activity. 

Misconfigurations can also arise from 'configuration drift', where ad hoc changes result in inconsistencies across cloud assets, creating more avenues for exploitation. Thus, the increasing cloud misconfigurations emphasize the critical need for comprehensive security protocols, consistent auditing, and a thorough understanding of responsibility in cloud security.

What Are the Benefits of Cloud Security Posture Management?

There are five main benefits of cloud security posture management practices.

  • Identification of Improper Network Settings and Misconfigurations

Cloud misconfigurations are a significant cybersecurity concern. According to McAfee's enterprise security research, businesses experience an average of 3,500 incidents monthly due to misconfiguration issues [2], and shockingly, 90% of enterprises have reported suffering from IaaS security problems stemming from misconfigurations

Moreover, Gartner's survey emphasizes the gravity of the situation, predicting that by 2025, human errors causing misconfigurations will be behind 99% of all data security breaches [3].

A vital benefit of CSPM tools is their capacity to identify misconfigurations in network connectivity that might potentially result in data breaches or leaks. By applying well-established industry criteria like the Center for Internet Security (CIS) Benchmarks, CSPM systems can contrast cloud configurations against these benchmarks, promptly detecting divergences. This gives the security teams detailed insights into the problem and recommended remediation steps.

For instance, one of the most common misconfigurations is leaving cloud storage (like AWS S3 buckets or Azure Blob Storage) publicly accessible. This could expose sensitive data to unauthorized users and lead to data leaks.

Here are some example cases where attackers abused a misconfiguration in the cloud.

In 2017, the US Army Intelligence and Security Command inadvertently stored sensitive database files, some of them marked top secret, in Amazon S3 without proper authentication. This led to the exposure of over 26,000 classified documents, including the names and contact information of intelligence personnel [4].

Thomson Reuters admitted that their servers had compromised 3TB of data by public-facing ElasticSearch databases [5]. This data included customer information, financial data, and newswires.

In 2019, NASA was the victim of a security breach that exposed the personal information of over 5 million employees and contractors [6]. The breach was caused by a misconfiguration in Atlassian JIRA, which allowed attackers to access sensitive data that was stored in the cloud.

  • Evaluation of Data Exposure

CSPM allows businesses to recognize possible data threats that may slip past the cloud provider or occur due to human errors. These could arise from situations like a hurriedly deployed new application by developers or exposed virtual machines, both of which might leave the corporate network at risk. The CSPM's proactive approach helps in identifying and mitigating these threats in the cloud infrastructure.

This could involve scenarios such as a Google Cloud Storage bucket that's unintentionally configured to be publicly accessible, leading to potential data leaks. Or, it could be an AWS RDS instance that's deployed without enabling encryption, thus making sensitive data susceptible to interception. Even a hurriedly deployed Azure Cosmos DB could be left with open firewall rules, making the data within it reachable from any IP. In all these instances, CSPM's proactive detection and alerting capabilities play a crucial role in identifying and reducing such data risks in the cloud setup.

  • Spotting Overextended Account Privileges

Leveraging an organization's established security guidelines and industry best practices, CSPM solutions keep an eye on any incidents of account privileges being stretched or breached. This implies that if a user tries to access resources not aligned with their assigned duties or department, this breach will be detected and halted promptly.

For instance, in an AWS environment, a user might be granted 'AdministratorAccess' IAM policy, which provides full access to AWS services and resources. If this user attempts to perform actions beyond their usual job role, such as modifying the security groups of an EC2 instance or deleting a crucial S3 bucket, CSPM tools can detect this unusual behavior. Similarly, in a GCP setting, a user with the 'Owner' role on a project might try to modify the access control of a Cloud Storage bucket, which is not part of their day-to-day tasks. In such situations, the CSPM system would detect this overstepping of privileges and promptly alert the security teams.

  • Persistent Supervision of Cloud Ecosystem

CSPM tools perform ongoing scans and surveillance of cloud environments to ensure an organization's compliance policies are met. Any deviation from these set policies is promptly identified, enabling automatic rectification and remediation of the problem.

For example, an organization may enforce a policy requiring all Azure virtual machines to have Network Security Groups (NSGs) configured for added security. If a virtual machine is deployed without a properly configured NSG, the CSPM tool will quickly identify this deviation. It then alerts the responsible teams or initiates automated processes to correct and remediate this configuration oversight, maintaining the security posture of the Azure environment and ensuring continuous policy compliance.

  • Adherence to Standard Compliance Requirements

The use of CSPM solutions facilitates adherence to rigorous data and privacy standards, like GDPR, HIPAA, SOC2, and PIC Regulation. By using a defined set of benchmarks and best practices to identify cloud security misconfigurations, CSPM tools can help businesses comply with these regulations, which are becoming increasingly stringent.

For instance, a healthcare organization that needs to comply with HIPAA might have policies requiring encryption of all stored patient data. If a Google Cloud Storage bucket storing patient data is inadvertently configured without encryption, the CSPM tool, using predefined benchmarks and best practices, will detect this non-compliance. The tool can then alert the security team or automatically enable encryption, ensuring compliance with HIPAA regulations. This is just one way that CSPM tools help businesses adhere to increasingly stringent regulatory requirements.

The Cloud Security Posture Management Lifecycle

In this section, we are going to examine the four-step lifecycle of cloud security posture management.

  • Step 1: Cloud Asset Cataloging

The first step in the CSPM lifecycle is comprehending and documenting every asset across all cloud platforms. This means CSPM solutions provide a unified platform that consolidates all cloud resources, providing a comprehensive inventory for easy tracking of metadata, security changes, and possible configuration discrepancies.

For instance, if you're using AWS, the CSPM tool would inventory all the resources across your AWS environment, including all your S3 buckets, EC2 instances, RDS databases, and so on. This would provide a unified view of what resources you have, their metadata, any security-related changes, and potential configuration anomalies. For instance, it might highlight an S3 bucket that is mistakenly configured to be public or an RDS database that is not encrypted. This step effectively removes the ambiguity from managing multiple cloud environments.

Figure 1. Cataloging All Cloud Assets in Your Organization

  • Step 2: Configuration Benchmarking and Analysis

Next, CSPM tools analyze the current cloud configurations and compare them to both industry standards and specific organizational rules to identify potential security risks. The tools look for things like improper settings, exposed ports, or unauthorized alterations that could leave resources vulnerable. This proactive evaluation helps catch potentially harmful errors, maintain optimal permission levels, and guarantee necessary functions like backup and encryption are in place.

For example, it might check if your S3 buckets are publicly accessible, if your RDS database instances have encryption enabled, or if your EC2 instances have unnecessary ports open. It compares your current settings against best-practice benchmarks, such as the AWS Well-Architected Framework, to identify possible security risks.

  • Step 3: Threat Identification and Prioritization

After cataloging and analyzing, the CSPM shifts focus to continuous threat detection. It identifies possible threats by concentrating on areas most prone to attacks, and it ranks vulnerabilities based on the potential harm they can do to the cloud environment. This prioritization aids in reducing noise from irrelevant alerts, halting weak code from reaching production, and persistently supervising for any suspicious activity or unauthorized access in real-time.

If, for instance, an unexpected change is made to your EC2 security group, opening up an insecure port, or if there's unusual activity in your RDS databases indicating a possible SQL injection attack, the CSPM solution will detect this activity and alert you to the potential threat.

  • Step 4: Integration with DevSecOps

The final stage of the CSPM lifecycle involves integrating the CSPM solution with the DevSecOps processes. It provides a streamlined, agentless cloud-native management process to control and monitor all cloud resources. The solution can work seamlessly with CI/CD tools such as Jenkins or AWS CodePipeline. As your DevOps team pushes new code, the CSPM can check for potential security flaws, like insecure coding practices that could leave your S3 buckets exposed. Similarly, it can be integrated with SIEM solutions such as AWS CloudTrail, giving you greater visibility into your cloud environment, including policy violations and misconfigurations.

Key Capabilities of CSPM

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) boasts a range of key capabilities that significantly augment an enterprise's cloud security. At the core of these are automation and continuous monitoring.

  • Firstly, CSPM identifies and monitors the cloud environment footprint. It keeps track of new instances and storage resources, like S3 buckets, which are created, ensuring they adhere to security protocols.

  • Secondly, CSPM provides policy visibility and uniform enforcement across multi-cloud environments. By doing so, CSPM eliminates the inconsistencies that can arise from managing different cloud providers, enhancing overall security posture.

  • Thirdly, CSPM scans compute instances and storage buckets for misconfigurations or improper settings, preventing vulnerabilities that could lead to exploitation or data leaks.

  • Additionally, CSPM audits for regulatory compliance, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR. This capability helps organizations avoid hefty fines and reputational damage due to non-compliance.

  • CSPM can also assess risks against frameworks and external standards, such as those set by ISO and NIST. This ability supports organizations in meeting industry-wide accepted security standards.

  • Moreover, CSPM verifies that operational activities, like key rotations, are carried out as required, preventing stale or exposed keys from being a security loophole.

In essence, CSPM acts as an automated, vigilant guard, effectively addressing misconfigurations and ensuring robust cloud security.

CSPM vs. Other Cloud Security Solutions

Below, you will find a table that compares CSPM to other cloud security solutions.

What to Consider When Choosing a CSPM Provider?

When choosing a Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) provider, it is crucial to consider the following aspects:

  • Multi-cloud Support

In today's diversified IT landscape, many organizations utilize services from multiple cloud providers. Therefore, it's essential that the chosen CSPM provider supports all the major cloud service providers like AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, etc., to ensure seamless integration and uniform security posture across all cloud environments.

  • Real-Time Alerts and Automated Remediation

The CSPM provider should be able to provide real-time alerts on any detected misconfigurations or vulnerabilities. Additionally, the ability to automatically remediate identified issues can drastically reduce the window of exposure and the workload on security teams.

  • Compliance Monitoring

Given the stringent regulatory requirements many organizations must adhere to, your CSPM provider should be able to continuously monitor and report on your compliance status for regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, SOC2, and more.

  • Visibility and Control

The chosen CSPM should provide a centralized, comprehensive view of your cloud security posture, offering clear visibility into all cloud resources, misconfigurations, and potential threats.

  • Integration Capabilities

The CSPM should be able to integrate smoothly with other existing security tools and DevOps processes in your organization. This will ensure that security is streamlined across all areas of your IT infrastructure.

  • Scalability

As your business grows and evolves, so too will your cloud environment. Your CSPM solution needs to be able to scale with you, ensuring continued support and security for new services, locations, or increased data flow.

  • Ease of Use

The CSPM tool should be intuitive and easy to use. A complex or unintuitive interface could hinder the effective management of your cloud security posture.

By thoroughly considering these points, you can select a CSPM provider that best aligns with your organization's needs and future goals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are the most asked questions about Cloud Security Posture Management.
What Is the Difference Between SSPM and CSPM?
SaaS Security Posture Management (SSPM) and Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) are both critical components of a robust cloud security strategy, but they address different aspects. SSPM targets Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, ensuring the secure use of these applications by managing and mitigating potential security risks. On the other hand, CSPM focuses on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), identifying and remediating misconfigurations to maintain a secure environment. Therefore, while both are important, they are applied to distinct facets of the cloud environment.
What Is the Difference Between CASB and CSPM?
Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) and Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) serve different but complementary roles in an organization's cloud security strategy. CASBs primarily act as intermediaries between cloud service users and providers, enforcing security policies to ensure data protection and regulatory compliance. They offer services such as authentication, firewalling, malware detection, and data loss prevention. Conversely, CSPM tools focus on maintaining a secure and compliant state within the cloud infrastructure itself. They continuously monitor configurations, prevent drift from the desired state, and facilitate investigations by the security operations center. Therefore, while both contribute to cloud security, their applications and functionalities differ.
Please click here to see the references

[1] “Security Intelligence - Cybersecurity Analysis & Insight,” Security Intelligence, May 28, 2013. Available: [Accessed: Jul. 21, 2023]

[2] “Common Cloud Misconfigurations and How to Avoid Them.” Available: [Accessed: Jul. 21, 2023]

[3] “Is The Cloud Secure,” Gartner. Available: [Accessed: Jul. 21, 2023]

[4]   T. Hatmaker, “Security researcher finds classified US Army data sitting online with no password,” TechCrunch, Nov. 28, 2017. Available: [Accessed: Jul. 26, 2023]

[5] “Website.” Available:

[6] A. Jain, “One Misconfig (JIRA) to Leak Them All- Including NASA and Hundreds of Fortune 500 Companies!,” Medium, Aug. 02, 2019. Available: [Accessed: Jul. 26, 2023]

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